Monday, December 19, 2011

Check out the nemablog (!  This is a blog by some of my colleagues from Colorado State who study nematodes, and work with us down here in the Dry Valleys.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Field work in the Dry Valleys, Antarctica

Our team of scientists setting up a plot for sampling soil at a pond in the Dry Valleys
We finally made it out to our field site to start setting up our research.  We camped in Taylor Valley (a Dry Valley) for 2 nights while we were doing our work.  The picture above shows the team of scientists I work with.  One of the major goals of our work is to understand the biology of Antarctic soils.  The point of the experiment we are setting up in the picture is to understand how life in the soils will respond to climate change.

The Dry Valleys are one of the few places in Antarctica where the land is not covered by ice.  The types of animals we find in the Dry Valleys are very small organisms that live in the soil.  You need a microscope to see most of them, and they include round worms (nematodes), spring tails (collembola), water bears (tardigrades), rotifers, and mites.  We also study the bacteria that live in the soils.

In our experiment, we will add water from the pond that you see in the picture above to large plots of soil.  We are doing this because we expect more ice will melt in Antarctica in the coming years, and we want to know what this added water will do to the animals and the soils.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Travel to McMurdo

I suppose I'm telling you the story about my journey out of chronological order this year.  I wrote about getting warm clothes in New Zealand below, but here's how my trip began.

I left Blacksburg, Virginia (where Virginia Tech is located) at 1:30 pm on December 1, eastern standard time (EST).  Michigan and Virginia are both in the eastern time zone.  I first had a 45 minute car ride from Blacksburg to the airport in Roanoke.  I then took an airplane from Roanoke to Charlotte, North Carolina and got on another plane to fly across the country to Los Angeles, California.  I got on a plane in LA at 11 pm on December 1 in the pacific time zone, and 14 hours later I landed in Aukland, New Zealand at 10 am on December 3.  The time in New Zealand is 18 hours ahead of EST.  That means if it is 1 am in Michigan or Virginia, it is 7pm in New Zealand.  If it is 4 pm in Michigan or Virginia, then it is 18 hours later in New Zealand, which is 10 am the next day.  So when I got on the plane, it was actually 2 am EST on December 2, and it landed 14 hours later, which was 4 pm EST on December 2 (which is 10 AM on December 3 in New Zealand time).  As you might imagine, flying through so many time zones can get really confusing.

I then took a flight from Aukland to Christchurch, New Zealand, which is where the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) has a station where people on their way to McMurdo stop to get their clothes and have an orientation.  Up to this point, all of the flights were on normal, commercial airlines that anyone can buy a ticket for.

The flights that go from Christchurch to McMurdo are operated by the United States military, and those flights are very different from commercial flights.  Only people who have been approved by the USAP are allowed on those the airplanes traveling from Christchurch to McMurdo.  Some of the requirements to make it on the flight were to pass a physical exam (which I had back home during the summer) and a dental exam (which I also had back home in the summer) because they only want to send healthy people to such a remote place.  There are not very many doctors or dentists at McMurdo.  They also require everyone on the flight to have special extreme cold weather (ECW) gear.  The flight from Christchurch to McMurdo was on a C17 (a type of cargo jet).
Cargo inside the C17 cargo jet
Riding in a large cargo jet is a little different than riding in a regular commercial jet.  We sat along the side of the plane in fold-out seals.  We didn't really have windows or aisles.  And cargo that was being shipped to McMurdo was secured right in front of us, in the center of the plane.

The view from one of the few very tiny windows in the C17

A picture of the C17 jet on the ice at McMurdo
We landed on the Ross Ice Shelf near McMurdo, which is on Ross Island.

People walking on the ice from the C17 to Ivan the Terrabus
We then took a large orange bus with enormous wheels from the ice runway to McMurdo.  The bus ride was about 45 minutes.
People getting on Ivan the Terrabus
...and finally, around 12 pm on December 5 (New Zealand time) I was in McMurdo.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What to wear?

Many people ask what I wear when I'm working in Antarctica.  Luckily, the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) provides warm clothes for everyone who is traveling to the ice for the U.S.  Everyone headed to MCM has to stop at the CDC in CHC and check in with the USAP, where they are issued their ECW.  People use lots of acronyms down here... MCM is Mactown, or McMurdo Station.  The CDC is the clothing distribution center, which is located in Christchurch (CHC), a city in New Zealand.

ECW = Extreme Cold Weather gear
Bunny boots
Essential clothing items in Antarctica include the Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear.  My ECW includes a big red parka with my name on it... this jacket is appropriately called "Big Red."  ECW also includes hats, ski goggles, a balaclava, gloves, wind pants, and bunny boots.  Bunny boots are white rubber boots that are really warm, really big, and quite difficult to walk around in.  We are required to wear our ECW, or have it close at hand, whenever we traveling to/from Antarctica, or traveling around on the continent.  I also brought some of my own clothing, like my favorite wind-proof fleece and hiking boots, which are more comfortable, but not quite as warm.

My "Big Red" from 2010

Me (left) and Adam (right) in the Clothing Distribution Center in Christchurch , NZ at the beginning of the 2011-2012 field season

Hats and gloves provided by the USAP

Wind proof pants and long-underwear

Saturday, December 3, 2011

We just got in to Christchurch, New Zealand last night. We get to spend some time in Christchurch before we head down to McMurdo. Downtown Christchurch is much different than last year because of the earthquake in February 2011.  I'll see if I can post some pictures when I have more time.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

...and we're off

We are about to head out. Right now I'm in Blacksburg, VA, where Virginia Tech is located. We will be heading to the airport to embark on a long journey to New Zealand. We will arrive in Christchurch, NZ on December 3. The USAP will equip us with cold weather clothes in Christchurch, and then if the weather is good we'll fly to McMurdo, the research station on Ross Island in Antarctica.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


For some reason, I can't get the link (above) to the "questions" page to work. I think it is an issue with Blogger, so here is a link to the "questions" page. I'll try to fix this later, if I can.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Check out Science Friday on NPR - discussion of the first explorers to reach the South Pole

Follow this link to listen to the show.  They talk about the race between Scott and Amundsen to be the first explorers to reach the South Pole, which happened 100 years ago!  Thanks to my good friend Andrew for bringing the story to my attention.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New blog format, where/how to ask questions.

If you followed this blog last year (when it was "Eric in Antarctica"), you are probably noticing that I have changed some things.  Here are some answers to questions you probably have.

I changed the title because I am hoping to get other biologists to contribute to the blog.  I will be traveling and conducting research with Jeb and Adam this year, and they have volunteered to answer questions and post entries.  Jeb has been doing research in Antarctica for about a decade, so he has lots of stories and knows a lot about the history of Antarctic research.

This is a work in progress.  I anticipate getting questions from a few different schools throughout the country, so I had to change things a little bit so I can archive the questions in an organized manner.  If you want, you can post questions on any blog entry and I will try to respond.  For example, if I post an entry on mummified seals you can post a question related to that topic in the comments, and I will answer post in the comments.  However, if you want to ask me or any of my colleagues a question, any question you want, unrelated to anything I have posted, you can use the "Ask Questions Here" tab.  Under that tab, I will have created a post for the current month, and you can ask your question in the comments.  I chose to do it this way so that questions will be archived by month.  Also, if you are particularly curious, and would like me to post a blog entry on a specific topic, this is the place to ask.

Please feel free to go to the "Ask Questions Here" tab and ask away.

It's possible.  I may add pages and try to organize things better.  I'm not a web designer, so things may change as I learn more about how blogger works.  I will try to make things easy on you, the reader.  Also, I will probably add a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page at some point.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

See photos on Google Earth or Google Maps

This took me much longer than it should have...

Here are links that you can use to view some pictures from the 2010 field season in Antarctica in Google Maps or Google Earth.

Link to photos in Google Maps

To use the Google Earth layer you will need to have Google Earth installed on your computer.  The link is a .kml file that you can download.  If you open this file it will open Google Earth and the layer with the photos.

Link to photos in Google Earth

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Answers to follow-up questions.

Note: I posted more picture albums to the right. I still have a few more pictures to come even though I have been back in the U.S. for a while.

Here are some answers for Mrs. Radner's 4th Grade:

1. Are you still in touch with the people with whom you went to Antarctica?

I am still in touch with the people I worked with. The project does not end once we leave. We still have to do the lab work and statistics and write our reports.

2. You told us you work in the Florida Everglades. What is your job there?

In Florida I study aquatic insects that live in the Everglades. I work with a professor at the Southeast Environmental Research Center at Florida International University as a researcher to study how communities of aquatic insects are influenced by the way people manage the water in south Florida.

3. You said you would like to go back to Antarctica again and you said probably next year you will go. What are some of the projects you still want to do in Antarctica that you didn't have a chance to do on this trip?

Some of that depends on what we find out from this past year's work. I will probably work on a long term project in which we are trying to understand how the invertebrate and microbial communities in the streams and soils in the Dry Valleys are affected by changes in the climate.

4. We saw in the picture that you wore a headset in the helicopter. Was this for anything special?

The helicopters are loud, so we communicate with the pilots using the headsets in the helmets.

5. Was the time change a problem?

Yes, especially once I got home. It took a while to adjust.

6. Were you happy to come back home, or did you want to stay in Antarctica longer?

I miss the mountains, but I was definitely happy to make it back home and see my loved ones, and green plants, and night time.

7. What is the follow-up to the Antarctica projects you did this year?

We still need to complete all of the lab work. Once we have the numbers that describe the soil chemistry and the types of organisms that lived in the soil samples we will test those results against our predictions using statistics. This will tell us if the diversity in the soils in Antarctica is organized the way we thought it was. This is the hard part. Collecting the samples was the easy part.

8. What do people with special diets, like kosher, or vegetarian, or lactose intolerant, eat in Antarctica, or do they just not go to Antarctica in the first place because special food is hard to get?

They usually had a few meal options in the cafeteria at McMurdo to cater to people with special dietary needs. It is also probably not too hard out in the field because researchers choose what they take with them. There are plenty of options for food, so as long as you can eat canned or dehydrated food you can probably put together a good menu for cooking at camp.

Thanks for the great questions!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Visit to Michigan

I will be visiting Hillel Day School next Monday. Please feel free to post here or email me if you have questions.