Case Study 3 — Antarctica

For those of you who work with the folks at Timber Line, you know that we are an intrepid bunch; snowshoeing to water tanks, snowmobiling to remote dams, and helicoptoring into the Grand Canyon. Well, our latest adventure took us literally to the end of the world. Joel Kelley and Kurt Evezich recently returned from a three-week work trip to the Antarctic. Raytheon Polar Services hired Timber Line to update the control of their DC power system at Black Island.

Joel at Black Island

McMurdo Station was established in 1955 at the base of the Erebus Volcano. With the advent of satellite communications, the need to “hear” around the volcano and up to the “birds” became evident. The Black Island communication outpost was established in the late 1980’s to meet this communication need. Black Island is situated approximately 28 air miles from McMurdo station and is completely powered with DC energy sources. In 2000, Joel Kelley helped to write the PLC code to run the different power sources on the island including photovoltaic generation, wind generation and diesel generators. The PLC also handles the heating needs of the outpost. This particular year, Raytheon wanted to update this system, so Timber Line was hired to re-write the PLC code and test the various DC power components. Joel noted, “It’s interesting to note how stringent the redundancy and testing procedures are for the Black Island Telecommunications Facility. In winter, this site is unmanned and generally requires 3 days to access. Redundancy in power generation and environmental controls as well as strict testing procedures are required to ensure that no problems crop up during the winter period. The use of load shedding and reconnection according to battery voltage is a useful concept for our customers who operate remote sites." Timber Line’s experience with installing and controlling DC power systems at remote radio telemetry sites helped to set the stage for the success of this task. The work was completed a week ahead of schedule!

Kurt on Observation Point with
Mt. Erebus in the background

With troubleshooting complete, Kurt had a chance to visit the base’s water and wastewater facilities. McMurdo Station’s water is supplied by a reverse osmosis system utilizing seawater pumped from under the ice. To supply the seasonal high population of approximately 2500 (which occurs during the Austral Summer of November through January), the Water Treatment Plant runs three RO trains. Each RO train provides 200 GPM of VERY COLD potable water. The three-year-old Wastewater facility uses a basic aerobic process with UV final stage treatment before the water is returned to the ocean. The sludge is pressed and then packaged into tri-walled cardboard containers for disposal stateside. All of the Base’s solid waste stream is sorted, packed and sent back to the Sates for recycling or disposal.

Kurt states, “It is very interesting how man has adapted to this harsh environment. C-17 and C-130 Hercules planes land on pack ice! The maintenance folks blade snow ON to the roads to accommodate track vehicles. Scientists study the earth, atmosphere, and atomic particles while sitting at the base of an active volcano!” Joel said on a closing note, “The Antarctic is a continent of extremes: low temperatures, low humidity and high wind make a tough environment to work in. The people, however, are some of the best in the world and always make every trip an enjoyable one."