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!

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