Sunday, 19 February 2012

Lifting the lid on Antarctic Toilets

Occasionally I give talks about the Antarctic, and one question that every audience seems to ask is 'how do you go to the toilet in Antarctica?' Well the answer at Halley VI at least is in the same way you do everywhere else, more or less. This is one of our toilets:


You might notice no handle, but a just a small button. This is because its a vacuum toilet, press the button and there is a swooshing noise and off go the contents down a vacuum pipe - it uses far less water than a normal flush. Despite living on floating ice water use is a big issue, snow needs to be moved into the melt tank which means work and it needs to be melted which means energy, so we try very hard to keep water usage to a minimum. The urinals are similar:


For some strange reason these are at the perfect height for 9 year old boys, I don't know if that is something to do with our plumbing or our future employment policies!

Once in the vacuum tube everything, and water from the showers, washing machines, sinks etc all goes to the sewage plant where it is biologically treated. Here is the sewage plant.


 The output from the sewerage plant is clean water that is piped into a hole in the snow and some sludge which is automatically incinerated (and helps to provide heat for the station).

If you fly away from the station into what we call deep field then the situation is a little more difficult. No nice, warm, clean toilets to use out in the middle of nowhere, you can pee onto the snow but, er, solid waste needs to be brought back in a special container to incinerate on station.

So now you know.

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