A White, White, Antarctic Christmas

Many of us may dream of a white Christmas and not get it. In Antarctica, where scientific teams from the International Polar Year are starting in earnest on the first carbon neutral research station after the building supplies landed at Breid Bay ten days ago, there is plenty of snow and ice - too much of it in fact. A whiteout this week forced one team to leave behind some containers and frozen food supplies they were trying to convoy to the station site - located on a small protected granitic ridge called Utsteinen, in the region of Antarctica known as Dronning Maud Land. In spite of the setback, the entire 24-person crew at base camp will get Christmas dinner and wait out the storm before some go back for container retrieval.

The site for the new Belgian Princess Elisabeth station, which we've written about here, was chosen with great precision. In Antarctica, where shifting subzero temps make human habitation and survival so daunting, and every nut and bolt and drop of fuel and morsel of food must be imported over long distances, the idea of sustainability is doubly challenging. But with Antarctica's delicately-balanced climate where global warming has had such as impact, the goal is also doubly necessary.The relatively small station (700 square meters will eventually house around 20 staff) has gotten kudos for some of its alternative energy plans - such as the eight wind turbines and the nifty solar panels.

But at the heart of the station are also other cool design features, in what project manager Johan Berté calls the station's "technical core." All temperature-sensitive functions of the station will be at this center - the kitchen and bathrooms, wastewater treatment area, and a bioreactor for other waste treatment. Circling the core will be the sleeping and living areas. Co-generation will be employed to keep energy use - and thus emissions - low. Diesel generators are required for emergency backup (but one hour running the generators ruins the 'zero-emissions' goal); solar photovoltaic will generate electricity for equipment and lights, solar thermal will melt water for drinking, and excess heat from any of these functions will be routed to showers or clothes washing or a clothes drying closet. At present the main elements at the site that won't approach climate neutrality are the snow mobiles and snow movers, but Berte said he hopes eventually a fuel cell might be able to displace the fossil fuel requirements. Barring complications, actual construction of the station will start in January, along with erection of the wind turbines. Via ::Princess Elisabeth Antarctica

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