Friday, December 10, 2010

Just another cold day in hell

The bona fide day off was quite enjoyable, with mostly mellow tasks like laundry on the list for heading back out into the field. A craft fair took place in the afternoon, where people from the station set out tables of homemade wares to sell. It was almost like being at a farmer's market, with a wide variety of items from buttons, to photographs, felted hats, jewelry, wooden bowls, even hand cream. It wasn't clear to me what had been made at home versus what was made on station, but it was a lovely diversion for a couple of hours. A cone of chocolate frosty girl ice cream topped it all off, since the fair was in the galley.

Melting moat at Lake Fryxell

Monday morning we finished hauling our ever increasing pile of gear and supplies down to the helo pad in preparation for our flight out. Right after one last shower and an early lunch, we headed down to wait our turn. The flight across to the Dry Valleys was gorgeous as always and soon we were at Lake Fryxell. On first impression, Lake Fryxell camp is somewhere between the Lost Boys feel of Bonney camp and the clean and structured atmosphere of the camp at Lake Hoare. Nestled on the west side of Canada Glacier, the camp has the largest number of lab buildings out of the Taylor Valley camps, but they are the smallest.

Fryxell's fancy facilities (not a laboratory)

When we head out into the field on multiple day trips, we have a regular schedule of travel and prep the first day, up at 4 am to sample the chemistry of the lake followed by hours of filtering and processing samples, with the third day allocated for retrieving incubated samples and using instruments to take profiles of the water column for things such as light and temperature once the water column has re-stratified or recovered from our sampling. If we are changing camps, the third day is also spent re-packing all of our equipment in preparation of repeating the cycle. So this trip we had the schedule of Monday = travel to Fryxell and prep for sampling, Tuesday = up at 4 am to sample and filter, Wednesday = finish profiling the water column and pack to move.

Solar panel at Fryxell camp

Our time at Fryxell was over in the blink of an eye. It was relatively crowded there, and some other groups arranged their schedule to accommodate us, so we were in and out as fast as possible. I seem to have picked up a little cold bug when I was in town, and it kicked into high gear when we got out in the field. Thankfully, only 3 people were needed for sampling and I had the luxury of missing the 4 am alarm clock call to head out onto the lake. There are simply no substitutes for sleep and water to get better, although some borrowed cold medicine helps out considerably as well.

The view on instrument day at Lake Fryxell.

Thursday was a day trip back over to Lake Miers, for a chance at sampling redemption. Luckily, the weather cooperated and we had a lovely day out. Our ride back to camp even came early due to complications with other folks on the schedule, so we got to show the pilot and tech how to sample a lake. Even our ride to and from Miers was gorgeous as we got to head over the Ferrar and associated glaciers between the dry valleys. The best part of the ride though was my co-worker explaining her new key chain to everyone. It's a little plastic cow that "issues" little round chocolate candy. I think I was in tears from laughing so hard.

My commute (on the way to Lake Miers, not my hand)

After the day trip, we headed not back to Fryxell, but to Hoare. Ever efficient, we combined a day sampling trip with a moving day. Processing the samples from Miers wasn't too bad and we were able to start unwinding around midnight. Unfortunately, the katabatic winds kicked on out of nowhere (well the polar plateau in actuality), so I spent most of the short night trying to keep my tent on the ground. Around 8, I finally decided to get out of the tent to evaluate the situation and ended up retying lots of lines and adjusting rocks. Somehow, I managed to continue napping until around 11 am and rolled out of bed. I still have not gotten used to the roar of the high wind and corresponding tent flapping and turn into a light sleeper when I'm in Taylor Valley. Combined with early mornings, it's only a few days before sleep deprivation sets in. Luckily, Friday was a mellow day, with only preparations for sampling Lake Hoare on the list.

Lake Miers has been conquered.

The upside to katabatic winds is that they generally increase the temperature considerably. Rumor has it that we actually broke 40 degrees! I guess it's summer after all. The other evidence of summer time here is the melting of ice. The lakes in the Dry Valleys melt only partially every year with many feet remaining in the center of the lakes, leaving an open moat around the edges. Some of the lakes even have layers of water and sediment within the ice layers, such as Miers. But ice does not melt in a uniform fashion, making lots of various structures to navigate between shore and our sampling sites, which are over the deepest part of the lake near the middle. Come December, it's time to hop over open bits of water, choose which candle ice looks most stable, and cross your fingers that the ATV doesn't cause a chunk of ice to collapse a few feet and knock you over (because that ice is not only slippery, it's hard!).

All set to sample Lake Hoare

Tricky navigations aside, sampling at Hoare went quite smoothly this morning. The early start is never pleasant, but high winds overnight again meant that come 4 am I wasn't exactly sound asleep anyway. By 9 am, we were back and cooking up another fantastic "limno breakfast". Usually a bowl of oatmeal fits the bill, but on days we sample we come back and cook a big breakfast. Today's was pancakes, scrambled eggs with cheese, and a pound of bacon. The latter was scavenged by other folks staying at the camp and apparently the scent of bacon greeted the two documentary film makers that came in for the day.

After breakfast, it was back to work filtering water and processing samples. This basically means dividing our water samples from various depths into subsamples and preserving them until they can be analyzed. Whether it's by freezing, filtering, or adding a chemical, everything has to be done right away. Today's samples were fast to do and we were done by 4:30 this afternoon!

Canada Glacier and the surface of Lake Hoare

To put icing on the cake, our personal bags finally arrived from Fryxell and I was able to take a shower. Generally, the "shower" is only available at Hoare camp on Sundays, but since there will be 22 people here tonight, the two people who run the camp decided to start showers early. Due to a miscommunication, I nearly missed my chance for the day, but a couple of guys from the streams group were nice enough to make sure I got to hop in before dinner. After the communal saunas at Toolik, the concept of a sign up list still seems foreign to me, but I suppose it makes sense. Who'd have thought people in the Antarctic are more reserved than those crazy folks up north? In reality, I think it's because usually there aren't enough people in a camp at once to necessitate a "bulk bathing" option like Toolik had. I do miss that sauna on the lake though, there's nothing else on earth like it.

Care package #2 arrived! Somehow it managed to find me out in the field. Courtesy of my aunt and uncle, who incidentally sent me my first care package in college eons ago, thank you! This one arrived in a week, considerably faster than the other one which took about a month. So, if you are thinking about sending me something (hint, hint), envelope type packages generally travel faster and you're taking your chances if you mail anything much later. Fingers crossed, I'll be back in New Zealand within a month. Also, I've heard from lots of folks that you are reading the blog. Feel free to feed my ego and leave some comments or ask questions!


Ema said...

Witch are all the analysis that you run with the water samles?

Heather said...

We analyze dissolved oxygen and pH in the camp labs, incubate for primary productivity and bacterial productivity, filter for chlorophyll, dissolved organic carbon, nutrients (nitrate, phosphate, ammonium), and particulates. We collect samples for dissolved inorganic carbon. The profiling we do documents the water column light levels, temperatures, conductivity, and fluorescence (3 different ways). We also collect and preserve samples for counting the numbers of bacteria and phytoplankton.

The samples are chosen to help best understand the productivity and nutrient cycling within the lakes and have been measured for decades as part of the long term monitoring of this ecosystem.

Sus Mettler said...

hee hee! A cow that poops chocolate! I want one : )