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Blue Ice Research - Antarctica MAG
Antarctica is of tremendous value to scientists of all disciplines the world over. Its location, climate, and pristine environment make it a prime location for various types of research to take place. Due to the climate, however, special care must be taken in all expeditions there in order to prevent any unnecessary disasters. Antarctica is the highest, coldest, driest, and windiest continent on earth, and any preparations to stay there must reflect these conditions. Survival is of prime importance, but as researchers are there to collect data, their living conditions must be relatively comfortable, so that their energy can be concentrated on their research rather than survival. Our proposal for the Antarctic research community is a field camp that would be as lightweight and compact as those used today, yet safer, warmer, and more environmentally and psychologically sound.
Currently, field expeditions use army tents and generally stay relatively close to the base camp. Coleman stoves are used for cooking and warmth, and anything beyond simple data collecting must be done at the base camp. However, when whiteouts occur, researchers are forced to stay inside. As there are no provisions for showers, field researchers in Antarctica take "towel baths," or sponge baths, in basins of warm water from melted ice. The water is usually disposed of directly outside the shelter, as the field camps are too far away from the base camp to bring it back. There are no provisions for proper waste disposal, and consequently, as more people come to Antarctica, pollution is brought to the previously undisturbed continent. Conditions are rudimentary, much as they were at the turn of the century.
Ideally, any structure should be lightweight, compact, and easy to construct.
Once in Antarctica, ease of construction is important. The extreme cold makes it more difficult to erect any structure, so it would clearly be beneficial to use one of minimal construction time. Our design proposal is for a field camp built of hyperbolic paraboloids, of "hypars."
Hypar structures are constructed easily and their shape varies widely. A camp may be tailored specifically to the needs of a particular expedition, while retaining the basic features of all camps built in this fashion. Therefore, the external structure may be reused several times for expeditions of different types, each time modifying only the inside.
Our field camp proposal consists of nine kevlar-molded hypars of four different shapes, each broken into four pieces for easy transport. The pieces snap together quickly and easily to form the shell of the camp. A layer of Gore-tex, colored international orange for optimum visibility, covers the shell to keep out moisture. Once the shell is constructed, the research team can go inside to install the kapton insulation.
Since field expeditions in the Antarctic generally take place in the austral summer, in which the sun shines 24 hours a day, it is wise to collect and store solar energy. The sun provides the main source for heating and lighting in this design. Although active solar techniques, such as solar collecting cells and batteries, were at one time underdeveloped and costly, new technology has made equipment much more accessible and feasible, and far less expensive. Our design includes four solar collectors located a few feet away from each corner of the structure. Natural light will be used as much as possible for the interior. Lexan windows, which are made of strong plastic panes filled with argon as an insulator, located on the hypars, allow light to penetrate while preventing heat from escaping.
Food provisions for people studying in the field often need to be heated or cooked. This is accomplished by use of small camping stoves, such as Coleman stoves, or other types designed for this purpose. The stoves can also serve as a supplemental heating source, if the need arises. Vents are located on the leeward side of the structure between the peaks of the hypars, allowing air to enter and exit, but preventing blowing snow from entering. While away from the camp for hours at a time (or when using the stove), researchers may open the vents to allow fresh air to enter, and will close them once they return so that the interior may be heated.
Chemical toilets are the best option for the field camp, since they are small and lightweight.
Provisions for sleeping are in the form of special hammocks which are able to be raised up and out of the way via a simple pulley system when not in use.
Provision for storage of the extensive equipment, clothing, food, and personal items brought on field expeditions is necessary. These objects can be placed in the corners of the hypars, where there is a great deal of space that would otherwise be wasted. This space is ideal for storage, as it is too small for living and colder than the remainder of the interior.
Although our solution is very different from previous attempts in terms of structure and appearance, many of its characteristics make it superior to present measures currently used to deal with the challenge of sheltering a team of researchers in this hostile environment.
In all the research we have done designing a proposed Antarctic camp, our greatest resource was our project mentor, Dr. Peter J. Wasilewski, who has made several trips to Antarctica during the past 33 years. He is a NASA scientist who has collected meteorites in the Antarctic for research purposes. He had an Antarctic mountain named after him as a result of some of his exploratory expeditions in the 1960's. Wasilewski spent a great deal of time consulting and advising us in our development of this project. Since he is an expert on Antarctic expeditions, we would consider his approval of our design to be a validation of our hypothesis. u