Trashing the Continent

trash run

This was the normal method of getting rid of trash at South Pole until a few years ago. The dump was downwind of the summer camp, where trenches were dug in the snow for burying the waste. During the summer, the forklifts frequently hauled buckets of trash out of the dome, the arches, and other work areas. During my winter we kept this trash sled in the helium arch so that we would not have to dig out the front door of the station. About every month or so we would haul the sled out to the dump. No effort was made to separate or recycle anything.

The "South Pole Dump" was closed in March, 1991, when the station started to separate all waste products and prepare them for shipment to McMurdo. A concurrent effort has been made to minimize the shipment of potential waste products to the station, and to reuse as much as possible. As the new station is constructed, the old station buildings and the dome will also be dismantled and shipped out...

Siple I
The snow covering Old Pole is probably not getting much deeper these days, so over the past few years some of the excess fuel and hazardous wastes have been removed. In the future it may become a source of recycled timbers and other construction materials. (Or perhaps according to the current polies it may be dynamited yet again. The first time didn't work...) Other parts of the continent are less easy to clean up. This is a view alongside of the "module" of Siple I taken in January 1988. This area gets 5' or more of snow every year, and this end of the arch was almost completely crushed. The other end of the arch was less badly damaged and served as fuel storage for Siple II which was 40' above the old station. The cut snow blocks you see had been excavated from the other end of the arch so that the bladders would not be crushed for a few more years.

In 1988 the arch of the newer station was showing signs of distress, and the purpose of my visit was to evaluate its life expectancy. I predicted that the new station would start to go "crunch" in March of 1990. Since NSF had abandoned the station by then, the Siple II arch probably looks worse than this picture.

The "flavor" of the environmental protocol calls for removal and retrograde of old stations "where practicable." This one, like Byrd, will probably never be recovered. Two of the other US stations, Little America and Ellsworth, were constructed on ice shelves which have since broken away carrying the remains of these facilities to a watery disposal site somewhere north of Antarctica.

South Pole is going to the dogs

South Pole residents greet Will Steger, his Transantarctic expedition, and his friendly sled dogs in December, 1989. The US never made much use of dog teams for exploration, but the British, Australian and New Zealand programs used them extensively, particularly around the Peninsula and on the other side of the continent. Unlike snow machines or more sophisticated vehicles, dogs never required refueling or repairs, they frequently created more of themeselves, they were usually lovable, and seal or penguin meat for them was usually available along the coast. However, in an effort to reduce potential disease impact to the native Antarctic populations, the treaty nations decided to ban all use of dog teams (and other non-native animals) as of April 1994.

Next...a look at the banana belt