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Archive for the ‘IGERT Fellows’ Category

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.

Our first briefing in McMurdo, immediately after landing on the ice. From that moment since, safety has been our primary concern.

Our first briefing in McMurdo, immediately after landing on the ice. From that moment since, safety has been our primary concern.

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.

In field safety training, Jess and Ashley supervise stove lighting.

In field safety training, Jess and Ashley supervise stove lighting.

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.

Diana, one of our PIs, adds to the already-insane field calendar.

Diana, one of our PIs, adds to the already-insane field calendar.

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.

Rinsing flasks and tubes has kept me busy these past few days.

Rinsing flasks and tubes has kept me busy these past few days.

Drawers and drawers of clean glassware, eagerly awaiting samples.

Drawers and drawers of clean glassware, eagerly awaiting samples.

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.

Jess battles the balance, trying to get it level.

Jess battles the balance, trying to get it level.

Staying Sane

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.

The view of Mt. Erebus from Observation Hill is beyond belief.

The view of Mt. Erebus from Observation Hill is beyond belief.

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Southern migration.


After four days of bouncing through airport terminals, Ruth, myself, and the members of the LTER soils team (http://www.mcmlter.org/) have come to our southernmost Antarctic destination at last!

Now, truly seasoned travelers (i.e., polar scientists…and Arctic terns) have come to find such a commute pretty standard fare. Yet for an Antarctic newbie like myself, this level of perpetual motion left me feeling as though we had traveled to the bottom of the earth. Fittingly, we’ve ended up just there. A mere 30+ hours in the air has landed us at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Route Boston to McMurdo

But let’s backup for a moment.

Up until leaving New Zealand, our travels had all been standard commercial airlines. But for NSF funded projects such as the McMurdo LTER in which we’re participating, travel to the field happens on Air National Guard LC-130 cargo planes. So in preparation for this we all spend a day in Christchurch, NZ at the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center), where we are briefed with orientation videos, our computers are security checked, and we are outfitted with our polar gear.

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When we arrive at the CDC, we step into a large changing room where two orange duffle bags sit waiting for each person.

Gradually we pull out piece after piece of cold weather clothing. This ranges from giant puffy jackets and white rubber “bunny boots”, to silky long underwear and wool socks. The warehouse here is impressive and fully stocked.

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After all of our gear preparation is finished, Ruth and I take to the streets of Christchurch. Walking downtown it’s immediately evident that the city is still in recovery, even three years after their devastating earthquake. Piles of rubble are fenced off on city blocks, and large open spaces are left where hotels, restaurants, and apartment complexes used to stand.

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We walk through the city’s new “shipping container-chic” shopping centers, where fallen buildings have bee replaced by funky colored shipping containers selling street food, clothing, books, and jewelry.

In the evening, we walked to nearby Hagley Park to bring in the New Year. Crowds of people sat in the grass swaying to the sounds of local cover-bands singing Jonny Cash in Kiwi accents. Finally, per New Zealand tradition, we were all enchanted by the Arch Wizard of Canterbury as he casts an explosive (fireworks were involved…) spell on the crowd for coming year.

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The Arch Wizard is projected onto a giant screen as he casts his spell.

 

The next day, we go back to the CDC to don our polar gear, check our bags, and get briefed by the ANG on flight to the ice. It’s a toasty ride for those 8 hours to McMurdo, as we have to wear our big red jackets, snow pants, and bunny boots on the plane.20150101_112747

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Soon enough, we feel the plane glide onto the ice and we step out into a blindingly white world. The team has officially arrived in Antarctica.

Photo credit: Ruth Heindel

Stay tuned for updates on the science we are now preparing to do!

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Today we hiked from Pangboche to Periche, only a 2 hour hike.  Yesterday we hiked about 5 hours down to the valley floor, crossed the river, and then came back up, gaining only 200 m net elevation. From now on we’re going up so taking care to build in a little rest time. The plan is to acclimatize here in Pheriche (4240m) overnight then hike up to Pyramid (4970 m), the worlds highest meteorological station (I think). Well spend two nights there acclimatizing and then head to the Changri Nup base camp and start the data collection!

For reference, here’s the last part of our trek in. You can see Khumjung where we were 2 nights ago, Pangboche where we were last night, and Pheriche where I’m writing from. Pyramid Station is also labeled, near the ring finger in this pic.

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Yesterday on the trail I saw one of my boxes of scientific gear go by! This box contains a 400 MHz ground penetrating radar as well as a few other instruments. Masters student Josh Maurer is on the left.

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Pheriche in the distance

Pheriche in the distance

On the way to Pheriche this morning

On the way to Pheriche this morning

I’ve been enjoying the hike in (very different from taking a plane or helicopter to my field sites) and am looking forward to our day at Pyramid when we’ll be programming temperature sensors, etc. for the field.
Prof. Mike Dorais (BYU geology prof) has been teaching us about the geology along the way. The first night we all sat around a geologic map of Nepal and learned about how the Himalayas formed (and why there’s a yellow stripe of sedimentary rock at the top of Everest!). And he’s pointed out a few neat rocks along the trail.

I’ve enjoyed hiking and socializing with such accomplished scientists on the trek in and have been having very enlightening conversations about the importance of collaboration in science, why different people chose careers in glaciology, what the other grad students see as being next for them, etc.  Thanks for reading! Will update again when possible!

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Alexandra is on her way to the remote field site in the Khumbu Region. She only has intermittent internet access and managed to email us some photos of her journey. Scroll down for a sight of Mt. Everest!

Morning in Khumjung

Morning in Khumjung

On the trail

On the trail

Another trail shot

Another trail shot

Me at our first view of Everest (on the left!)

Me at our first view of Everest (on the left!)

 

 

 

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We flew to Lukla airport on Saturday, without any weather delays which are usually quite common. The plane fits about 12-15 people, two pilots, and one flight attendant who told us before taking off: “the flying time is 30 minutes and the weather is high turbulence.” But it was much smoother than I expected!

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Waiting at bag check at Kathmandu airport on Sunday

Flying to Lukla from Kathmandu

Flying to Lukla from Kathmandu

Me at the Lukla airport

Me at the Lukla airport

From Lukla, we started on our trek to our field camp at changri nup glacier. We follow the trek to Everest base camp for several days but then diverge and go northwest instead of onto the Khumbu glacier.  Last night we hiked 3 hr from Lukla and stayed in Phakding (2610m).  

Phakding (where we stayed saturday night, 2610 m, 3 hr from Lukla)

Phakding (where we stayed saturday night, 2610 m, 3 hr from Lukla)

Today we hiked to Namche bazar (3440m) for lunch and we are staying in Khumjung (3780m) for the night.  

Namche Bazar (the biggest town on the trek, 3440 m, 5 hr from Phakding)

Namche Bazar (the biggest town on the trek, 3440 m, 5 hr from Phakding)

The towns in the Khumbu have lodges and restaurants as well as gift shops for tourists. It feels strange to be so far into the mountains with some amenities!  There’s no heating and the plumbing is pretty limited, but we’re sleeping in lodges every night with delicious food. And we’re having lots and lots of tea at tea houses en route.

Namche Bazar

Namche Bazar


We’re taking our time to acclimate to altitude. Our porters will meet us at the pyramid research station with our scientific gear and the rest of our cold weather gear (I’m carrying only about 40 lbs of gear now).  

Standing at the entrance to Khumjung Village with Sonam Futi Sherpa, the only other female member of the field team. Sonam is a second year masters student in glaciology at Kathmandu University. Khumjung is her home town; we're staying in the lodge her parents own and run.

Standing at the entrance to Khumjung Village with Sonam Futi Sherpa (left), where we’re staying Sunday night. Sonam is a second year masters student in glaciology at Kathmandu University and the only other female member of the field team. Khumjung is her home town; we’re staying in the lodge her parents own and run.

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A few weeks ago, I was setting up some curious equipment that looked like sunny-side-up eggs on wires. One hundred of them on the tundra overlooking a glacier.

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They were for the Global Dryas Project, which is a collaboration among arctic scientists and residents to study pollination and seed production of Dryas flowers. The sunny-side-up eggs were pollinator sticky traps made to resemble these beautiful white and yellow flowers.

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Dryas flowers

I wondered if pollinators around here would actually fall for the faux flowers.  They did! When I brought the “flowers” out to the study area, it was like bringing free pizza to starving grad students. Flies started landing on them before I even had a chance to set up the plots.

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Flies on the faux flower sticky traps.

With the sticky traps, we now have a better idea of what insects visit and potentially pollinate Dryas in Greenland. These results and other data will be sent to the project organizers at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

It is great to squeeze as much as much science as possible out of a Greenland field season and to learn more about pollination across the Arctic. I look forward to seeing the results from the other participants.

More information about the Global Dryas Project:

http://www.helsinki.fi/foodwebs/dryas/index.htm

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6196/492.full (need Science subscription).

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I stood at the edge of the river in awe. The river had swallowed half of my study site, leaving niviarsiaq flowers and my temperature sensor poking through ice-cold rapids.

There must have been a spectacular glacier calving event to cause the river to violently spill over its banks [Edit: The hypothesis around the station is that an ice dam broke.] Waterfalls almost doubled in width, the river found new courses to handle the large volume of water, and chunks of ice were carried downstream.

I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. This is crazy cool,  I thought, but what about my research?!

Study Site #1

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DURING FLOOD: My study site is on the left. It didn’t used to be an island…the water in the foreground wasn’t there the day before.

We returned the next day to survey the aftermath. Things looked like they were almost back to normal.

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AFTER: The site is almost back to normal. See Becca standing on the rocks? The water would have been over her head!

The niviarsiaq flowers were extremely resilient.

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AFTER: These flowers were covered with two meters of rushing water the day before. Two days later, the flowers were producing pollen and buds were opening, like nothing happened.

Study Site #2

The day the river went rogue, we had to hike to our study site at seahorse lake because the road was flooded.

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DURING: The road to the seahorse lake study site was flooded – we continued on foot.

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DURING: The flooded landscape produced some great scenery.

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DURING: Looking out from our study site the day of the flood.

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AFTER: The beach and the boulders reappeared the next day.

Study Site #3

We visited a third site the day after the flood. Signs of the surge were abundant.

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The water etched ripples into the sand and left behind ice at a third study site.

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Ice deposited near our third study site.

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The grounded ice chunks were hefty.

Had I not been there the day the river went rogue, I would not be able to grasp the extent and power of the flood.  Fortunately, niviarsiaq, aka dwarf river beauty,  is  presumably adapted to such disturbances despite its delicate appearance. So, my research continues, and I am left with a much deeper respect for the ice-fed river.

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