It’s time to answer one of the commonly asked questions about life on an Antarctic station… 'What happens to your poo?'
Yes, '**it happens’ and how you deal with it is very important in Antarctica. But who would have thought playing with poo could be such fun. The beauty of working in Antarctica is the many roles we are called upon to ensure the smooth an efficient running of the station.
One of my extraordinary duties as station doctor is to monitor the efficiency of the effluent management system.
Yes ‘it’ has to go somewhere and though we do burn faeces on return from a field trip, this is not practical for a loo flush.
First, ‘it’ gets sent down the toilet through those mysterious pipes, that only plumbers know about, to the waste treatment plant for processing.
There it goes through different tanks and stages to come out ‘smelling of roses’ (metaphorically speaking). Particularly interesting and crucial to the process are the chocolate wheels. Try spinning one of these at your local fete! Their business is to rotate a biomass through the solution and bacteriologically convert the solution into a more acceptable discharge.
I then catch four litres of the final product and scurry home with my prize to test two parameters.
Initially, I test the suspended solids — visible solids not in solution. Then I test the biological oxygen demand, which is the organic oxidising material in the sample (otherwise known as good bugs). If they are elevated this means the system isn’t working optimally. In most cases the system works well to manage the waste on station.
These systems are being refined on Antarctic stations and here at Mawson, we can only cast an envious eye over the new waste management system that is up and running at Davis station.
How very effluent!
Until next time, Dr Mal — Station Doctor