Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Foolery #17: How to pee in Antarctica

Two of my best/lifelong friends include a scientist at the Diamond synchrotron in Oxfordshire and executive administration at the European Climate Foundation in The Hague. Then there's me with a marriage, mortgage & medical librarianship career in Seattle.

Among the other expats I'm friends with is Gifford Wong, who is working at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide in Antarctica on a National Science Foundation project studying the past 100,000 years of deep ice core. Here's where WAIS is & more on what they do there.

I've been fascinated by their WAIS Divide Outreach group blog since Giff announced he was on his way back to the ice in November (remember that it's summer down there) because how else can I live life vicariously in Antarctica doing extremely important work to study climate change?

However, I was particularly intrigued by one of the latest entries from Logan regarding something I've never previously considered: how does one pee in Antarctica?

There are two options for going to the bathroom here at WAIS: You can go to one of the outhouses if you need to sit down, or you can pee at the pee flag... Now, as you can imagine, if lots of people pee in the same spot in snow, you can make quite a hole. (People here joke that this is called “hot water drilling”)
What I wanted to know and they didn't share is if there is actually a yellow cloth on a pole posted nearby for the pee flag. Given that this is the case at McMurdo (also in Antarctica) per my research, I'm thinking the answer is yes:

The one closest to the Galley that sees the most traffic was about 6” in diameter and a maybe a couple of feet deep.
This is particularly impressive because Logan decided it would be fun to connect two of them yet cautions us about the hazards of doing so:

This is quite a delicate task since the area around the pee holes is solid ice and if you pee on flat ice you will splash all over the place (including your shoes) which is not cool. You have to hit right at the rim of the hole – too far inside it and you don’t make any progress, too far outside it and you are splashing your shoes. It took me a couple of days, but at long last I finally created a channel connecting the two holes!! The channel even had a neat “S” shape to it!
Well, that was obviously major news that needed to be shared with everyone at camp. I'm not surprised Giff was mentioned:
The reactions I got were priceless. When I told Gifford, his face lit up with a huge grin and he said with a laugh “Oh that was you? That’s awesome!”
Yes, my life is indeed quite boring in comparison. I never imagined that studying climate change could be so entertaining, and I have to wonder what scientists 100,000 years in the future will think of the pee holes of Antarctica since there's no way the flags will last that long.