University of Wisconsin-Madison Physical Sciences Lab

Archive for December, 2013

Surrounded by ice, but no water

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Once again PSL is at the South Pole, but this season it is something all new, the project involves civil engineering and the customer is Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin is well known for aeronautics, aerospace, defense systems, engineering and design, just to name a few areas of expertise. In 2011, Lockheed Martin became the new contractors for the United States Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation.

In December of last year, Lockheed contacted PSL on some issues that needed to be addressed at the South Pole. Some of the emergency egress shafts for the under ice utility tunnels were in need of some help. A new larger access hole to one of the rod wells was also needed, PSL’s expertise with working in South Pole conditions along with the success of their hot water drill makes PSL one of the world’s leading experts on drilling and this is how the connection was made.

After much contract negotiating along with technical meetings and studies of the tasks that needed to be accomplished, Darrell Hamilton, Jeff Cherwinka and Terry Benson, are on the ice once again.

But this is where the story really takes a turn and proves PSL expertise. After an unexpected power outage due to generator issues, the water supply pump in the rod well would not restart leaving the station and its population without a source for water. The pump got stuck about 170 feet below the surface during the attempt to remove it for replacement. The station manager needed to warn everyone that they could not shower or do laundry and the galley switched to paper plates to ration water. With help from Darrell, Jeff and Terry along with others from IceCube and the traverse team, they were able to deliver hot water to the area where the pump was stuck and melt it free. After the pump was removed, the hole was then reamed to enlarge it so a new pump could be installed. The new down hole camera system was used to determine just where the water was needed though a minimal amount of water was used, since there was not a lot of water available. The new pump was installed and station operations returned to normal after just two days.

The email from the contractor states it best:

Sent: Thu 11/28/2013 11:20 PM
To: POL-SouthPoleAll
Subject: Water Update


After a couple very long days the heroes amongst us have restored the Water Well to normal operations. Water restrictions are lifted. Shower at will.

After yesterday morning’s brief power outage, the pump in the Rodwell, our primary supply of water, failed restart. Then, pulling the pump became stalled because of some of the insulation broke loose and the pump bundle became jammed in irregularities in the well shaft. An impressive group of people came together worked through the last two days and nights to free the pump and get it up out of the ice, reamed the hole out, and deployed a new pump. We are fortunate in the timing as we are lucky to have the PSL team, IceCube experts and the traverse team here all at the time. We used the traverse’s hot water drill in the solution and no one knows ice holes like the PSL team who were kind with their expertise. Thank you all for the teamwork, the long hours and the reminder of what great people this program attracts.

A hearty thank you goes out to PSL, the traverse team and the station staff, all the people who pitched in and worked two very long days to solve the problem. Your team work, expertise and collaboration is truly impressive.

Please thank a water hero when you see them.