Tuesday, January 1, 2008

How to Find Antarctic Soil

Most people think of Antarctica as being cold, snowy, and ice-covered. While that is true for some parts of Antarctica (like, the South Pole, for example), that is not true everywhere in Antarctica. Some areas (like the Dry Valleys) are not covered in ice. Antarctica is a continent, which means it's made out of land, not just ice. The areas that are covered in ice still have soil underneath all of that ice. In most places the ice is incredibly thick, and you'd have to drill down for miles to find the soil. But, there's still soil under there! The areas that do not have ice allow you to see the soil directly, without drilling through any ice. That's why our group works in the Dry Valleys. We're interested in soil, and the Dry Valleys allow us to look at that soil without any ice cover.The Dry Valleys don't have ice because they are in a desert that is very dry. There is not enough snow fall each year to cover the ground completely. No glaciers remain to cover the ground.

The soils of Antarctica are not like those that you're used to seeing. Antarctic soils are very rocky and loose. There's no tree or plant roots to hold the soil together, so it is soft and loose to walk on. It's like walking on the beach, where the sand smooshes around your foot. Except here, there's a lot of rocks, pebbles, and boulders, not just sand. The rocks come from all sorts of different origins. Some of them are from volcanoes. Some of them are from the bedrock.

Mike and I came back to the field today. We are now at Lake Bonney, which is a different lake basin in Taylor Valley. While we're here, we'll hike some more elevation transects for soil samples, plus measure carbon dioxide respiration from several different plots. Unfortunately, the internet at this camp is not very good, and I am not able to upload many pictures. I will upload more when I can!