Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Merry Christmas! A couple days late...

Merry Christmas everyone!  Sorry I was a little late in posting that, but I finally found some time to get around to writing again.  Christmas was amazing at Lake Hoare as always.  Rae, and Renee worked so hard baking, cooking, and decorating.  They really do their best to make things feel as close to back home as possible, and we all really appreciate their hard work.

On Christmas we spent most of the day decorating a gingerbread house and setting up decorations with the classic Christmas songs playing on repeat.  Most years I am driven to the point of breaking with the same old Christmas music on every radio station.  However, without hearing these songs for an entire moth prior, I hate to say I actually really enjoyed them.  The gingerbread decoration took a solid couple of hours.

Lake Hoare gingerbread house
Here is a picture part way through the decoration.  I wish I would have taken one later in the night because it looked amazing with all the lights out in the hut and candles illuminating the hard candy stained glass windows.  I wanted to snap a picture of my helicopter before the frosting failed and it fell apart...  You should take note of the carefully placed chocolate chip behind the reindeer.

When dinner time rolled around Mikey and I were responsible for blacking out the hut.  We put black fabric over the skylights, and closed the shudders on the exterior windows to block all sunlight from entering the hut.  It got very dark very quickly, which was a strange experience when you haven't experienced darkness for a couple months.  We lit candles and dished up an amazing dinner.  We had crab legs, ham, salad, some cheesy casserole dish, and mashed potatoes for the main course.  What a harsh continent indeed.  Even with the amazing ham and crab legs, I have to admit, I think my favorite part was the salad.  It was amazing, I haven't had a fresh fruit or vegetable in what feels like forever.  It is funny because 20 years ago if you asked my Grandma Gail if I'd ever grow up to like vegetables she would have laughed at the thought.  She used to encourage me to eat them against my will, but now I would give anything for a fresh carrot!  Thanks Grandma for teaching me to love my veggies.  I wish you could convince the USAP that your grandson needs more fresh vegetables.

Dessert was so delicious.  We had ginger spice cheese cake, and bread pudding.  I wish I could describe these desserts to do them proper justice, but I that is beyond my abilities this late at night.  Just take my word they were amazing!  Thanks Renee and Dave!

We proceeded to the white elephant gift exchange after dinner.  There were some pretty creative gifts.  One of the popular ones was a bottle of nice whiskey, a tumbler to drink it out of, and a glacier berry for ice.  Another was some wool socks and nice coffee, because everyone truly appreciates the value of those two necessities down here.  I ended up with a homemade crossword puzzle, some Baileys, and some great coffee.  The crossword puzzle was quite creative.  Most of the words in it are unique to life down here, so the clues are pretty funny.  I was happy to discover that I was able to make significant progress on this crossword puzzle, because typically I am only able to get a word or two in the Sunday Times before I give up.  Mikey made a stream team t-shirt, he also included some merino wool socks, and a steamy romance novel "The Bride of a Wicked Scottsman." Rae had knit a hat, and included a flask which was a great gift but impossible to keep from getting stolen.  There was a homemade cribbage board, some silly puddy that changed colors, and another gift I can't fully remember.  Oh and mine was a homemade hammock, which included a merino wool beanie, and some cake batter lip balm.  It was pretty awesome to see how creative everyone was, and I think everyone left the game with a really cool gift.  I should have taken more pictures, I just was too caught up in the moment to bother grabbing my phone.

The day after Christmas was pretty rough weather.  It was cold and cloudy with snow flurries.  Not to mention we were all recovering from our overindulgence in sugar the day before, so we didn't have much motivation for a hike.  We ended up just walking down Lake Hoare to Lake Chad and sampling the few streams that run down on that end of the lake.

The next day we were lucky enough to fly back to F6.  The weather wasn't looking much nicer than the day before.  There was a really low cloud ceiling and it was lightly snowing.  So the pilot was not sure if he wanted to fly up the valley to come get us and risk getting stuck.  Lucky for us he decided to take a shot at it and the visibility ended up being a lot better than he expected.  After we unpacked, and settled in at F6, we took the ATV around the lake to check and see if any streams were running.  It turned out that all of the streams in the Fryxell basin had shut off for the time being.  This is pretty amazing considering we just passed the summer solstice, and now the streams that were raging around Thanksgiving have turned off.  I guess it just goes to show how dependent the hydrologic cycle here is on solar energy.

Our new john boat.
Overnight the weather improved so we set out to check for flow again.  When we didn't find any we decided to take matters into our own hands and seek out new streams that were flowing at higher elevations.  We headed up the west side of Commonwealth Glacier, and hiked up a steep ridge to what is known as Falconer's Ridge.  The ventifacts here were out of this world, and the view of Lake Fryxell was really impressive.  However, we were unable to find any new streams up here, so we headed back down.

Crazy ventifact.
Lake Fryxell from Above
Lost Seal Tributary
On the way down we did find one stream flowing that is a tributary to Lost Seal pictured here.  However, when we made it to the Lost Seal gauging station the flow wasn't anywhere to be seen.  I guess we beat it down the hill.  On our way back to F6 we passed McKnight and Aiken and finally found some flow.  So we went back to F6, re-grouped and headed back out to collect some data.

Gaarwood River

Yesterday we flew over to Miers Valley again.  The flow had slowed down significantly since our last visit.  At the outlet of Lake Miers we measured 1.2 cfs, as opposed to 30 cfs two weeks ago.  We also stopped at Garwood Valley to sample the Garwood River.  This was a spectacular valley that was home to a river with a lot of interesting features.

Thawing ice wall on Garwood River
There is one spot on the river where it runs along and under a buried ice wall that is about 60 ft tall.  The ice wall is melting because the river is undercutting it, and the soil overlaying it is being warmed by the sun.  I was on the wrong side of the helicopter to get a good view, but here is a shot of it.

Garwood River with the Royal Society Range in the background

We flew up the river to the point where it runs along the Garwood Glacier.  The river gets pinched between a mountainside and a glacier.  When the glacier wall breaks off and calves into the stream bed, the river pools up and has nowhere to go.  In some spots the river has tunneled into the mountainside, and in other spots it tunneled under the glacier.  I wish I was able to photograph it better from the helicopter.  There is a location where the river has hollowed out an area underneath the glacier, and the ice above collapsed leaving a massive hole in the glacier.  It looked like something straight out of Star Wars.  We landed above the glacier and sampled below Lake Colleen, shown here.  Just an awesome end to a good day of stream work.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Solstice!

Hey Everyone!  As I am sure you are aware, yesterday was the summer solstice down here, or the winter solstice for most of you.  The sun has now reached its highest point in the northern sky.  This is an event of interest for us down here, especially because the sun is the primary control of stream flow.  The days won't be getting any shorter now (still 24 hours of sunlight) but the sun will begin to spin around our heads lower and lower in the sky.

165 cfs flowing at Vanda gauging station.
It was fitting that we visited the largest river in Antarctica on this day, and even more fitting that we measured such a large flow rate.  The Onyx River at the Vanda gauging station (near the outlet of the river into Lake Vanda) was measured with a flowtracker to be flowing at 165 cfs.

Flowtracker Explanation:
If I haven't described what a flowtracker is yet, and if you are just dying to find out, I will explain.  The flowtracker is what we use to get an accurate manual measurement of the volumetric flow rate (volume of water passing a certain spot per unit time) of a stream. The flowtracker is an acoustic doppler velocimeter, which I am sure you all are very familiar with.  Many times scientists, engineers, and others with poor social skills like to come up with big words to make what they are doing seem important or advanced, and this name is an example of that.  This piece of technology sends out sound pulses that bounce off of particulates in the water (small sediment particles) and based on the return of the sound signal it can estimate the velocity of the water at that point.  It uses the Doppler effect to measure the velocity. This is the same phenomenon that makes a train sound different when it is traveling towards than when it is travelling away from you.  So, the instrument determines the velocity of the water at a specific point in the stream.  We measure the velocity of the stream at 20 to 30 equally spaced points across the channel at a cross section that is perpendicular to the stream flow.  The depth of our measurement is simply 40% of the depth of the stream at that point.  For example if the stream is 1 ft deep at a point, we would measure the velocity at a depth of 0.4ft (see figure below).

Where d is depth, and the x-axis represents velocity of the stream at each depth. i.e. a value of zero at the bottom due to friction with the stream bed, and maximum velocity at the top of the stream.  Average velocity is 0.6d from the top or 0.4d from the bottom.
The reasoning here is that, due to friction on the flow from the stream bed, this point is the depth averaged velocity (add up velocities at all depths and take the average).  The velocity, the location across the stream, and depth of each velocity measurement is recorded in the flowtracker program.

Cross section geometry of the stream as measured with the flowtracker.  Each area slice is calculated, the average velocity of each slice is then determined, and the two values are multiplied to yield volumetric flow rate per slice.  The flow rates are then summed to determine a total. 
Using these three pieces of information we can estimate the volumetric flow rate.  The distance between measurements and the depth of each measurement allow us to estimate the cross sectional area of the stream.  The cross sectional area is broken up into little slices that are bounded on each end by a measurement location (see figure above).  The area of each little slice is multiplied by the average velocity of that slice.  Area multiplied by velocity gives us a volumetric flow rate for that little slice.  This is done for all slices across the channel, and the results are summed to yield a total volumetric flow rate.

  We attempted to measure the flow at the upper reaches of the Onyx at the Lower Wright gauging station, but the stage of the river was too high to safely wade across.

Stage was too high to safely wade across the river and gauge flow at Lower Wright Valley gauging station (beginning of Onyx River)
Some weather rolled in last night and has been hanging around today.  I don't think it has impacted the helo schedule too much yet, but it has really affected our streams.  Von Guerard (the stream running by our home here at F6) turned off today, along with Harnish.  It makes our lives a little easier when there isn't any flow present. However, Christa (one of my teammates) has a PhD project to work on that requires a decent amount of flow, so hopefully things turn back on for her sake.

Some nasty looking clouds rolled in over Taylor Valley yesterday afternoon.

I also have been getting some Christmas gifts this year which has been such an amazing surprise!  I feel like a little kid when South Pole Santa (the helicopter pilot) hands you a package from back home.  My mom and Annie sent packages, and I would feature them here if I hadn't already ate all of the contents of them.  Thank you so much guys!  My aunt Natalie sent me the card and zombonis featured below.  These are little wind up zambonis driven by zombies that you assemble yourself.  Mikey and I built one each and raced them.  He had a little bit better craftsmanship, so his drives straight.  I haven't won yet, but I am hoping for a Christmas miracle.  Thanks so much Natalie!!!

Racing zombonis
 I just received a package today from my Grandpa and Grandma Sudman.  I apologize for not waiting for Christmas day, but since nobody is here to tell me otherwise I broke into my presents early... They sent some tasty brownies, and cookie bars, along with a super great letter, and this awesome book.  Mikey was talking about this book earlier in the season.  He said he read it last season and it was really nice to read about someone in a warm climate while you are freezing your butt off.  I thought it sounded super interesting and I was bummed he didn't bring it down.  Well ask and you shall receive!  Sure enough this book showed up along with a large detailed national geographic map of the area to follow along with Teddy Roosevelt's trip through the jungles of the Amazon .  Thanks so much guys this is amazing!!

To all my friends and family back home reading this, I miss you guys and wish I could spend the holidays eating bunches of cookies and drinking too much eggnog with you!  Thanks for all the emails, phone calls, letters, and packages.  It sure helps to make the holidays great even away from home.  Another thing that really helps is that I am surrounded by such great friends down here!

Goodies from Grandpa and Grandma Sudman!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Another Wild Week

On Monday we hiked back from Lake Hoare and hit the streams on the south side of Lake Fryxell.  It was insanely windy, constantly holing at around 40 mph with gusts up to 70 mph.  We were hoping everything at camp was right where we left it, especially our tents.  When we returned we were happy to find everything still in its place.  Some of our tents were a little jostled around, but they fared much better than the tents left up at Bonney.  The Limno team had their tents up at Bonney and we heard a helo pilot announce over the radio that the remaining tents were flattened and one was completely gone (still hasn't been found).

Tuesday we flew south out of Taylor Valley, up over the Ferrar and Blue Glaciers and dropped down into Miers Valley.  It was a beautiful clear, calm day which was especially appreciated after the winds yesterday.  To give you an idea of how harsh the conditions were, we were doing our work in t-shirts.  

Miers Valley has two little glaciers, the Miers and the Adams, which sit at the upper reaches of the valley.  These two glaciers have streams that form at their terminus that share the same names as the glaciers (oddly enough).  On our first visit in late November, there was a trickle of water running through Adams Stream, while Upper Miers was dry.  Now they are both really going at around 30 cfs.  We half expected this because Renee had been in the Miers Valley earlier in the week with the Limno Team, and she had told us that the streams were raging.  She was also kind enough to take a couple of bonus water samples for us which was great!

The Outlet of Lake Miers with the beautiful Royal Society Range in the background.
These two streams flow down valley into Lake Miers, which has an outlet that flows down the valley to the McMurdo Ice Shelf.  The outlet of Lake Miers is also gauged, so we stopped here for our second stop of the day.  Mikey said that last year they never saw more than a trickle at the outlet.  This year, as you can see above, the outlet turned out to be providing a bit more than a trickle.  It turned out to be a killer blue bird day in Miers (which is not always the case), and all of our equipment was cooperating, which makes the day so much sweeter.

The Ferrar Glacier with some melt pools, and super-glacial rivers.
This picture was taken on the return flight to F6.  This is the Ferrar Glacier which consumes the next valley to the south of Taylor Valley.  From this view you can see some really crazy stuff.  Glaciers are often times described as giant rivers of ice.  You can see this description in action by looking at the parallel cracks running along the length of the glacier.  The ice at the outer edges flowing along the valley walls experiences more resistance from the walls, which causes the outside edges of the glacier to flow more slowly.  The ice in the middle of the glacier flows at a faster rate due to less resistance.  The longitudinal, parallel cracks you see are the result of the ice sections flowing at different speeds.  The pattern you see in the different speeds of ice is very similar to the different speeds of water you see in a river (with liquid water).  There are also some really cool super-glacial lakes and rivers on top of the Ferrar that are crazy shades of blue.

I was reading a new book (thanks Annie!) called The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard who was part of Robert Falcon Scott's tragic expedition to the South Pole.  In the intro he gives a bunch of Antarctic exploration history, and history on the McMurdo Sound area.  He gets into who all the geographic features were named after, which is pretty fun to learn while you are sitting in the spot he is talking about.  Anyways, he mentions Scott's first expedition and he says that Scott and a team walked up the Ferrar glacier to the polar plateau.  I just think it is a pretty special experience to be able to read about these unique historical events that unfolded right spot I am sitting.  It also amazes me how recent these events unfolded.  It was only about 100 years ago when Robert Scott reached the South Pole on January 16 1912, only to be beaten by 5 weeks by the Norwegian team lead by Roald Amundson.  I do have to say I think our life down here is slightly more plush these days.  It sounds like the majoirty of their transportation of supplies and gear was in the form of sledging (man hauled sleds).  Why they didn't use helicopters is beyond me.  They also ate a lot of seal and penguin, which unfortunately is not allowed here anymore.  Needless to say, things have come a long way in 100 years.

Gloomy morning outside of F6.
This is the scene I woke up to Wednesday morning.  We were supposed to fly over to the Wright Valley to replace a leaking nitrogen tank, but I didn't think we had a chance of flying in this weather.  About two hours later, the clouds lifted and the helicopters started flying.
View looking up Wright Valley over the Onyx River.
View from the same spot looking down Wright Valley.  If you look hard you can see the helicopter parked down there.  It was a pretty awesome little spot he found to land.  Our pilot flies heli-skiing operations in the off-season, so I don't think he was too sketched out by landing here.
After landing down at Vanda and replacing the leaking nitrogen tank, we flew up to Mt. Loke.  There is a radio receiver and a satellite phone modem here that collects our stream gauge data and met station data from Wright Valley and transmits it back to Boulder, CO.  We had to change a program on the radio because it wasn't working properly.  As you can see the view was pretty terrific.

We finally had to inflate our zodiac for crossing the moat to the ATV.  Mikey is pumped that rafting season is finally here.
The warm weather continued throughout the week.  As a result, our moats only increased in size.  It was finally time to inflate the zodiac.  You know it's been a good day when you get to travel by helicopter, boat, and ATV.  The real trick is pulling the boat up onto the lake ice far enough to step out and not fall in.  I am going to do my best this year not to join the Lake Fryxell swim club.

New double wide trailer at Lake Fryxell.  Should be some pretty sweet digs when it's all done.
Working on the rest of our Fryxell run on Thursday, we stopped by Camp Fryxell where the carpenters were working on moving the camp to a higher elevation as well as building a new hut.  The old hut was a cozy jamesway (you can see what a jamesway is below in the Lake Bonney photo), but this new one looks pretty spacious.  I wish they were completing it in time for us to break it in.
Four balled snowman at Lake Bonney
What people back home picture every day here looks like.
Friday we were planning on flying up to Lake Bonney to complete our work up there, and spend the night at Bonney Making x-mas cookies and hanging out.  The weather had different ideas for us, as it usually does.  The day started off with low dark clouds rolling through the valley.  The hillsides were getting dusted with snow, and every once in a while the valley floor would get a flurry.  We thought there was no way we were flying, so we were suprised when we heard over the radio that our helicopter took off from McMurdo.  We were picked up and flew up the valley to check out the weather.  The clouds were creating a barrier on the west edge of Lake Hoare, so we were forced to circle back and land at Hoare to wait things out.  It couldn't have been better timing because Rae had just pulled out fresh baked bagels from the oven when we landed.  We sat down, enjoyed some bagels and coffee at the local cafe on the way to work, then hopped back in the helicopter to try again.  This time the clouds had cleared enough to make it through to Bonney.  When we landed we were greeted by a four balled snowman, and some suspicious looking friends.  They were all huddled around the heli-pad and had arm fulls of something.  When we exited the helicopter (and were far enough away from it to ensure no damage was done) we were pelted with snowballs.  The snow was so much fun!  I felt like a little kid on a snow day, and it definitely helped things feel a little bit more like Christmas.  It reminded me of when I was a kid at my Grandparent's lake home for Christmas and all the cousins would go out and drive ATV's and snowmobiles on the lake ice pulling sleds and tubes behind.  Of course we would never dream of doing anything like that now that we are mature adults.

The Rhone Glacier
We headed out on the ATV at Bonney to complete our work for the day.  It was amazing how the streams reacted to the recent change in weather.  The snow on the glaciers, and the clouds blocking the sun reduced stream flow significantly, but it wasn't enough to turn them off completely.  All of our work went pretty smoothly, so we headed back to Bonney Camp for dinner and cookies.  It sounds kind of funny but it was pretty great to hang around and make/eat cookies with Christmas music on (as much as that music drives me nuts).  I have to admit I did more eating than decorating as I usually do. Oops.

Yesterday we set out from Lake Bonney and Hiked back to Lake Hoare.  We completed our work on the streams we passed on the hike back.  It was a pretty long hike, especially with a cookie hangover, and all of our sampling gear.  We are pretty beat from a busy week so the three of us are still here at Lake Hoare lounging around at 10:00 AM on a Sunday.  This is kind of unusual because normally we'd be going for a hike, but I think things finally caught up to us.

Right now I am going to get back to reading that book.  Somehow next week is already Christmas.  This season is flying by right before my eyes.  Take care everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mount Ray

Well with C-511's departure on Saturday morning, things were sadly a bit quieter around Lake Hoare this weekend.  Some of us were feeling well rested Sunday morning, so we rallied for a hike to the top of Mount Ray, which is the mountain that Lake Hoare Camp resides under.

Perfect hiking weather.
I was a little nervous about the weather as we headed out.  As you looked up the mountain we were hiking it was socked in about half way up, and there weren't any signs of the weather changing.  It looked like a pretty grueling hike just to get to the top and have 100 yds. of visibility.  I think we all just assumed  that the weather wouldn't do that to us after putting in all the hard work.  The first half of the hike was pretty windy and chilly, and the wind only got worse as we hiked into the clouds.

Forrest contemplates the meaning of life, as we begin to break out of the clouds.

It isn't a very long hike, but it is pretty strenuous, with 4500 ft of elevation gain over about 2 miles.  We hiked and bouldered our way up to the top at around 1:40 PM.  Well I guess it wasn't the true peak.  The true peak was a couple hundred feet higher, and on the other side of a big ice field.  But we still were able to capture a pretty killer view.

Above the sea of clouds.
The way down wasn't as harsh as I thought it would be.  We did however make a slight navigational error.  When we hiked back down and got into the clouds it was hard to see where we were going.  We just followed the ridge line we were on because it was the same one we used to get up.  The only thing is, while we were in the clouds we didn't see that our ridge line split into two separate ridges. The one to the right was the one that we took up, while the one to the left took us to the ice falls on Canada Glacier.  You can guess which one we took.  It wasn't too costly of a mistake, and honestly we may have accidentally shaved some time off of our hike, and almost certainly saved some strain on our knees.

By the time we returned, the clouds that had hung around the mid-section of Mount Ray all day had finally burned off.  All of a sudden I was nice and warm with the sun shining on me.  I felt great after that hike.  I of course was oblivious to the fact that I would remain sore from the hike for what is now going on two days.  All in all it was a great day to be out with some even greater company.

Ice Falls on Canada Glacier.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

I Spoke Too Soon

Oh man where has the time gone?  I began this blog post about a week ago and am just finishing it.  Well the melt was on a roll, and then I opened my big mouth.  Just like everybody had said,  it can get cold again, and things can slow down.  Well sure enough, on Monday evening some weather rolled in and started cooling things down.  Here's a picture of what it looked like up valley from F6.

It really didn't get terribly cold, the ambient temperature still felt like it was in the 30's, but the clouds really cut down the amount of solar energy reaching the glaciers and substantially reduced stream flow.  It was kind of a bummer.  I was getting my hopes up a little that this might be a big flow year (which still isn't out of the question).  The stream that flows by our camp (Von Guerard) completely stopped running which was kind of a bummer.  It was our new source of drinking water, now that the moats are too melted to chip ice.  Now we might switch to just drinking moat water from the lake.  I just asked a limnologist and she said that the lake moats are really fresh (non-saline), so we should be alright.

On Tuesday we were supposed to fly to Wright Valley to tackle a couple of projects, but from the moment we woke up we had our doubts.  The clouds were really low in the valley, and visibility is the most important factor for the helo pilots.  One pilot was explaining that flying in clouds can be pretty disorienting, and it becomes even more dangerous when flying through white clouds over a white glacier.  Sure enough we got put on a weather hold until noon.  Then we got a call from the helo coordinator who asked if we minded if our flight was moved to Wednesday.  We didn't mind, so we had to come up with a new plan for the day.  It was pretty windy out, and it would have been really easy to just hang around inside all afternoon and be lazy.  Luckily we were able to find the motivation to get dressed and head out.

It is pretty funny because it really wasn't that cold out.  The majority of last year's season was much colder than this weather and windier, but we had grown accustomed to the calm warm days last week.  We hiked out to Commonwealth, which was ambitious considering the conditions.  We brought the waders because of our river crossing experience last week, but as it usually works out, the waders were completely unnecessary this week.  We hiked back and hit Aiken on the way back.  It turned out to be a pretty productive day, and it was nice to knock those streams out early in the week.

Wednesday the helicopters were able to fly.  The weather still didn't look that great in the morning, but our flight came.  I knew we had a possibility of getting stranded in the Wright Valley so I was sure to pack some extra food.  We were meeting some carps (carpenters, not to be confused with fish) over there so they could fix a staff gauge plate we have out there.  A staff gauge plate is essentially a ruler that we have in the water for us to read the water level.  The staff plate at Vanda (which is the lower end of the Onyx River, the longest river in Antarctica) is a little crooked, as you can see in the photo below. So the idea was that the carps were going to build a new one that was straight for us.  We landed at the lower end of the Onyx River (the largest river in Antarctica) and the flow was a little bit higher than the carps had expected, and they needed to borrow our waders.  We surveyed the setup before they made any changes, so we could relate the new staff plate readings to the old one.  We finished up our regular routine of gauging the river and collecting water samples, then we hopped in the helicopter to work on our station up at the upper end of the Onyx River.

Control at Lake Vanda. You can see the crooked staff plate in the middle of the stream.

View looking downstream over Lake Vanda
Up at our gauging station called Onyx at Lower Wright Valley (very confusing because this is the beginning of the Onyx River, however it is the Lower Wright Valley because the Onyx actually flows inland from East to West.  Anyways, we hopped out of the helicopter and the pilot told us we should hurry up because the weather was closing in.  Luckily everything went smoothly and we were able to wrap everything up within an hour.

Mikey hard at work gauging the flow with our FlowTracker

Trying to show the clarity of the Onyx River.  Some of the purest water I have ever seen.

Weather rolling in.

The plan was to drop us off at Marble point (helicopter refuelling station), and the pilot would go back to Wright Valley to pick up the carps so they didn't get stuck there overnight.  We had to navigate the low lying clouds to make it back to Marble safely, but we made it back without too much issue.  We touched down and headed inside.  They have a pretty cool little set up at Marble and they seemed really excited to have guests.  We came in and were treated to cookies, and some coffee.  One of the coolest perks there that I appreciated was a TV and real couches!  We put in a movie and kicked up our feet, not knowing when we were going to be picked up and if we would make it back to F6.  After the movie we caught word over the radio that our pilot was headed back with the carps and we would be getting a ride home.  As we were leaving we couldn't help but laugh at how much we felt like little kids getting cookies, and a movie, then to top it off we were sent home with soup. All the staff at Marble were amazing, if you ever find yourself flying around the Dry Valleys I would recommend a stop.  What a great spot to get stranded for a few hours.

Marble Point.
Due to the fact that it took me a whole week to get this post up, weather conditions have changed.  Friday things began to warm up again and the streams once again are flowing at relatively high discharges.  We went on a hike yesterday up on Mount Ray right behind Lake Hoare Camp.  It was a straight up hike with a killer view.  I will be sure to post some pictures soon.  Today we have some crazy down valley winds gusting at 44 knots (50 mph).  I hope the holiday shopping is going well back home.  If you are having a hard time trying to find a gift for me, just browse Cabela's and it shouldn't take long.  Miss you all!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Map of Fryxell Basin

Hey everyone.  I realized I am now throwing out all of these arbitrary stream names as if you know where they are.  I thought it'd be nice to give you some context.  Here is a zoomed in map I made of the Fryxell Basin.  The Orange boxes represent our gauge boxes, and the green triangular symbols are the camps.  I apologize it isn't quite as nice as something a GIS wiz like Breezy would make...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Things are Melting

With this recent stretch of warm weather, most of the streams in Taylor Valley have begun to run, and they are flowing at rates that are already greater than the peak flows we saw last year.  The warm weather has been surprising to us, but the veterans down here aren't overly impressed.  I think they are just accustomed to how sporadic the weather can be down here.  I personally think it's going to be a big flow year because of the early high flows, but everyone reminds me that the weather can change in an instant causing the streams to shut off within a matter of hours.

This is Aiken Stream flowing higher than we ever saw it last year.  You can see how cloudy this first flow is as the stream flushes the sediment and dead algae downstream.
Friday we hiked out to Commonwealth stream, located on the eastern side of Commonwealth Glacier.  It was running when we checked it the week before, however it looked as if the flow had more than doubled since then.   We had finished all of our work in the rest of the Fryxell basin earlier in the week, so we had a little bit of time to explore around the stream.  We hiked down the stream to it's outlet to the ocean. This area is pretty interesting because the stream flows through an old glacial moraine.  The stream has carved a pretty impressive canyon through the permafrost and ice-cored ground.  There are massive canyon walls that are slowly slumping, and melting into the channel, and even spots where the water has melted the ice beneath the hillside and tunnelled underground.

In the center of the photo you can see a dark spot in the hillside where the water is gushing out.  It is hard to make out, but that is a tunnel underneath the hillside that the water has cut out.
I like this picture because you can see the changes happening right before your eyes, even in a still photo.  There is a scientist who is taking a picture every day and creating a time lapse of this hillslope eroding which would be insane to see.
We eventually worked our way down the canyon and made it to the beach.  The beach was a welcome change of scenery from the valleys, and the lack of wind was refreshing.  It was slightly different than a lot of the beaches in more temperate climates.  I usually prefer the water to be a little warmer, and Mikey said the surf was too rough, so we skipped the surfing.  However, it sure made for a nice spot to eat lunch.  You can see Mt. Erebus in the background, and the crazy cloud patterns it was forming above it (Breezy that is where your crystal came from).  The water from Commonwealth stream was steaming as it flowed across the beach to the ocean, which I thought was odd.  We were curious what the temperature was, so we went over and measured it.  It was 55 degrees Fahrenheit!  It is pretty insane that a glacial melt-water stream can get to that temperature in such a short distance (a little over 2 miles).

The beach at Explorer's Cove with Erebus in the background.  We should have brought the volleyball...
After lunch, we hiked back up the stream and got to work on sampling and checking the gauge station.  Crossing the stream was a difficult endeavor.  We didn't expect the stream to be so high, so we didn't bring any waders to cross in.  I found a narrow spot and was able to jump across, managing to only submerge one foot.  The way back across was a different story.  We thought we found a better jumping spot so Mikey went to test it out.  The stream was flowing under some overhanging ice and snow.  It was too difficult to see how far the ice and snow were overhanging, but it supported his weight on the way over, so we figured it would be fine to cross back.  I guess this logic was flawed.  As Mikey went to jump the ice gave way and he ended up getting a little wet.  Luckily it was about 40 degrees out with almost no wind.  It didn't take long before the dry air here completely dried him out.

Mikey scoping out a safe crossing route across Commonwealth Stream.
On the way back we witnessed a pretty cool event.  We were walking along a pretty small stream on the way back to F6.  It was confusing because I had remembered walking up a channel on the way out to Commonwealth that was bone dry.  This one, however, had a decent sized stream flowing through it.  We were going back and forth on whether or not this stream had just started flowing when we walked around a corner and saw the end of the stream.  It was such a cool sight!  This little stream was beginning it's first flow of the season, and we were witnessing it as it filled up little pools, spilled over, and clumsily found it's way down the old dry channel.

The first flow on this unnamed stream that feeds Many Glaciers Pond.
We got back to F6 and learned that our friends from C-511 (they study the physical properties of the lakes) were coming over to spend the night after doing some work in the Fryxell Basin.  The Limno Team (focused on the biology of the lakes) just flew into Lake Fryxell camp that day, so they also were planning on heading over for dinner.  A group BBQ at F6 was discussed at Thanksgiving, but with everyone's crazy schedules we didn't think it would ever be a realistic possibility.  All the stars aligned, and we were ready for the First Annual F6 BBQ.  The weather couldn't have cooperated any better.  It had to have been mid 30's with no wind, and clear skies.  The trusty F6 grill was uncovered from last winter, and we fired it up to cook some delicious burgers courtesy of Limno Team.  These weren't just any burgers, they were monster juicy lucys with garlic, pesto, and cheese in the middle.

The First Annual F6 BBQ on a beautiful December day.

We were all hanging out eating and enjoying cold beverages when I noticed some movement down by the stream bed.  I thought the stream was flowing, but I realized that wasn't likely (first flow was around Jan. 5 last year), but I walked over there and sure enough it was flowing, and fast.  It was so exciting (nerds get excited about funny stuff) that everyone was there and got to witness the first flow of Von Guerard stream.  The Stream team sprang into action.  We got samples, and measured the flow almost immediately after the first pulse of water.  It was a pretty cool addition to an already memorable night.

First flow on Vonguerard Stream.  It was amazing how much flow came down with the first pulse.  By the way this flow has now dropped to a trickle because of the recent clouds.
The next morning came pretty early.  We were scheduled to fly at 12:30, but it got bumped up to 10:30.  We flew up to Bonney to sample and gauge the streams up there.  It was a really nice day again, which makes it so much nicer to get out into the field to do work.  The warm weather had all of the streams flowing that we normally sampled, which means we collected 9 water samples.  This may not sound like much, but our record for last year was 8.  I was the lucky one in the rotation that had the responsibility of filtering all of the samples from the day.  Mikey stopped in the lab before he went to bed and asked if I wanted to hike with him and Renee in the morning.  I really wanted to go because I hate wasting an opportunity to go hiking in such a unique place, and because hanging out with those two is a blast.  I regretfully declined because I knew I should catch up on sleep and give my legs a break.

It is hard to get a sense for scale, but this is a waterfall shooting off the edge of the Suess glacier seen from an helicopter.

So I don't really have much to write about from today.  I was able to sleep in, which was needed badly.  I ate way too many cookies (Renee makes dangerously good cookies).  I got some work done finishing up the samples from last night, and inventorying everything the Stream Team has here at Lake Hoare.  And I spent a little bit of time working on this.  Oh and I got a shower!  The weather has changed a little bit overnight.  Today it was gray, cloudy, windy, and a little colder.  Anderson Stream, which runs right by Lake Hoare, was flowing notably less this morning than it was when I went to bed last night.  It just amazes me how quickly these streams respond to the amount of solar energy hitting the glaciers.  I think I am going to go to bed now.  Tomorrow we fly back to F6 to start another crazy week.  I hope you all are doing well back home!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Back to Work

It has been a slow struggle getting back into the work groove, especially with this tighter beltline.  I don't doubt this is a slow week of work for most of you as well.  The fun of Thanksgiving is officially over, so I am struggling finding anything to write about.  Instead of fun hikes and cool pictures I'll just have to inform you with the day to day activities that constitute our "work" (it is a bit of a stretch to call this experience "work").

This week we have been back at F6 getting things done in the Fryxell Basin.  We have been checking boxes to make sure the electronics are working properly, and to check the nitrogen systems for leaks.  The electronics have been solid with one exception, but the nitrogen systems have been giving us the most trouble.  We are using old tanks that have seen their fair share of seasons and regulators that have some pretty rough threads.  Not to mention there is sand that is blown everywhere that gets into the threads.  This combo makes for plenty of leaks that are nearly impossible to detect.  As a result a couple of our systems were drained of nitrogen over the week, and now need to be replaced.  We ran out of spare tanks so we are waiting to get them from town, along with a new satellite phone, some food, and miscellaneous supplies.

We have also been surveying the elevations of our control structures, and orifice locations.  We have known established benchmark elevations at every stream gauge (bolts in large rocks), and we reference the other elevations to these to ensure the ground isn't shifting and changing the elevation of our instrumentation.  All of this takes quite a bit of time at each gauging station and it involves a lot of standing around.  This is pretty brutal just because you can get cold pretty quick, but the weather has been insanely nice the past couple of days.  It has been in the mid 30s (Fahrenheit) with minor winds.  I don't know how long this weather is going to keep up, but I am not complaining.

I took this before going to bed one night. I thought that we were going to get hit with a pretty good storm, but it cleared up and we woke up to another beautiful day.
The past couple of nights we had some free time around camp, which has been rare this season.  I  took a camp chair and my guitar to the leeward side of the hut and jammed.  I am admittedly pretty rusty right now just because I didn't play all fall with hunting, but I think I am picking it back up alright.  The hardest thing is the callouses on my fingertips that I have had for the past 10 years are gone.  Now I know why new people to guitar complain so much (Luke... haha just kidding bud!).  Anyways, it was a refreshing experience to have some alone time and just play to an empty valley in the warm sun.  I also went on my first run of the season last night.  It was pretty cold to start out, but I soon warmed up.  Running uphill in sand isn't quite as enjoyable as you might imagine, however when I turned around to come downhill it was a blast.  I hope the weather keeps up so I can run more often.