Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stuck In McMurdo Again

I was supposed to get on a flight this morning northbound to Christchurch, but as I have learned all too well this season, sometimes Antarctica has different plans for you.  Needless to say,  I now have some free time to kill in McMurdo.  Unfortunately for me, the vessel is supposed to get into town today.  The vessel is the cargo ship that brings in the majority of supplies to McMurdo every year, and takes out the waste.  This is a rough time to be stuck in town because all of the stores are closed, the bars are closed, and a lot of roads are closed down.

Since I have been back in town I have been working hard to get all of my samples processed before I left.  I took a bunch of sediment samples from Crescent Stream and these had to be processed before I left.  I dried the samples for 24 hours in an oven to remove all moisture from the pores of the soil, then I sieved each sample, and recorded the resulting grain size distribution.  This data helps me characterize what the surface, and subsurface of the stream bed is made out of.  This took a bunch of time, just because the sieving process is so tedious.  All of the work, on top of trying to keep up with saying goodbye (having a few beverages) with all of my new-found friends I have exhausted myself pretty well.  It would have been nice to know that I wasn't going to be flying today, so that I could have spread the work out more evenly, but I guess I will just enjoy my free time.

On Friday the Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel was offering tours of the ship.  This was awesome!  There were so many interesting tools and resources they had available it was really unbelievable.  I apologize, I forgot to bring my camera...

Saturday night I walked out to hut point which is a short walk from my dorm room.  At the time I thought it would be my last night to enjoy this view.  It was quite and really peaceful out there alone.  I saw a lonely penguin just standing there.  I also could see the breath from whales that were breathing out in the channel that the ice breaker had cut.

The little black dot in the photo below is the penguin.

Last night there was a Sunday Science lecture that was pretty amazing.  This lecture was about the WISSARD project which stands for the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling.  This is a huge project that is focused on drilling to remote bodies of water buried under the ice to investigate the melting rates of Antarctica's Ice Sheets, among other things.  In the past they drilled to lake Whillans, a buried sub-glacial lake, and found a microbial community in this water.  This year they drilled to an area where the Ross Ice Shelf meets the continent.  This column was 750 m of ice with 10 m of sea water and then ocean floor below.  This location was located 530 miles from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, so they weren't quite sure what they would find there in terms of life.  Due the fact that this area is so far from any possible photosynthesis for primary production, they expected to find a small microbial community.  Instead they were amazed at what they found.  They found fish, small arthopods, and jelly fish to name a few things.  They were blown away by what they saw on the camera they dropped down the hole.  These findings are so recent (couple of days old), and the team is made up of glaciologists and geologists, so they have no idea if these are new species or not.  They showed the reaction of the team sitting in the room watching the camera when they saw the first fish.  It was pretty cool.  To be in McMurdo, and to see the scientists reporting on these very cool brand spanking new discoveries was pretty special.  The whole community was there to see this, and you could feel there was a sense of pride not just by the scientists who worked on this project but with the cooks, the janitors, the pilots, and all of the support staff who were able to see their hard work pay off by witnessing some amazing new discoveries.  

Here is a link to a somewhat misleading article by Scientific American about the findings here.  The author makes it seem as if this part of the sea is completely sealed off from the ocean.  This is not the case, it is in complete connectivity with the ocean, it is just 530 miles from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, which makes it very remote in terms of distance from an energy source (the sun).  But it has some good pictures of what they found.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Back to Mac Town

This past month has absolutely flown by.  I thought I was ready to go back to town.  I thought hey a nice shower and a comfy bed in a dark room sounds awesome.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

The flight back to town was something that I will absolutely never forget.  Here is the beginning of the flight.  A photo which tears my heart out.  This when the helicopter is leaving the actual continent.

The helicopter pilot told us that there were a bunch of whales around now that parts of the sound had broken up, so we were going to take a little detour on the way back in the hopes of seeing some.  The helicopters are not permitted to fly over open water down here because of the dangers of going down in water, so we had to follow the sea ice edge.  This works out pretty well if you want to see whales because this is where all of the whales, penguins and seals hang out.  When we got to the edge it wasn't more than about a minute of flying along the edge before we first spotted some orcas.  There were about four swimming in a pod.  They were pretty easy to spot because they were swimming near the surface breaching frequently to breathe.  We saw a lot more before we arrived at the channel that the ice breaker had cut.  We began following this channel back to McMurdo.  We spotted a pod of about eight orcas swimming down the channel and the pilot told us to hold on.  He began circling the pod by tilting the helicopter nearly horizontal and flying in tight circles.  We were about 500 ft up, but right above them.  You could see their distinct white markings, and the mist when they exhaled.  They were swimming in a v-formation right down the channel.  It was such an unbelievable sight I wish I could have taken better pictures, but I was on the wrong side of the helicopter.  He circled with the left side facing down at the pod.  He did this same maneuver for a couple more pods of orcas and then we found a couple of minke whales to check out.  This whole time you could see tons of little penguins marching around the ice edge, jumping in, swimming around. This experience was even more enhanced by the effect of living for a month in a desert that is void of any animals.  This helicopter ride was absolutely spectacular, and it certainly lessened the impact of leaving such a special place.

Here is the channel that the icebreaker broke out.  There is a pod of whales down there although you can't make it out in this photo.  You can see the extreme angle the pilot banked the helicopter at, so much fun!

Here is the icebreaker from the helicopter.  Tonight we are going to tour the Palmer Research Vessel which is docked right now.

Right after I landed, I ran into some people that I originally flew down with and they hardly recognized me.  It is probably the beard and sunglasses tan line.  I sat down and grabbed dinner with them and we exchanged stories about how our seasons went.  They are part of the automatic weather station team out of the University of Wisconsin (they are pretty alright for being badgers)  and they had gone to the South Pole station which sounded pretty cool.  They were pretty intrigued by the Dry Valleys and what camp life was like out there.  They laughed and didn't quite believe me when I told them we had better food out there than the galley food in town, even though it is 100% true, especially when Rae is cooking at Lake Hoare.

I finished up and headed to my room to shower.  I was pretty excited to take a shower after having only one sorry excuse for a shower for a whole month.  It felt really great at first, but my mind was elsewhere.  I couldn't stop thinking about how much I already missed Taylor Valley.  That strange landscape had been home to me for about a month and I feel like I was just settling in.  I also really enjoyed the pace of field camp life.  Everything that can be done with the flip of a switch or the turn of a faucet in town takes extra time and consideration at camp.  These weren't difficult chores, just simple things that needed to be done like collecting drinking water from the lake, changing out propane tanks, or changing the gray-water barrels.  Chores would take up some of your free time after working hard all day, but they kept you occupied instead of doing something worthless like sitting on facebook (which I also did plenty of).  

It is hard for me to describe, but I loved the schedule once we got into the swing of things.  We would wake up at 6:30 am and get coffee and breakfast and pack our packs for the day.  Then we would head out and commute to where we were going via boots or helicopter.  We would work outside in the cold all day, then head home have some snacks and warm up.  Then evening chores began while someone cooked dinner.  We would eat dinner, drink beer, and have a little down time before we would pass out from exhaustion at around midnight.  Then do it all again.  It is a simple, but enjoyable lifestyle.  I think the quality of the people I was living with had a huge impact on how great it was too.

Anyways, I finished cleaning up and the shower was nice, but I just wanted to be back at F6.  I went to meet the badgers at the coffeehouse for drinks which was fun.  There was a kiwi KBA pilot sitting with us who was pretty funny.  KBA is a Canadian airline company that is the contractor for the fixed wing aircraft operations down here.  They provide and fly the smaller planes, like twin otters, down here.  I learned that they take a spectacular route home to Calgary every year.  They fly from McMurdo to the south pole, then up the Antarctic Penninsula, across the Drake Passage to the tip of South America.  They then fly up South America following land until they get home.  The route is designed due to the limited distance that the smaller planes can fly before refueling, and the dangers of losing an engine.  He works a lot of smoke jumping operations in Canada during the summers, and was stationed on Lake of the Woods for a summer.  We swapped some walleye fishing stories and both wished we could get some fresh shore lunch down here!  I have met so many people down here with insanely cool jobs.  I really, really want to move to Alaska now.  I hope my family doesn't mind too much.

I have finished up turning in my field gear, and finally have to get down to doing some actual science.  I better get to work.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What a SUNday!

I couldn't help but use a cheesy play on words for the title.

Yesterday was Sunday, and it truly lived up to its name.  Today was the first sunshine we have seen here for a long time, and if you couldn't tell from my last post the weather was starting to get to me a little bit.

As I mentioned I didn't get my flight into town this weekend so I remained at F6.  All of the work on my project that could be done with one person had been completed, so I was at the disposal of anyone who needed my help.  The engineer with the LiDAR equipment needed help lugging the gear up from the bottom of Delta Stream up all the way to its headwaters near spalding pond.   

I am not positive, but I believe the mountain range shown below is called the Royal Society Range.

Below is a view of the Ferrar Glacier which fills up this entire valley.  In the distance is the McMurdo Sound, and you can barely make out Mt. Erebus surrounded by clouds way back in the distance.

Below is a great view of the Fryxell Basin.  The clouds couldn't have been better!

We then arrived to the bottom of Delta Stream, loaded up the ATV, and finally headed home at about 20:00 (slowly getting better with this military time thing).  It was hardly a day off, but the hike was so amazing I didn't mind.

Today someone from town came out to help me with my work.  If we need help with something and no one else around is available, we can request for someone who works in town to come out on a morale trip.  We did two pebble counts (I felt really bad putting her through this) and we hiked around my site a bit.  I hope she had a good time, but there really isn't anything super unique right in the vicinity of my stream.  We headed home and a helicopter landed right as we arrived.  The pilot said the weather was coming in and asked if she would prefer to spend the night at F6 or at Marble Point.  Marble point is the helicopter support base for the dry valleys, where they fuel up, and they can stop there and spend the night in bad weather.  She chose marble point because there was a better chance for the weather to clear up and for her to catch a ride back to McMurdo.  It was fun to have her out helping out.  I learned a bunch about how ridiculously awesome Alaska is, and I have now been convinced of where I need to live next.

I forgot to mention, on Saturday morning I woke up to an inch or two of snow on the ground.  I was walking in to F6 to start the morning with some coffee and vitamin B (bacon), and I snapped a photo of this spectacular view.  I can't believe I only have two more days in the dry valleys.  The time here has absolutely flown by, and I do not want it to end.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

TLS of Crescent Stream

I can't believe it has already been three days since my last post.  The time is beginning to fly by due to the heavy workload recently.

We just completed the terrestrial lidar scan of both forks of Crescent Stream today.  This was a three day process, thus my three day hiatus from writing.  This part of the project took much more time and effort than I had expected.  The scanning is the easy part.  The engineer just pushes a couple of buttons on his computer and let's the equipment do the work.  The set up is the difficult part.  There is a huge amount of equipment that has to be moved around from site to site.  The hiking is in loose sand, and this stuff is not light. Here is a photo of the scanner.  Oh, also I learned today that these things retail at $250,000.

We were out there all day for the past three days in the bad weather that still hasn't left us alone.  The engineer that came out to do the TLS is frustrated because he said his trips to the Dry Valleys usually are his favorite in terms of weather when he comes down.  This has not been the case for the past week.  The past three days have been windy, snowy, and below freezing.  The temperatures really aren't anything unbearable, but the wind and the snow make it tough to work outside all day.  The weather did however make some great looking clouds over the Commonwealth Glacier.

The weather hasn't just been annoying for outdoor work, it has really jacked up the helicopter schedule.  I was supposed to fly into town tomorrow to process some sediment samples at the lab, but I just got an email from the helicopter coordinator telling us that we won't be flying.  This isn't a huge deal for me, but I was looking forward to going into town to get a shower, and there is a rockin' party that I unfortunately will have to miss.  Oh yeah, and I won't be able to process those samples... shoot.

We have not had any solar energy for about three days now, and are running off of the generator.  This should last us a while, but hopefully the sun comes out again soon for the sake of our energy situation, the helicopters, and our sanity.  Here is what it has looked like the past couple of days.

One of the groups here was supposed to leave F6 today.  This was the group in the big tent out in our front yard.  They tore down their big tent to get ready to head out, then of course, there was no flight.  They proved a basic Dry Valleys law today, and I am surprised that these veterans made this rookie mistake.  If you have a flight scheduled, and you take your tent down more than an hour before your helicopter arrives your flight will be canceled.  This means that F6 is extra cozy until we can all get flights.

To be honest all of the extra commotion and stress is pretty exciting.  Others may disagree, but you just have to make the best of whatever this place throws at you.  Here is a random picture of me pretending to work that the professor from BYU sent me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


As I mentioned before, the weather has been a bit erratic here in the Taylor Valley.  Today it got down to 23 degrees and snowed a bit.  Snow isn't very typical for the Dry Valleys if you hadn't guessed that by the name.  All of this weather has caused some major delays with research and camp movement for just about everyone.  Luckily it hasn't impacted our work too much up to this point.

Yesterday I went up to Crescent stream with someone who was delayed leaving and didn't have anything to do.  I took some sediment samples on my stream and he took some algae and moss samples.  He is a professor in evolutionary biology at BYU.  He studied marine biology for a while, and had some insane stories about growing up scuba diving.  Now his research is in microbial biology and he makes Provo Utah sound like an outdoorsman's paradise!  We got back fairly early because he had to catch a helo flight.  I finally had some free time during a decently warm day, so I took off for a run when I got back.  The whole time I was running I was thinking about a study about humans and running that the evolutionary biology professor told me about.

Apparently, humans are insanely good at running long distances, and this has stumped evolutionary biologists for a while as to why we adapted this trait.  Some theorized that it was to escape predators, but if you think of some of your apex predators wolves, lions, tigers, ect. how many can we out run?  None.  Some theorized that it was so that we could catch animals to eat.  So, two researchers in the US took it upon themselves to test this theory.  They headed out to the plains somewhere in the west (maybe Wyoming) and one guy got dropped off near a heard of antelope and tried chasing them all day.  Well as you might expect it didn't work and they were the butt of a lot of jokes for a while.  One day a researcher from somewhere in Africa called one of the guys who did this study and said you guys were right, you just went about chasing them wrong.  Apparently the natives in Africa will run all day long, singling one animal out of a group to chase.  They will chase it hours and hours until it drops dead from exhaustion.  The guy in the US chased the herd and didn't bother singling out the same animal that would occasionally split from the group to take a break.  We can outrun antelope.  Pretty awesome stuff.  I guess Springsteen was right... baby we were born to run!

Today was windy, cold, and snowy.  We went back up to Crescent stream, assembled a ground temperature sensor, and performed a pebble count.  Here is a picture of what it looks like outside right now.  Way different looking than many of my pictures, but I must admit it feels much more like I expected Antarctica to feel like.  

Things are pretty interesting at camp right now.  There are 14 people here, and the main camp building holds about six comfortably.  One of the groups brought a pretty cool tent called an endurance tent which can comfortably sit about six people.  They hang out in there most of the day, and do all of their cooking on a Coleman stove.  I visited them in their tent today to check it out and they showed me some of that great southern hospitality you always hear about.  They had beer, scotch, and even carrots.  Fresh vegetables are nearly impossible to get ahold of down here.  I haven't had one since New Zealand.  They gave me a carrot and my mind was blown.  I have never, and will never have a better carrot in my life.  In the picture you can see their tent it is the red, white, and blue striped tent on the right.

One of the challenges that comes along with supporting this many people at one camp is the fact that all of our electricity is produced from solar.  So, cloudy days like today we don't get much charge on our batteries.  I think right now our battery charge is around 30%.  This isn't terrible, and we have a generator with a little bit of gas that should last us through the bad weather.  But, if this weather keeps up for a couple of days we might be in trouble.  Hopefully the weather clears tomorrow so that one of the groups here can head home, and we can start scanning my stream with the TLS.  I just got done learning how to play some Euchre, and now I am going to call it a day.

I forgot to mention.  The snowflakes today were ridiculous.  I didn't know if it was just me but other people were commenting on them too.  The designs on the flakes were extremely intricate and they fell in perfect condition.  I caught one on my glove and took a picture of it here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Crescent Stream

Hey Everyone.  Sorry I have been slacking lately with the posts.  Things have become quite busy for me as I expected now that my Professor has made it out here.

As my buddy pointed out, I should probably describe what my thesis project is exactly.  This may be a bit dense, but here it goes anyways.  In 2012 my professor noticed that the water flowing in Crescent Stream looked like chocolate milk, just filled with sediment.  This is very unusual for any stream down here, and is a good indication that something interesting is going on upstream.  He and a colleague headed up the stream and found some huge bank failure features along with a tunnel where part of the stream disappeared below the bank and exited the bank back into the stream channel about 10 m below.  This bank failure was termed a thermokarst feature, which is any geomorphic feature caused by the thawing of permafrost.  The permafrost in the soil had been holding the bank together at a steep angle, and the melting of the permafrost decreased the strength of the soil enough that the bank failed and deposited a bunch of sediment and boulders into the stream.

This sediment loading is very important in the greater context of the ecosystems of the Dry Valleys.  Some of the only life that exists in the Dry Valleys is stream algae, and lake microbes (unfortunately not a fish to be found...).  Any large increase in sediment load to a stream will have impacts on both of these communities.  The stream algae will be scoured and buried with new sediment added to the stream.  The water exiting the stream into the lake will be loaded with suspended sediment.  This means that the water in the lake within the vicinity of the stream inlet will be less transparent than usual due to the sediment in the water.  This then reduces the amount of sunlight (energy) that can enter the lake ecosystem.

So, they surveyed the ground surface of this thermokarst feature in 2012 using technology called a Terrestrial Lidar Scan (TLS).  This is a really cool piece of technology.  It is a ground surface survey that utilizes a unit mounted on a tripod that shoots a laser around in a 360 field of view.  The data that it collects is tens of millions of ground points that have an x,y,z coordinate in the global coordinate system.  The resolution of points is around 1 point per 0.5 cm which is insane.  Anyways this allows us to have a 3D elevation model of the true ground surface that we can do a variety of analysis on.  This same survey data in the same location has now been collected in 2012, 2013, 2014, and coming soon 2015 (that's me!).  I am using tools in a piece of software called Cloud Compare along with ArcGIS to compare the surveys from year to year.  Using this software I am able to estimate the volume of sediment that has been added to the stream from this feature.

On top of the TLS data, this year I will also be sampling the sediment in the stream.  We will be doing pebble counts (sounds as exciting as it really is...), and sieving of sediment.  This will give me an idea of what the size distribution of the sediment is of the bank that failed and we can see what the impact has been on the surface sediment size distribution of my stream.  For a baseline condition, I need to compare my impacted stream with a stream that hasn't seen this type of sediment loading.  Conveniently, my stream has a west branch (the impacted one) and an east branch (non-impacted).

Ultimately the goal is to quantify the impact of the thermokarst feature on the physical properties of the stream.  This will help show what the future implications could be on other streams if permafrost degradation is expected.

Well that is enough of the gory details of my research, back to my day to day.  Friday we had some new people join us at F6 camp.  They study soil microbes in the Dry Valleys and are known as the "worm herders" (great nickname).  They are from all over and are great to have around.  We helped out with one of their experiments where they pumped a bunch of water up to a tank and soaked one of their test plots where they study the microbes to study the impacts of moisture.  Here is a picture of the setup.

It was pretty cold, and a lot of waiting around waiting for water to soak into the soil.  We were pretty beat when we got back to camp that night.  When we got home two of the girls had made us all some curry with rice.  It was an awesome meal, and super nice to come home and have something made for us after a long day!

The past two days we went out to crescent stream to perform pebble counts, and set up some soil temperature monitors.  It has been cold, windy, and snowy.  These aren't ideal conditions to be reaching into the stream barehanded to measure the sediment size.  It was cold, but hey I finally felt like I was in Antarctica! 

Today it finally warmed up, and what a welcome sight the sun was!  Those of you in MN probably have no sympathy for me right now.  We spent the entire day working on the ground temperature sensors at Crescent Stream.  We set them up near the thermokarst feature I am studying.  We put one on the east bank and one on the west bank.  All of the bank degradation has been seen on the east bank, and we are curious to see if the orientation of the bank with respect to the suns orbit influences the temperature of the soil at different depths.  

Here is a cool picture of my stream going around a bend.  This curved section is part of the bank that failed in 2012!

We came home late again around 8:30 pm and luckily someone had made us burritos!  They were the perfect cap to a great day of work.  I think I am going to go on a walk tonight after I write this to just relax for a bit.  Here is the photo of the cribbage board I made that Natalie requested.  I don't remember if I explained where we got the board, but we found it on a hike.  It had fallen off of a piece of cargo that must of weighted 475 lbs and was headed to the Lake Hoare Camp.  It would have been more fitting if it said F6, but oh well.  I finally won my first game on this board last night!  I'm counting it a win even though I was teaching them how to play...  Down here I have learned you take what you can get haha.

I don't know what the plan is for tomorrow.  I will likely head back up to crescent stream and grab some soil samples to bring back to McMurdo and sieve.  Our plans have been pretty shaken up lately.  There has been a bunch of mechanical trouble with the helicopters, so they haven't had all of them running.  Also, the past two days of wind and snow grounded the helicopters.  Needless to say the helo schedules are backed up, and are messing with everyone's plans.  One of the guys here has been stuck here for three days, and he was shooting for an overnight trip.  My Professor and I were supposed to head to Miers Valley to install a sensor last week, but that got bumped.  We were supposed to go to Don Juan Pond tomorrow, which is the saltiest body of water in the world, but unfortunately it doesn't look like we will be headed there.  Also, the engineer that is flying out with all of the TLS equipment was supposed to fly out tomorrow, but we will see.  I am bummed because helo flights are so damn fun, but my professor seems stressed about getting all of the work done.  I guess we all have our priorities haha.

The idea of a plan out here is pretty comical to me.  Everyday Mike and I hash out a plan for the next couple of days, this plan undoubtedly changes multiple times a day.  Well time for me to enjoy the first nice weather we have had a for a while!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hiking in the Dry Valleys

It has been a while since I have posted.  I have been pretty busy with exploring the Dry Valleys and building a cribbage board for F6 camp.

Last Satuday me and a teammate hiked up to Bonney Camp from Lake Hoare which is at the midpoint of Lake Bonney on the southern shore (forgot to include on my map).  It was quite the hike.  We left at 9am and returned to Lake Hoare at 7pm.  I came along to help "sanitize" the Lake Bonney Camp.  Lake Bonney has quite the reputation as a really fun camp.  I can't get into details, but people higher up in the NSF got wind of some inappropriate decorations, and they were asked to be taken down.  I had never been there before, but the decorations turned out to be pretty innocent and quite funny, but they were taken down none the less.  Anyways we took a high route home up on a ridge and walked through some amazing ventifacts.  I wish I had brought my camera along to show you... oops.  There was a basalt hillside that had eroded down onto the bench that we were walking along that had created a black landscape.  The only rocks that protruded the ground surface were these amazing ventifacts, which looked like stone swiss cheese warped by time.  These sculptures were up to 12 feet high.  This landscape felt like something out of Star Wars, no wonder they use this place as a surrogate for studying Mars.

This was another long hike the day after I did the Nuessbaum hike, so needless to say I was beat when we got back to Lake Hoare.  We played some cards, had some whiskey and hit the tents.  I planned on sleeping in pretty late because I wasn't supposed to be picked up by the helo until 14:45 which is let's see... carry the one plus three 2:45 pm (I am failing on getting used to military time).  Anyways,  I had slept in until about 9:00.  I walked into the Lake Hoare camp building and found that my flight had been bumped up to 11:00 am.  I started to hustle up my morning a bit to ensure I had everything packed.  I grabbed some quick breakfast and began packing my things to hit the road.  It was 10:00 am when someone walked into the instrument lab where I was packing.  He said hey hurry up helo is going to be here in 2 minutes.  I called B.S. and he said, "no seriously get moving!"  Uh oh!.  I began grabbing everything within reach and stuffing it into my pack.  I jumped into my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and hustled out to the helo pad a couple minutes late.  We dropped in early on the rest of my team at F6 and it was pretty funny to see them in the same scramble I was just in.  We flew up to Blood Falls again to sample the streams around there.  There wasn't much else notable that happened that day.  We flew to another spot in Taylor that day, then headed home to F6.  

Here is a random picture I took of Mount Ray.  Lake Hoare Camp is located at the base of this mountain where it meets the glacier on the right.  Unfortunately you can't see the camp from here.  I thought the clouds gave the mountain a killer look!

Monday came and I had felt that I just haven't had enough hiking lately.  Someone at Lake Hoare needed some help drilling, and testing the lake water near the inlet of one of the streams to look at lake-stream mixing.  I just couldn't get enough of Lake Hoare so, I hiked over to Lake Hoare from F6 with a couple of teammates.  The Canada Glacier that we were walking around had a couple of spectacular waterfalls cascading off of it.  I tried to capture one here.

We helped out with the drilling, and most of you reading will get a kick out of this photo.  They use an ice fishing auger from 1970 with a person on either side.  Here are a couple of teammates punching holes so I can jig for some elusive Dry Valley walleye.


We finished up drilling late, and had to stay for some delicious dinner.  Me and one of the teammates I left with headed back for F6.  We stopped at one stream that had a high flow on the way back to measure and sample it at about 23:00.  We got in late, had a snack, and crashed.

Yesterday all of the fun, and lack of sleep was catching up to me.  I had to drink an extra couple cups of coffee to get through the day.  We headed out in the Fryxell basin to measure and sample some streams.  While we were out, my professor Mike Gooseff landed at F6 to begin his field season.  It is great to have him out here now, so I can get started on my project, and help him out with all of his endeavors.  I really appreciated the stream team taking me on for a couple of weeks to help out and travel to some exotic locations.

Let's see, what did I forget.  Oh yeah the moats around Lake Fryxell are really melted out now.  We have to use a Zodiak with oars to boat across the moat.  We then use the ice ax to pull the boat up onto the lake ice, and then use the ATVs and try not to get too close to the open water.  This is too much fun.  I love the variety of transportation down here!  I also finished my cribbage board.  It isn't the prettiest board ever made, but it gets the job done.  Here is a picture from F6.  The red thing is our boat to cross the moat, which is convenient because it gets us to our ATV and it rhymes.

Today we went out to my study site and did some great recon.  We set up some time lapse cameras on areas on the banks that are being actively eroded by the stream.  We also took a bunch of photographs with this awesome camera called a FLIR camera.  This thing takes a normal picture that you could get with any old digital camera, but it also takes a photo that captures the inferred spectrum.  This camera is a ridiculously cool toy to play around with.  Here is an example of a set of photographs that I took with it.  This is a snow drift, with the stream flowing out from the end (hard to make out).  That is Lake Fryxell down at the bottom of the drainage.  I will be sure to post more!

The coolest thing that I saw today was when we were walking up Crescent Stream on the branch that my project site is located on.  We were walking up the stream and then all of a sudden, there was a snowbank where the water disappeared under.  We walked around the corner of the snowbank expecting the flow to be on the other side.  It wasn't there.  There was no flow in the channel upstream.  We were absolutely baffled.  The flow was somewhere underground.  We walked about 40 yards upstream and saw where the flow was disappearing into the stream bank.  My mind was blown.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Years!

I am thankful that I arrived here just in time for the holiday season.  It makes the titles to my posts very easy, and it's pretty great to get some time off to explore too!

Yesterday we flew up to Wright Valley which is the next valley to the north of Taylor Valley, where we are staying.  We have two stream gages located in the Wright Valley on the Onyx river.  The Onyx is a really awesome river for many reasons.  It is the longest river that exists on the continent which already makes it cool.  It also flows up the valley (away from the ocean) to a closed basin lake, which is unique.  It is also some of the most clear, colorless water I have ever seen in my life.  Here are a couple pictures of the Onyx.

This was an amazing day trip.  We got a lot of good work done on the Onyx, and we were treated to some spectacular helicopter rides.  Our pilot yesterday is always game for giving you a great ride, so he toured us around on our way to our destinations and showed us some cool stuff.  On the way back from the Wright Valley he flew us close to Gargoyle Ridge, which is a ridge that is completely covered by these rock formations called ventifacts.  Ventifacts are rocks that have been wind blown and sand blasted for many years to make spectacular designs.  Here is the best picture I could get of Gargoyle Ridge.

He also showed us a fresh seal track way up on a glacier.  I was skeptical when he told us about it, but we saw it and it was one main line with little flipper marks on either side.  He was right.  It was crazy because this seal had to have climbed out of Taylor Valley, up onto a glacier and scooted for miles.  I hope he made it, but I think there is a decent chance that he may end up like some of the mummified seals that have been featured in my posts.

We flew back to F6 and dropped off two teammates.  Another teammate and I flew to Lake Hoare.  I hopped off at Lake Hoare, then my other teammate flew back to McMurdo to partake in the New Year festivities.  Every year in McMurdo there is Ice Stock where a bunch of bands get together and put on a show in McMurdo.  It sounds awesome, and I was a little bummed I didn't get to see it, but the Dry Valleys for New Years sounds pretty alright to me. The New Year holiday (days off) down here is observed on Jan 2 and 3 this year.  I wish this was some cool Antarctic custom with a great history, but instead the NSF didn't like where Dec 31 and Jan 1 fell in the work week so they moved the off days to the weekend.  This means I have today, and tomorrow off.

I spent my first day off (today) hiking the Nussbaum which is a ridge to the south of the Suess Glacier.  It has a peak on it that offers spectacular views.  There are also some awesome looking ventifacts situated all around the Nussbaum.

I then hiked down to the Defile which is a narrow canyon between the Suess Glacier, and the opposing Andrews Ridge.  After exiting the Defile I was at the western edge of Lake Hoare.  I did some sampling of the Suess glacial runoff via taste (very scientific) and it was delicious, as expected.  Then I took the moat ice on Lake Hoare to the Lake Hoare Camp.

All in all, the hike was amazing and just what I needed to start the new year off right.  I really enjoy the solo hikes here.  I feel like a little kid exploring the woods in the backyard for the first time.  I love that feeling of not knowing what is going to be over the next hill, or around the next corner.  It is also great being alone because I can just hike along singing my favorite songs, and there is nobody there to hear it!

Tomorrow the plan is to hike Falconer's Ridge with two of my teammates.  I am pretty excited, and plan on covering every inch of this valley with my spare time when I get it.  My Professor is supposed to make it out here on Monday.  I assume when he gets out here I will be much more busy, so I plan to make this weekend count!

Thanks for reading!