Sunday, December 06, 2009

Canada Glacier at night

I got out to our field camp at Lake Hoare for a couple of days. The best time of "day" at Lake Hoare is in the middle of the night when the sun is low in the sky at the west end of the valley. It is very bright at Lake Hoare all day now except for a couple of hours in the late afternoon when the sun dips behind the mountains in the Asgard Range on the north side of the Taylor Valley.

This night was calm and the sky was bright blue. The glacier face gleamed with the sun shining on it. I could hear water dripping from the face of the glacier, but there was no sign that Andersen Creek was starting to flow yet.

Early in the morning a section of the glacier peeled away and came crashing down onto the lake. This is a fairly regular occurrence and it provides a convenient source of ice berries that we collect to melt for our camp water.

Here is a picture looking to the west of our camp at Lake Hoare in the evening light.

Another trip south

I'm back in McMurdo for my 17th field season with the McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER project. I've been in Antarctica for a few weeks already. I'm posting a few pictures from my trip south. We travel to Antarctica from Christchurch NZ, which is a beautiful city with many parks and gardens. Every year on the way to McMurdo I spend some time soaking up the greenery at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

My favorite spots are the water garden and the NZ garden which are both tucked away in a far corner of the garden away from the main entrance. The NZ garden features many native plants, in particular many varieties of ferns. I love this sculpture that marks the entrance.

The ferns in NZ can grow as big as trees. It's nice to walk under a canopy of ferns.

I baby duck came up to meet me while I was on the path near the water garden.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ships are here

It has been over a month since I have added anything to my blog. Life has been very busy in the lab, but otherwise pretty uneventful. We have had some beautiful weather and a few storms. It has been slightly warmer and sunnier than average so there is more stream flow out in the dry valleys. My research team added a few special sampling events to take advantage of the unusually high flow, so this means more samples for me to analyze.
I still have a few weeks left of my field season. Several milestones have past. We celebrated Christmas and New years and both were fun. New field team members arrived after the new year and others are leaving already. This is the beginning of the real exodus at the end of summer. There is always a flux of people coming and going for various research projects and other events. Now there are more people leaving than coming south. It's also the start of ship season. The Swedish ice breaker Odin arrived and created a channel through the sea ice to McMurdo Station for the fuel tanker and the cargo vessel. The fuel ship arrived two days ago to refresh the station with another full year supply of fuel for McMurdo Station, South Pole station and all the field camps. The photo shows the fuel tanker and the Odin docked by the ice pier.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Life is pretty comfortable in Antarctica, especially in McMurdo. There are things we learn to live without. Fresh food of any kind is a limited commodity. I recently purchased crackers from the station store that expired in 2006, but they tasted OK. This fresh fruit showed up in the office about a week ago and whoever brought it back from the galley is out in the field for the next few weeks. There is a hoarding instinct that kicks in here. Fresh foods of any kind are limited, so there is a tendency to hoard just a little bit of it. But then, people watch it shrivel up because they couldn't bring themselves to actually eat it since it may be the last real fruit they see for a long long time. It's understandable.
When we are in Antarctica, we surround ourselves with a few comforts of home or things that remind us of home. I personally think that the barren brown and white landscape of Antarctica can be quite beautiful, but we do enjoying surrounding ourselves with pictures of warmer places, happy times away from here, photos of family and friends, fresh food and fake flowers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lake Brownworth

Here are a couple more pictures from the trip the the Wright Valley yesterday. We hiked to Lake Brownworth, a pro-glacial lake on the margin of the Wright Lower Glacier. Most of the lakes in the dry valleys are closed-basin lakes, meaning that water flows in, but it doesn't flow out. Lake Brownworth is different because meltwater from the glacier flows in, but the lake is drained by the Onyx River, the longest river in Antarctica. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Onyx flows away from the coast inland to Lake Vanda, which is a closed-basin lake. Lake Brownworth has a permanent ice cover like most of the lakes in the dry valleys. It also appears to have a significant amount of algal mat. You can see dark chunks of this mat material that worked its way up through the ice over many years and is still frozen to the surface. We were optimistic as we walked closer that the dark material might be wind-blown sediment, but as we got to the shore we could see that it was all algae. Because Lake Brownworth has a river draining it, the lake level must stay fairly constant. I mean, the lake level could drop, but it can't get any higher because of the river. There is a bathtub ring of algal mat marking the perimeter of the lake.

Wright Valley

I had a great day in the field with Kelly. We went to the lower Wright Valley and I was her field assistant for the day. Now that Kelly is looking for wind deposited sediments around the dry valleys, I am training my eye to look for these features. We spent a couple of hours hiking around to look for good sample locations. We saw this hillside covered with sand and hiked over to it. The grains were pretty big sand size particles, but they seemed to be rounded like little ball bearings. Kelly walked up the slope to sample and I waited at the bottom of the hill so that I would not disturb the slope any more than necessary. Kelly looks like just a speck in the picture.

Looking back down the hill, the sand looked like snakes moving across the surface. It was only blowing about 10 knots while we were there, so there was not much movement of material.

We also came across a large ventifact that had collected sand inside, so Kelly sampled the sand there too.
The dry valleys are windy and there are signs of wind everywhere. This box belongs to the LTER stream team and it houses the equipment used to measure flow at the stream gauge on the Onyx River. I noticed that all of the paint on the west side of the box had been sand-blasted away. The other sides of the box looked almost freshly painted. The biggest wind storms in the dry valleys come from the west, although most of the sand features that we found appear to be deposited from the east.

When we arrived, we landed near the Onyx River at the helicopter landing site that the stream team uses when they visit the site. So after we finished our work, we waited by the river for the helicopter to come and pick us up. The Onyx River is the longest river in Antarctica and it flows away from the coast and drains into Lake Vanda. It is not very big compared to rivers at home, but it was flowing pretty well that day. It was still a few degrees below freezing, so I'm sure the flow will pick up as the sun gets higher in the sky and it warms up over the next couple of weeks. The water looked fresh and clear, but I didn't have a chance to drink it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dunes and pies

I've been in Antarctica for almost three weeks, and this past week I went out to the field for the first time. I met up with Kelly at Lake Hoare so we could go to Victoria Valley and sample the dunes. Neither of us had been there before and I didn't have much of an idea of what the place would be like. It certainly is windy in the dry valleys, but there aren't many sand dunes there. Kelly is trying to sample sediments that have been deposited by wind for her thesis research, so the dunes were an obvious place to look.

We had a great flight over the Asgard Range and Wright Valley and then flew into Victoria Valley. It seems like a strange combination to see sand dunes and glaciers in the same place. The dry valleys are a strange place though. We had a couple of hours there to collect Kelly's sand and take some photos to document what it looked like. We were a little confused by what we saw. The shapes of the dunes and the surface ripples indicated that the dominant wind direction was easterly. Throughout the dry valleys, the strongest winds are usually those coming from the west, draining off the polar plateau. We need to do more investigation to understand what we saw there. At least it was a warm and calm day when we were there.

After our trip to Victoria Valley we went back to Lake Hoare and I stayed there for a couple more days. We were preparing Thanksgiving diner for our field team, so I helped with making pies and the other holiday foods. At least this year I remembered to take a "before" picture of the pies and not just the "after". It was a good time and we had some great food.

We had some bad weather in McMurdo and it was mostly overcast and snowy while I was in the field. After Thanksgiving diner I walked around the camp to take a few photos and it did clear up a bit that night.

I was supposed to return to McMurdo on Friday morning, but the helicopters couldn't fly due to bad weather over the sea-ice. It was condition 1 out on the ice. We waited around by the phone and radio waiting for news and then we decided to pass the time by going on a run to collect "ice berries" for camp drinking water. The best drinking water comes from chunks of ice that calve off the front of the glacier and we collect these and melt them. We did finally hear that there was a little break in the weather and they would attempt to fly out to get me and some other people who were hoping to get back to McMurdo that day. It was a bumpy and crowded flight back, but it's good to be here!

When I'm in McMurdo, I do miss Lake Hoare camp and the people there and living next to the Canada Glacier. Although here in McMurdo, the water plant "makes" water for us by de-salinating seawater and we just have to turn on the tap. Collecting ice berries is alot more fun.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Getting ready (again)

I'm getting ready for my 16th field season in Antarctica. I have been preparing for the trip (aka shopping for coffee and anything else I might want) to make sure I don't have a mad rush of things to do right at the end. Some of my friends are already in McMurdo and others will be headed south in the next few weeks. I have a bit longer as I am not scheduled to leave Columbus until Nov 6 and optimistically will arrive in Antarctica on the 10th. That's if everything goes smoothly, which it might. I get to vote in the presidential election in person this year!
We have three students on our LTER team from OSU who have not been to McMurdo or the dry valleys before, so there is a general excitement in the office. It should be another great season.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Where is the water?

Here is a picture of me in the field. Gregg and I went to sample the upland ponds last week. Chris was supposed to come with us, but he was too sick. It turns out that he had the flu and spent two days in his room under quarantine while we were out enjoying two days in the field. I had not been in the field since November for my annual Thankgiving trip, so it was great to get out to do some field work.
On the first day we flew over a some ponds that we had not sampled before. I thought we were in the right spot, but everything goes by so fast in a helicopter compared to when you are walking. I asked the pilot to set down near the ponds. After spending half an hour there, thinking "this does not seem right" I decided we were really not in the spot we intended to visit that day. Gregg and I proceeded with the sampling and mapping of the ponds in the area and expanded our data set in the process. When we finished the sampling, we sat down to take a break and sample our flight lunches. I don't recommend the swiss steak sandwiches.
We decided to return the next day because we had requested another day of helicopter support to get to another set of ponds. We went back to the ponds at the terminus of the Marr Glacier that we had intended to sample the first day. These ponds are at 800m elevation (or 2600 ft). It has been a season of stormy weather and somewhat unusual amounts of snow fall. Our ponds were mostly covered with snow. One of our projects was to map the perimeter of the ponds to estimate the current size. It was complicated, we could not see the ponds because of all the snow. We were able to walk around the flat area, occasionally kicking through the snow with our bunny boots to confirm that we were still on ice and not soil. I think we did fairly well.

We did find some liquid water to sample in the ponds that were at a lower elevation. We also found some liquid water where streams were flowing into or out of the ponds. Some of these ponds seem to be fed only by local snow melt and others have glacier streams feeding them. This little pond fills a small depression and seems to only have snow as a source for water. The water was also tea colored because of all the algae growing there.