Sitting in my office at Dartmouth, it is hard to believe that just two weeks ago I woke up in McMurdo. After nearly two weeks at home, I’ve readjusted to life in the Upper Valley. Little things, however, quickly bring me back to the Dry Valleys, with their towering peaks and constant winds. Last week, hearing all of your responses to my blog questions was a lovely reminder of my travels. It was wonderful to hear back from so many of you, to read your thoughts, and to know that you enjoyed following along as I shared my experiences. For me, writing the blogs was one of the highlights of being in Antarctica. It completely eliminated that feeling of isolation that many of you imagined.
In reading your responses, it was clear that everyone understood and related to the importance of liquid water in the Dry Valley ecosystem. Indeed, this can’t be stressed enough, especially when we think about what may happen with warmer conditions. Your thoughts and questions about how additional water availability and warming temperatures may change the Dry Valleys were insightful:
Will more nutrients be delivered to the system due to more running water?
How will habitats change?
Will there be any algae blooms due to increased nutrient availability?
How will the lake chemistry change?
Could the Dry Valley lakes ever mix?
Of course, I have no answers to these questions – that’s why we continue to return to the Dry Valleys each year to make observations and conduct our experiments! But it’s rewarding to see that even without visiting the Dry Valleys, you can begin to construct interesting and important science questions.
Although many of the questions I asked were related to science, the question that generated the most responses had to do with repetitive tasks. It seems as though the balance between enjoyable and unbearable may be as delicate as the balance between liquid water and solid ice. Repetitive tasks, when efficient and with a defined purpose, can be soothing, meditative, and bring a peace of mind. But it’s very easy to push things over the edge: with just too much brainpower needed, no defined goal, or a feeling of endlessness, repetitive tasks drive everyone crazy. Having a goal, keeping that big picture in mind even as we focus on details, is critical to enjoyment. That’s something that we should all keep in mind, especially as we train assistants to do those repetitive tasks for us.
A number of you mentioned that yes, it is possible to learn something without repetition (fire is hot, for instance). So maybe I need to qualify my statement: learning to do something well (playing an instrument, conducting science, asking important questions) requires repetition.
I want to end by thanking you all for a successful blogging season! Thanks for reading, sharing with others, and responding. Stay tuned for future blogs from my travels to Greenland this coming summer!