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...