Friday, November 19, 2010

Lake Bonney lies over the ocean

It's day 4 here at Lake Bonney camp. Seems like ages ago that we left town. On Monday, we moved all of our stuff to the helo pad, so once that was finished, we had some time to remember everything we forgot to pack, do some computer work, and enjoy a last evening in town. With all the bars closed on Mondays, there was no trip to Gallager's, but we still enjoyed a bottle of wine and some lovely Amstel light with my roommate in the evening. Our ride out to the Dry Valleys wasn't scheduled until lunchtime, so we were able to sleep in a little and grab an early lunch before heading out. I suppose I should have taken advantage and squeezed in one more shower, but really, when you're going for over a week without a proper shower, one more day won't make that much of a difference.

My green duffel bag looked a little sad sitting in the bottom of my wardrobe all by itself, and I was a little amazed how the same amount of stuff can expand. I had packed both of my issued orange bags to go on the helicopter, and I ended up with a last minute bag as well (purple, if you must know). Granted, none of the bags were full, but I still managed to forget my sneakers. Somehow, I thought I'd be okay with just my two pairs of boots, but when I saw everyone in camp with their sneakers, I asked my roommate to go on an adventure to have them sent to me on the next "flight of opportunity". My boss said it was a FNG move, but I didn't care- I am wearing sneakers instead of boots right now and sometimes that makes a world of difference. As the saying goes, "there's the right way, the wrong way, and the Antarctic way".

Flying over sea ice.

My fellow team member let me have the front seat on the way out to Lake Bonney. For those of you that haven't been in a helicopter, the front windshield extends down, so that it almost looks like you are flying on your own. We also got to ride in the Kiwi helo (the one that arrived with us on the C-17), so that meant I was sitting on the right side which was quite bizarre! Anyway, it was an exciting flight with gorgeous views. Without any familiar landmarks, it was hard to tell how fast or how far we were traveling. Soon we were coming up over the ridge into Taylor Valley and spotted the series of lakes. As he swung around into the wind to land, I still couldn't believe we had arrived at Lake Bonney camp.

Entering the Dry Valleys

Stepping out was a bit like landing on the moon. There are pretty much three colors here: the white of the glaciers, the blue of the sky, and the brown of the rocks. The lake ice contains all three. Erratics dot the landscape and large boulders appear as if they would move any second. The camp itself consists of few buildings including the large Jamesway (our kitchen, dining, living room, and office), three small labs (each with a different purpose), a fuel and generator shed, and a couple of outhouses. Little yellow and blue tents dot the surrounding area, within a designated boundary to minimize our impact on the area. Minimizing impact also means shipping out absolutely all waste, segregated into corresponding containers.

Lake Bonney camp

Much of our time this week was spent preparing. Preparing tents, sampling gear, and drilling through the meters of ice so that we could sample the lake. Sampling day came early Thursday morning and we were on the lake by 5 am. By lunchtime we were back in camp processing samples, which took until late last night (Friday). At dinner, I was asked how we could make our process more efficient, especially in comparison to having worked on arctic lakes. Honestly, I'm not sure. It seems odd to take an entire day just to punch through the ice, but holes have to be melted to fit equipment in, and certain things just take time. About the only way to make it faster would be to have more people. Unfortunately, logistics takes up most of the personnel down here, and despite there being a population of over 1,200 people at the station, they are anticipated being swamped by (only) 300 scientists this season. Makes for a very different way of doing science, and I'm still wrapping my head around it, especially having come from a very "a la carte" system in Barrow.

East lobe, Lake Bonney

Looking out the window, I still can't believe where I am. Here in the field camp, we live a very different existence than when we are in town. We cook our own meals, wash our own dishes, and run our own machines. Helicopters and the occasional repair guy or gal have been our only visitors. Basically, we've been thinking, eating, drinking, talking, and occasionally sleeping science. I say occasionally because suddenly I've become a light sleeper. The wind likes to howl up this way, and my tent likes to flap back. I think the fly wants to see some new scenery, because it's doing what it can to escape the rocks it's tied to. The constant daylight is the most easily fixed obstacle, with a knit hat pulled down over my eyes, and my head tucked into my fleece liner and super thick sleeping bag. But waking every two hours was the norm this week, only fixed by a 3.5 hour nap last evening, and a solid night's rest last night. Amazing how exhaustion will fix your sleep schedule.

Tomorrow we are sampling the other lobe of the lake, so it will be even earlier with an ATV ride to get there. But today is for resting, melting holes, and preparing supplies. Maybe even a hike to see the ventifacts.

Word of the day: Katabatic winds
Entertainment of the day: Lightning McQueen


Anonymous said...

I was wondering when I get a name? Glad to bring you shoes, it wasn't too much of an adventure! And glad that Lightning McQueen is providing you entertainment :-)

It was a C-17 we came down on by the by the way, C-130s are the Hercules.

No further comments...
Your roommate.

Heather said...

Thanks Dr. Anonymous! I'm horrible with plane types.

Nora said...

Heather, I love reading this! What an amazing experience this must be. That's funny about the helicopter. I never thought aircrafts would differ driving sides since there are no 'lanes' and people have never dueled in the air (as far as I know), but I suppose it makes sense, you go with what you're used to on the ground.

Nora said...

That probably sounded really dumb considering modern warfare. I mean, people have never dueled with swords and lances on horseback in the air...

Anonymous said...

Okay... so I have to ask having wondered for a while now... you guys pretty much live in tents while out in the field it seems with the hardened structures for science and food and such.

For those of us non-adventurer types when we hear "arctic" or "polar ice cap" and such the mind just leaps to absolute unsurvivable cold (don't get me wrong.. your pictures and descriptions are to me pretty inhospitable!)..... but you guys sleep and hang out in ... TENTS.. on a glacier.... in the antarctic... so you see my aching brain :p do you do it and survive!? :-D


Heather said...

Well, when I'm doing field work in the Arctic, we're generally sleeping indoors. Down here in the Antarctic, we sleep indoors at the station and in tents while in the field. It does get a little chilly, but it's about 19 F right now, which feels almost balmy. Basically, it's like winter camping. We use expedition tents, and sleep on a couple of sleeping pads to insulate from the cold ground. They also issue us -20 F sleeping bags and fleece liners. Put that together with at least two layers of thermals, a warm hat, and possible "big red" on top, and it's possible to be toasty! Folks also put hot water in their water bottles to heat up their bags.

Thanks for reading, guys! Keep the questions coming.

Anonymous said...

Sorry... bit late (okay, really late) but hope you guys were able to have some sort of a thanksgiving dinner or some reasonable facsimile. :)

Just promise me it was turkey and not penguin.... :p