Saturday, December 22, 2007

Life at the Field Camp

This is our second full day in the field. The weather is much nicer. It is just above freezing outside, and very sunny! Yesterday, it was colder, cloudy, and windy, but today will be great for field work.
There are several permanent camps around the Taylor Valley. The camps have several small cabins that are the labs for research. The bigger, round building is for cooking, eating, working, and relaxing. The buildings are solar powered and have satellite internet. So, even though we're so far away from civilization, we have electricity, phone, and email! However, there's no plumbing here, so we have no running water. We take water from the lake to cook, drink, and clean. The lake and stream water here comes from the glaciers, so is very clean and safe to drink. We bring the water to the building in buckets, filter it, and leave it in large pots until we use it.

Because this area is a desert, we have to be very careful to not use too much water, and we can't put any water back into the soil. We have to be very careful not to affect the ecosystem more than necessary. We want the Dry Valleys to be the same as when we got here and not leave any trace of human impact. We don't want to take too much water from the lake. Also, all of the water we use has to be stored and taken away with us. Since we're in a desert, the soils and living things don't get much water. If we dump all of our used water into the soil, we are giving them too much water and changing the system. We try to use very little water when cleaning and cooking, and we store all that is used. This used water is called "gray water". We even have to store the water we use to brush our teeth! We can't even take showers, because they use a lot of water. So, I haven't taken a bath for 3 days!

We also have to store all of our trash to take away with us. Our trash is taken away from Antarctica and either recycled, burned, or put into a landfill. We have to sort our trash so that this can be done properly. There are five trash cans here, each for a different type of trash. We also have to store all of the waste our bodies make. There are no bathrooms or toilets here. Everything our bodies produce (all those yucky things we don't think much about) is stored in buckets or barrels and taken away from here!

Overall, we try to be very careful not too change the Dry Valleys, which means we have to be very careful about everything we do. We eat, work, walk and sleep very carefully so that there's very little evidence that we were ever here! This way, future scientists (maybe you!) will be able to see Antarctica the same way that we're seeing right now.

Later today, our group of four researchers will split in half. Ross and Elizabeth will stay here at this camp. Mike and I will fly across the lake to a different camp. We have different projects on the other side of the lake to work on, so need to split up. This way we can get more work done during the week we'll be away from McMurdo! Mike and I will take a helicopter across the lake. That means we'll get to wear the cool helicopter helmets again!
It snowed here Thursday night! It was only a dusting, but that's a lot of snow for this area. The bad weather did not keep us from getting to the field, though (it only delayed us a few hours while the helicopters waited until they could see). So, Friday morning we flew in a helicopter across frozen water to Taylor Valley. Here is a picture of us, in all of our gear, ready to go! There's Mike, Becky, Elizabeth, and Ross, with the helicopter in the background.

We landed at Lake Fryxell, and set ourselves up at the camp. There are small buildings here for eating and working in, but we sleep in tents outside. We are staying at this camp with four people from NASA. They are working on the Phoenix Project, which is a machine that was sent to Mars to look at Martian soil. They are comparing the dry, cold soil here on Antarctica to the dry, cold soils on Mars. This is one of the NASA scientists, Doug, acting silly after a day of hard work!After settling in, we started our field work. We hiked up one of the slopes in the Valley, taking soil samples every 10 meters. This way, we can compare different types of soil with elevation. Long ago, the water in the lake was higher, and there were glaciers covering the whole area. This means that the soil changes as you go higher up a slope. Different soil types will then also change what can live in the soil. We're also interested in what lives in the soil, we also spent some time looking for mosses and measuring how much the animals living in the soil breathe.
We have a neat machine that can measure that for us, by measuring carbon dioxide (the gas that's released when you breathe) in a small area of the soil.

The computer is almost out of battery, so I'll need to write more later!