Friday, December 15, 2017

Hello from the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica!

Howdy folks!

I am writing to you from a small field camp in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, the largest ice free area in Antarctica. I am here to monitor glacial melt streams that only flow for a short time each year.

My tent at our field camp. Our camp is called 'F6' and is named after the stream that is adjacent to camp. Here we have a small hut where we cook, eat, and do lab work, however, we otherwise sleep in tents. People think it sounds harsh to sleep in tents in Antarctica, but the tents can stay rather warm and I like it! 

Glaciers flowing into Taylor Valley from the Kukri Hills. The Sollas Glacier is on the left and the Hughes Glacier is on the Right. These are alpine glaciers, which are formed by snow that accumulates in the mountains and turns into ice that flows into the valleys. You can think of glaciers as slow moving rivers of ice. 

The streams that we monitor flow from 4-12 weeks during the austral (southern) summer when temperatures hover around freezing (32 deg Fahrenheit) and energy from the sun starts to melt the glaciers.

An early season melt pulse on Canada Stream started to channelize the snow that was overlying the stream bed. This image was taken shorty after the stream 'turned on' -- when glacial meltwater begins to fill the dry (or snow-covered) stream channel. Eventually all this snow will melt away as the water carries thermal energy (heat) through the channel. 

My job is to monitor the chemical, physical, and biological components of the streams.  This involves collecting water samples for chemical analysis; measuring water temperature, conductivity (concentration of salts, or ions, in the water), and discharge (amount of water moving through the stream channels); and sampling the bacteria and algae that grow on the rocks of the stream beds and ponds.

Desiccated microbial mats (bacteria and algae) situated around a frozen pond, at the foreground. This image was taken early in the season before melt. Once the glaciers melt, water will fill this pond and the microbes will start to photosynthesize by using the energy from sunlight to transform water and carbon dioxide into sugars (plant energy) and oxygen!
I love doing this type of field work and hope to share what I do with you! If you have questions, please ask! I look forward to responding to your questions.



Nikia said...

Hello, Josh! Your photos are beautiful, thank you for sharing! It has been a longterm goal of mine to get down there to take in the majesty of the frozen continent. My question for you is about algae! Do you experience major blooms in the height of summer? What is the food chain like in your melt ponds, does anything consume the algae? Obviously the environment in Antarctica is quite hostile, but here in Colorado I have come across high altitude melt ponds that actually have some sort of brine shrimp in them when they are liquid.
Please keep posting about your field work, I would love to read more! Thank you for all you do, and I hope your research is fufilling. Happy New Year!

Nikia said...
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Unknown said...


I am a student, looking to apply to graduate school soon. I am interesting in persuing work similar to what you do (water chemical analysis, along with other chemical, physiological and biological aspects) in remote areas similar to the work you address in this post. I had a few logistical questions for you and the work that you do.
How long do you stay at job sites or are you permanently stationed there?
What type of education that you did, do you think most helped to prepare you for the type of the work that you have to do on this project?
What type of degree or certification or experience do you wish that you had gotten before starting your work on this project?
Finally, how did you get involved with this project and what prior experience made you most qualified for this position and research?

Thank You,