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!

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!