Monday, November 26, 2012

Catch up time: My time in the Dry Valleys!!

So much has happened in the last couple of weeks. This will be my update on what the field camp and field life is like.
We left for the field on a Friday and it included my first ever helicopter ride. (Side note I have posted over 1000 photos on Facebook separated by Lakes so feel free to peruse these at your leisure) The flight out there was absolutely gorgeous and as we approached the dry valleys there were a ton of mountains and gorgeous glaciers and landscapes to admire. Our first stop was Lake Fryxell which is the first lake we come to from McMurdo and it is enclosed on either side by glaciers. The Commonwealth Glacier we flew over to get there and on the other side of the Lake is the Canada Glacier. Here is the general layout of the dry valleys: Commonwealth Glacier, Lake Fryxell, Canada Glacier, Lake Hoare (which has swallowed up Lake Chad and now this is all one big lake) Then there is the Seuss Glacier which leads to noname pond and Mummy Pond. This is followed by a small dry area and you can see some glaciers coming down out of the mountains such as the Matterhorn glacier but none of these block the path to Lake Bonney which ends at the Taylor Glacier and blood falls. So now that you can picture this… We landed at Lake Fryxell and unloaded the helicopter while the engine and blades were still running which was quite a rush. As soon as all of our stuff was unloaded we helped re-load the helo with another group of scientists who work for Dr. John Priscu. This group consists of five members overall and as they flew away we had to lay on all of our gear as to not allow it to fly away. This was an experience in itself. As the helo begins to take off the wind  and dirt and snow gets pelted at you so everyone hides inside their big red parkas to protect themselves while they protect their stuff. After the helo left we got settled in and Rachael showed us around camp and taught us how everything worked. We didn’t have to set up tents here because the limno team (Priscu’s group) had just left their tents up for us. I got moved into my new “home” and helped make dinner (spaghetti). Its very interesting how things work. To obtain drinking water we all take turns driving the ATV to the Canada Glacier where we proceed to take “Berries” which are pieces of the glacier which have fallen off or broken off over time. These Berries are then taken back to camp and put into a giant stew pot and placed on the “preway” which is our heater for the hut.  Over a few hours or overnight the ice melts down into water and then gets moved into either the hand washing cooler or the large pot with a spicket which we use for drinking and cooking water. To brush our teeth you take your water bottle outside with you and you have to spit into a grey water 55gallon drum which is designated for grey water. You cant pour anything on the ground or back into the lake and all materials much be sent back to town eventually and eventually off the continent. So leftover cooking water, dish washing water, and even water we filtered out of the lake has to go into grey water containers. Bathrooms are a whole other story that we just wont get into right now for your sake and my sanity hahah.
The first night there was a little rough just because I wasn’t used to sleeping in a tent by myself in that cold of temperatures. Phil and I camped out the night we got engaged but he was there to keep me warm. This was a whole other experience. I gradually learned tricks to staying warm and to make it darker for me to sleep. I already knew to change into dry clothes each night even if they didn’t feel sweaty so that helped but I eventually designated Sleeping bag clothes and socks which stayed in the bag all day and were kept relatively warm until I went to bed. I learned to wear gloves while I sleep and to pack my next days clothes into my bag with me to make sure they were toasty in the morning. I also learned that my black hat when pulled down over my face made a pretty good light blocker. I also learned that my big red parka makes a great pillow and the hood when adjusted correctly makes a good cover over my head to block out the light as well. I discovered that I could completely get into my sleeping bag without even my hair being exposed which not only kept me warm but again helped block out the 24hour daylight. I also quickly developed a routine for getting dressed in the warmest and quickest way possible in the mornings and how best to keep my tent and boots from smelling hahah. It doesn’t take very long to learn the ways out here hahah.
By the second day we were ready to start sampling since the limno team had already drilled sampling holes that they didn’t mind us using. Sampling went well and within 5 hours we had all of our samples and were driving the ATV back to camp to begin filtering. Our sampling is interesting in that we usually being with putting the fluroprobe in first (one of instruments to measure chlorophyll and track populations in the water) This instrument is lowered into the sampling hole with the help of a wench that has meter markings to allow us to know what depths we are located. This wench is then used to lower our niskins which do the samplings for us. It is a contraption that we open up so you can see straight through it. We then lower it to the depth in the water that we are hoping to sample and once there we attach a “messenger” which is a small weight, to the cable. This messenger slides down the cable and triggers a button on the Niskin which causes the niskin doors to shut capturing water from that depth within its chamber. We thing bring it back up and can empty the water within the niskin into cubitainers at the surface. Cubitainers are these plastic 10L (Sometimes 20L) containers which we will then place in coolers to keep them from freezing or warming up depending on outside temperatures. Once all of our samples are obtained we put the coolers into a sled behind the ATV and drag it back to camp where our lab is located. We set up filtering towers and filter the water through in hopes of obtaining the microorganisms on filters which we can then flash freeze in liquid nitrogen and store at minus 80 degrees Celsius until its time to go home. We also collect samples for Wei to do his microscopy on which he has some very cool experiments that he’d have to explain to you hahah. We also have one more instrument we have to do which is Licor and is used to take underwater PAR readings (light levels). This is an instrument which is lowered by hand into the water and a sensor at the surface tells us what amount of light is getting through the ice cover at different depths. It’s a very cool instrument and one of our lakes actually still had light readings at 60m depth which is just crazy!!!
Anyway while we were at Lake Fryxell we shared the camp with a group of “Kiwis” which are people from the New Zealand base. There were four of them and they actually do diving in the lake and we got to watch Tyler, one of the grad students who is my age, dive down. When he came back out his suit froze almost immediately but he kept saying he actually wasn’t cold. When he was underwater we could listen to his communications with the upper level people and he sounded completely normal which also amazes me. It was like he wasn’t 30m under the ice. It was crazy!
After a few days we had finished everything and we were ready to go to Lake Bonney. Our helicopter arrived early in the morning and we were at Bonney by lunch. It took two helicopters to get all of our stuff there and Rachael had to hook the helo boxes onto the helicopter. We have these two large white helo boxes which are cargo strapped up and then someone has to hook the boxes onto the helicopter while it hovers over head. Rachael had the first opportunity to do this and it was awesome to watch (Make sure you check out those photos) It was wicked awesome! I have the coolest boss around.
So anyway we arrive at Bonnie and the entire camp is on a hillside so we have to hike up and down from the helo-pad a million times to get our stuff down which I thought was the tiring part but then we had to put up tents for ourselves here and all tent sites are located up on the side of a hill… It was such a hike up to my tent the first night that I actually stopped once to catch my breath and get my bag readjusted on my shoulder. Between my 40lb bag and my 20lb sleep kit it was a really long hike up to my tent and I was exhausted by the time I got in there. Bonney is a pretty cool camp though and it has a great view as well.  The lake is divided into East and West Lobe Bonney and the camp is located on the larger East Lobe. To get to West lobe you have to drive the ATV to the opposite side of the lake and through “the narrows” which is a shallow stretch of water connected the two lobes. Then West Lobe is much smaller but the massive Taylor Glacier looms over it with blood falls dominating one side of the glacier. Blood falls is such named because Iron deposits have caused a rust color to appear on a portion of the glacier and a portion of the lake beneath this spot. It actually results in a pretty neat appearance of the glacier and lake ice in that area.  The hut is essentially the same as at Fryxell but there is only two labs instead of multiple labs however Amy and Wei turned one of the new generator sheds into a lab which was cool but it was way up the hill too which meant more hiking. Camp was super crowded when we first arrived.  The limno team would be there until Thanksgiving (Which included 5 members), The stream team (Which included 3 guys) which was there only through the weekend, and then there were 2 members from Dr. Dorans group which were scheduled to leave the next day but were stuck with us one additional day because of a no-fly day. So 14 of us crowded into the camp was a lot to be thrown into but it was super fun and everyone was very cool! Amy put Jenna, Rachael and I to work right away drilling holes in East Lobe Bonney while Wei went to go help drill at West Lobe Bonney with the other boys. Drilling involves the use of a Jiffy Drill attached to flights of 5inch drill heads each 0.9m tall. After we drilled so that the first flight was completely in the ice we were detach the jiffy drill set another flight on top of the flight still in the ice then reattach the jiffy drill to the top of that. At this time we would turn on the drill again and drill until both flights were in the ice and the jiffy drill was at ground level. This continued though about 4 flights and we went deep enough to just rely NOT punch through into water. We would then take out the drills and put in a melting “trombone” attached to the “hotsy” which is a big contraption attached to a generator which circulates hot glycine through the trombone and back to the hotsy radiating enough each to melt the ice the last couple of inches so that it hits water. Then the trombone is replaced by a large coil which is put in over night to melt the hole so that it goes from 5inches wide to at least 10 inches wide so that everything fits into the hole for sampling. This process takes at least a day but after the drilling is done it isn’t very difficult.  While we finished up the West Lobe holes the Limno team sampled East Lobe which worked out great so we could do our East Lobe sampling when they were done. While they were doing East lobe we made a day trip to Lake Vanda which was quite an adventure.
Lake Vanda is in the next valley over and takes about 20 minutes by helo to get to. Because its only a day trip we cant melt out our holes and there is no polar haven for wind so instead, we have to use 10 inch blades and drill a very large hole so our stuff fits. Then we have to immediately start sampling we only have a few hours ground time to get it done and this lake is super productive at super low depth so we have to sample all the way down to 73 meters and it takes a very long time to hand crank a wench down to that depth. Anyway the helicopter came early and Rachael was still under a tarp doing PAR readings but the helo guys were nice and just shut down while we finished. It was pretty neat actually. It made things a lot less stressful. We still had a long day ahead of us though because we had to process all the samples and filter all the lake water that same day so we were awake until after midnight trying to accomplish all of that.
The next day we kind of took it easy and the environmental team showed up to video tape us doing chores and science stuff so they could make new informative videos and whatnot so that was kinda cool. We are all famous now hahaha. Anyway then the day after we made our film debut we had to sample East Lobe Bonney in much of the same way. Take samples all morning and filter all evening. It made for a super long day but it was very productive and good to get it all done in one day. I was exhausted by that point.
I don’t want you to think its all work though. We did have some fun times out as well.
One day after melting as West Lobe we went for a small hike up along blood falls and the Taylor Glacier. While on the hike I found a cool little ice cave that I wanted to go get my picture taken in and when Jenna went to go do the same she realized that there was a frozen penguin in the ceiling. I guess the poor little guy got lost at some point and became frozen into the glacier. Then when that part of the glacier broke off he was left inside this ice cave. It was so well preserved though that it looked like it could have been living the day before. It was sooo weird to see it frozen in the ceiling like that (photos are on facebook).
Then on another occasional the four team members decided to have a picnic on the Bonnie Riegel so we packed ourselves a lunch consisting of Fried Egg Bagel Sandwiches, Chex Mix, and Tecate and headed out for the hike. It was a grueling hike up the Riegel but after an hour we had made it to the top. The Riegel separates East and West Lobe Bonney from the top we could easily see both lobes of the lake which made for an awesome view. It was such a neat picnic and I feel like it would take a lot to top that lunch.
On another occasion Jenna, Wei, and I headed up the mountain to visit the benefacts which is a collection of rocks that have been wind blown into crazy shapes and have holes in them and all kinds of cool stuff. That ended up being just a two hour hike but it was totally worth it and was an amazing view! It was actually a really cool hike and the rocks were pretty amazing to see up close
On Thanksgiving we hopped a helicopter to go to Lake Hoare. It was there that a woman named Rae had made a huge festival of foods for all the researchers in the Valley. There ended up being 22 people there some who flew and some who hiked to the hut for dinner. She served smoked salmon and fresh fruits and cheeses for appetizers and then for dinner we had two turkeys and all the fixings along with an array of fresh pies. I still don’t know how she manages to get fresh food like that because even the galley in town rarely has that many “freshies” as we call them down here. The fact that she had all that brought to her for us was absolutely amazing!!!! After dinner we hiked back to Lake Bonney which took about 4 hours but it was awesome because it involved hiking around the Seuss glacier and past a couple of ponds (mummy and noname). It was a really cool hike because you can see the Seuss Glacier from Lake Bonney but size and distance out here are really hard to judge. Just because we can see it doesn’t mean that its close by. 4 hours later we finally reached Lake Bonney and we could still see the other glacier off in the distance. Its crazy how size and distance just lose all meaning here. You can’t trust your own eyes at all. It’s a very neat phenomenon.
Finally on Friday morning we did some last minute sampling for my in town experiment and headed into town. We were on the last flight of the day so the pilot took us an odd way home and we got to fly over all kinds of new stuff!!! It was absolutely gorgeous and the views were sooo incredible. I was very thankful to our pilot. So now we’re back in town until Friday!! Ill update with McMurdo stuff hopefully this week while Im here and maybe get some photos up!
Peace and Love and Well wishes!!!!

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