Jess and I have been in McMurdo for almost a week now, gazing longingly out the window in the direction of the Dry Valleys. We haven’t been in the field yet (Thursday can’t come soon enough!), but we’ve been busy in the lab. I’d say our activities could be broken up into three categories: preparing ourselves for the field, preparing the lab for incoming samples, and staying sane.
Prepping for the Field
In McMurdo, our trainings begin the second we step off the plane.
Over the past few days, we have attended vehicle training (drive slowly around McMurdo), fire training (don’t block fire escapes), waste management training (human hair goes into the container labeled ‘paper towels’), environmental training (report all spills!), Dry Valleys training (the Dry Valleys are an Antarctic Specially Managed Area), field safety training (both red and green flags mark safe paths), helicopter training (approach the helicopter from downhill), and various additional briefings (don’t believe all rumors you hear around town). We are incredibly well trained.
Training isn’t the only thing we need to be prepared for the field. First of all, we need a field calendar. Coordinating the field activities of ten people is quite the task.
We also need gear, food, and helicopter support. Gear comes from the BFC (Berg Field Center), where it’s been organized and RFI’d (Ready For Issue) for us. To get field food, we peruse the most incredible list of options (Eggnog? Apple Turnovers? Halibut steak?), and package up what we choose. For helicopter support, three days prior to our trip, we submit a Helo Request Form, outlining our itinerary (3 pax from McMurdo to F6) and our gear (outbound coolers empty, inbound coolers full of samples).
Prepping the Lab
All those samples that return from the field will end up in the lab. Some samples will be immediately frozen, shipped back to Dartmouth, and dealt with there. Others need to be analyzed here. Getting the lab ready for those soil extractions has occupied many hours. Soil extractions require clean glassware. Lots and lots of clean glassware.
Soil extractions also require solvents, liquids added to the soils to pull out various nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus. And soil extractions require an organized lab with working balances, pH and conductivity meters.
Even though we haven’t been in the field, we are in Antarctica. It’s hard to stay inside all day, knowing that the most incredible landscape is just outside the door. In order to stay sane, Jess and I have been exploring all the walking paths around station. With views of the mountains, seals, and great expanses of ice, these walks have reminded us of just how lucky we are to be here.