Antarctic Peculiarities: The ‘Cold Porch’
I’ve been meaning to start showing some of the simple, everyday things down here that we take for granted, but that are quite peculiar to the environment. There are many of them, but the first peculiarity is one that we go through many times a day: It’s the ‘cold porch’.
A cold porch is a double-door airlock. When we leave the building, we go through an internal door into the cold porch. We don our boots, jacket, gloves and any other gear we may need to face the weather. Then we leave through the external door. The same is true in reverse. Here’s the sequence to get outside:
This is how it looks from the hallway in the Sleeping and Medical Quarters (SMQ). It opens into this cold porch:
You can see the outside through the little window in the external door. Once we’re suitably attired, we head outside and (gently) close the door again:
…and then we head off to do whatever it is we need to do. It takes up to a minute to don enough warmth and wind protection for the walk to the Operations building or the workshop. We avoid having both doors open at once as it allows the -20 degree air into the building with quite a whoosh.
One important reason to doff our garb in the cold porch is because of the snow we tend to drag in with us. Many of the cold porches have these metal trays to help keep the floors dry as the snow in the tread of our boots melts. If there is recently-fallen snow then this gets wet quite quickly as the powdery snow sticks to the outside of the boots quite readily. Fortunately the extremely dry air allows the water to evaporate quickly enough that they don’t need emptying.
Owing to the weight of the doors and frames of the buildings, a slammed cold porch door (especially the external door) can be heard and felt through the whole building. In a community as small as we’re in here it’s not hard to work out who to blame if doors aren’t closed gently. The correct technique is to use one hand on the door and the other to operate the catch bar, though it can be done one-handed once you have the ‘knack’.
These are the catches. They may be familiar to some of you as they’re actually used for commercial cold rooms. Each door has two of them with a bar bolted between them to allow them to be opened at the same time with ease. All external doors are pushed inwards to open; never pulled. If we had to pull the doors we could be trapped outside in gale force winds, or if we made it in the wind could instead rip the door off. Neither situation sounds like fun to me.
The doors are quite thick and heavy to ensure they seal against a blizzard and also insulate well. The windows in them are actually a pair of double-glazed windows with an air gap between them (windows elsewhere in the buildings are triple- or quadruple-glazed).
Here’s how our veranda looks at the moment. All doors are situated on the sides of buildings that are parallel to the prevailing wind here. The windward and leeward sides of the buildings (or fixed object) pile up with snow as we descend into winter. Even with the wind to keep the two parallel sides clear, the railings are enough obstruction to the wind to allow snow to build up. That’s why every cold porch also has a shovel.
Not all cold porches are created equal. These photos are of the cold porch that enters the Living Quarters (LQ) building. As you can see it’s much newer and larger than the rest. The internal door goes straight to the mess, so at lunch time people working across the whole station will congregate for food. That’s a lot of boots to find homes for and it gets quite crowded!
So now you know what a ‘cold porch’ is, how it works and what it looks like. You even know how to avoid being a door slammer! I hope you’ve learned a little more about day-to-day life here on station. I look forward to showing you more Antarctic Peculiarities in upcoming posts 🙂
P.S. This week has a bonus photo: A 10 second exposure taking from the veranda about 90 minutes after the sunset. We get scenes like this on a daily basis and I just had to share it (click on it for a larger view to see the stars better).