Friday, November 21, 2008

Scavenging in Antarctica

Recycling and scavenging are part of the culture in Antarctica. Everything that is brought to McMurdo must eventually be shipped back to the US. This includes all of the trash and waste. There is even a department called Waste, and the people who work there proudly call themselves "wasties." This is the view of the mountains over the frozen ocean from the Waste Dept. There they go through every candy wrapper and soda can.

At the same time, scavenging is a very respectable part of the culture here. This is the skua bird.
This skua bird hangs around the door from the dining room, waiting for folks to come out with a plate of food or a sandwich. It's like a good-sized duck. I met my first skua as it was flying toward my face. It was interested in what might be in my hands. Since the skua is a scavenger, scavenging here is called "Skua."

Notice that the skua is about the same color as the background. The ground here is volcanic soil. Most of the ice "in town" here has melted, and this dark gravel is what's left. Not pretty like the ice and snow of a month ago. Temperatures now range from a high of about 25F down to about 10F. Even though the sun is up all the time, the "night" hours cool off. Often there's water trickling along the ground during the day, and it freezes into ice patches overnight.

Every building has a wall of recycling bins. Anything useable such as clothing goes into the Skua bin. It's quite acceptable to go through the skua bin to see if there's anything you like and take it with you.

The skua bins are combined at a building called Skua Central. It's like a free Goodwill store. Go in anytime, take what you like, tidy the place up a bit (there's no attendant), and give it back if and when you're done with it.

Finding parts here is also a scavenging adventure. Even though there are a number of pretty well organized warehouses, there many drawers of odds and ends. Want a nut and bolt? Start digging. This makes me appreciate the local hardware store at home, where I can just walk in for what I want.
This picture is the shop that I work out of. This is where I start looking. I've found that things rather magically appear if I give them time. I had a particular kind of fastener in mind and couldn't find it. A couple days later I ran across a small length of chain, like would be on a backyard swing set. A piece of one of those links worked perfectly. This week we needed a set screw for a piece of commercial cooking equipment. The heavy equipment shop (buldozers and cranes) had what I needed. (They also have an excellent popcorn machine and are willing to share, though I hear the one in the carpenter's shop is even better!)

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