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.


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