Monday, November 16, 2009

Welcome to Season 3!

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

We are making preparations to leave the U.S. and head to McMurdo Station on December 12. It is a busy time of preparations for us at Dartmouth! We have a lot of work to finish up, travel plans to arrange, and supplies and equipment to gather. In just a few weeks, we'll be on our way.

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), Julia and Jen (both graduate students). 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!

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