How to make Antarctic water drinkable


Link to The Press.

Fairfax reporters Deidre Mussen and Karl Drury travelled to Antarctica as part of Antarctica New Zealand's media programme this summer.  Steve Denby, Antarctica New Zealand's Water Engineer, explaines the challenges involved in making "beautiful" water and running the base's waste water plant.   

Fresh water has to be made from sea water at Scott Base. But first the sea lice has to be filtered out! 

Steve Denby chuckles as he grabs a giant sea lice from Scott Base's pump house.  It's one of many unlucky sea-dwelling animals sucked up from a hole in the ice near Antarctica New Zealand's base on Ross Island.

"They're a bit of a giggle when they get in there. We get fish, sea lice and a type of big slater sometimes. I throw them back if they're still wriggling," the 50-year-old water engineer says.

In October, Denby started his second year-long stint in Antarctica. His job is dominated by sea water, fresh water and waste water.

About 8000 litres of fresh water is needed at Scott Base daily for showers, toilets, washing, cooking, drinking and cleaning. But in order to keep the fresh water topped up, it must be converted from their plentiful supply of sea water which is where Denby comes in.

Denby admits he feels a sense of pride when using Scott Base water and says it tastes "beautiful".

The less attractive side of his job is looking after waste water.

"It's quite a neat process but not for the weak-stomached."

Scott Base's waste-water plant runs 24/7. The water is dosed with ozone and returned to the sea. The remaining sludge is flown back to New Zealand for destruction.

His experience for Antarctica came from decades in the Territorial Force working on water purification plus a year with Palmerston City Council as a waste-water mechanic.

He has a wife and two adult children back home, who he misses.

"I'm happy to be back here and I'll be happy to go back home again, obviously."

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