Thursday, November 29, 2007
Our group leaves for Antarctica on December 10, 2007. That's less than a month away! Before we go, I need to tell you a little bit more about what we do down there.
First of all, when you're on the continent of Antarctica, it's referred to as being on the "ice." However, the area we study is a polar desert called the McMurdo Dry Valleys. Just like deserts in the U.S., there's very little precipitation, so there's actually bare soil, not just ice and snow! The white dot on the map shows where McMurdo is located.
Our research is in the field of soil biogeochemistry, which is just a big word that means we study the way elements move in the soil. We are especially interested in carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, since these three elements are so important for all forms of life. We also study the living organisms in the Dry Valleys. All living things in the Dry Valleys are microscopic (except for the scientists, of course). While other areas of Antarctica have penguins and seals, the Dry Valleys' largest organism is a nematode. A predatory nematode is the top of our foodchain- the equivalent to a lion in the Serengeti!
There are three soil scientists going to Antarctica from Dartmouth. The leader is Dr. Ross Virginia, a professor at Dartmouth who has been going to Antarctica for many years. Also on the team are myself (Becky) and Elizabeth. The fourth member of our team is Mike, from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. While on the ice, we work very closely with another group of scientists from Colorado State University. They are led by Dr. Diana Wall, and include Breana, Ed, and Byron (who's actually from Brigham Young University). Dr. Wall's group specializes in the nematodes (they have a special nematode blog), and together the eight of us study the nutrients and biology of the McMurdo Dry Valley soils.
I'll keep you updated with photos and stories of our adventures in research. Feel free to email me questions, and I'll answer them as best I can!