Archive for the ‘Outreach’ Category

By the time this blog is posted, we’ll be somewhere over the Southern Ocean, heading toward Christchurch, New Zealand. We’ve had an incredible month here in Antarctica, and it’s been wonderful to share our experiences with you all. Here’s one final blog answering more questions from the students in Windsor, VT. Many thanks to the students who asked such great questions – you have made us think about our experiences from new perspectives. We can’t wait to meet you sometime this spring!

  1. How are Antarctica’s Dry Valleys desert similar and different to warm climate deserts here in the US?

It can be surprising to learn that Antarctica is a huge desert, since warm deserts (like in the Southwest US) tend to come first to people’s minds. Although the two landscapes may look very different, there are actually a lot of similarities. For instance, think about the organisms that survive in these harsh environments. Desert organisms need to be able to cope with long periods of time with no liquid water, and they need to immediately take advantage of the water when it returns. In both warm and cold climates, organisms deal with this challenge in similar ways by entering a state called cryptobiosis, which allows them to live indefinitely when conditions are unfavorable. Cryptobiosis is an adaptation that allows organisms in both cold and warm deserts to survive.

Tardigrades, or water bears, seen here through a microscope, are experts at entering cryptobiosis.

Tardigrades, or water bears, seen here through a microscope, are experts at entering cryptobiosis.

Of course, there are many differences between the Dry Valleys and the Southwestern US. One big difference has to do with where liquid water comes from. In the Dry Valleys, the majority of the liquid water running through streams comes from glacier melt during the warm summer months, which is not the case in the Southwest. What do you think might happen to the Dry Valley landscape as the climate warms?

The majority of the liquid water in the Dry Valleys comes from melting glaciers. Here, Taylor Glacier drips in the beaming sun.

The majority of the liquid water in the Dry Valleys comes from melting glaciers. Here, Taylor Glacier drips in the beaming sun.

  1. Is the Commonwealth Glacier, or any glacier different from an ice sheet? What is the thinnest depth of the 1+ mile thick ice sheet?

Yes, glaciers are different from ice sheets! Mostly, it’s a matter of scale. Ice sheets are enormous. There is so much ice that at the top of an ice sheet, all you can see in any direction is a flat white expanse. At the center of an ice sheet, the underlying land surface – the mountains and valleys that would be exposed if there were no ice – doesn’t influence the direction of ice flow. Ice flows out in all directions from the thickest point of the ice sheet, regardless of what’s beneath it. At the edges of an ice sheet, however, there can be areas that are very thin, and mountains can even poke up through the ice.

Although the Taylor Glaciers flows out of a huge ice sheet, it is a valley glacier, since it is confined to the valley between towering mountains.

Although the Taylor Glaciers flows out of a huge ice sheet, it is a valley glacier, since it is confined to the valley between towering mountains.

Valley glaciers, like the Commonwealth Glacier, are much smaller than ice sheets. Valley glaciers, as the name implies, are confined to the space between two mountains, so the local topography is very important in determining where the ice flows. The Commonwealth Glacier is a beautiful example of a valley glacier – it’s narrow between two mountains, and then expands as it reaches the floor of Taylor Valley.

  1. In the photo with your tent, how far away is your tent from the Commonwealth Glacier? Also, how far are you from the mountain in the background?

Our tents at F6 Camp are about 1.5 miles away from the Commonwealth Glacier, if we were to take the shortest route. The camp is about 7 to 8 miles away from the tallest mountains you can see in the photo. In order to answer your questions, I had to measure the distances on a map. Scale is really hard to judge in Antarctica. With no trees or buildings, it’s almost impossible to tell how far away something is.

Distances and elevations can be very deceiving in Antarctica. Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano, seems so close to McMurdo. In reality, it's almost 30 miles away and is 12,500 feet tall! I would never guess that by looking at this photo!

Distances and elevations can be very deceiving in Antarctica. Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano, seems so close to McMurdo. In reality, it’s almost 30 miles away and is 12,500 feet tall! I would never guess that by looking at this photo!

  1. Do you take water samples along with soil samples? Do you take soil samples under water?

Great questions! Although I’m focused on collecting soil samples, Jess and many other scientists working in the Dry Valleys collect water samples from streams, ponds, and lakes. They analyze these samples to see what organisms live in the water and to determine the nutrients and other chemicals in the water. So yes, we definitely collect water samples.

Jess collects water samples from one of the many ponds in Taylor Valley.

Jess collects water samples from one of the many ponds in Taylor Valley.

We also collect samples of soils from within the streams. The majority of the soils in the Dry Valleys are very dry, located far away from any body of water. The wet soils near the streams, however, can be very different from the dry soils elsewhere. For instance, we find one particular species of nematode (microscopic worms) that really likes the wet soil, while another species prefers the drier habitats. Finally, other scientists have also collected sediment from beneath the lakes of the Dry Valleys. These lake sediments are really cool because they can be really old, allowing us to determine what the lake was like hundreds and thousands of years ago.

  1. Do you need tools to get across wide streams or do you have a plan B?

Having a plan B is always a good idea in Antarctica, where things never go quite according to plan. However, we have easily been able to cross the streams this season in just our hiking boots, since most of the streams are very shallow. A more difficult water crossing is getting onto the lake ice from the shore, across the moat that develops every summer. To get across the moat, people use ladders, planks of wood, and sometimes boats. Just in case, we always carry lots of extra layers, so that we can quickly get dry if we do get wet.

During the summer months, a moat forms between the shore and the lake ice. Scientists crossing the moat to get out onto the lake ice will definitely want to have a Plan B!

During the summer months, a moat forms between the shore and the lake ice. Scientists crossing the moat to get out onto the lake ice will definitely want to have a Plan B!

  1. Do you get to access a helicopter whenever you need it & what type of helicopter is it?

Flying in helicopters is one of our favorite aspects of working in the Dry Valleys. It’s absolutely spectacular to see the mountains and glaciers from the air. We’re incredibly lucky to have access to helicopter support – without it we wouldn’t be able to do our work. We share access to the helicopters with a lot of other people, so there are a lot of steps we have to go through before the helicopter can take us to where we want to go. Three days before we want to travel, we have to fill out a helicopter request form, saying where we want to go, and how long we want to be there. If all goes well, the night before we travel, we’ll get the helicopter schedule, telling us when we’ll be flying and which helicopter we’ll be on. Of course, as with everything in Antarctica, the schedule can quickly change due to weather, mechanical issues, or something else unexpected.

An AStar approaches F6 Camp after a few days of snowy weather prevented all helicopter travel in the valley.

An AStar approaches F6 Camp after a few days of snowy weather prevented all helicopter travel in the valley.

There are two types of helicopters down here, and we’ve flown in both. The bigger helicopter is a Bell-212, which can seat the pilot, the helicopter tech, and 8 passengers in the back. The Bell-212 can carry a lot of weight compared to the smaller helicopter, the AStar. The AStar can fit the pilot and usually just three to four passengers. Both are fun to fly in, but it’s definitely exciting to be in the front seat of the AStar because the windows go down around your feet and the views are incredible.

A Bell-212 is refueled before taking off to take us back to McMurdo.

A Bell-212 is refueled before taking off to take us back to McMurdo.

Many thanks again to all the students for asking such interesting and thoughtful questions!

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Welcome to Part 2 of our Special Edition Q & A

Thanks to the inquisitive minds of Windsor VT middle school students, we’ve received a whole new supply of Antarctic questions!

1. What does “avoiding skuas training” look like?

Well, unfortunately it probably sounds way more exciting than it actually was! We didn’t get to practice dodging flying objects, nor did we take turns role-playing an angry Skua (although someone should probably suggest these things for next year). Instead, Skua-avoidance was just discussed as part of our “general safety training”, where they basically told us that these birds will attack if they get the sense you are carrying food. So to avoid giving them that sense, we have to make sure we don’t waltz out of the cafeteria so preoccupied with stuffing cookies in our mouths that we’re oblivious to the giant hungry gull soaring towards our heads. (Yes, we’ve actually witnessed this). Skuas seem to really enjoy taking people by surprise, so our best defense is keeping food hidden and one eye to the sky.

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Slightly disappointed that he couldn’t steal our food, this Skua flies off to scrounge elsewhere.

2. Do certain colors mean different things about the plants, such as dying or living?

Great question. Even though it’s a cold dry desert, we see lots of colorful life out here…but most of it is pretty small in size and close to the ground or water. There are no shrubs, trees, leafy or flowering plants, but there are lots of species of mosses, lichens, algae, and bacteria that thrive in these harsh conditions. And these are the types of organisms creating the colorful patches we see near ponds and stream-beds. It’s pretty tricky to tell which are alive or dead because each type has a different set of pigments that give it that unique color. Sometimes these colors can be a little counter-intuitive – where we live in the Northeastern US, we usually see brown, black or orange leaves that die and fall off the tree each fall. But out here there are species that regularly grow with those colors! We see bright orange microbial mats that line the bottom of streams and ponds like a thick carpet. There are dark black leafy mats that look like crusty dead matter, but are actually alive. Some of these organisms grow in very shallow water which makes them extra exposed to sunlight and UV-radiation. This can damaging to them, just like it is to us. So to combat this they make special pigments that act as sunscreen, protecting them from the constant bright light of summer months. And sometimes even the dried and shriveled-up material at the side of streams are actually specially adapted to survive total dryness, so they may come back to life in the presence of water!


Black, red and orange mats lie in a tiny bit of water on the margin of a stream-bed

3. Do different color plants (besides green) have chlorophyll?

This is actually one of the reasons microbial mats are so unique and interesting! The mats we mentioned earlier are built like a sandwich with multiple layers, and each layer contains different kinds of bacteria and pigments. These allow them to maximize their growth even when conditions in the environment change – for example, mats often have protective sunscreen pigments on the top layer (where they’re more exposed to solar radiation), and chlorophyll or other pigments tucked away in the lower layers (more protected from harmful UV radiation). So often when you flip over a bright orange mat, you may actually see bits of green underneath. In fact, some bacteria will actually move up and down within the mat, which may be a way for them to escape intense solar radiation during certain times of year.


A large microbial mat shows off different shades of orange on the side of a small pond

4. How is it able to get sunlight through the ice? And do plants in Antarctica have special adaptations to help them grow?

Yes, ice can definitely reduce the amount of light entering the water. If the ice is thin and clear and the water is shallow enough, organisms with specialized light gathering pigments can still absorb enough to perform photosynthesis. But anything living underwater in Antarctica has to deal with drastic extremes in light (from total darkness in winter and under ice, to ultra high light in shallow ponds in summer). Plus, many water bodies are frozen all the way to the bottom in the winter, freezing these complex underwater structures in place. So to deal with these challenges they have lots of special strategies, such as producing cold-shock and anti-freeze proteins that protect them when the water around them freezes, or using specialized pigments that work extra-efficiently under low-light conditions.


Here at the end of the glacier sits Lake Bonney, which is frozen even on this bright summer day.

5. What is the reason why microbes have certain colors?

The color of microbes is due to the different colored substances inside the cells. Each substance absorbs and reflects different wavelengths of light, and we see the colors reflected. Chlorophyll reflects green light and absorbs the other colors, giving plants their green color. Cyanobacteria are unique because they perform photosynthesis much like plants. These bacteria got their name because they have special pigment called “phycocyanin”, and this gives them that blueish-green color. But bacteria also use pigments for functions other than photosynthesis, like protection against UV or antioxidant activity.

6. Do micro organisms affect the color of the streams? 

Good question –actually any bits of material in the water can affect the stream color as they absorb and reflect light. Often when large amounts of bacteria are healthy and growing they can cause water to look brown or green, although this happens a little less in streams where the water is constantly moving. But in lakes and ponds during the summer this can be dramatic – have you ever seen the water turn green in lakes near you? Because the water is very cold and often nutrient-poor, streams and lakes in Antarctica tend to be pretty clear water. But if you look at the bottoms of water bodies down it’s a different story – that’s where all the colorful mats and microbes hang out.


Long filaments wave like green strands of hair in the shallow water of this Antarctic stream.

7. Why do the microbial leaf mats look like rocks?

Mats come in a wide range of shapes, colors, and sizes. I think some resemble leaves, others definitely look like rocks, there are flat mats that cover the sediment like a big shag carpet, and there are strange tubes that grow vertically like underwater towers. It’s not clear exactly why each of these has such a unique shape and growth pattern, but most likely they all position themselves in a way that maximizes their ability to do things like absorb nutrients and light in their environment. The result is pretty elaborate!


A view of one of many small melt-water ponds in the Miers Valley (can you spot all the orange mats?)


Then, just under the surface of that same pond you get a new perspective – thick mats completely take over, covering the sediments, growing in all dimensions, and creating an underwater microbial city.

8. Do you need a special camera to take underwater pictures?

Yes! I use a GoPro with a waterproof case to take underwater footage. And since the water is very cold, I try to mount the camera onto a long rod so that my whole arm doesn’t go numb in the process!


The GoPro allows me to snap some shots of the underwater life in ponds and streams.

Thanks again to all the excellent questions & stay tuned for Part 3!

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Each year, one of the highlights of coming to Greenland is working with American, Danish, and Greenlandic high school students in the Joint Science Education Project (JSEP). JSEP is collaboration among the three nations, and aims to further the students’ interest in science, introduce them to science projects occurring in Greenland, and teach them about the cultures of the three nations. During their two weeks in Kangerlussuaq, the students get to interact with the scientists – glaciologists, botanists, geologists, ecologists – working in this area. I am always jealous of the wide range of activities the students get to experience while here.

Teaching American, Danish, and Greenlandic high school students out in the field.

Teaching American, Danish, and Greenlandic high school students out in the field.

Although this is the third year I’ve worked with JSEP, this was the first year I led a project based on my own research. This made the experience both more challenging and rewarding, since I felt so invested in teaching the students about the importance of soil erosion. In planning the activity, I wanted to give the students a feeling for all parts of my research – from big picture questions to hands-on data collection to computer-based analysis. Fortunately, lichenometry data doesn’t need a lot of processing, so we were able to collect and analyze our data in just one afternoon!

Setting up a lichenometry transect for the students to measure.

Setting up a lichenometry transect for the students to measure.

We started with the big picture – observing some eroded areas and thinking about the implications soil erosion might have for carbon cycling, plant growth, and herbivores. As the pictures show, it was quite a blustery day, so it wasn’t too hard for the students to grasp how important wind can be in shaping the landscape we see around Kangerlussuaq.

Thinking about the different events that shaped this landscape.

Thinking about the different events that shaped this landscape.

The big picture led us to my methods, and I introduced lichenometry, a dating technique that uses the diameter of Rhizocarpon lichen to estimate age of rock exposure. Each group got to experience what Phoebe and I do everyday – we set up five transects perpendicular to the active edge of the eroded areas, and the students measured lichen diameters along each transect.

Helping one group with their lichen measurements.

Helping one group with their lichen measurements.

Back in town, we graphed the results, combed through the data, and made some calculations to come up with a rate of soil erosion for each transect. I really had no idea what to expect for, so I was blown away when the students’ results were all within the range of soil erosion rates I had measured last year. Success! Not only had they collected and analyzed data, but they had done so with enough accuracy to produce meaningful and useful results!

Wrapping up after each group had calculated a rate of erosion, in centimeters per year.

Wrapping up after each group had calculated a rate of erosion, in centimeters per year.

As always, it was such an inspiring experience working with these motivated and curious students. As we drove back to camp for the evening, I felt exhausted, yes, but I also felt uplifted by their energy and driven to continue teaching. Many thanks, JSEP!

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I spent June 12 – 15 in Microsoft’s appropriately-named NERD Center near MIT in Cambridge, MA. In its third iteration (but only second national one), ComSciCon trains 50 graduate students selected by application to be better communicators of their science. This workshop is unique in that it is put on by graduate students for graduate students; the workshop was directly tuned to the needs and interests of graduate students and was organized flawlessly and enthusiastically. We participated in speaking exercises, interacted with panel speakers invited to speak on various topics, and received expert feedback on science writing for submission to a non-academic publication.



Introduction to giving constructive feedback to each other’s ~800 word writing submissions.

I could probably write separate entries on each of the 5 panels, the 2-hour improve session, the peer editing process followed by feedback from science writing professionals, and the day-long workshop with local K-12 science teachers. But I’ll restrict myself to a few of the speakers, concepts, and activities I found particularly valuable. Interested readers can find the whole program with speaker bios here


Improving Diversity Through Communication Panel: L-R Dr. Monica Feliu-Mojer (Mgr. of Outreach Programs for Biostatistics Dept, U Washington); Dr. Renee Hlozek (astronomer and TED fellow); ComSciCon moderator; Dr. John Johnson (Harvard Astronomy Professor, diversity advocate); Dr. Brindha Muniappan (Director of Education and Public Programs at the MIT museum).

The Keynote Speaker, Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri, is a chemistry professor at UW Madison who has been a staunch proponent of science education; he personally gives chemistry demonstrations in settings ranging from school classrooms to shopping malls. In the 1980s, he served as Assistant Director for Science and Engineering Education at the National Science Foundation, and more recently he has served as President of the American Chemical Society (ACS, 2012), formed the ACS Presidential Commission on Grad Education in the Chemical Sciences, the ACS Climate Science Working Group, and the ACS Global Water Initiative Working Group. He generously attended the entire workshop, participating in discussions and exercises with the graduate students; at the workshop conclusion he gave his address, challenging all of us to think about our role as scientists in society.

In his lecture, “Enlightenment and Responsibilities of the Enlightened,” Dr. Shakhashiri called us to become citizen-scientists, using the freedom we have to pursue our scientific curiosity to fulfill our responsibility to the earth and to humanity. He pointed out that the gap between the science-rich sector and the science-poor sectors of society is widening and that we don’t need to impart scientific competence and expertise upon everyone but rather engender science literacy and a sense of appreciation for science. Although the social, political, and economic implications of a changing climate and changing cryosphere motivated my return to school, I spend too little time thinking about scientists’ responsibility to serve society. I found his talk thought-provoking, boundary-pushing, and inspirational.


Keynote speaker Dr. Shakhashiri closed his talk with a demonstration he often gives to school groups and public audiences.

Another speaker who challenged my basic conception of science communication was Jennifer Briselli, who studies the failures and difficulties in science communication. Communication with scientific facts alone is often ineffective because a person’s values and cultural worldview influence how receptive they are. She looks at science communication from the lens of the non-scientific audience member rather than from the perspective of the scientist; she provided valuable insight into the roadblocks associated with communication and how to address them.

Other speakers who stand out were: Dr. Ana Unruh Cohen, Director of Energy, Climate and Natural Resources for Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA); Soren Wheeler, Senior Producer at Radiolab; Dr. Donna J. Nelsen, organic chemistry professor at U Oklahoma and science adviser for TV hit series Breaking Bad; and Jeff Lieberman, who provided an artist’s perspective through sharing his work relating science, art, consciousness, and the human experience. Seldom do we hear people talk about emotion as a tool for communicating science, but he does so with astounding brilliance.

ComSciCon isn’t just about how to communicate with different audiences, it is also about practicing! Each participant had to give a 1-minute “pop-talk” about his or her work without using any scientific terms. The audience held up “JARGON” or “AWESOME” cards throughout the pop-talks to let the speaker know how well he/she was achieving this. There was no option to extend past the 1-minute (a loud noise went off), and doing justice to a dissertation topic in just one minute required some practice.


Pinar Gurel, PhD Candidate in Dartmouth’s Microbial and Cellular Biology program, and I holding up the signs for the pop-talks.

I found it stimulating to be around 49 other PhD students who were genuinely excited about pursuing research across a wider range of topics than could be found at any other conference: soil microbes to planetary formation, pancreatic cancer to lizard reproduction, and nose stem cells to napping.


Dr. Todd Zakrajsek, executive director at the Academy of Educators, UNC-Chapel Hill, giving the Keynote address of Sunday’s session on K-12 STEM education.  On this last day of the workshop, graduate students, teachers, and education professionals participated in a series of lectures, discussions, and curriculum development exercises.

I left Cambridge with better scientific writing and speaking skills, a network of colleagues across scientific disciplines who are all highly motivated and deeply committed to sharing their work, and a deeper conviction about why communicating science well is not only important but absolutely necessary. 

“Is it enough for a scientist simply to publish a paper? Isn’t it the responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn’ it you responsibility to actually do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place? … If not us, who? If not now, when?” – F. Sherwood Rowland

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When I think of middle school, I think of purple braces, playing a lot of basketball, and being inspired by my science teachers, Mr. Z and Mr­­. Serrill. Thanks to these teachers, the most important things I learned in middle school were that science and math are wicked awesome and that I wanted to be an ecologist. 🙂

In Mr. Z’s class we learned about biomes and the life of animals in the tundra. I was captivated and read more about the arctic tundra in a National Geographic magazine sitting under Mr. Z’s window. Still though, the Arctic seemed like a faraway strange place that was completely disconnected from me and my community.

So, when I learned about the possibility of involving a middle school teacher in my research in Greenland, I jumped at the opportunity. If a teacher could do research in the Arctic and teach students about it, the students might gain a better understanding of the world as one system, why the Arctic is important, and how day-to-day science works. Maybe one student will even grow up to be a polar scientist. Just because their teacher cared about immersing students in current scientific research.

Emily Snowden, a science teacher at Crawford Middle School in Lexington, Kentucky, is one of those teachers. Thanks to the support of the PolarTrec program, Emily will be joining me in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland in June. Emily and I wanted to write a short pre-field-season blog, interview style.

Q: Emily, what are your students most excited to have you see or do and share with them?

A: My students view scientist as rock stars.  They know they exist, but they have little hope of ever actually interacting or meeting a scientist.  They love hearing my stories of past field experience I have had, but these stories are from the past and the research team has moved on.  I feel that this opportunity allows my students to get a lot closer and involved with the scientists.  With technology advancements such as Skype and the internet they will be able to meet Christine and the team while the research is occurring.  They are excited be able to follow along and ask questions instead of me just relaying old information.

Q: I think it’s awesome that you found this opportunity and want to be involved in scientific research.  What do you think is the biggest misconception your students, or any middle school students, have about science?

A: I think one big misconception that students have about science is that if you study science it is only to become a doctor.  They do not realize all the fields of study that science involves and how many other paths (besides being a doctor) are possible if you study science.

Q: What is one way you are planning to share polar science with your community or school?

A: To create an initial interest in Greenland and to encourage students to follow along with my blog I am having students draw pictures of what they think Greenland looks like on a post card.  I am then going to take these postcards to Greenland with me and mail then back to the students. I will write on these postcards to encourage my students to look at my pictures on my journal of what Greenland actually looks like.  These post cards will also include postage from Greenland which is neat since most of my kids have never left Lexington, much less the state or country.


The top of one of my field sites in Kangerlussuaq.

We’ll keep you updated! Emily is posting pictures and journal entries to this webpage: http://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/climate-change-and-pollinators-in-the-arctic

In a nutshell: Ecology + Teacher and Outreach + Greenland = We’re psyched for this field season

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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.

Since all good blogs require photos, I thought I'd take this opportunity to share some of my favorites from the season.

Since all good blogs require photos, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of my favorites from the season.

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.

The McMurdo Dry Valley LTER Principal Investigators, all together at Lake Hoare Camp!

The McMurdo Dry Valley LTER Principal Investigators, all together at Lake Hoare Camp!

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!

Photo credit: Matt Knox

Photo credit: Matt Knox

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In the summer of 2012, I had the fortune of meeting up with Dr. Carl Benson (see “Meeting people in Alaska …“), where we chatted about his previous traverses on the Greenland Ice Sheet and some of his current scientific endeavors. I was fascinated with his stories as my 2011 traverse with Thomas Overly and company was still fresh in my mind. As luck would have it, the Dartmouth IGERT community continues to interact with Benson.

Carl Benson and his report
It all started with a picture … Photo courtesy R. Benson.

In December 2012, while attending the AGU science conference with Chris Polashenski, I had the fortune of meeting Betsy Turner-Bogren from ARCUS (Arctic Research Consortium of the US), and we briefly chatted about an interview concept that reminded me of my August conversation with Benson. ARCUS has a newsletter it produces, Witness the Arctic (WTA), that provides “information on current arctic research efforts and findings, significant research initiatives, national policy affecting arctic research, international activities, and profiles of institutions with major arctic research efforts.” “Arctic Generations,” a series within WTA, is where an early career scientist gets to interview a scientist with “a long, distinguished career.” I could not pass up this opportunity to bridge the ground-breaking science, research techniques, and logistics accomplished by Benson and his traverses with the 2011 Greenland Inland Traverse. You can find the interview here. While we touched on some science, I was also intent on bringing out some of his personal memories of the traverse – my favorite anecdote is about the air logistics and, in particular, the French “free drops” along the 1955 traverse.

I’m not the only IGERT’eer chatting Benson up. Indeed, Chris is collaborating with Benson for his 2013 traverse of the Greenland Ice Sheet experiment (known as “SAGE”: Sunlight Absorption on the Greenland ice sheet Experiment). Recently, Chris shared his experiences and some of his initial findings at an IGERT-sponsered talk here at Dartmouth. A blog of his 2013 traverse can be found here.

For me, this illustrates one of the neat aspects of snow and ice core science – its a very young science. What I mean by this is that many of the techniques developed and initial studies happened within the last 50-60 years, and many of those pioneering researchers are still pushing the envelope of knowledge today. The opportunity for a young scientist, like myself, to talk with giants in their field is unique.

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