This year, as I prepare to return to Antarctica (I’m leaving just one week from today!), I’m thinking not only about what clothes to take and what science to plan, but also about how to share my adventures with others. Sure, I can write blogs and post pictures, but generally only my friends and family follow me. This year, I wanted my stories to reach a wider audience. Fortunately, I was able to turn to Peter Goff, my former biology teacher and colleague, who works at the Vermont Commons School in South Burlington, VT. Over the next six weeks, Peter’s 8th grade class, plus other members of the Vermont Commons community, will be following my blog posts and asking me questions about life and science in Antarctica. I hope they’ll gain an appreciation for the field research we do, and I know I’ll be learning a lot by answering their questions.
So, welcome, Flying Turtles!! It’s wonderful to have you here. I am looking forward to staying in touch and hearing all of your questions. I thought I’d begin by explaining a bit why I’m going to Antarctica and then how I get there!
First, the why: My adviser, Dr. Ross Virginia, has been traveling to Antarctica for almost two decades to study the McMurdo Dry Valleys, the largest ice-free area on the Antarctic continent. It’s so dry in the Dry Valleys (creative name, huh?) that there is no ice covering the landscape; instead, the ground is bare rock and till (sediment left behind by glaciers – something that you 8th graders will be learning about soon!). So why does an ecologist travel to this desolate place? Well, there’s actually life in just about every part of the Dry Valley ecosystem: in the soil, in the streams and lakes, and even on top of the glaciers!
Scientists come here to study how life can survive in extreme environments. They also come here because, relatively speaking, the ecosystem is not that complex. Remember drawing food webs that end up looking like giant balls of spaghetti? Well, here in the Dry Valleys, there are only a few teeny tiny organisms, so the food web isn’t that complicated.
My adviser, along with numerous other scientists, have collected an impressive amount of data on how the Dry Valley ecosystem works – including the glaciers, streams, soils, and lakes. This project is becoming especially important as climate change threatens to alter how the ecosystem functions. Stay tuned for future blogs describing my little piece of this big project.
Okay, now how do I get there? On Christmas Eve I fly out of the Burlington airport, just as if I were going to visit family (only I’ll have the biggest duffle bag you’ve ever seen full of all my winter gear). After Burlington to Philadelphia to Los Angeles, I meet up with other members of my science team. Then it’s the big flight: 15 hours from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia. At some point during those painful 15 hours, Christmas will come and go – as I cross the International Date Line, poof! it’ll be December 26. In Sydney, bleary-eyed and confused, we’ll get on our last flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. That’s where the fun begins. We’ll spend a few days in Christchurch recovering from our travels and getting our Extreme Cold Weather gear. Stay tuned for the next blog describing the final leg of the journey: our military flight from Christchurch to Antarctica!
But first, think of me on Christmas morning, somewhere en route to Christchurch, New Zealand!