Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No mutants in these tunnels

Like I mentioned in my last post, on Monday the fire brigade did a walk-through tour of the utility tunnels fairly far below the surface here at South Pole.  I’m not entirely sure what the lengths of the tunnels are, but it is a lot longer than you’d probably expect.  The top pipe (with lots of heat trace and insulation around the much smaller actual pipe) is the clean water line that runs to the power plant where the water treatment equipment that then feeds the station is located.  The bottom pipe is quite the opposite, and is the waste water outfall line that leads to the last rodwell cavity where all the gray water and human waste is disposed.  As a result of the outfall, there is a bit of an aroma down in the tunnels, but improved venting since I was here the last time years ago has made it considerably less pungent.

There are a variety of little “shrines” down in the tunnels.  Many of you that saw Werner Herzog’s movie probably remember the sturgeon.  One of the most recent additions is the ice bust of Amundsen that was made for the centennial celebration this past summer.

At the far end of the main tunnel is the newest rodwell that is being developed for future use.  That insulated line in the foreground (below) is the circulation system that pulls cool water from the rodwell and circulates warmed water back down into the cavity.  Gradually, that cavity melts out to a big bulb-shaped cavern that holds-think Dr. Evil-millions of gallons of water that can then be drawn off for station use.

Similar to the channels in the bed and body of a glacier, which the ice cap is a titanic version of, the tunnels are steadily closing in upon the original volume cut out by the mining machine used a decade or so ago.  If you look at the ceiling and the walls in that first photo, you can see some of the bowing of the once-planar surfaces.  In the ceiling you can still see some of the texture left by the mining machine’s cutting mechanism.

"All is silent in the halls of the dead…All is forgotten in the stone halls of the dead. Behold the stairways which stand in darkness; behold the rooms of ruin. These are the halls of the dead where spiders spin and the great circuits fall quiet, one by one."
~Stephen King