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Morrison clean-up team tackles the frozen wastes

LETTERS Letter from Antarctica

From Ant Risdon, site manager, Fossil Bluff, Alexander Island, Antarctica

The trouble with working on Earth's only uninhabited continent is that there is nowhere to put the waste people produce.

And before these days of minimising environmental impact, people were not too careful about what they did with it. So, in addition to the laboratory Morrison Construction is building at Rothera for the British Antarctic Survey, it has a fourstrong team cleaning up Fossil Bluff on Alexander Island, west of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Since its construction in 1961 this remote field station has been used as an aircraft refuelling site and staging post during the summer months, housing four to eight people. As a result, a 500 cu m waste dump made up of everything from human waste to snowmobile parts needs clearing.

Planning for works had to take into account the isolated location and provision of a self-contained camp for four people while safely handling the waste. Anything taken onto site had to fit through the 1.2 sq m door of the ski-equipped Twin Otter aircraft, as this is the only way in and out.

Our kit, a tractor/loader and backhoe combination, had to be stripped down to small components to allow it to fit in to the aircraft and reassembled on the glacier.

Our self-contained camp consists of four tents for kitchen, washing and sleeping facilities and the m&e plant with onboard power for lighting, hot water and air and domestic appliances. You need such comforts working in such isolation.

The ice-locked waste, up to 1.5 m thick in places, has to be chipped from within using a hydraulically-driven pecker fitted with a clay spade; a laborious but effective process. Once the waste has been thawed out and identified it is packed into 205-litre drums and flown back to Rothera before being shipped to the Falkland Islands for disposal.

During the summer months the climatic conditions are relatively kind. Average summer temperatures at this location are around zero degrees Celsius. With perpetual sunlight, a high proportion of which is reflected from the snow, it can be a surprisingly warm place to work - until the wind blows.

The team are all veterans of Antarctic work and we all feel fortunate to be working in one of the world's most beautiful places.

Within a few weeks our task here will be complete and we will join the build team back at Rothera.

From my time here at Fossil Bluff I will remember the camaraderie and the humbling vastness of Antarctica.