Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting packed to leave the U.S.

My departure for Antarctica is approaching quickly! I leave for Antarctica on December 3. I'm finishing all of the work that needs to be done at ASU before I leave and getting my personal gear packed up.

Here's my partially-packed suit case. There are normal things in there that everyone packs when they travel: clothes, socks, and shoes. You can see that there aren't a whole lot of clothes. Really, there's just one stack of pants and shirts. We aren't able to bring down a lot of stuff, even though we're there for a long time. I only bring down a few pairs of pants and a couple of shirts, but several sets of under-layer clothes (like long johns and undershirts). Most of the clothes in the stack are fleece, silk, or polypro for warmth. I don't have to pack pajamas, because I always sleep in my long johns. I also pack lots and lots of warm socks. I can tolerate wearing dirty pants and shirts when I'm in the field, but dry socks are like gold! You can see thick socks crammed in all of the corners of the suitcase. (My grandmother has given me most of those socks over many Christmases.) And of course I pack hats, mittens, and hand warmers (just a few, for those really, really cold moments). I also always pack sandals. Those are handy for when you come inside after being out in the field and you want to take off your giant boots and let your feet air out. In the lid of the suitcase there are also some books to read and my notebooks from previous years on the ice. In the small pocket I have things like my camera, batteries and the charger, and my iPod. There's a Christmas present in the suitcase, too. I will be at one of the field camps for Christmas, and every year we play the "gift game". There's something good inside the gift I'm putting in...

The red backpack will be my carry-on during the flight. It has all of my toiletries as well as some warm-weather clothes for my time in New Zealand. I carry all of that stuff on the plane so that, if my luggage gets lost, I can still take a shower and put on clean clothes after the long flight across the Pacific! It also has my passport and other travel documents so that I can get into New Zealand.

There are still a few things that need to be packed. I have to include my eyeglasses, sunglasses, underwear, and other things I'm still using at home. I'll finish packing tonight and tomorrow morning, then I'm off to the airport! Let me know if you notice anything important missing from the suitcase, so that I can make sure to pack it before I go.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Welcome to Season 4!

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

I am making preparations to leave the U.S. and head to McMurdo Station on December 3. It is a busy time of preparations for me! I have a lot of work to finish up, travel plans to arrange, and supplies and equipment to gather. One big difference from the past three seasons is that I am now based at Arizona State University, so I am far away from my fellow teammates at Dartmouth College. That makes preparations a bit more complicated. But, in just a couple weeks, I'll be on my 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., such as the Sonoran Desert where I now live, 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 professor at Arizona State University), Jenn (a graduate student at Dartmouth College), and Mike (a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania).

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!