Sunday, November 30, 2008

Water water everywhere and lots of drops to drink

As a biologist, I spend a lot of time studying life in a drop of water ... or sometimes I drop myself into water to study life. On rare occasions I depict life with paint, brush, and watercolor.

People often ask where we get our water at the field camp. We wash dishes, clothes, and (not often enough) our bodies using melted sea ice. When sea water freezes, most of the salt is "squeezed out" in the form of brine as water crystals form. As seen above, these brine channels form "crater star" patterns that are visible on the ice surface. Underwater, they form the ice stalactites that we ponder while doing a safety stop at the end of scuba dives.

Not all the brine drains from sea ice, however, and this brackish water is not suitable to drink. Instead, our potable water is brought in by helicopter from McMurdo Station. We use about 5 gallons a day when there are 7-8 people in camp, but lately we have been visited by many other scientists working in the area. As a result, our outhouse is getting a workout and our drinking water is gone.

Fortunately, there are many snow banks surrounding camp. Snow is, of course, essentially frozen rain. If you collect enough drops you can drink rainwater. Likewise, if you scoop up enough snow and melt it, you have "fresh" water to drink. We boil it first for proper hygiene: Skua Gulls fly overhead, and an occasional penguin waddles thru the snow.

To be honest, melted snow here doesn't taste very good. I hope it's because of all the sand mixed with the snow, and not because of the birds.

1 comment:

  1. This blue... real beauty. There is a big snow flake in a midle (made of water bubbles).