Monday, November 30, 2015

Free Time

Thanksgiving dinner was unreal.  It was almost better than grandma's... but not quite.  It is pretty impressive what Rae and Renee are able to create given the resources available.  I really appreciated all of their hard work to make Thanksgiving as fun, and close to being back home as possible.  We stuffed our faces on the thanksgiving meal, and then  played a bunch of snow volleyball the rest of the night.  Mikey brought a volleyball down from the states, and really wanted to get some games going.  So, we set up a court on the lake where some snow had drifted up which made for a nice flat, soft surface, that was almost beach like.  We propped two bamboo poles up, and fashioned a net between them.  We started by trying to actually weave the net.  This lasted for about two rows. We then realized that it would be Christmas before we ever were able to weave a net worth playing on.  So instead we made a makeshift net.  I guess to call it a net would be a stretch.  It didn't stop many balls, but it did the trick enough to know if it was a point or not.

The next day we were all pretty lazy.  We kind of just lounged around and watched movies here.  We got out and took some samples, and tried the ice skates out on a smooth part of the lake.  Yesterday, we made it out on a hike.  We hiked Vosslips, which is right across the valley from the Lake Hoare Camp.  It is a deceivingly long hike (9 hours, and about 11 miles round trip), but the view from the top was unbelievable.  Here are a couple shots that just don't do it justice.

Yesterday we did a little bit of work, and one of the guys here took us to one of his favorite spots in the Dry Valleys.  This little hideout was pretty crazy.  There were rivers and ponds all cut through the ice as if it were bedrock.  It also was sheltered from the wind, which is almost impossible to find in the Dry Valleys.  When we were sitting on this little beach Mikey said, "This is the warmest I have ever been in Antarctica."  It was true.  We were sitting there in t-shirts soaking up the sun.  It had to have been 40 degrees and dead calm.  Just insane weather for down here especially this early in the season.  A lot of people think it is shaping up to be a big flow year because the glaciers have very little snow on them, and it has been unseasonably warm early.  Low snow pack might cause you think that it would be a low flow year, because this is how things work back home.  However, low snow pack here means that the glaciers are dirtier (they don't have a fresh new white coating on them), the dirtier the glacier, the more the glacier absorbs solar energy, and the quicker it melts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving (for me) from this side of the globe!  Today we are at Lake Hoare celebrating Thanksgiving, and I can't wait for dinner.  Rae and Renee the camp managers have been cooking, and baking all night and day preparing for today.  Last night the hut was at about 100 degrees F because of all of the pies they had been baking.  It will surely be worth it come later today.

Yesterday was a pretty terrific day of "work".  Our flight was scheduled for 11:45 to Miers Valley.  Miers Valley is a couple valleys to the south of Taylor Valley, and is a little bit less traveled than Taylor Valley.  This was my first trip to this part of the Dry Valleys, so I was pretty excited.  There is also a fantastic view of the Royal Society Range as you are flying over the glaciers on the way to Miers (shown below).  When we landed there we were baffled.  There was no wind, and the temperature was about 35 degrees F.  This is probably warmer than what you poor people are experiencing back in Minnesota at the moment.  We were able to work without jackets on which is a rare occurrence, especially in November.  We got our work done without any hiccups, and then we headed out on our side mission for the day.  Some of the UNAVCO folks had a gps antenna mount that was left on the peak of Mount Holiday, which is located in Miers Valley.  Since we were going to be over there they asked if we would pick it up for them.  We agreed, but the only clue to help us find it was the gps points.  This turned into quite the easter egg hunt via helicopter.  We hovered over the exact coordinates for a while and were unable to find it from the air (this thing was an aluminum bracket that was about 4 inches in width).  So, our pilot suggested that we land and search on foot.  It took him a while, but he was able to find a little landing spot near the peak.  This place was like a landscape of another world.  Unlike anything I had hiked through in the Dry Valleys yet.  This peak juts up between the two glaciers in Miers Valley, and has been carved and scoured by the wind and sand.  Turns out the wind has a pretty wild imagination when it comes to carving rocks.

I have bagged some peaks on foot, but I much prefer this method.
There isn't much for scale but that large rock on top is at least 12 feet tall.

We hiked around up there and finally found the piece we were looking for.  We retrieved it, checked out the Martian landscape for a little longer, and then headed out for our next stop down at Miers stream.  We opened everything up at Miers Stream, and began the 30 minute helicopter ride back to Lake Hoare.  We got back to Lake Hoare, and took it pretty easy.  Just tried to stay out of the way of the kitchen.  It was such a good weather day filled with new places, this will be a hard one to beat.

The Commute
I am looking forward to stuffing my face here, however I will be missing home today.  Hope all is well back there!  I have to say I am thankful for all my friends and family back home who are enjoying a nice break from me, but giving the illusion that they miss me!  I think most of all I will miss my grandmas cooking, and all of the booze fueld arguments about politics.  Happy Thanksgiving eve to you all back home! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Wright Valley Trip

Yesterday turned out a little better than expected.  We headed out on our way back to F6 so we could be there to help unload the helicopter with all of our gear.  We were driving across Lake Hoare on the ATV, but the ice was already getting pretty bad so we stopped halfway across the lake and started walking.  We were all pretty quiet on the hike, I think we were all pretty hiked out from the day before.  We all waved at a helicopter fly over us while we were walking along side the Canada Glacier.  We waved and joked about how nice it would be if we could hail helicopters like you hail a cab.  About ten minutes later the same helicopter flew over from the other direction, and pretty low.  Then all of a sudden he landed in front of us.  We hit him on the radio, and he asked if we wanted a ride back to F6.  We all piled in and he flew me back to the ATV we had stashed on the lake and took the other two back to F6.  It was a pretty awesome morale booster, and it saved us about an hour of walking and driving the ATV.  It was quite the literal pick me up.  We always joke about how helicopters are like magical gods here.  We completely rely on the helicopters here, they bring us food and supplies to survive, they bring us mail, they take us everywhere we need to go, and they provide all of the good gossip from town.  They also have a pretty good sense of humor, "studying global warming at 110 gallons per hour."

The flight over the Asgard Range into Wright Valley

We arrived back to home sweet home and got settled in again.  Within an hour another helicopter came and dropped off more food and supplies.  We had some time to chat with the pilot.  He served as a pilot in Iraq, and did contract work in Afghanistan.  Not surprisingly he said he was really enjoying the flying down here.  He said these deserts were a little less hostile, and his clients were a little nicer.

Today we flew over to the Onyx River in Wright Valley.  The Onyx is the largest river in Antarctica at about 20 miles in length.  We have a gauge at the outlet into Lake Vanda, and at the beginning near Lake Brownworth.  It was a pretty smooth day.  Everything worked as expected, and the flight to and from Wright Valley is pretty amazing.

Onyx River (not flowing yet) looking downstream towards Lake Vanda

On the way back from Wright Valley we were dropped off at Commonwealth stream which flows off of the eastern edge of the Commonwealth Glacier.  It was actually flowing which was exciting, but unfortunate.  This means that our gauge didn't collect the first couple days of flow data, but that is the way it goes sometimes.

Here we are doing some surveying of the control points and the orifice of the Onyx  Lower Wright gauge (beginning of the river) to make sure our elevations haven't changed from year to year

Tomorrow we are headed to Miers Valley to open our final two unopened gauges.  I am pretty excited because I have not been to this valley yet, and apparently the flight is pretty spectacular.  I'll try to take some pictures.  Anyways, after that trip we are headed to Lake Hoare for Thanksgiving festivities.  It sounds like Thanksgiving is quite a party there.  I am sure it will be fun, but I really wish I was home with friends and family to get uncomfortably full on turkey and stuffing and pass out on the couch watching a bad football game.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lake Hoare for the Weekend

I apologize I haven't got around to updating this in a few days.  We have been pretty busy trying to get all of the gauges opened up before the flows start.  Saturday we were supposed to fly up to Lake Bonney and open two gauges up there, but the weather was too poor in town so all flights were canceled for the day.  We still wanted to head over to lake Hoare for some R & R, and of course a hot shower.

We took the ATV down to the east end of Fryxell, hiked the face of the Canada Glacier, and then were picked up on Lake Hoare with another ATV.  This early season traveling with the ATVs is so convenient.  You can easily travel up and Down Taylor Valley in a reasonable amount of time while the moats are still frozen.  The moats are the seasonal lake ice, that run the entire edge of the lakes.  These are like highways for the ATVs because due to the annual thawing and freezing they are typically very smooth and make for an enjoyable ride.  They are also pretty interesting to look at because they tend to be a bright turquoise color with amazing bubble patterns in them.  This convenience will be changing soon.  Usually starting early December the moats begin to thaw which makes getting onto the lake ice a real challenge (typically they can be 10 to 100 ft from the shore to good ice), and forces us to use the ATVs on the rough permanent ice, which significantly reduces our speed.  

We didn't have much work to do around Lake Hoare, so we used the rest of our day to pick ice berries.  The competition for largest berry got pretty ambitious at one point.  We even plowed out a road through the snow to make sliding the berries easier.  Hopefully we have gotten enough to last Lake Hoare a while, because the ice around the glaciers is already getting pretty thin.

It was somebody's birthday here (sorry I don't use people's names unless I ask, it is just easier to keep most people anonymous), so we celebrated by heading out to the beach and playing some frisbee and bocce ball.  The beach is a pretty awesome feature at Lake Hoare.  I posted a picture on last year's blog of us playing frisbee on it in our bare feet.  It is a sand dune positioned right up next to the Canada glacier.  It formed because there is a hollowed out section of the glacier that the wind gets trapped in, thus trapping any sand being blown by the wind.  At night, when the sun is in the west, the beach is under pretty intense sunlight which warms the sand up enough that it can be comfortable to stand around in your bare feet.

Sunday rolled around and we needed to get some work done.  Even though Sundays are our day off, sometimes we shift our day off (or don't get it at all) depending on our schedules.  We decided that we should open the Bonney gauges soon because these streams are typically first to flow.  With the weather warming up, and reports of some streams already producing a trickle, we decided to make the hike.  We got a ride to the west end of Lake Chad, where we began our hike west through what is known as The Defile.  This is a pretty crazy trail that runs between the Suess Glacier, and Andrews ridge.  There is a small slot between the glacier and the hillside about 20 ft wide to walk through (shown below).

The Defile
The Suess Glacier from the west end of Mummy Pond

Floodplain of Priscu Stream
We walked west around the Suess Glacier, past mummy pond, through an area known as the Ventifact Knobs, walked down Priscu Stream and finally ended up at Lake Bonney.  We had contacted the Limno (Limnology) Team earlier in the morning to set up a ATV ride from the east end of Bonney to the west end which was awesome.  I have walked part of that stretch before and it is brutal.  Getting chauffeured around the Lakes was super nice, and it was fun to interact with some of the other groups out here.  We opened up Lawson Stream gage which is on the west end of Lake Bonney right near Blood Falls (seen below).  We had some extra time so we decided to look around at some of the other un-gaged streams to see if they were flowing and we came across the first flow of the season on Santa Fe.

Blood Falls

Santa Fe and the first flow we have seen this season.
 I forgot to mention.  Saturday night when we were all out enjoying the beach, we heard a loud thundering noise.  I immediately dismissed it as a helicopter or airplane, but it was pretty late at night.  Someone noticed that it was an odd hour to hear a noise like that and pointed out the LaCroix glacier had a plume of ice cascading down it.  It was pretty crazy to see, but I wish we had been closer to witness it.  Here is the picture of the LaCroix as we walked by it on the way to Bonney.  We couldn't really see any evidence of the calving event.

La Croiox Glalcier
Anyways, we were able to open the gauges up on Lawson and Bohner (pronounced Bah-ner. some of the helo pilots get creative with the pronunciation...).  It was a pretty long day of hiking, but it was made way less painless with the ATVs.  We finally made it home at around 8:00.  We were lucky enough to walk into the hut to some killer chili and corn bread.  Then we were finally able to take a hot shower (weekly Sunday showers at Lake Hoare), which felt amazing.  Such a good end to a long day.

Today we are hiking back to F6 so we can help unload the helicopter that supposedly has the rest of our gear.  Today will likely be kind of a slow day back there which should make up for the fact that we worked on Sunday.  It feels like we are finally starting to get some work done.  With the streams already beginning to flow it should be a fun year!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Map of Taylor Valley

Here is a map I made of Taylor Valley.  It is kind of junky because the western edge is cut off, but it is the best I could do with the limited bandwidth we have.  Hopefully this gives you a feel for the scale, and location of things.

Wind Video

Here is the video I took as we were getting blown around by the wind.  This is what a typical day in Taylor Valley looks like.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Made it to F6

Tuesday was an interesting day.  We were supposed to fly to F6 at 11:00 am to open it up and move in.  I woke up pretty early because I wanted to make sure I had all of my stuff packed and just wanted to drink coffee and eat cookies for as long as possible at Lake Hoare.  Well 10:00 rolled around and I had given myself more than enough free time.   By this time I had drank too much coffee and stuffed myself with all the cookies I could handle, and then Macops came over the radio informing us that all helo flights were canceled until noon.  I was starting to get stir crazy in there trying to keep myself busy.  Some people got an idea to try to go grab a huge glacier berry for the Lake Hoare camp.  

I don't remember if I explained this or not (a lot feels like repetition from last year), but the drinking water at Lake Hoare is produced from melting glacier berries (glacier berries are the little chunks of the glacier that shatter when the glacier calves and hits the lake ice or the ground).  Anyways it helps to gather really big ones because they shrink from ablation (conversion directly from a solid state to a gaseous state) over the summer, and there reaches a certain point in the summer where the ice gets too thin and grabbing berries with the ATV becomes impossible.

Anyways, some people wanted to get a really big one and I was all for a fun challenge to get me out of the hut while we waited on the helos.  One of the mountaineers already picked out his suspect and had dislodged it from the berry pile.  It wasn't the biggest one that has been dragged over to Lake Hoare, but it was still over 500 pounds.  We initially positioned the sled beneath the berry and tried to manhandle it onto the sled.  This didn't work because the berry was too heavy to move by hand.  So we grabbed the ATV, and used some ice screws to secure a rope between the berry and the hitch of the ATV.  With this setup we were able to pull the berry onto the sled and bring it back to Lake Hoare.  We didn't set any records for size with this one, and as always the picture just never does it justice, but below is our trophy.  There isn't much for scale, but the sled is about 8ft long.

 At noon we received word that all helo flights were canceled for the day.  I was kind of bummed out, because by this point I was ready to get to F6 to start moving in and working.  I couldn't complain too much, because if there is one place you want to be stranded in the Dry Valleys, it is Lake Hoare with the fantastic cooking and company.  Finally, after a couple hours of sitting around reading and working on this blog business, we got word that helo flights were resuming.

We got a lift from a 212 to our new home at around 3:00 pm.  We unpacked, turned the heat on, and got to setting up our tents.  The wind was pretty nasty which made setting the tents up a real treat.  Then we got around to unpacking all of the gear that was waiting for us at F6.  We started going through everything and quickly realized that half of our stuff was missing, and we had no food or beer.  The helicopter schedules got a little crazy, and no one knew exactly when we were getting to F6 so somehow we landed there without any food.  It wasn't too bad though we had a lot of dehydrated stuff still hanging around from last year, and there were still some frozen tater tots in the freezer.  Our first night at our new home we treated ourselves to a nice dinner of tater tots and rice.

The next morning we had an interesting breakfast.  If you have never tried powdered eggs, well then you aren't missing out on much.  We weren't too concerned though, because although flights were canceled today, we could go raid Fryxell camp which is across the lake, and on the way to the stream gauge boxes.  By the time we worked our way over to Fryxell we were pretty cold and hungry.  We walked in, and the previous tenants had turned the heat off.  No worries, because a nice big lunch would warm us up better anyways.  However, the previous tenants also made sure that there was not an ounce of food left at the camp.  This was a big bummer because we were planning on grabbing some food for dinner as well.  We slowly made the drive back to F6 on ATVs and stopped to open up one more gauge.  On the hike back from the gauge the wind got pretty nasty.  I really don't think I had ever experienced wind this strong before.  I have a video that I will try to load that shows the wind literally blowing us across the ice.  It was pretty fun, and a good way to lift our spirits.  When we got back to F6 we ate some snacks that were laying around, and we got word that someone was gonna hike from Lake Hoare with some food.  We picked them up with the ATV, so it was a pretty quick hike for them, but they brought us all kinds of goodies.

Here are some pictures of home sweet home for a little while.  The far tent is mine with a great view of Lake Fryxell and the Commonwealth Glacier.  The next picture is the F6 hut, the barrels in the foreground contain our fuel, and gray water, and then the solar panel provides us all of out electricity.  It sound impressive that all of our electricity comes from solar, but there isn't much electricity use because our heater and refrigerators run off propane.

Here is our water source.  Unfortunately the glaciers are too far away, where picking glacier berries isn't as efficient as it is at Lake Hoare.  We chip the lake ice with the ice chipper, scoop up the chips into the bucket, and then put the bucket on our stove to melt it into drinking water.

Here is the American flag that I helped Mikey put up last night.  Pretty nice touch to F6, and the pilots really appreciate being able to see the wind speed and direction when they are landing.

We just got done putting all of our food away.  Our shipment just came in on a helicopter.  Opening the boxes was like Christmas morning, never knowing what kind of tasty treat you are gonna find.  Well I should probably go get some work done today.  Hope everyone is doing well back home!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Finally in the Field

We finally made it out into the field and we couldn't be more excited.  It was great climbing back into a helicopter.  I have to be honest it is probably my favorite part of this job.  The way those machines defy gravity is mind blowing, and I am terribly spoiled to get to ride in them for this job.  Here is a picture of an iceberg that is on the way to Taylor Valley.  It is trapped in the sea ice from the last time the sound completely opened up.  With how close the edge of the sea ice is already this year, people think that the sound might open up again this summer.  I kind of hope it does because we would be able to see whales, penguins and other sea life from town, and maybe even from New Harbor which is about a two hour hike from F6. 

Here is the Commonwealth Glacier in Taylor Valley.  This is in the Fryxell Basin right across the Lake from F6.  These massive glaciers are pretty cool.  Looks like someone spilled some pancake batter out into Taylor Valley.

Here is my new vacation home at Lake Hoare.  If you look at the pointy triangle tent, mine is the little purple and orange dome tent to the left, and Mikey is in the same type of tent but back behind mine closer to the glacier.  This is called the Canada Glacier, and it defines the eastern edge of Lake Hoare.  While you are laying in your tent you can hear the glacier crack and expand during the night.  It actually sounds just like the ice cracking on the lakes back home.

Here is a picture looking the other way towards the buildings on the Lake Hoare compound.  I debated on whether or not I should include this photo on the blog.  The picture above makes things look pretty epic and like we are pretty rugged (like a camp a Kiwi would use).  Then the photo below makes us look pretty spoiled, and well I guess we are.  The three blue buildings on the left are labs, the larger building that is hard to see behind the labs is the Lake Hoare hut where we hang out and eat, the green building is the jamesway which has extra sleeping room and is where we take our showers, and the other two buildings to the right of that are the tool shed and the generator shed.  So maybe we aren't roughing it like some of the early Antarctic expeditions, but things here are still pretty primative.  Just to give you an idea of the adverse conditions we deal with, usually our wi-fi is pretty dang slow, and the best beer they have to choose from is Coors Light.

Today we hiked to open two stream gage boxes at Green Creek and Canada Stream.  To do this we crossed Lake Hoare, and walked around the Canada Glacier over to Lake Fryxell.  As I am throwing out all of these names and places I am realizing that a good map would be useful.  I will try my best with the limited internet access to get a quality map on here to give some context.  Anyways to open up the gage boxes we have to replace the nitrogen tank in each box, grab the data module that has collected the winter data, replace it with an empty data module, and then make sure the system is working properly.  It is pretty painless minus hauling the heavy nitrogen tanks around.  

This was taken from Lake Hoare looking west toward the always picturesque 1882. 
The picture below was taken on Lake Fryxell.  We were walking near the shoreline on some insanely clear ice.  The ice was about 3 feet thick, and it extended all the way to meet the bottom of the lake where we were.  We kept noticing these crazy looking structures inside of the solid ice.  These would protrude from rocks on the lake bed, and they look like a plant, almost like some sort of seaweed.  However, there is nothing inside of these structures, they are just bubbles in the ice.  All of the structures had some algae attached to the end of them, so there is something biological going on here, but I'm still not quite sure how these are formed.

This is the stream team heading up the east side of the Canada Glacier on the hike back to Lake Hoare.  Lake Fryxell can be seen in the background.
Here we are up on the Canada Glacier.  Mikey is checking out the ice falls coming down from the Asgard Range.  I don't know what he is thinking but if I had to speculate I think it would be something like, "rad".
Here is a view from up on the glacier looking west towards the Nussbaum Riegel, which is the non-snowcapped spine in the middle of the valley
This was an excellent first day of field work.  Everything worked as it was expected, which is always a plus.  The weather was awesome, there was almost no wind which never happens in Taylor Valley.  And most importantly we got to go on a pretty spectacular hike.  Oh yeah and we got some work done too.

Hope all is well back home!  Miss you guys.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sunday 11/15

Sunday was our first day off since we have been here, and the break was certainly needed.  We enjoyed Sunday brunch which is actually a pretty nice treat once a week.  We were feeling lazy, but somebody brought up hiking up Ob Hill, so we figured we might as well take advantage of the day off.   I had never done the hike before, so I was pretty interested in what we could see from the top.  We scaled up it pretty quick and pretty soon we were looking over McMurdo and the sound.

A view of McMurdo from halfway up.
There were two Kiwi’s who hiked up the other side of the hill and came to the top at about the same time we did.  It was pretty funny the one Kiwi commented on how McMurdo looked like a little kids play city with all of the tonka trucks and helicopters.  I thought that was pretty spot on, and it kind of is a playground for big kids.  The other Kiwi was an older guy (late 60's sorry if you don't think of this as old) who was sharing history about the surroundings.  He pointed out the site of the nuclear reactor that the US used to operate at McMurdo before it leaked.  He also told us a little bit of background on Robert Falcon Scott’s party’s memorial up on this hill (shown below).  This memorial commemorates the party led by Scott that died on their way returning from the South Pole in 1912.  It was erected in 1913, and is made of timbers from Scott's ship.  He delved into people’s opinions of Scott, and how a lot of people think that he was a bad leader, but he argued that Scott always thought of his team before himself.  This guy also had a bunch of stories.  He told us of how he and his buddies were the first people to snowboard at the South Pole.  He said they arrived there and everyone was sleeping.  They were bored so the found a sled, cut it up, put some straps for your feet and went snowboarding.   He said it was a half inch of powder with a 10,000ft base.  I told him we could use more Kiwi's in McMurdo to spice things up a bit, because the base, and America in general, is becoming so uptight.  He said everything these days is so focused on saftey and rules that there isn't any room for fun.  I couldn't agree with him more.  He said yeah we hurt some people back in the day with the stupid stuff we did, but they had it coming.  

Scott Party Memorial on Observation Hill
The Kiwi's said goodbye and started heading down part of the hill that had no trail.  It was an extremely steep grade with ice and snow.  They just sat on their butts and scooted down it.  We were left feeling like chumps because this sixty something year old man just hopped off the trail and scooted down on his butt like a little kid, while we took the trail.  After this Mikey and I decided that we should try to be a little bit more adventurous like the Kiwis.  We even have been working on our accents to see if that helps.

View over McMurdo Sound

We also found some other words to live by (or to die by in Scott's case) on the hike.  This is the quote engraved on the memorial.  It is hard to read because it has been weathered so much, but it says, "To strive to seek to find and not to yield."  It is pretty amazing to me the determination, and sense of adventure these early explorers of Antarctica had.  It just blows my mind, and motivates me to be more adventurous in my own life.

We flew out to Lake Hoare today, and it is great to finally be in the field.  I finally found some free time to write about yesterday, but I don't have the energy tonight to stay up and write about today.  Hopefully I can write some tomorrow and post some of the pictures from the helicopter ride over.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Done Washing Bottles

It has been a long week in McMurdo, and we have successfully cleaned over 3800 sample bottles.  I am happy to say that is the end of bottle washing for the season, and if asked to do more I may have to fake an injury.   We have packaged them all up and sent them down to the Helo hanger for shipment to F6 and Lake Hoare.  We also packed up all of our field gear and personal items.  I was pretty excited, I went to check out the gear issue and they had some guitars you could loan.  I found myself a really nice one, which is gonna be a great way to pass the time out in the field.  I wish I had more to talk about, but there hasn't been much personal time to do much of anything other than wash bottles.  I think I am going to go for a run at the "gerbil gym" it may be the last run I go for in a while.

Here is a picture I took from the Crary Library when I found some free time to relax.  This is a view looking to the west over McMurdo Sound.  If you look on the far right of the picture you can see the mountains that define Taylor Valley, where we will be headed on Monday.

Here is a picture of one of the loads we took down to the helo hanger with some of our stuff, and this still isn't everything.  This doesn't even include the important stuff like our food and beer.  It is pretty amazing how well we are supported here to do our work.  There is the helicopter operations crew who flies all of our gear and ourselves to camp (they even deliver our mail, which is the coolest way to receive a letter), the BFC who gets all of our outdoor gear ready, the Crary staff who gets all of our science equipment together, and then all of the awesome staff who do the behind the scenes jobs like cooks and janitors to make life in McMurdo run seamlessly.  I know none of them are reading this blog (other than maybe my aunt Natalie) but a big thanks goes out to all of them.

I also just received news about the tragedy that is unfolding in Paris right now.  Makes my heart sad to hear that, and makes me wonder why so much evil exists in the world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What exactly am I doing down here?

I realized that for those of you who did not read my blog last year, you may be curious as to why I am down here.  As I try to figure that one out myself, I will do my best to explain the purpose of my trip.

A view of hut point, and part of McMurdo or "town" to give you an idea of what it looks like.
This year I am a member of what is known as the McMurdo LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) project.  This is a interdisciplinary group who's goal is to study the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems of the Dry Valleys over a "long" time period (began monitoring in 1993).  Within this group there are sub-groups who focus on different aspects of each ecosystem.  There are groups that focus on glaciers, lakes, soils, ect., and our group focuses on the glacial runoff streams of the Dry Valleys. Which explains our extra cheesy name the "stream team".  It may come as a surprise to you that there is flowing water in this extremely cold and dry environment.  However, the solar radiation is great enough during the austral summer to melt the glaciers and produce glacial runoff streams which eventually flow into closed basin lakes.  These streams are pretty unique because instead of precipitation being the main control of flow rate (like streams back home) it is the sun that has the most influence on stream flow.  This unique control causes highly variable stream flows from day to day, and even season to season.  Therefore it is important for the scientists studying these ecosystems to have a record and characterization of the flow of these streams.  That is where the stream team comes in.  We measure the flow of the streams, as well as collect water samples to test the nutrients, alkalinity, cations, anions, and dissolved organic carbon.

We gauge the flow on 16 different streams in the Dry Valleys.  Most of the streams are in Taylor Valley (where I will be living and spending most of my time).  The other streams are located in Wright Valley, and Meirs Valley.  To get to the streams we either hike, use ATVs on the lake ice, or fly via helicopter.

The gauging process is the same process used by the USGS which I am sure all of you are very familiar with...  In case you need a refresher on that I will explain it in gory detail (you may want to skip the next two paragraphs). We have gauge boxes at each stream which have instrumentation that measure the depth of the water at a specific location in the stream.  These measurements are taken every minute and recorded on a memory device on site.  This gives us nearly constant measurements of the depth of the stream over time.  To convert this depth to a flow rate (volume of water over time) we need to take manual flow and depth measurements at the stream.  This allows us to create a relationship between the flow and depth of the stream.  With enough flow measurements you can develop what is known as a discharge rating curve (shown below).  The points would be the manual flow and depth measurements and the line is the interpolated discharge rating curve.  As you can see from the image, with an accurate discharge rating curve you can translate any depth measurement to a flow measurement.  We make this translation with all of our stream depth data, which ultimately gives us flow measurements every minute for the duration of the season.

Our manual flow measurements are taken using a Flowtracker which is a device that measures the velocity of the stream at a certain point.  We take about 20 velocity measurements across the stream channel and with a knowledge of the stream cross sectional area we can convert these measurements to a flow rate.  If you made it this far into this painful explanation congratulations.  This will be the most dense part of the blog, I just thought I would explain the nuances of what I do for the nerds out there.

So our main goal over the coarse of the season will be to take flow measurements and water quality samples at as many streams as we can.  Currently we have been stuck in Crary Lab in McMurdo (shown below) washing bottles for the collection and processing of our samples.  The goal is to fly out to our field camp next Monday.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions or if I need to explain anything further.
Our Lab in Crary where we have washed thousands of bottles this week.
Nice view walking into the lab this morning (Crary on the left). Mount Discovery is the peak you can see across the sound

Monday, November 9, 2015

Field Work Prep

As I mentioned in the last post we will be busy prepping for field work this week.  It isn't the most glamorous or exciting part of the job, but it is extremely important that we do it and do it well to ensure a successful and smooth field season.  Yesterday we broke up the monotony of washing bottles with a trip out to discovery hut.  This was a hut built by Robert Falcon Scott's party during the Discovery Expedition of 1901.  This hut is just a short walk from McMurdo Station, but they only open it up to visitors from town every once in a while.  It was in pretty good shape for being such an old building that exists in such harsh conditions, but I know the Kiwi's have been putting effort in to restore the historic huts around Ross Island.  When we first walked in we poked our head around the corner and saw two sheep carcasses hanging.  They were surprisingly not that decomposed for being 100 years old.  I assume, like the mummified seals we come across in the Dry Valleys, that there isn't enough microbial activity in the short summers to break them down much.

Around the next corner was a pile of partially decomposed seals.

There were a bunch of cool old boxes, bottles and cans piled up in the hut.

Not sure what kippered herrings are but they sound tasty.  Haven't seen these in the galley yet.

And some killer long underwear and pants.  Not sure of the brand but it looks like Northface, probably a merino wool polyester blend?

Then outside of the hut on the sea ice there were some Seals rolling around.  They looked pretty content, but I was freezing so this was the best picture I was able to get...

I can't imagine what life would have been like for the first men that lived here.  They must have had a crazy sense of adventure, and a lot of whiskey.  I'll try to keep the tour of the hut in mind if I ever start to complain about F6 (my home in the Dry Valleys).

I wish there was more to talk about today, but things were pretty slow.  We finished up the last of our training, which is a huge relief.  Now we are working on washing sample bottles for the collection and processing of stream water.  We have around 3000 bottles to wash, and it takes quite a bit of time, with different protocol for different bottles.  Monotony would be an understatement, but I guess this is part of the price we pay to get the opportunity to work in such a unique place.  This will all be worth it once we get out of here and into the Dry Valleys, and that can't happen soon enough.