Monday, December 22, 2014

Arrival in the Dry Valleys

Today is my third day in the Dry Valleys.  I landed here on a Bell 212 Helicopter.  I flew in on Saturday and landed at about 9:30 am at F6 which is a field camp in Taylor Valley.  The helo flight was insane.  This was my first time ever flying in a helicopter.  We flew over the McMurdo Sound from Ross Island, which is where McMurdo is located, to the mainland of the continent.  The flight over the ice was fun, but visually uninteresting.  Once we entered the dry valleys the scenery was spectacular.  We flew over mountains, lakes, glaciers, and stunning terrain.  When we landed at F6 we dropped a couple of my bags off and hopped back on to fly up the valley to do some work with the stream team. 

We landed at blood falls (shown below) which is a really interesting spectacle.  This is a glacier (Taylor glacier I believe) that has this red discharge shown in the picture.  I am not sure of the entire explanation for this, and I’m not sure anyone does because they are currently studying it.  But I am pretty sure it has something to do with iron oxidization due to some bacteria.  Either way, it is amazing to look at and one of my favorite places I have visited so far.

We (the stream team) went straight to work.  I could introduce everyone and talk about the great people I work with, but in the interest of privacy and other blogs offending people I will do my best not to mention any names and not to talk about others.  Anyways, me and one other guy went around to the 5 streams in the area and sampled them.  The sampling consists of collecting two different bottles to measure various chemical and physical characteristics of the water.  We also use what is called a YSI meter to measure the conductivity, and the temperature.  Meanwhile, while we collected the samples.  Someone else measured the flow on the larger streams of interest.  We completed all of our work in about two hours.  We hopped on a helicopter again and headed down the valley.  We stopped at one more spot to sample for the day, and performed the same measurement tasks on two more streams.  We hopped on a smaller helicopter this time which was fun.  The smaller one allows one passenger to sit next to the pilot.  This gives you a much fuller view than compared with looking out the window of a 212.  We finally dropped down at Lake Hoare and were done with sampling for the day.

Lake Hoare is a pretty awesome camp, and I said I wasn’t going to name any names, but anybody who knows anything about the Dry Valleys knows that Rae Spain runs a stellar camp out of Lake Hoare.  Lake Hoare has a lot of amenities, but certain tasks take a little more work and consideration just because of the remote location, and the environmental concerns.  There is a main building, which on the exterior looks like a trailer home.  On the inside is two main rooms, there is the dining room/kitchen, and then a room with computers, seating, and bunks.  There are three lab buildings at the camp as well.  There is a radioactive lab, which I didn’t look in because I don’t know the first thing about anything radioactive.  Then there is the chem lab, and the equipment lab.  These labs aren’t very big, maybe 15ft by 30ft, and they have room and equipment for researchers to conduct their science.  We aren’t really roughing it too bad, we have wifi in the main building, and all the food you could imagine (although it is never any newer than Jan 2013), to be honest I think I am putting on a little bit of weight. 

The most “rough” part of the whole experience is sleeping in a tent with an awesome sleeping bag.  My bag is rated for -40 oF, which is a little overkill because the average temperature right now is around 20 oF, and the sun is always up to warm up your tent.  I have slept surprisingly well in the sunlight, I just pull my winter hat over my eyes and that seems to do the trick.  Oh and the schedule of up early, work hard, and drink at night seems to help with any sleep issues.  Below is the view I have to wake up to every morning at Lake Hoare.

Yesterday we had the day off because it was Sunday.  We went for a hike up and over Canada Glacier.  The weather was kind of nasty with low clouds, snow, and a lot of wind so the views were obscured.  Even so, it was pretty amazing.  On the way some of my fellow hikers pointed out a couple of mummified seals to me.  There is a picture of one of them shown below.

It is amazing to me that there is so little microbial life around that nothing really decomposes the seals.  They are mainly broken down by the sand that the wind blows around.

Today we hiked from Lake Hoare to our home base which is called F6.  The hike was about 3 hours where we passed over frozen Lake Hoare, hiked next to Canada Glacier, and then on the shores  of Lake Fryxell.  I was happy to return to F6 because the first day when I flew in I dropped my bags off here.  I wasn’t told that it would be two days before we returned to F6, so I was stuck with the same clothes, no contacts, and without some of the gear that is nice to have.  We settled in, did some housekeeping, ate dinner, and prepared for work in the morning.

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