Technical work on the station
In my last post, I outlined that a big part of what we do at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica is the provision of logistical support to scientists. We also have to maintain and develop the station's infrastructures. That's the job of both the technical and the construction team.
The water treatment system
The technical team managing the station's systems includes our dedicated electrician Karel, our system engineer Erik, and our chemistry engineer Jacob who, together with Jens, manages the water treatment unit (WTU), which is something I would like to focus on today.
In December, we sometimes had 32 people at the station, which puts a lot of pressure on Max, our cook who has to feed all these hungry people, but also on the station's systems, and particularly on the water treatment unit. As you might know, or discover if you go to "Inside the Station", our exhibition currently taking place in Brussels, we recycle 100% of the water we use. That means we have a water treatment system in place, separating solid waste from the water and treating it to recycle it. Part of the recycling process consists in a bio-reactor in which bacteria help recycling the water by digesting some of the waste floating in it.
Part of Jacob's job is to maintain these bacteria alive and manage their number so that the recycling process can take place. The system always has to strike a delicate balance between the amount of water to be recycled and the bacteria population, which can easily be put under stress and die. With all these fluctuations in the station's population, I think Jacob grew a few grey hairs this year!
Together with Jens, Jacob also installed a new system compacting and extracting all the water from the solid waste produced by the water treatment unit. It means that, instead of having to deal with four tons of semi-solid waste to be sent back to Cape Town each year, we only have to deal with 50 kg. Much more ecological and also economical to transport!
Among other things, we installed a new 30 meter high Antenna mast for radio communications, installed a new model of wind turbine to test it on site and planned the relocation of the solar panels on the garages' roof. Turbulences created by the satellite dish cause snow to accumulate on these panels and we loose a good amount of time cleaning those every year.
This year, the main duty of the construction team (Jacques, Illir, Olivier, Gregory, Craig and myself) was to reinforce the entrance hall and the technical areas. While the main building is built on the granite ridge, which does not move, the entrance hall and the technical areas are built under the ice, which moves constantly, putting pressure on these structures. The plan is thus to reinforce them so that they can hold the pressure for the next 20 years.
We removed rocks and snow at the base of the tower, to begin working on the entrance hall. The ship brought us all the wood we needed, including massive beams which will allow the new entrance hall to be built on flexible foundations which are going to stay horizontal, despite ice movements. This is quite a big job, but I am quite happy to be doing it, it brings back all my carpenters' memories.
I hope this small blog post contributed to a better understanding of the work done to improve Princess Elisabeth Antarctica as a station. This station is a real jewel and, like any jewel, it has to be polished to continue to shine.
Picture: Craig, Illir and François installing the new wind turbine - © International Polar Foundation / Alain Hubert