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The Question Everyone Wants to Ask but Doesn’t….

WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA– I know that I was curious before I got here about many of the in’s and out’s of Antarctic life. One basic aspect of life is using the restroom and I wasn’t exactly sure how that worked down south. So, how do you go to the bathroom in the middle of a frozen desert and in an environment that is protected? Well, there are several answers to that question depending on where you are in Antarctica and the facilities available to you.

For example, at McMurdo Station, where the buildings are heated and it is like any small city in the U.S., there are just regular flush toilets. There is a wastewater treatment plant that deals with all of the waste and keeps the environment healthy. In the field life is different and there isn’t a flushing toilet for about 1,000 miles! At WAIS Divide we have 6 outhouses for the ~40 people at camp. The outhouses sit over large holes in the snow and ice. The main “town” has four outhouses and “tent city”, where everyone sleeps, has one outhouse. Out by the ice core drill we also have one outhouse.

The outhouse near the ice core drill. The view is quite nice!

The set-up is pretty basic, kind of like camping back in the States. The biggest difference in Antarctic restrooms is that sometimes you can’t get to them because blowing snow and horrible weather prevent you from being able to even seen the outhouse! Also, when you are sleeping and you have the urge the last thing you want to do is put on a million layers and your boots to go to the bathroom. To remedy these two issues, everyone has “pee bottles”. These are just a typical one liter water bottles that are marked very clearly with the letter P. These are used in your tent or in a storm. It is actually quite convenient! At smaller camps, like those in the Dry Valleys, all of the waste gets flown out so that there is a very small human footprint.

So, if you wanted to ask, now you know! For the record, I do miss a warm bathroom with running water and flush toilet!

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3 Responses »

  1. Loved the picture of the outhouse.I am here in the midwest with all of the snow.Can’t wait to read more of the blog!
    Ann Mishmash

  2. Hey Heidi! I’m so glad you posted this! I’ve been curious…Your journals have been really great! I enjoy reading them and learning about life at the South Pole!
    Stay warm!

  3. I think that puts a new meaning to the word “frigid!” Heidi, I love and miss you. Just got off phone with Caleb and he misses you too!! Gus says, “woof woof” meaning be SAFE!!