Thursday, December 30, 2010

4th Annual Camp Hair Contest

Back by popular demand... it's the Fourth Annual Camp Hair Contest!

The water restrictions in the dry valleys means that we are not able to shower or wash our hair while we're out at field camps. That means that people's hair gets very dirty and oily, which of course leads to some very fabulous hair-do's! This is what we call having "camp hair." Having great camp hair is a matter of pride, and the person with the best camp hair is honored throughout McMurdo. So, once again, I'm going to leave it up to everyone reading my blog to decide who has the best camp hair for the 2010-11 field season. Review the photos below of our "camp hair" contestants, and send in your vote! Anyone reading this is welcome to vote, and can do so by sending an email with your choice to me.

Let's meet this year's contestants!

University of Colorado student and Stream Team member, Steven has mastered the sight and smell of the unshowered. His gnarly hair is complemented by his Handlebar Fu-Manchops, a look that's only attainable after having been in the field since October.

Chad:Stream Teamer Chad is a more recent arrival to the field, but has lost no time in catching up on the camp hair. Chad's hair specializes in volume, as provided by the Trucker Hat Salon. He gives a thumbs up to stream gauges, flow meters, and campbell data loggers, but a thumbs down to combs and shampoo!

Wormherder geologist Mike is back in the running this year. A 12-hour workday of hiking and digging soil pits gives Mike's hair its special flair... and his eyes a crazy look. Carefully balanced by a scraggly beard, his hair needs no additives to defy gravity.

There they are: the 2010-11 season's Best Camp Hair contestants. May the voting begin! The champion Camp Hair will be declared in 5 days.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fertilizing a Polar Desert

This week, Mike, Jenn and I have been working on one of the long-term experiments we're running in the dry valleys. This experiment investigates how the soil responds to nutrient fertilization. Like I mentioned yesterday, nutrients are important for organisms to grow and metabolize. Our experiment asks which nutrients are limiting to growth of soil organisms and how giving them extra nutrients influences soil processes (like nutrient cycling). The three of us have added nutrient treatments to our research plots. We added the three major elements that are important to life everywhere on the planet: carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. We do this by adding those nutrients dissolved in water. Every year we add more nutrients and measure the response.

To add the treatments to the plots, we have to bring a LOT of water to the field: 775 pounds of water! We do this at two different places. On Monday we did the plots near F6 where I have been living. Today, we did the plots at the other end of the valley, near Lake Bonney. We carry the solutions to the field in 35 ten-liter carboys, and then transfer 5.6 L at a time to pour jugs with sprinkle caps to be applied to the plots. There's a very specific technique that's important to use. In this video, Jenn and Mike are demonstrating the technique, working at two different parts of the plot at Lake Bonney. Jenn is in the distance sprinkling water over the plot through a plexiglass cone, which helps guide the water to the correct spot like a giant funnel. Mike is closer up preparing to pour by placing his cone in the correct spot.

It's a lot of heavy-lifting of water! And how do we carry all 35 of those carboys? Teamwork.

In the video, you can also see the clouds that were encroaching upon us while we worked. In one direction, skies are blue. In the other, there's nothing but a ceiling of clouds. Right now, I'm back at F6, and those clouds are hovering right over our hut! I hope they pass quickly, because tomorrow I'm scheduled to start the measurements on the plots to see how the organisms are responding. They are much more active when it's sunny and warmer out. Keep your fingers crossed for the return of beautiful weather!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Coastal upwelling

You wouldn't think that the oceans around Antarctica would have a lot of exciting marine animals. But it does! The shores around Antarctica have quite a variety of marine life, because it is a zone of coastal upwelling.

The water in the ocean doesn't stay in one place. Water moves. You're probably familiar with currents and tides, which are a couple ways that water moves around in the ocean. But water also moves up and down in the ocean, not just around the surface. Here's how.

Water that is on the ocean surface gets pushed around by the wind. When the surface water is pushed away from an area, other water has to move in to replace it. Along the coast of a piece of land, there's no surface water to replace it, so the bottom waters have to rise up to replace that water. Where the bottom waters come up to the surface is called "upwelling".

The surface waters being pushed away will move around the surface and eventually sink to the bottom. It will then eventually upwell to become part of the surface ocean again. It's a big conveyor belt that moves water up and down, in addition to around the surface.

While water is on the bottom of the ocean, it collects a lot of nutrients. The nutrients come from dead things that sink to the bottom and start to decompose. So, at areas where bottom water is rising to the surface, it is bringing along with it a lot of nutrients that had been collecting. Those nutrients are important for living organisms at the surface.

Around the coast of Antarctica, the westerly winds push water away, and it is replaced by the cold, nutrient-rich water below. The high level of nutrients in the upwelled water around McMurdo mean that there is a lot of productivity. There's a lot of phytoplankton in the water that use those nutrients to photosynthesize. Because there's a lot of phytoplankton, there are a lot of animals that eat the phytoplankton, and therefore a lot of animals that eat those animals... a whole food chain! So, there's a lot of animals living off the coast of McMurdo. Some of them are very colorful, just like in the tropics!

The marine biologists here at McMurdo keep a touch tank with some of the animals they catch. Here's what I saw in the touch tank:There's a lot of different types of animals in there, of different shapes and colors. And they all live right here near McMurdo! It's all of this life that lets the oceans support the larger ocean animals that you might be more familiar with:(See the whale and the penguins at the ice edge?)

Even though it's so cold and icy, the oceans are home to several species of whales, penguins, and seals. They can live here because of the upwelling that brings all of those rich nutrients to support the entire food chain in ocean around Antarctica.

[Photo credit: upwelling diagram from]

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone had a great Christmas. For the holiday, I hiked from F6 with the Stream Team to Lake Hoare, where everyone in Taylor Valley gathered for Christmas.

To make the journey, we had to ride the ATV across the ice covering Lake Fryxell to the other side of the lake. Then, we hiked up the hillside, crossed the Canada Glacier and hiked down the other side to the camp at Lake Hoare. It's the Antarctica version of going over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house.

Here I am with the crew from F6 as we hiked over Canada Glacier:

At Lake Hoare, there are a lot of great Christmas traditions. One of the most fun is building the gingerbread house and decorating Christmas cookies! Here's this year's creation. We use only edible items to build the house, including the Twizzlers that my sister sent me in a care package. This year's gingerbread house is even energy-efficient, with solar power and a wind generator!
After the decorating, we have a big family-style dinner of ham, asparagus, potatoes, and bread pudding. We follow that up with coffee while playing the gift-swap game. Then, we turn the lights out and have a dance party until we get too tired and crawl into our tents to sleep.

It was great to spend time with my Antarctic family in the dry valleys! It was a fun Christmas as always. Here's the beautiful view we had from the front door of the hut around midnight on Christmas:

Have a happy, safe holiday season!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Patterns in Antarctic Soil

One of the most noticeable features of the soil in the dry valleys are the strange shapes that cover the ground. These are most noticeable when you're flying over the dry valleys in a helicopter. The irregular shapes are created by cracks that develop in the soil.

These polygons in the soil are very large. They can be many meters across. To give you a sense of scale, here's an aerial shot from a helicopter of F6 camp where I'm staying right now. You can see the polygons in comparison to the hut.

And here's what they look like from the ground. There's still soil the cracks. The cracks are not gaping holes that you can fall into. They are just crevices filled with finer-grained sand than the rest of the soil.
The cracks are created by the freezing and thawing of the ground ice below the soil. Water in the soil expands when it freezes and shrinks when it thaws, which creates the crack, and the finer-grained soil falls into the crack. Because ice and freezing plays a role in the formation of the cracks, they are called "cryogenic cracks".

Our research in the dry valleys has shown that biodiversity is lowest in the cryogenic cracks. So, when we walk across the soil, we specifically walk in the cryogenic cracks so that we are only harming the least diverse part of the community. As you can tell from the first photo, that means we don't walk in many straight lines!

Cryogenic cracks are not unique to the dry valleys of Antarctica. They are commonly found in cold places where permafrost underlies the soil, such as the Arctic tundra. They're even found on Mars, which is one piece of evidence that leads scientists to believe that there may be water on Mars.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Outhouse

A helicopter delivered a package to F6 camp. It was our new outhouse!

At the camps in the dry valleys, there is no plumbing. All of our waste material has to be contained in barrels and buckets and shipped off the continent at the end of the season. We can't release it anywhere in the dry valleys, because it is a protected environment. Therefore, we use an outhouse where all of our waste is collected.

At F6, we had an old outhouse that was pretty small and rustic. There was a bucket with a seat that we used for solids. That was covered by an old garbage can lid. For liquids, boys stood outside and used a funnel in a barrel, and girls squatted over a tin can in the outhouse that was then poured into the barrel outside. Here's a shot of the old outhouse:
But the NEW outhouse is much more luxurious! It's bigger. There's two comfortable foam seats with real seat covers: one over the bucket for solids and one where girls can sit over a big funnel that leads to the can. There's a urinal inside for boys, so they don't have to stand outside. But that's not all! There's also hooks to hang up your coat, ventilation panels, and a sunroof! The plexiglass panels let in light, but also heat the outhouse like a greenhouse. Plus it's bigger, so there's more room to store the extra supplies and still be able to move around comfortably. We are very excited to have such a fancy new outhouse!

Here's a video tour of our fancy new outhouse.

Exciting times at F6!

Monday, December 20, 2010


Today I flew back to the camp at F6 on Lake Fryxell in Taylor Valley.

Because there were two stops we needed to make before dropping me at F6, I got to fly over some pretty cool scenery. Instead of coming in the mouth of Taylor Valley from the (frozen-over) sea ice, I flew from over the Asgard Range of mountains that border Taylor Valley on the north side. There are alpine glaciers that cover a lot of the area up there.

This is the view I had coming over the Asgard Range, most of which is covered by the glacier. Just beyond the mountain peaks in the foreground is Taylor Valley. (In the background of the photo are the Kukri Hills, which make up the southern border of Taylor Valley.)

There is a lot of land under the glacier, we just can't see it. However, some of the mountain peaks are tall enough to poke out of the glacier. These are called "nunataks". You can see an example of a nunatak on the right-hand side of the picture above. Nunataks are isolated from the rest of the land by the surrounding ice, which is how they get their name. "Nunatak" is an Inuit word that means "lonely peak". They are not created by the glacier, but were a part of the mountain range before the glacier was there. While organisms living on land below the glacier will probably be killed by the glacier, they may be able to survive for a long time on the nunatak. Scientists find all sorts of organisms living on nunataks in Antarctica, such as bacteria, lichens, and mites. So, even though nunataks are isolated, they are not uninhabited.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Back in Town

Friday evening I returned to McMurdo Station from Cape Royds. In Antarctic lingo, we call that going back to "Mactown." There, I met up with two more of my group members that have just arrived in Antarctica. Here we are, all three together!We will be a three-member team until early January, when Ross (our fourth member) arrives.

During my two days in town, I've been processing the samples I collected from F6 and Cape Royds. One of the things I have to do is clean the soil off of the moss I've been collecting, so that I can measure the nutrient content of the moss back in the U.S. To do this, I have to place the moss in a dish under the microscope:
I showed you before what patches of moss look like in the field. It looks like a piece of carpet, and it's hard to tell the individual plant stems apart. This is what a piece of that patch looks like through the microscope lens:The green parts you see are just a small part of the moss. Those are the leaves, which grow on a stem. Below all of those green tops are a large mass of brown rhizoids, that work like roots for keeping the moss in place and collecting nutrients. In this picture, the stems are bigger than the rhizoids, but in the moss I work with, there's a lot more rhizoids than stems. There's a lot of soil stuck in that tangle of rhizoids, and I have to wash all of that out. If I don't, when I take my nutrient measurements, I won't be able to tell the difference between what nutrients are in the moss versus the soil. It's very time-consuming, and requires a lot of patience!

Once the moss is clean, I put it in an oven (at a low temperature) to dry it out so that I can safely ship it back to the U.S. for analysis.

This is just one of the chores I've been doing since I've been in Mactown. It's been busy, because tomorrow I head back to F6 on Lake Fryxell for more field work!

[Photo credits: Moss diagram from]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Wonders of Penguin Poo

Yesterday evening I left Lake Fryxell and flew to Cape Royds, one of the penguin rookeries on Ross Island.

While I am here, I will be measuring respiration from soil covered with penguin poo! When most soil organisms respire, they produce carbon dioxide (abbreviated CO2). Humans do this when we breath, too. By measuring the amount of CO2 coming out of the soil, we are measuring how much the soil organisms are respiring. Since penguin poo has a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus, I expect much more CO2 to be respired from these soils than the dry valleys. (Just think about what you would do... if someone gave you a lot of yummy things to eat, you'd run around and be more active, and therefore respire more. The same thing happens for soil organisms!)

Here's a measurement being taken at the rookery. All the light-colored pink and tan stuff... that's penguin poo! The small machine down by the lake edge is what measures CO2 coming out of the soil.

The penguins are very funny to be around. Many of them are very curious... just as curious as we are about them! Here's Adrian, who volunteered to help me with my measurements today. Who's studying who?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The great moss hunt

This is my second day of field work in the dry valleys. Today I was sampling along stream edges for moss. I've been sampling moss for a few years in the dry valleys, and I'm trying to sample from new areas this year that I haven't sampled in the past.

Moss is the only true plant in the dry valleys, though it hardly fits the definition of "plant" that most of us think of. Moss are bryophytes, which are a type of non-vascular plant. In the dry valleys, where temperature, sunlight, and dryness are very harsh to deal with, they grow very slowly. We find them mostly in small patches near sources of water, like streams and snowpatches. Here's a photo of some moss I was sampling at Crescent Stream. Can you see the moss? It's reddish-brown and looks kind of fluffy.During the winter there's no sunlight for photosynthesis, but during the summer the sun can be so intense that it can actually damage plants. (Largely due to the intense UV radiation that I mentioned a couple days ago.) Most of the time you do not find moss that is lush and green, because it's usually too cold, too dry, or there's too much sun damage. The moss I find tends to be brown, because it is "moribund". That means it's not dead, but also not very healthy. The moss is less active in that state, but parts of it can be. I can find green moss in spots where it's protected from the intense sun, though. Here's a little patch of green moss that I uncovered when I moved a rock out of the way at Crescent Stream.

Just like all other plants, moss need water and nutrients to grow. I want to know where the moss is getting its nutrients from. I'm interested in the nutrients in moss because, when mosses die, they decompose in the soil. The carbon and nutrients released from mosses when they decompose are probably a very important part of the soil food web that our group studies. So, when I sample the moss, I also sample the soil, stream water, and ground water, which are the possible sources of nutrients for the moss. You can see some of my tools in the photo above. I scoop the moss into a bag with a spoon, then the soil beneath with a little plastic shovel. I take stream water right out of the stream into a bottle. The trickier part is getting the ground water. To do that, I use a miniature well called a piezometer. Essentially, I insert a tube into the ground until it hits the ground water, then I use a vacuum pump to pull the water up into my flask. Here's a video showing you how it works (as well as some nice scenery along Crescent Stream!).

Since the dry valleys are a desert, moss need to grown near a source of water. The easiest place to find them is right next to a stream. So, to do this sampling, I tagged along with the Stream Team as they went about their daily chores at some of the streams. They have to measure the amount of water flowing in each of the streams and take stream water samples for chemistry. Since I can't travel by myself, I was able to go to the streams they scheduled to visit today to do my moss sampling at the same time. This is what they were doing while I was sampling moss:I was able to sample moss from four streams since I've been here, all along the south side of Lake Fryxell. I hiked from one end of the lake to the other, stopping at each un-sampled stream area that I came across. I'm tired!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Into the Dry Valleys

Today I left McMurdo Station and headed to the dry valleys to being my field work.

Every time I go between McMurdo and my field sites in the dry valleys, I fly on a helicopter. First, all of my camping equipment, my hiking gear, and the tools I need to do my research had to be loaded onto the helicopter. We leave things like that to the professionals. Here are the heli-techs loading up my gear this morning:

Meanwhile, we stand back and wait for the signal to get on the helicopter. This morning I flew with my new friend Derrick, a scientist who will be using radar to map melting water from snow and glaciers in the dry valleys. This was his first time going to the dry valleys. See how excited he is?

Then, we flew across McMurdo Sound to the dry valleys on the mainland of the continent. Of course, the water is covered in ice, so we're not flying over open water. It takes about 30 minutes to fly across and reach the field camp.

And then, we reached Taylor Valley, where I spend most of my time in the field.

So now I am back at my favorite field camp called "F6". It's on Lake Fryxell in Taylor Valley. I have an absolutely beautiful commute to work!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ozone over Antarctica

There are a lot of reasons that working in Antarctica can be dangerous. It's cold, windy, and very isolated. One danger that is not as obvious is Ultra-Violet radiation (called "UV" radiation).

UV radiation comes from the sun. The sun naturally puts out a lot of different types of radiation. Some of that radiation we can see as visible light and colors. Some of the radiation we can't see, like UV. Radiation from the sun also carries energy. Some of this energy is very useful. It allows us to see, plants use it to photosynthesize, and much more! But some types of UV radiation are packed with so much energy that it can be dangerous if we are exposed to too much.

Luckily for us on Earth, there is a layer of ozone surrounding us in the atmosphere. Ozone is a molecule made up of three oxygen atoms (written O3), and it can bounce back harmful UV radiation and prevent most of it from making it to the Earth's surface. That is why the ozone layer is so important. It helps protect the Earth (and everyone on it) from harmful UV radiation. You can see in the diagram that there's a lot of "rays" of radiation coming from the sun, and some of those are stopped at the ozone layer. Only the helpful parts can make it through.

I'm sure you've heard about the hole in the ozone layer. But how did it get there, and what does it mean?

Humans produce some chemicals that can break apart that O3 molecule. These are chemicals that are made for many useful day-to-day purposes, and we didn't know they broke apart ozone when we started using them. Some of the major chemicals involved are called CFC's (which stands for chlorofluorocarbons... but CFC is a lot easier to say!). CFC's were used in refrigerators and as a propellant in aerosol cans. We liked to use these chemicals because they are not toxic and very stable (meaning they keep their chemical structure for a long time). That made them easy to store for long periods of time and safe for people to use. They are also very light, which means they can float up through the air once they are released from the aerosol can or refrigerator. At first, we didn't know that they were harmful to ozone. But, as more and more people used CFC's, more and more were allowed to float freely around in the atmosphere, eventually rising high up enough to reach the ozone layer.

Here's what happens when a compound like a CFC is in the ozone layer. In the ozone layer, the CFC is exposed to the UV radiation that it had been previously protected from when it was beneath the ozone layer. The UV radiation, because it is packed with so much energy, can break off pieces of the CFC compound. A single chlorine atom breaks off of the CFC in this process. It is actually the chlorine that breaks apart the O3 ozone molecule. O3 gets broken apart and is no longer useful for absorbing UV radiation.
If you want to know more about how the reaction occurs in the atmosphere, click this image to make it bigger and read about it:
So why is there one hole in the ozone layer, instead of over the whole planet? Air in our atmosphere moves around. It circulates. (Just think of wind. The same thing happens higher up in the atmosphere.) What ends up happening is that a lot of the CFC's gather together at one spot in the atmosphere that happens to be over Antarctica. The CFC's get trapped down here because of the winds that circle the continent. Because Antarctica is dark for 6 months of the year, the CFC's can build up. As soon as spring arrives and sunlight reappears, the CFC's can be broken, the chlorines released, and the ozone is eaten up!

Here's a map of the bottom half of the globe. The blue/purple areas are where the ozone is almost gone during the summer. The green areas still have an ozone layer. You can see that the ozone hole is very big... bigger than Antarctica!

The ozone hole is not something you can see with our naked eye. The sky doesn't look different. But we see evidence that it is here. During the summer when the hole is present over Antarctica, we receive almost the full blast of UV radiation during the summer when the hole is present. People can easily get sunburn. Also, anything brightly colored fades pretty quickly here. A good example are the orange bags we are issued. In this photo from the airplane runway, you can see quite a variety of shades of orange bags. When they're new, the bags are bright orange and have black straps. Through time, the bags become lighter and lighter, and the straps turn gray. All of the bags in this photo at one point looked like the bright orange one under Liz's head (she's the girl lying down on the left).

Of course, being under the ozone hole is bad for life in Antarctica. As people, we can take extra precautions. We wear a LOT of very strong sunblock. However, wildlife cannot. Scientists working here have noted harmful effects of the increased UV on marine life and other animals.

It's also not just bad for Antarctica. The ozone hole allows more UV radiation to enter over Antarctica, but that energy doesn't just stay around Antarctica. Like I already said, the air in our atmosphere moves around the planet. So extra incoming radiation over Antarctica means more radiation energy for other places on the planet, too. That extra energy can cause all sorts of changes, like increases in temperature, changes in wind patterns, and shifting ocean currents.

So the ozone hole is not just a problem for Antarctica! It is something that we all became concerned about, and we took action. An agreement was signed by many countries requiring them to make laws to reduce the use of ozone-destroying chemicals like CFC's. And it's working! These chemicals are decreasing in the atmosphere and the ozone hole is slowly repairing itself. But, it takes a lot of time to fix a problem that was caused in a very short period of time. Also, there are more than just CFC's that damage ozone. For example, N2O (nitrous oxide) is released from agricultural fields that are over-fertilized, and when N2O reaches the ozone, it also breaks apart into compounds that can break apart O3. So, getting rid of CFC's is a great first step, but we also have to start thinking about ways to reduce some of the other chemicals we release that can harm the ozone.

[Credits: Earth and ozone layer image from; CFC and O3 image from; map of the hole from]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

About McMurdo Station

I've spent the past couple of days at McMurdo Station setting up our lab and prepping for the field. McMurdo is the largest of the three U.S. research stations in Antarctica. (We also have Palmer Station on the peninsula and one at the South Pole. Also, there are two icebreakers that cruise the Southern Ocean for marine research.)In addition to the three U.S. bases, the U.K. bases are also labeled on this map. There are, of course, many bases owned by other countries across the continent that are not labeled on this map.

McMurdo Station sits on Ross Island in the Ross Sea, at the bottom-center of the above map. (The area is named after James Ross, the earliest explorer to reach land in this area of Antarctica in the mid 1800's.) If we zoom in on the McMurdo area, you can see that, while I am here at McMurdo Station (the red dot), I'm not actually on the mainland of the Antarctic continent. We are, however, on the edge of the permanent ice shelf, an area of the Ross Sea that is frozen on top year-round, so it is frequently considered to be part of the continent. That's why it's shaded a different color in the first map. Below Ross Island (to the north), the Ross Sea is also frequently ice-covered, but it melts back, sometimes as far as McMurdo Station, during the summer months. In the map above, you can see how some of that ice is breaking apart around the island. It is called "sea ice", not the "ice shelf", because it is a different piece of ice than the permanent stuff that makes up the ice shelf.

Also on Ross Island is Mount Erebus: the southern-most active volcano in the world. (The volcano is named after James Ross's ship, The Erebus.) In the second map, Erebus is the black-tipped cone on the right side of the island. Mt. Erebus is always looming in the background here at McMurdo. This is what it looks like from the ground while standing on the ice shelf near McMurdo Station:
In this photo, Erebus is pretty quiet. Some days we see it puffing smoke quite a bit.

Here's an aerial view of McMurdo Station:
McMurdo and the other U.S. research stations on Antarctica are funded and managed by the National Science Foundation. Research here has been going steady since 1956. Contractors and the U.S. military provide the support to operate the bases and make the scientific research possible. Some of the research is to understand the Antarctic region and ecosystems, as well as the region's response to changes in climate. This includes studying glaciers, geology, soils, and oceans. People study the chemistry, physics, and biology of all of those components. Also, Antarctica is the home to a lot of atmospheric and space research, because the atmosphere is thinner here than other parts of the planet. That means that there are a lot of scientists at McMurdo studying a wide variety of topics, plus enlisted military and contracted support staff (usually adventure-seekers). During the summer season (right now), the total number on base is over 1,000 diverse people. You never know what kind of conversation you'll have when you sit down for dinner!

I have two more days to get myself prepared for my field work. On Monday, I should be heading to the Dry Valleys, which are across the McMurdo Sound on the mainland of the continent. Where I'll be heading is labeled with the orange dot on the second map.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Arrival in McMurdo

I have arrived at McMurdo Station, Antarctica!

Today, I woke up early in Christchurch, packed my bags and headed to the airport. There, I boarded a U.S. Air Force C-17 and flew from New Zealand to Antarctica. It's about a 5-hour flight. There was a big crowd on the plane this year: about 60 people. Only half of us were American. We flew down with a lot of Italian and French scientists who headed to their own bases after they arrived at McMurdo.

The runway that we landed on is built on the seasonal sea ice, so it is called the "ice runway". It's rebuilt each year and used until early or mid-December when the ice starts to break up. In my previous years, I've always arrived after the ice runway has been closed, and have landed instead at Pegasus Airfield, located further back on the permanent ice shelf. So, it was a different landing for me this year! The ice runway is much closer to McMurdo Station, so the journey from the plane to the station was much shorter than I'm used to. You can even see the ice runway clearly from our lab window:
Tonight I'll be getting settled into my room and lab. Tomorrow, I begin the preparations for getting out into the field to get my work done. It'll be good to revisit all of the people that help me do that!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Gearing Up

Today I went to the U.S. Antarctic Program office in Christchurch to be outfitted for gear I will need in Antarctica. I wear a lot of my own personal clothes and gear, but I also use a lot of special issued gear. The board in the picture shows the variety of clothes they give us: everything from long underwear and socks to coats and hats. 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. On top of the warm clothes, we have a wind-proof layer of overall pants. Here you can see me wearing my long underwear shirt and pants, topped by my wind pants.The boots I'm wearing are called "bunny boots". They 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 everything, we wear a down parka with a fur-lined hood. The giant red parkas is nicknamed "Big Red". There is a also a light-weight, red wind-breaker, which is called "Little Red". Big Red is very warm, but it is very large and bulky. Unless it's very cold, I prefer to wear Little Red for my field work.

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!

Our flight to Antarctica is scheduled for very early tomorrow morning. We have to leave the hotel by 6 A.M. Let's hope the weather over McMurdo stays good so that we can get out of here on time!

In Christchurch, New Zealand

I have landed safely in Christchurch, New Zealand. This marks the end of the first portion of the journey. I will spend a couple days here getting prepared (and enjoying some summer weather) before I head down to McMurdo.

Check out this photo I took as we were flying over New Zealand near Christchurch. It's a beautiful country!

The river that you see running through the middle is called a "braided river". It's a series of smaller channels of water that twist together and are separated by sand bars. This type of river is found in areas where the ground is easily eroded to create a lot of sediment (which creates the sand bars) and where there are rapid changes in the amount of water flowing in the river. The mountains in the background are geologically young, and easily erode to create that sediment.

Braided rivers are common here in New Zealand, but also in Antarctica. Here's a photo I took a few years ago when I was flying over the Onyx River in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, where you see the same braided pattern:

(You'll notice one thing unique about Antarctica: there are no trees, roads, or houses to give you a sense of size, like you have in the New Zealand photo. This photo was taken from a helicopter pretty high up, but you wouldn't know that if I didn't tell you!)