Thursday, December 1, 2011

Happy Antarctica Day!

On this day (December 1) in 1959, the Antarctic Treaty was signed.

The Antarctic Treaty sets aside the continent for scientific research and international scientific cooperation. It also includes agreements that set out the guidelines for the preservation of Antarctica's environment and conservation of Antarctic flora and fauna. Further, Antarctica is preserved by the treaty for only peaceful purposes. All military action is banned, and it was the first anti-nuclear treaty made during the Cold War. Quite an accomplishment! As a result of the treaty, there are no territorial claims over Antarctica. That makes Antarctica the only continent with no nations.

The treaty was originally signed by the 12 nations that were actively working in Antarctica at the time, but since then the number has grown to 48 nations. Together, those nations represent about two thirds of the world's population.

The treaty, still today, is a great example of the benefits of international cooperation! We all share a mutual interest, right, and responsibility regarding Antarctica, in terms of research, preservation, and peacefulness.

Preamble of the Antarctic Treaty:

The Governments of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, the French Republic, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Union of South Africa, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America,

Recognizing that it is in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord;

Acknowledging the substantial contributions to scientific knowledge resulting from international cooperation in scientific investigation in Antarctica;

Convinced that the establishment of a firm foundation for the continuation and development of such cooperation on the basis of freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica as applied during the International Geophysical Year accords with the interests of science and the progress of all mankind;

Convinced also that a treaty ensuring the use of Antarctica for peaceful purposes only and the continuance of international harmony in Antarctica will further the purposes and principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations;

Have agreed as follows... (You can read the entire text of the treaty at the NSF website.)

So, to honor this great example of international cooperation and all of the exciting science that has come from such a unique location, I wish you a Happy Antarctica Day!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

End of the Fourth Season

Well, my fourth season on the ice has come to an end. I've left Antarctica and flown back to Christchurch, New Zealand.

It has been a crazy few days! I had scheduled to finish my field work last Friday, leaving myself a few days in "Mactown" (McMurdo Station) before my scheduled flight back to Christchurch today. I needed to prepare samples for shipment, fill out paperwork and reports, and put away equipment and gear. However, because of the bad weather, I didn't finish my field work until yesterday! So, yesterday, I said my goodbye to the dry valleys, and spent the evening busily wrapping up the season.

Here's the last view I had on the ground in the dry valleys. It's taken from the Bonney Riegel just before I boarded the helicopter. The weather was very cloudy and cold, but there was a small patch of blue sky!

In addition, our crew from Colorado State University joined us on the ice yesterday, so there were more people in the lab. (Though, at this point, we were still missing one person from our group, Ross, who had gotten delayed in Boston.)

Because the first part of the season was so unusually warm, there's been a lot more melting of ice than in previous years. The runway that the US Air Force airplanes use is built on the ice. Last week, a plane taking off damaged the runway because it was too soft. So, they've decided to only land C-17's on it at night when temperatures are at their coldest. This means that Ross, the final member of our group, left Christchurch on the plane at 11:00 pm last night. While he was still in the air, at 2:00 AM, I left McMurdo and rode Ivan the Terrabus to Pegasus Airfield. There, we waited for the C-17 to land. (You can see it coming in the distance.)
At 4 AM, the C-17 landed, Ross deboarded and got on Ivan, then I got on the C-17. We traded places! They keep the incoming and outgoing passengers separated, so I didn't get to say "hi" to Ross, but I saw him in the stream of folks loading their gear onto Ivan.

Because there was a lot of work to do, plus new teammates in town to visit with before I left, and I had to report for transport so early in the morning, I didn't go to bed last night. (Luckily I had company, as Jenn and Mike stayed up with me until 2 AM to keep me company. They're great team mates!) So I am very sleepy! But, it's nice to be back in Christchurch where everything is warm and green. Tomorrow morning I catch my flight out of Christchurch to begin the long journey back to Phoenix.

So there you have it: the end of the field season! Of course, I can't sign off without announcing the winner of this year's Best Camp Hair Competition. The winner is...

Mike Poage!

Mike will celebrate by eating a favorite food amongst all the dry valleys inhabitants: a beef stick. But that's not just any beef stick. That's a Beef Stick of Victory.
Congratulations, Mike! Your dream of ruling the camp hair competition has finally come true.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Finally!

Finally, the weather today was good enough to get to the Bonney Riegel and take the measurements I'd been trying to make since Friday!

I was taking CO2 flux measurements on the plots to which we had added the nutrient treatments last week. The CO2 flux measures how much the organisms are respiring in response to the fertilization. To do this, I use a piece of machinery called a LI-COR CO2 analyzer. Here's a quick clip of me using the machinery on one of the plots:
video
I place the sample chamber on the PVC ring that marks where I want to measure CO2. I use a Palm Pilot to tell the machine to start the measurement and which sample I'm measuring. I hit "start" and the machine automatically starts taking the measurement! All with the help of my trusty "Green Brain".

And that marks the end of my season! Today was my last trip to the dry valleys. I transport very early tomorrow morning (2:15 AM) to Pegasus Runway to catch my flight back to New Zealand. Goodbye Dry Valleys! Goodbye McMurdo!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Stuck in McMurdo

Well, the weather hasn't gotten any better! I woke up this morning to find it snowing outside. My trip to Bonney to make my measurements was canceled. I'll be trying again tomorrow. It's my last chance to get in the field, because I'm scheduled to leave Antarctica early Wednesday morning.

In addition to me being stuck here, we have several group members in Christchurch waiting to come down. Ross, the final member of our team, got stuck sleeping on the floor in LAX airport due to his delayed flights. He's reportedly made it to Christchurch, and is now waiting to come down on the C-17. So have several other scientists that we work with from Colorado State University. They are enjoying the warm New Zealand weather and are hoping to fly down to McMurdo tonight. However, the bad weather that kept my helicopter from flying may prevent the C-17 from leaving Christchurch, so they may be stuck there another night. There are also a lot of other people that have been stuck in Christchurch for many nights due to some damage to the runway on the ice shelf caused by the warm weather we had been having.

So, I'm stuck in McMurdo, they're stuck in Christchurch, and we all have things we need to do elsewhere! As the saying goes here, "It's a harsh continent."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy 2011!

Welcome to the first post of 2011! It's been a busy New Year for me here at McMurdo. At the end of last week (and the end of 2010) I was at F6 camp. Bad weather had rolled in which prevented the helicopters from flying into the valley. On Friday the 31st, I had hoped to fly from F6 to Lake Bonney basin for the day, then return to McMurdo Station for the weekend. But, because the helicopters couldn't fly, I didn't make it to Bonney, and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make it back to McMurdo! Luckily, at the end of the day, the clouds cleared just enough to let a couple helicopters in and move people out of the valley. So I made it back to McMurdo, but just barely!

Here's a photo as I was flying out of the valley. You can see the narrow line of light on the horizon. That's all the space we had to get out! Above us is a thick, low-flying layer of clouds. That's called having a "low ceiling". The helicopters can only safely fly if the ceiling is above a certain height. Finally, around 4:00 PM, the ceiling lifted enough to let us out!

The reason I wanted to return to McMurdo is because I leave the continent on Wednesday morning, and I have a lot of lab work to get done before I go. For the past two days, I've been busy processing samples and preparing them to ship back to the U.S. for more analyses at home. I also have a lot of paperwork that has to be filled out about our activities in the dry valleys since I've been here. And many other chores!

I did take a couple hours to celebrate the new year. At McMurdo, there is a big festival of sorts for New Year's Eve. There's a live concert called "Icestock", where bands that have formed at McMurdo Station perform. Some people dress up in silly outfits, use noise-makers, and other New Year's Eve traditions. Here are the two friends with whom I rang in the new year. Maya and Heidi are Ph.D. students on another project working out of the Dry Valleys. We were all working in the lab until about 11:00 PM on December 31, but came out (wearing our special hats) to make sure we celebrated the arrival of 2011!

The weather has cleared up a bit, and I'm hoping to make it to Bonney tomorrow to do the work that I had hoped to do on Friday. Fingers crossed!