Friday, January 20, 2017

Questions from South Lyon 6th Grade from 12 Jan 2017

We received lots of great questions from the 6th Grade class in South Lyon, MI. Our field team is camped out in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, and they were able to take some time to answer some of the questions:
Hello! We are a sixth grade science class from South Lyon, Michigan. We are beginning a unit on geology and have some questions about your work in Antarctica!
Where do you stay in Antarctica? Where do you sleep?
In the dry valleys we stay at field camps. The camps typically have a small hut with space to cook and eat in addition to lab space. The huts are too small to sleep in, so we sleep in tents.
The F6 hut with our tents, located in the Fryxell Basin.

What do you eat? Where do you get food and water?
The food we eat is similar to what you eat, but with less fresh produce. A lot of our food is frozen or canned. We eat things like mac n cheese, enchiladas, potatoes, steak, frozen vegetables, rice, beans, sardines, etc. On occasion, however, we are gifted fresh fruit from McMurdo Station -- this is a treat.
Inside the hut at F6 camp.

What kinds of tests do you conduct?
In streams we perform basic in-field tests to measure the electrical conductivity, pH, and temperature of the water. Upon returning to the hut, after visiting streams, we process samples by filtering water for further analysis of the anions and cations, nutrients, and dissolved organic matter. The filtered samples are then sent to the established laboratory at McMurdo Station to be processed and analyzed.

What types of animals are around you every day? Does your work help save any animals?
It’s rare to see animals around the dry valleys. Although on occasion, penguins and seals sometimes get lost and wander west into the dry valleys, subjected to an ill fate. In the cold and dry climate, the seals become mummified and preserved for thousands of years. The penguins, however, quickly get picked apart by the Skuas (seabirds). Also there are micro-animals, like Tardigrades.
A mummified seal situated near the F6 camp.
A lost penguin playing in a brine patch below Blood Falls on the west lobe of Lake Bonney.

Have you seen any Polar Bears?
No Polar Bears here - they’re up in the Arctic (north). But there are Water Bears, or Tardigrades, a resilient micro-animal, which are about 1 mm long and inhabit the soils, streams, and lakes around the dry valleys.

A Water Bear, or Tardigrade, harvested from Von Guerard Stream, under the microscope at 40x.

Tardigrade reaching for a colony of cyanobacteira. Viewed at 10x. Sample harvested for Von Guerard Stream.

How did you get to Antarctica and how will you get home? If you traveled by plane, is your plane still there and is it frozen?
From the United States we first flew to Christchurch, New Zealand. From Christchurch, we boarded a U.S. Air Force aircraft enroute to Antarctica. After the plane landed, we got off while others boarded for a return trip to Christchurch. Throughout the austral summer, airplanes make many trips to and from Antarctica, carrying people and equipment. During cold and dark winters, it is more likely for planes to become frozen to the ice during their landings.

How do you not get frostbite?
When it’s chilly we bundle up with hats, mittens, and jackets to keep us warm. But it’s summer here, so the temperature can often be higher here than it is in Michigan on the same day (into the 40s deg F)!

Have you seen any other people there?
Yes! There are many field camps around the dry valleys, and from time to time we meet other scientists stationed at these camps. The New Zealand Antarctic program has a good representation at several of the other camps. It’s always nice to meet other people in the remote region. 

What is the coldest temperature that it gets to be while you are there? What is the warmest temperature?
Summer temperatures are fairly tolerable and typically hover around freezing, 0 deg C, or 32 deg F. The wind chill, however, can make it feel much cooler. The warmest temperature I’ve experienced this season was 1 or 2 deg C. The coldest day was early in the season where the temperature dropped to about -17 deg C.

What kind of trees are there in Antarctica? Do you even have any?
Trees are absent from the Antarctic. In the dry valleys there are no flowering plants, however on the western Antarctic Peninsula there are two species of plants.

Do glaciers have layers?
Glaciers are formed by the accumulation of snow over time. The snow that remains after a season of melt becomes very dense and formed into granular ice, this is called firn. Over time, the firn is compressed and buried as more snow accumulates. As layers of firn are compressed and buried, they become fused to the glacier to form a thickened mass of ice. So, in a sense, yes, glaciers have layers; layers of firn, which add to overall glacier mass as they become compressed.
Lower area of Canada Glacier with supraglacial melt channels.

What is the difference between being and geologist and a biologist?
The root word ‘geo’ means earth. The root word ‘bio’ means life. I would say, geologists study earth and biologists study life. However, the terms are not exclusive. For example, some geologists study the remnants of ancient life preserved in fossils.

Are there volcanoes in Antarctica?
Indeed, there are volcanoes in Antarctica and many are active. Mt. Erebus (pictured) is the world’s southernmost active volcano and visible from McMurdo Station.
Mt. Erebus (Eric's photo from a past field season)

How come you use ATV’s to cross frozen lakes?
We use ATVs as a convenient way to cross Lake Fryxell, which is approx. 3 miles long. Further, it’s nice for carrying heavy equipment to sample sites, and it’s nice for lazy people.
Commonwealth Glacier (background) and our ATV tracks on the snow covered Lake Fryxell. We use ATVs to travel across ice covered lakes and visit streams around the basins.

How long is the sun visible?
In mid-summer, and during cloudless days, we can see the sun 24 hours. The sun starts to rise in late August and starts to set in May.