Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

It is 2009 down here at McMurdo!

We returned from the field on New Year's Eve. We quickly unpacked and took care of all of our samples for the evening. Then, we were ready to celebrate the holiday!

The new year starts for us 18 hours earlier than the east coast of the U.S., so we celebrated New Years Day before most of the U.S. woke up to New Years Eve. Here's Breana (one of the postdocs working with us down here from Colorado State) demonstrating how to celebrate New Years, McMurdo style:

A New Year's tradition at McMurdo is a concert called Icestock. Different groups of people working here (that also happen to be musicians) form bands (to varying levels of success) . Most have only been playing together for a few weeks or months. A big stage is set up outside where each of the bands plays short sets for the crowd of dancing Antarcticans on New Years Eve. So that you can fully experience Icestock, here's a short clip of my favorite Icestock band called Sunday Britches:

video

To help us ring in the New Year, some people made really cool, big puppets out of random things you can find around McMurdo. They were built on backpack frames and paraded through the crowd of people listening to the live music. They were really creative!

That's how we celebrated the coming of 2009 down here in McMurdo. Today, we are back in the lab processing our soil samples from the field and getting ready to head back out tomorrow morning!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Food, Food, We Love Food!

A very important part of doing research out in the field is staying well fed. All of the food we bring out with us to the Dry Valleys comes in a box, bag, or can. Because we don't always have a refrigerator, we don't really eat fresh foods. We make milk and juice from powder and even use dehydrated eggs. Here's the kitchen cupboards at one of the field camps in the Dry Valleys.
Every science group that comes out to the field camps brings their own food, but it often doesn't all get used. Lots of food gets left in the camp kitchen for other people to use. Some of it never really gets used and sits on the shelves for years and years. I really enjoy browsing the shelves in the kitchen looking for the oldest expiration date on food packages. Granola bars and beef jerky are generally the oldest. Today I found a Cliff bar at F6 camp that expired in 2003. I performed my own scientific experiment to see if Cliff bars change in quality over time. I banged it on the counter and the bar is a little hard. I couldn't bite through it and it tasted like cardboard. I've heard that the oldest beef jerky found and consumed expired in 1996 and that was found only last year.

Elizabeth, Becky, and I take turns making dinner in field camp. Here's a picture of Becky trying to decide between a box of Thai or a box of Mexican.

There is no running water in the field camps, so we try to use very few dishes when we eat. We often don't wash our bowls between breakfast and dinner, and only wipe them out to save water. So sometimes your dinner tastes a little bit like your breakfast. Yum, yum!
We spend large parts of the day out in the field, so we usually eat lunch away from camps. Remember those Cliff bars and beef jerky I was talking about? Those are our lunch! Here's a picture of Becky snacking on some of the food we bring out with us for long hikes.


Even though we don't have the best ingredients to create fancy meals, we eat pretty well out here and thinking of tasty dishes with what you can find on the camp shelves is always lots of fun. Happy Eating!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Process, Process, Process!

We flew back to McMurdo Station from Lake Fryxell two days ago. That ended our first week of field work.

During the past two days in town, we've been busy working in the lab. We have to process the samples that we brought back from the field. We have spent most of our time sieving soils to remove the rocks, then weighing out portions of the soil to measure the amount of salts and nutrients in them. We weigh the soils in this special bench that blows air, which prevents anything floating in the air (like dust) from falling into the bags of soil. We wear gloves so that the oils on our skin don't change the chemistry of the soil. We have only 2 days in town at McMurdo to get as much done as possible before we leave again for the field, so it has been very busy!

We are also getting ourselves ready to go back into the field on Monday. We will be going back to Lake Fryxell, but this time we will be staying on the other side of the lake at the camp called "F6". So my next post will probably be from the field!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas in Antarctica

To celebrate Christmas, we went to another camp nearby on Lake Hoare to be with several other science groups working in Taylor Valley. Christmas with a group is of course more fun than by ourselves, so we hiked over to Lake Hoare on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with our science family.

To get to Lake Hoare, we had to walk from Lake Fryxell, head up the valleyside a ways, cross over the top of a glacier, then down the other side of the mountain to Lake Hoare camp. It took about 3 hours. Here we are, about half-way through the hike, at the edge of the Canada Glacier where it meets the Lake Fryxell Basin:


There were about ten other people at Lake Hoare camp when we got there. There were limnologists (who study the lakes), glaciologists (who study glaciers), the stream-team (who study the streams), and the two camp managers. They were busy decorating the hut and baking Christmas cookies when we arrived from our hike in the afternoon. It was very warm, friendly, and smelled delicious!

At Lake Hoare, the Christmas traditions always happen on Christmas Eve. We decorate the hut, make and decorate Christmas cookies, and build a very elaborate gingerbread house. The gingerbread house is serious business. It involves heavy construction work, but the finished product is great!

After the decorating is done, we sit down to a great meal prepared by the two camp managers. We had ham, sweet potatoes, corn casserole, homemade dinner rolls, mashed potatoes, and green beans. It was the best meal I've had since I've been here! There was even bread pudding for dessert. Christmas dinner is a fancy-dress occasion. Everyone picks a wig and fancy outfit from the costume box to wear for the evening. To top off the mood, we close all of the shutters so that it's dark inside, and eat by candle and Christmas tree light! Here we are. I'm the one on the right with the silver tinsel hair, Elizabeth is behind me wearing a green feather boa, and Katie is at the end on the left with the tiara.


After dinner, we played the White Elephant present game. We gather around the tree and try to steal the best presents from each other. The present game was followed by an all-night dance party. That way we could work off all the calories we gained from the Christmas cookies and dinner. That is how we rang in Christmas morning- dancing in the hut!

On Christmas morning, we all slept in, then gradually woke up, ate leftovers for breakfast, then said our goodbyes to our "family" at Hoare. We walked our way back to Lake Fryxell, happy and full. It was a beautiful, sunny day that was great for our traditional Christmas Walk!
Of course, on our way back to the camp, we stopped to sample the soil and moss at a few spots along the way. Tomorrow we will do one last day of field work at a stream across the lake, then we're heading back to McMurdo. It'll be nice to get a shower, do some laundry, and sleep inside for a while!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Life at a Field Camp

We have been at the Lake Fryxell Camp for a few days now. There are a few permanent buildings here. The circular building is called a Jamesway. That is where we spend most of our time in camp. It has a kitchen for cooking, tables for eating and working, and wireless internet access! The other smaller buildings are laboratories for doing our science. Outside there is a lot of equipment needed for the science we do here.
We don't sleep in any of these buildings. We sleep outside in tents, like the one in the front of the picture. Because the ground is so rocky, it's hard to pound in tent stakes that won't easily fall out, so we tie our tent down to large rocks. We have very warm sleeping bags and lots of padding. When it's sunny out, the tent feels a lot like a green house, and some nights I get so hot that I actually end up kicking off most of my layers as I sleep!

Because the dry valleys are a polar desert, we have to be very careful about our water use. The water we use is taken from the lake. Water for drinking is filtered or cooked on the stove. We have to be careful that we don't spill any water outside, because in a desert, any small addition of water we make to the soil will make a huge difference to the ecosystem! So, we save all of the water we produce from cooking, washing, and our science. It gets put into barrels like the orange one outside the Jamesway and shipped off the continent at the end of the summer for proper treatment.

Since we have to be so careful about our water, we have no running water or plumbing. Our bathroom is an outhouse where we collect everything we produce. In the picture, the blue door behind my tent is for the outhouse. (I think that's where Elizabeth is walking...) No running water also means we can't shower! We use very little water to wash our faces and brush our teeth.

But, we do have some modern amenities here at the field camp. There's a gas-powered refrigerator, stove, and oven, just like in a normal house. We have a telephone, though the connection isn't always very good. We also have electricity from a big solar panel that you can see all the way to the left in this picture of the lake-side of Fryxell camp:The electricity is mostly used for science. We need to recharge batteries, run our equipment and computers, and of course the wireless internet! But, sometimes we use the electricity for fun. Sometimes we relax after dinner by watching a movie together on a laptop in the Jamesway. (You can see the laptop on the chair in the bottom, left corner). The "couch" we're sitting on is made of plywood with foam sleeping pads strapped to it and covered with an old blanket. Very classy! It's our most comfortable piece of furniture.


(P.S. If our supervisor, Ross, is reading this, I just want you to know that we neeeeever have time to watch movies. We're working all the time, of course! This picture was posed for educational purposes. No relaxing going on here...)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Measuring soil micro-organisms

Soil in the dry valleys of Antarctica is a hard place to live. It is very cold and very dry. There's not a lot of water available, and most of it is frozen. There's also not a lot of food to eat. But, believe it or not, there are organisms that can live in such a harsh environment. The organisms living in the soil here are all microscopic. That means they are too small to see with your naked eye. But, they are definitely there! We are interested in studying how these organisms change the nutrients in the soil. It's important to know how they change the nutrients because these nutrients are needed by all living things.

Because the soil organisms are so small, it's very hard to study what they do. You can't watch them individually unless you remove them from the soil and look at them under a VERY powerful microscope. So we have to use other ways to measure what the micro-organisms are doing.

One of the ways we measure what organisms do is by measuring their respiration. When living things (including people) breathe, we exhale carbon dioxide. If we're sitting still, we breathe very slowly and exhale small amounts of carbon dioxide. If we are very active and run around a lot, we breathe faster and exhale more carbon dioxide. A whole classroom of people running around can exhale more total carbon dioxide than just one person. So, more carbon dioxide is exhaled by larger numbers of more active organisms.

The soil micro-organisms in Antarctica work the same way. If we measure how much carbon dioxide is being produced in the soil, we can guess how many micro-organisms there are and how active they are. More carbon dioxide being produced would mean there are more active micro-organisms.

We have a fancy machine that helps us measure carbon dioxide in the soil. We nest it over the soil, and it measures how fast the amount of carbon dioxide changes over that patch of soil. It's called an IRGA. Here's me using it:
I am interested in knowing how the amount of carbon dioxide changes if you change the amount of water in the soil. So, I've been measuring carbon dioxide near the lake, where the soil is very wet. As I move the machine farther from the lake edge, the soil gets drier. So by moving the IRGA farther and farther from the lake each day, I am finding out how carbon dioxide respired by micro-organisms changes from wet to dry soil. In this picture, I'm making a measurement pretty close to the lake edge. Today, we moved it several meters farther back, where the soil is less wet. Tomorrow, we will move it even farther away where the soil is very dry. From the information we collect, we will know much is being breathed out by the soil micro-organisms as you go from wet to dry soils. That will let us estimate how many organisms they are and how active they are.

That is one of the ways we measure soil micro-organisms. There are many other things we do to measure what's living in the soil, but that will have to wait for another post!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This morning we flew from McMurdo Station to Lake Fryxell in Taylor Valley.

We left from the helicopter pad at McMurdo, where they loaded all of our gear into a helicopter (we call them helos).
Then, we flew from McMurdo over about 60 miles of sea ice to the dry valleys. Here's a view of what it's like inside the helo. Out the window, you can see the sea ice with Mt. Erebus in the background. You can also see the full load of our gear, and of course Elizabeth!

video

The dry valleys are de-glaciated, so there is no ice covering the ground. The dry valleys are also a desert, so there is very little snow. So, the rock and soil are exposed, unlike most of Antarctica. Some of the mountains and valleys are still glaciated, though. Parts of those glaciers drop down from the mountains into the dry valleys. In the photo below, you can see the Canada Glacier dropping down from the right into the valley. There are also many lakes in the dry valleys that are fed by the meltwater streams from the glaciers. These lakes are liquid water, but the top layer is frozen. So all of the lakes are topped with a thick layer of ice that you can walk and drive on. In the photo, you can see Lake Fryxell mostly covered in ice in front of the Canada Glacier. Though it doesn't snow very much in the dry valleys, there are small patches that have been slowly built up over time. These patches are very interesting to us, because they can provide water to the soil that would not normally be there. That is one of the things we will be studying at Lake Fryxell in the coming week.

Once we arrived at Fryxell Camp, we quickly set up our camp and got straight to our field work! We want to measure the chemistry of the soil near the snow patches to see if we can find out why mosses grow by some snow patches and not others. So, we hiked away from camp towards some snow patches. Here's Elizabeth and Katie busily collecting soil, moss, and snow samples near Lake Fryxell. We will take the samples back to McMurdo and measure the amount of nutrients and ions in the soil and water.
We're going to be out at Lake Fryxell for about a week before we head back to McMurdo Station. I'll keep you posted on how our field work is going!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Field Prep

So far, we've been living on station while we prepare ourselves for our field work. Now, the lab is set up, we've collected all of our gear, and we're ready to head out to the field! Tomorrow we will fly by helicopter to Taylor Valley for our first week of field work. We will be living at a field camp while we work there.

Over the past two days, we packed up all of the equipment we will need to live and work for a week. We've packed tents, sleep kits, clothing, food, hiking gear, and our science equipment. It's a total over over 1,000 pounds of gear! We loaded everything up into the truck today and drove it to the helicopter hangar.

At the helicopter hangar, we load everything into carts that will be used to carry our gear to the helicopter tomorrow morning.

We also had a special visitor today. We hosted Flat Madison from Mrs. Melin's class at Lee-Jackson Elementary School in Mathews, Virginia (my home town!). Flat Madison toured McMurdo and is now on her way back to Virginia.
So, if all goes well, we will be flying tomorrow across the Ross Sea to Lake Fryxell in Taylor Valley. We will then spend the following week collecting samples, making measurements, and trying to stay warm! Let's hope for good weather tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Geology Rocks!

Though we think of Antarctica as just being cold and ice covered, there is actually a lot of interesting geology here.

First, there is an active volcano! Mount Erebus is the southern-most active volcano in the world! It sits on Ross Island not too far from McMurdo Station, and you can see it from most of the hiking trails around McMurdo. Because Mt. Erebus is so close, most of the rocks in the area are volcanic, like the basalt to the left. These rocks are erupted from the volcano and can travel very far. So, Mt. Erebus's influence is seen all the way across the sea ice in the Dry Valleys where we work. Most of the soil is made up of rocks like these that have been weathered and crushed. That is why most of the soil looks very grey and red. In this panoramic video, you can see the red soils from the volcanic rocks. You also can see Mt. Erebus in the background, puffing away! (The golf-ball looking things house satellites and other scientific equipment.)


There are other neat geological features besides the volcano. Sometimes rock formations will poke out of the ice sheet that covers part of Ross Island. Yesterday Katie and I hiked out to one of those formations called Castle Rock. I took another panoramic video along the way. Most of what you see is snow and ice, but you also see several rock outcrops and hilltops sticking out. Castle Rock is the formation just in front of Mt. Erebus at the beginning (and end) of the video. It looks very small compared to the large volcano, but that's only because we were still very far away when I took the video.
video

When you get closer to Castle Rock, you see that it's actually quite tall and cool looking! You can see different layers and lots of evidence of weathering. It's something you might expect to see in the western US, not Antarctica!
The hike out to Castle Rock was a nice break for Katie and I. Here we are enjoying my Uncle Ev's World Famous Buffalo Chip Cookies next to the emergency hut (nicknamed the "apple") on the hike:

Elizabeth has made it in to McMurdo! Here flight landed yesterday evening. Now she has to catch up on all of her trainings so that we can head to the field soon!

[Basalt photo from juster.]

Monday, December 15, 2008

Antarctic Geography

Most maps of the Earth make Antarctica look pretty small. But, actually, Antarctica is a big piece of land. It's just hard to visualize it on maps that split Antarctica in half, like this one:

But that's not what Antarctica actually looks like. If you look at the globe from the bottom, you'll see that Antarctica is shaped kind of like a porkchop.

Antarctica is the 5th largest continent on Earth, so it's not as big as North America. But, it's much larger than the United States:
Since the South Pole is in Antarctica, finding "north" is tricky. All points from the South Pole are to the north. It means that the map of Antarctica can be flipped any direction and it's always both right-side up and upside down! But, the map of Antarctica is usually viewed like this:So, the bottom half of the map is up-side down. McMurdo is on the bottom half of the map, but it's not to the south of the South Pole. It's to the north!

Antarctica is divided into two halves: East Antarctica and West Antarctica. The halves are divided by the Trans-Antarctic Mountain Range that run across the continent.

Antarctica is a continent, which means it's made out of land. There is soil all over Antarctica. But, most of Antarctica is covered in ice on top of the soil. Most of the land is covered in glaciers. That's all of the white on the map. However, there are small areas of the continent where the glaciers have retreated. That's what's brown on the map. Most of these areas are in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains on the coast of the Ross Sea. Those are the Dry Valleys where we work.

In addition to land covered in ice, some of the water around Antarctica is also permanently frozen. The grey-ish areas on the map in the Ross Sea and Weddell Sea are the permanent ice. It never melts, so is often treated like part of the continent, even though it's technically water.

McMurdo is on an island in the frozen Ross Sea called Ross Island. It lies at an area where the permanent ice meats the sea ice. During the colder months, the Ross Sea will be frozen far to the north of Ross Island. But, during the summer months (right now), the sea ice gradually melts back. Sometimes it even melts as far back as McMurdo, and the open ocean will be right on our doorstep. But, it never melts back farther than the permanent ice.

So, right now, where we sit in McMurdo on Ross Island, we are surrounded mostly by ice. There's permanent ice to the south and sea ice to the west. Across the sea ice we see the Trans-Antarctic Mountains in the distance. To the north, there is more sea ice and in the distance we can see the open ocean on the horizon. Once we get to the Dry Valleys (hopefully this weekend), our scenery will be very different!

Now that we've mostly finished getting the lab set up and our gear collected, we've been able to start on some science in the lab. We have to prepare the chemicals that we'll use to process soil samples. We also have to make up the solutions that we'll add to the soil in the field for our experiment. Here is Katie hard at work in the lab weighing chemicals:

Our third team member, Elizabeth, should be arriving in McMurdo today. Keep your fingers crossed that the weather stays good so that her plane can land!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Snow School!


This is the first time I've been to McMurdo Station, so I've had to attend many different trainings since I've arrived. I've learned about taking care of the environment, working around helicopters, and using the laboratory here at McMurdo. But best of all I went to Snow School. I got to spend two days out on the ice learning about cold weather survival. On the first day, a HUGE Delta vehicle took our instructor, 7 other students, and me from McMurdo to Snow Mound City. Once we got there, we had to set up camp since we would be spending the night. Our instructor showed us how to set up different kinds of winter tents and build a snow wall to protect the camp from wind. The picture above shows our instructor demonstrating how to properly stake the tents so they don't blow away in the wind.
Several people in the class tried to build different kinds of shelters with blocks of snow. Two students built a very cool two room house. We all spent the night in either tents or the shelters we built. The next day we practiced communicating with different radios used in Antarctica. We used VHF and HF radios. We tried to talk to the South Pole with an HF, but no one answered us. We also learned what it is like to get lost in a snow storm. We all wore buckets on our heads and tried to look for each other. During huge storms the wind blows snow around so much that you can't see a thing, so wearing a bucket on your head is very similar to what it's really like to be lost in a storm. In the afternoon a Delta came and took us back to McMurdo Station. It's amazing how much I learned in just two days! Safety is very important when you live and work in a cold environment. Snow School is designed to give everyone the tools to make smart decisions, prevent problems, and safely do their work and enjoy this wonderful continent. Now I can say I've spent the night out on the ice in Antarctica.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting set up at McMurdo

McMurdo Station is located on Ross Island, about 60-70 miles from mainland Antarctica. It feels like a small town, with lots of buildings where people work, live, and play. But, unlike most towns, the buildings are all very industrial-looking. Most of them are warehouses with no windows to protect them from the strong winds and storms common in Antarctica.
Ross Island is surrounded by water, but the top layer of the water is frozen. As the summer progresses, the sea ice melts, causing the open ocean to come closer to McMurdo Station. But right now, the open sea is still quite a ways away to the North.

Across the sea ice from McMurdo to the west are the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. The mountains make up the edge of mainland Antarctica. The Dry Valleys where we will be doing our research are in those mountains. You can see them in the distance across the sea ice from McMurdo:

We're the first from our group to arrive in McMurdo. Next week, most of the rest of our group will arrive. So, Katie and I have just a few more quiet days before everyone else shows up and it starts to get busy!

During our first few days here in McMurdo, Katie and I have been busy getting set up for the next two months' work. This includes stocking our laboratory with all the items we'll need for our science, gathering our camping gear for the field, and gathering the equipment we'll need for our field work.
So, we've been spending a lot of time in the lab since we've been here. Here is a quick "tour" of the lab we're setting up, with a look at the nice view we have outside our window!
video

We also attend a lot of different training courses to learn about safety and other protocols that we need to know around McMurdo and the field. Since this is Katie's first year, she gets to go to Snow School tomorrow. Snow School is a fun 2-day class that includes a camping trip out on the sea ice. At Snow School, the Happy Campers learn about important Antarctic safety and other procedures.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

We are in Antarctica!

We have finally arrived in McMurdo, Antarctica!

We woke up very early Tuesday morning in Christchurch to take our flight to McMurdo. Our first stop is the U.S. Antarctic Program headquarters to get suited up in all of our cold weather gear. It's summer in New Zealand, so it's very hot to walk around in all of that clothing!
Once we are dressed, it is time to fly! We fly to Antarctica on U.S. Air Force airplanes. So, we don't travel through the normal airport. Instead, we use a special USAP terminal. But, the process is very similar to a regular airport. We check in with our baggage and go through a metal detector. Our bags also go through an x-ray machine. But, instead of having an airline agent check us in, we're checked in by the New Zealand military, and we and all of our luggage are weighed on a big scale. After checking in, we wait in our terminal until it is time to board the plane. Throughout all of this, we're still wearing our cold-weather gear! So, of course, we start taking off layers as we wait.
Soon, it was time to board the plane. We flew on a US Air Force C-17. This plane is very big! There were only about 12 passengers traveling to Antarctica, plus the Air Force crew that fly the plane. The rest of the plane was full of cargo bound for Antarctica. The cargo was to be air-dropped over one of the remote field camps where planes are not able to land. That is how the field camp receives its regular supplies of food, fuel, and equipment. We, the scientists, sat on the side of the plane. In front of us were about 100 barrels of fuel strapped to parachutes on egg-carton pallets. After dropping us off at McMurdo, the plane flew to the field site, opened the hatch, and dropped the barrels out. The parachutes will open, and the egg carton pallets will act as shock-absorbers to soften the impact when the barrels hit the ground.

We were very disappointed that we didn't get to see the air-drop! But, it's probably easier for the Air Force crew to perform the air-drop without a bunch of scientists in the way...

After one last five-hour flight, we landed in McMurdo! Here is Katie enjoying her first sight of Antarctica!

From the runway, we are carried to McMurdo Station in a really big truck called a Delta.

After about 20 minutes driving across the sea ice, we arrive in McMurdo Station- our new home for the next two months! We will spend the next several days getting settled. I will tell you more about that in my next post.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Arrival in New Zealand

Katie and I have successfully arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand! Our flights were long, but relatively easy.

Travel to Antarctica is always a little bit chaotic. Plans can change at the last minute. As soon as we arrived at our hotel in Christchurch, we learned that our flight to Antarctica had changed. Instead of leaving two days later, we're leaving first thing tomorrow morning! Even though we would have preferred a nap after our 36 hours of traveling from Dartmouth, we immediately had to leave the hotel to collect all of our issued cold weather gear and repack our bags.

There are many layers of clothing that we wear while we're on the Ice. We have to try on all of the clothes to make sure they fit. Because Antarctica is very cold, we have three layers of clothes for warmth. We wear polypro long underwear pants and shirts , and then two layers of fleece. In this photo, Katie is wearing one of the fleece layers:
We also have special boots called "bunny boots". The boots are very insulated and water-proof to make sure our feet stay warm and dry. The insulation makes these boots very bulky and heavy, so walking in them can become hard!

On top of the warm clothes, we have a wind-proof layer. We wear a down parka with a fur-lined hood, wind pants, and goggles. Here is a photo of Katie wearing all of her layers, ready for the Ice!
Once we have picked out all of our clothes, we pack everything into the two orange duffel bags. Those two bags contain all of the gear and clothing we will use for the next two months!

After we were outfitted with our gear, we were finally able to return to our hotel to relax. But, our flight to Antarctica is very early tomorrow morning. We have to leave the hotel by 6 A.M. So, after a quick walk around town to enjoy the warmth and dinner at our favorite restaurant in Christchurch, we are going to bed. We have been traveling for a long time, and are very tired!

Keep your fingers crossed that the weather cooperates and we make it to McMurdo tomorrow!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

And I'm off!

My travel to Antarctica has begun! I'm currently on the bus heading to the airport. Keep your fingers crossed that the weather cooperates and I make all of my connections!

Next time I talk to you, I'll be in New Zealand!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Packing Up

Four days left before I leave for Antarctica!

We are busily packing up everything we'll need for our 2 months of field work. A lot of what we need is already at McMurdo Station, but there's a lot we need to take from Dartmouth.

There's a lot of different equipment we will need to do our field work. Most of it has already been shipped to McMurdo Station! We've sent down a few pieces of machinery to help us measure the chemistry of the air, water, and soil. This Irga on the right is just one of the machines we shipped down to use. We also pack up a lot of maps, books, and paperwork that are useful while we're working in the field and laboratory.

We also have to pack up our personal belongings that we'll need to live for 2 months. We can only pack what is most important, because we are only allowed to bring down two of these orange duffle bags! Most of what I pack are warm clothes. I pack a lot of wool and fleece socks and long underwear, hats, and gloves. I also have to pack everything I need to take a shower, protect myself from the sun, and sleep. I also pack a few things to do when I can relax, like books and music.
The strangest thing I pack is probably a pair of flip-flops. You might not think anyone would want to wear sandals in Antarctica, but they're nice to put on when you come inside. Those boots are big and heavy, and your feet get sweaty and tired! And you certainly don't want to put those boots on if you need to go down the hall to the bathroom in the middle of the night!

And, of course I have to pack my computer and camera so that I can blog while I'm there! Those will be the last things to get packed on Friday night.

Monday, November 24, 2008

12 Days to Go!

We have just a couple more weeks here at Dartmouth before we leave for Antarctica!

Katie and I will leave Dartmouth on December 6, which means we will land in Christchurch, New Zealand two days later on December 8! We will spend 33 hours traveling, which is not actually two whole days. When you fly to New Zealand from the west coast of the U.S., you cross the International Date Line. As soon as you cross it, it's tomorrow!

You can check out an interactive map of our travel by clicking here!

Once in New Zealand, we will have 2 days to be outfitted with our cold weather gear and pack for Antarctica. We are scheduled to fly from Christchurch to McMurdo, Antarctica on December 10 (New Zealand time).

(Elizabeth and Ross will be joining us in Antarctica a bit later, because they have to stay at Dartmouth long enough to finish teaching their classes this semester.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Welcome to Season 2!

Welcome to another field season of research in Antarctica with the Dartmouth polar soils research group!

If you are new to the Polar Soils blog, here is some information that might be useful to you:

Where we go:
When most people think of Antarctica, they think of ice. 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, where the glaciers have retreated. Just like deserts in the U.S., there's very little precipitation, so there's actually bare soil, not just ice and snow! The red dot on the map shows where McMurdo is located:

What we do:
Our research is in the field of soil biogeochemistry, which is just a big word that means we study the way nutrient 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 study how the living organisms influence nutrients in the soil. All of the animals 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 animal is a nematode. A predatory nematode is the top of our foodchain- the equivalent to a lion in the Serengeti! We also study the mosses growing in the dry valley soil. Mosses are the only plants growing in the dry valleys and the only living things you'll find above the soil- the equivalent to the redwood forests in America!

Who we are:
Our research team is a little bit different from last year. There are four 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 me (Becky, a postdoc), Elizabeth (a graduate student), and Katie (an undergraduate student). While on the ice, we will continue to work very closely with another group of scientists from Colorado State University led by Dr. Diana Wall that specializes in the nematodes (they have a special nematode blog). Together all of us study the nutrients and biology of the McMurdo Dry Valley soils.

About the blog:
Our blog is designed to be an educational tool for elementary and middle school classrooms, but all readers are welcome to follow along! Teachers interested in using the blog in their classes are welcome to contact me (contact information available through my website, listed under my Profile on the bottom-right).
On the right-hand side, there are some links with additional information that is useful for both kids and adults. Many links are added throughout the season, so keep an eye on them!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Last Post from Norway

For fun the last week, a few of us went kayaking across the fjord, and we saw a ptarmigan with 9 youngsters.(click here to learn more about ptarmigans, and click here to hear their call!)

Then we had a exam... not very exciting. After that, it has been just packing up and a lovely hike yesterday. (I sent my camera-computer cable home, so no downloads) .

I am off to Tromso now, and then some traveling in the Lofoten Islands!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Norwegian cruise

Well, the 3rd week offered us something different! Our course contracted a small ship, the M/S Stockholm out of Gotenburg Sweden, for three days to take us to different places.

The first place, Alkhornet (above), had incredible cliffs full of nesting auks and guillemots.
(Click here to learn more about guillemots, and click here to hear their call!)

We measured nitrogen fixing by cyanobacteria in small chambers using acetylene gas as a proxy.










The next day we went to Sassen Valley (right) and did similar measurements, then cruised past a huge glacier (left) and saw a ringed seal, hauled out on a small iceberg.
(Click here to learn more about ringed seals.)

We also saw a great number of puffins.
(Click here to learn more about puffins, and click here to hear their call!)

The 3rd day we headed off to a abandoned Russian coal mining town, Pyramiden (below).
It's very strange to see the building still in good condition with belongings still in the rooms and dead plants hanging in the windows. It was abandoned in 1998, when the coal ran out, and most of the people were moved to Barentsburg.