Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Back to the Big City

We arrived in McMurdo on Saturday which was a bitter sweet day.  We had to leave Ray, Renee, and the Valley that has been our home for the past three months for the big city.  The plus side was that upon returning we were able to take a shower and change into clean clothes, which really is an amazing feeling after a while without either.  This week we have been busy returning gear to the work centers we borrowed them from, and storing equipment for next year's team.

Last week we did the annual lake levels trip, which is a whirlwind tour of the Dry Valleys that the stream team looks forward to every year.  One of the Limno teams measures the elevations of the Lakes at the beginning of the season, and Stream Team is in charge of measuring the elevations at the end of the season.  The elevations of the lakes are of interest because these lakes are closed basin lakes (they have no true outlet to the ocean). The input to the lakes is virtually entirely glacial meltwater, and the water outputs are evaporation of the open water on the moats, or sublimation (direct phase change from solid to gas) of the lake ice.  Keeping a record of the lake elevations informs us on how much water is entering and leaving the lakes.  The current trend is rising lake levels (more glacial meltwater in than evaporation and sublimation) and has caused a couple of camps to actually be moved uphill.  The new Fryxell hut that was shown in a previous post is the result of rising lake levels.

This was an amazing day of flying because we got to fly up the Taylor Glacier to Lake Joyce and Lake House (shown below).

Lake Joyce
Lake House
Then we crossed up and over the Western Asgard Range into the Western Wright Valley near the Air Devron Six Icefalls and the Labyrinth.  The Air Devron Six Icefalls are a truly spectacular sight.  I wish I could have captured a picture of them, but it just wouldn't have done them justice throught the helicopter window. The icefalls are an area where the ice from the polar plateau cascades down a massive dolerite and sandstone cliff of hundreds of feet and terminates at the bottom of the cliff to form Upper Wright Glacier.

View over the Laybrinth
Down valley of the glacier there is a system of canyons called the Labyrinth.  These canyons have formed from what is believed to be massive glacial outburst floods.  This is where glacial meltwater pools up over time, usually dammed by ice or sediment, and in one catastrophic event it drains the melt pool.  As you could imagine this process has carved out some amazing canyons through the Western Wright Valley.  This place is reminiscent of photos I have seen from southern Utah.  Here is a photo of us flying above the Labyrinth.  Renee said it might be the prettiest view she has ever seen, and I would have to agree.

Don Juan Pond
After flying through this area we landed at the saltiest body of water in the world, Don Juan Pond.  I asked a geologist what the theory is concerning the high salinity of Don Juan Pond and he basically said that you have water picking up salts from the surrounding landscape and dumping into the pond.  The water evaporates and leaves the salt behind.  It was a strange place.  The water was only a couple of inches deep, the bottom sediment was covered in salt that had precipitated out of the water, and there were large rocks placed about everywhere like a sculpture garden.  I could have gotten really artsy with some photography here and Forrest got a great shot.  Unfortunately this is the best one I was able to take.  Yet another place in the Dry Valleys that feels out of this world.

Mikey and I had a day trip yesterday to another unique place called University Valley.  We weren't on the schedule, but were told to be ready because if they were unable to fly up to Erebus they were going to fly our mission instead.  We were notified around 11:00 AM that we were flying at Noon so we scrambled our gear and headed down to the helo hanger.  The flight out along the sea ice was pretty spectacular.  The majority of the McMurdo sound sea ice has broken up and drifted away, leaving a beautiful open bay between McMurdo and the Dry Valleys.  The helicopters are not allowed to fly over open water, so luckily for us they have to skirt the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf (this is extremely thick ice that does not clear out of the sound from year to year) which adds quite a bit of flight time to get out to the valleys.  Also convenient for us is the orcas like to patrol the edge of this shelf hunting for their next meal.  So we got to do a bit of whale watching on the way out.

Sea ice breaking up.  If you look really close and have a super high definition monitor you can see an orca popping up to breathe.  It is 2/3 the way across the photo from left to right and in the little gap of open water amongst the ice sheets.
Once we hit the valleys we cruised up the Taylor Valley and hit some strong headwinds once we got up to the Taylor Glacier.  It was another half hour of flying up the taylor glacier to finally arrive at University Valley.  Once we arrived we went and downloaded some data off of a meteorological station and did a little exploring.  This was probably the most other worldly spot I had been to yet.  It is fitting that the team trying to film shots for a TV series called "Red Planet" is trying to get up there.

University Valley
Ventifact in University Valley
Today has been pretty non-eventful.  We are nearly done with our field work, except for one possible trip to the penguin rookery at Cape Royds which I am really hoping for.  Other than that we have just been cleaning up and trying to stay busy.  Most of us don't leave until February 8, so we have some down time which has been nice.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Home Stretch

Well, I officially have become terrible at keeping this thing up.  I will save the excuses and try to catch up!

Things have been crazy busy here at F6.  Stream team is busy with our usual routine of sampling and gauging all of the Fryxell Basin, Bonney Basin, and Hoare Basin streams in a week.  We have had a bunch of visitors at F6 which has been a bunch of fun, but things can get crowded at times.  We had some folks (worm herders as they are affectionately known) last weekend that are studying soil microbes (nematodes).  And this week we had some geologists, and some scientists studying aerosolized (airborne) microbes.  As someone put it, walking around F6 is like playing that puzzle game where you only have one open space, and you slide the little blocks around to get them to fit.  My solution has been to wake up at 5 AM so I can have the hut to myself with excellent internet access.

We have also been having some weird weather.  It has generally been warm and the stream flows have picked up to maybe three quarters of where they were around Thanksgiving.  There has been a lot in the way of fog and clouds which has limited the helicopter flights.  This has given us some necessary exercise to work off the hundreds of cookies consumed at Lake Hoare.  Last weekend in Renee's cookie lab a peanut butter, chocolate chip, bacon cookie was created.  These are the ultimate field snack filled with calories, protein, and goodness.

This week we have been busy closing all of the gauge boxes for the season.  This means we grab the data storage module from the gauge box that has been collecting data all summer, and swap it with a a blank one to record the rest of the fall and into the winter.  Then we survey the elevations of our instruments and control structures to make sure things haven't moved since the beginning of the season (things do move because of the constant freeze thaw cycle of the ground).  Finally we put a ratchet strap around the gauge box to secure the doors during the winter storms and we wish them luck!

A couple weekends ago we got a chance on Sunday to head out and hike the Matterhorn which was a fantastic hike with a killer view.

View from the top of the Matterhorn looking towards the McMurdo Sound.  That is Lake Fryxell at the end of the valley.
Last week we sampled and gauged the streams in Miers Valley.  On the return flight we stopped to get stream samples and do algal sampling on the Garwood River.  The Garwood Valley never fails to deliver.  Might be my new favorite river.

View looking up the Garwood River towards the Royal Society Range.

Last weekend we got out on Sunday to do the Classic Nussbaum Riegel hike.  It is a fairly mellow day filled with amazing hiking.  Definitely will be included in my book of top hikes to do in the Taylor Valley.

View looking up the valley towards the Taylor Glacier.
Looking up the valley under a ventifact.  My dad liked the photo I took of this spot last year, so I tried to recreate it.
The other morning I woke up and there was absolutely no wind at F6.  No wind!  This never happens so I took the opportunity to snap this photo of the Asgard Range reflecting in the Lake moat.  What a strange little valley we live in.  I swear it is on another planet.

View from F6 towards the Canada Glacier.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Happy 2016!

This past weekend was a fantastic break that I think all of us on the stream team needed and fully appreciated.  We flew back into Mac Town on Friday to take a little hiatus from the field and enjoy the New Year celebration back in town.

The flight into town was pretty fun.  We were all buzzing on the excitement of heading back to civilization and our pilot was nice enough to fly us by some seals and emperors.  We set down on the helo pad right next to the limno team.  They wasted no time bragging about how they flew down the edge of the sea ice and got to see pods of orcas on the prowl for tasty penguins.  Our jealousy wore off quickly as we took in the commotion of Mac Town, and headed to drop our stuff off at Crary (the science and engineering building in town that houses all of the labs and offices).  In Crary we ran into a bunch of people that we hadn't seen since early November.  We were stoked to see them, however they were hesitant to stand too close.  During our stay in the field we acquired a particular musk that we no longer noticed.  The limno team made sure we were fully aware of this, and we quickly dropped our gear off to head for the nearest shower.  After using a solar shower (once a week) for a month and a half, hot running water is a truly magical thing.  New clean clothes were also a real treat.  I was happy to find that after washing my socks they were no longer rigid.

We took the first night back into town pretty easy because Ice Stock was the next day.  For those of you who aren't familiar with McMurdo, Ice Stock is an annual music festival held on the New Year's weekend on base.  Saturday morning we washed some more stream sample bottles in the lab because it wouldn't be a proper day in McMurdo without doing so.  Then time rolled around to check out the bands.

Ice Stock (photo credit: Forrest McCarthy)
The set up was amazing, there were three flat bed semi trailers parked next to eachother to make the stage, the sound system was huge, and there were even bleachers.  It looked like a legitimate concert venue.  There were some "shops" set up around the perimeter that offered free burgers, dogs, and even coffee with baileys in it.  The bands started playing at around 2:00 PM and didn't stop until about 2 AM.  I really can't say enough about how talented the bands were.  My favorite was a funk band that had an unreal horn section.  The mosh pits for the metal bands were pretty fun too.  It was absolutely amazing to see the musical talent McMurdo has to offer.  This could not have been a better way to take a break and give my brain a break from the field.

We had a lazy day Sunday and enjoyed some of the luxuries that town has to offer, like 24 hour pizza at the galley.  Mikey and I also headed down to the gym to do some climbing on the rock wall.  It has been ages since I had done any actual climbing with a harness, so I was pretty excited.  Turned out I was pretty good at it and it was a bunch of fun!  Guess I will add it to the long list of hobbies I'd like to get into.

We tried to fly out Monday, but our flight was canceled due to weather.  We had finished all of our work in town on Sunday because we thought we were flying out so we really didn't have much to do.  I wandered the labs asking my friends in other groups if they needed help, and was able to kill some time bugging them.  We ended up renting a couple of movies and watching them in this little theater they have set up.  There is a long arched building (called a jamesway) with a big screen at one end and four rows of couches on either side of an aisle.  It is really dark in there and that probably explains why I was unable to keep my eyes open the entire time for each movie.

Tuesday we were put on weather hold again so we went down to the gym to mess around until helo ops figured out our flight.  They finally scheduled us for a 7pm flight.  We went and killed the rest of our day playing monopoly in the galley.  We loaded everything up and took to the skies.  Our pilot was kind enough to fly us along the edge of the sea ice which was an amazing experience.  We were able to see adelie and emperor penguins hanging out on the sea ice, and jumping into the dangerous waters below where the orcas wait.  We were lucky enough to see some orcas on the prowl along the edge of the sea ice.  Such cool animals, I wish we had all day to spend flying around and whale watching.  We landed at F6 and settled back into home sweet home.

Sea Ice Edge
This week has been crazy hectic with more weather delays and more work than time allows for.  That is my excuse for taking so long with this post.  I don't have too many pictures which I apologize for.  I will try to add some to this post once I get to Lake Hoare tomorrow and have a little free time.  I hope everyone had a great New Years back home!  Have a good weekend everyone!