Over 70% of the world’s fresh water supply is located in Antarctica and is currently locked up in its vast ice cap. The average thickness of this ice cap (or “the Plateau” as we refer to it here in Antarctica) is a little over 2km deep, at its thickest it is almost 4.8km thick! To give you an idea of how much water that is, if the entire East Antarctic Ice Sheet melted the world’s oceans would rise around 60m. That’s a lot of ice.
So, with all of this ice around it begs the question, why are we on water restrictions at Davis station?
The reason is actually fairly simple really. We don’t live anywhere near the ice. It may seem unusual to be in Antarctica and be nowhere near ice, but Davis station is located on the coast of the largest ice-free region in Antarctica. This means that the Plateau is over 25km inland from where we are, making it a little inconvenient to try to source our fresh water from there. Instead, we have a small lake situated right behind the station that we use for our water supply. The water is salty so it has to run through a desalination process before it is able to be used by us.
One of the big troubles we have with our water source is that for 10-11 months of the year the lake is completely frozen, making it impossible to use. We have to wait until the lake finally melts during the 1-2 months of summer when the temperatures are high enough. Then it is our top priority to make as much fresh water as possible to store in our two large water tanks for the next year when the lake freezes again. This year the conditions have been such that the ice and snow have persisted for much longer than is usually seen. We still have sea ice in Prydz Bay (although it was closed two weeks ago for travel as it is finally degrading) and there is still a lot of snow around the station. This means that they will probably have a much smaller window of opportunity this year to make water and we’ve had to survive on what we have in storage for longer than usual.
We’re constantly reminded about our water use here. We have a daily water usage tally on the information screen in the mess, allowing us a maximum of 130L of water per person per day (and we are encouraged to keep well below this target). This includes water usage in the kitchen and other work-related uses. What this means is that personal water usage must remain as low as possible, we get 3x 3min (or 2x 5min) showers per week and clothes washing is generally left to once a week (or when you run out of socks and underwear). We do have a spa here in the gym but it has now been closed because we can’t afford the water use. If the lake doesn’t melt soon there may need to be more restrictions put in place but hopefully with the mild weather we have been having (highs of 5°C) we will have more water available soon and the plumbers can all breathe a sigh of relief.