Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A sort-of sucssesful day... followed by a very sucssesful day off

Yesterday, Monday, was a busy day here at Lake Bonney, and all over the Dry Valleys. I had a full to-do list in the morning that included chipping out the bot hole, harnessing up to scoop out the ice, and then bringing helicopter load rigging back from the West Lobe to the East Lobe of the lake, so Maciek and Jim could use it to load all their gear, as they were leaving. :( So after I chipped out the hole, I harnessed myself up and started fishing out the chunks of ice. Shilpa gives us a designated time to get in the bot in the water, usually 11am, and it is my job to have the hole clear before then. Yesterday it was definitely rushed. I got done just in time, and up onto the floor and off my hook. But we were pushing the robot over before I even had time to take off my harness! The day before that, I was done two minutes early and just hung out for awhile over the hole, enjoying the view. When I am, on occasion, done early, I can hang in my harness, and it feels like Antarctic swing set!

So after the robot got into position, I left the Endurance team to do what they do best!
Bart working on the Sonde, or science package, before the day of missions

Chris readying the bot

The bot being lowered into the water

Then I raced some rigging parts over to East Lobe for Maciek and Jim's loads. I arrived and realized just how much they had to bring with them over to their new work spot, Lake Fryxell. Maciek and Jim, although expert hole-melters for the Endurance team, or science event B(Bravo, in the radio alphabet)-211, are actually here in the Dry Valleys to collect lake data from multiple lakes for LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) under science event B-426.

After the hectic, weather delayed, hole melting mess Lake Bonney had become over the past two weeks, it felt like an accomplishment to have the robot in the water on West Lobe and Maciek and Jim leaving to do their work at other lakes on the East Lobe. Lake Fryxell is about 15miles down Taylor Valley from Lake Bonney, which means they are East - closer to the sea and farther from Taylor Glacier.
Taylor Valley: from West to East the red labels read Blood Falls (on Taylor Glacier); Lake Bonney; Lake Hoare; Canada Glacier; and Lake Fryxell

The boys gear being picked up on the shore
Maciek and Jim standby watching their loads head off to Fryxell

LTER, Long Term Ecological Research, is a network of scientists, researchers, and students all working together and synthesizing research and data from 26 different ecologically diverse sites across the world, from Alaska to Antarctica! The sites are chosen based on unique ecological conditions, some more suitable to supporting life than others. The goal is to study these sites and acquire a wide range of data and understanding of how the ecosystem works. The data is collected over a long period of time at each site, with the job of doing the data collecting changing hands every so often (McM LTER at the Dry Valley lakes is in the hands of scientists like John Priscu and Peter Doran, and the grad-students that work under the. This is important to the understanding of how the ecosystem changes and how it is being changed and affected over time, with special attention put to conserving and protecting the areas. The sites range from coral reefs and kelp forests, to hot desserts and savannas, to cold desserts and frozen lakes (like here in the Dry Valleys).

LTER in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica (according to LTER website)

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are located on the western coast of McMurdo Sound (77°00'S 162°52'E) and form the largest relatively ice-free area (approximately 4800 square kilometers) on the Antarctic continent. These ice-free areas of Antarctica display a sharp contrast to most other ecosystems in the world, which exist under far more moderate environmental conditions. The perennially ice-covered lakes, ephemeral streams and extensive areas of exposed soil within the McMurdo Dry Valleys are subject to low temperatures, limited precipitation and salt accumulation. Thus, the dry valleys represent a region where life approaches its environmental limits, and is an ""end-member"" in the spectrum of environments included in the LTER Network.
Maciek and Jim will drill and melt holes in three lakes, Lake Bonney, Lake Fryxell and Lake Hoare, all in Taylor Valley. They have to remove sensors from the lakes, that have been there for a year, and change the sensors and gather the data. I helped Maciek accomplish this sensor switch last week. Maciek chipped the hole, so it was big enough to pull out the sensors, cages, and the large orange buoy, that a sensor was attached to. Then we pull out roughly 50ft of rope and three sensors. One sensor is held in a aluminum cage. This cage was breaking, from rust and microbial life eating away at it. I took on that job. This sensor cage had been tied with rope and zip-ties (the all purpose tool) for a year. I was determined to get them off, for Maciek's work and sanity. I sat down on the ice and began loosening the knots. Maciek walked back to the camp to get some more things we needed, we were about 20min (walking) out into the middle of the East lobe. So for about an hour, I sat on this lake, and I was sure my carharts (work overalls) were melting into the ice. I started pulling loose the ropes, which were frozen on to the cage. The whole cage and all the ropes were covered in a layer of algae - Antarctic Algae! This algae that had collected on these sensors was the first living thing I had seen in Antarctica! (besides us!) My first siting of Antarctic wildlife, and I was covered in it. After much frustration, which turned into me just cutting one rope completely loose (it now resides on my wrist), the cages were switched out. I tied the ropes onto the sensors and added many, many zip-ties. Zip-ties are the plastic ties where you put one end in the top and tighten it through and it clicks tighter in one direction but cannot be pulled back in the other direction. Maciek and I joked all day about how useful zip-ties were, and how many we were going through. I believe you can use a zip tie to secure just about anything!!

Well, now Maciek and Jim are off gallivanting around the Dry Valleys conducting more LTER research. As for the Endurance team, Saturday was a stressful day, something in the batteries tripped off at the end of the mission day and basically reset everything. It took them all day Sunday to identify the problem. Sunday was a SNOW DAY! I woke up to the sound of snow flakes lightly tapping against my tent. It is a truly magical sound. I quickly, as quickly as you can, got out of my sleeping bag and into my parka and boots. I hoped, futilely, for a snow blanketed valley, with white ground and snow circling and blowing around me... Unbelievably my wish came true. It was just as good as Christmas morning. I came running into the Jamesway yelling, "It's snowing, it's snowing!" Rachel followed a few minutes later just as excited! She said, as she is from Texas, that she never see snow and I responded with I always see snow! But oh how I missed it. The cold air and the scenery here in the valleys combined with snow flakes that fall on my nose and eyelashes... these are a few of my favorite things. I hadn't realized until then, how essential snow is to my happiness, especially in this perpetual cold.

Snow at the lake front

Snow at our doorstep

Some little ventifacts we collected covered in snow

The lake covered in a blanket of fog

So Sunday was spent diagnosing the problems of Saturday and by the time they all came home, they felt much more comfortable with the robot and his progress. They believed the problem was centrally located in the batteries. Monday started on a much more optimistic note. As I said Monday was busy, and I didn't spend much time at the Endurance site. But they stayed out there until about midnight and came home with stories of great accomplishment. They completed 19 out of the 90 Sonde drops planned for the season. Then they spent time testing the bot in the water to localize the problems they had encountered. The tests all went well, and they feel much more comfortable with the bot's abilities.

My day was a little more harsh. We were in need of water, so I tied up the ice sled and began the 45min trip over to the edge of Taylor Glacier. I road up as close to the glacier as I felt comfortable getting and started chipping out and collecting chunks of the galcier, or glacier berries. It took about an hour to collect a sled full of glacial ice chunks I could actually carry and get on to the sled about 30ft away. But being there, at the bottom of a 30 or 40 foot face of a glacier, was insane!! I could not believe it! I got done and I just stood there and closed my eyes and opened my ears. For a few minutes I stood in the cold, breathing in the air, and listening to the creaks, crashes, and all sorts of noises that come from the glacier. I had to walk up and touch the glacier, it was the first actual galcier I had ever been up close enough to touch! After the glacier berry adventure, I traveled over to Blood Falls camp and then back up the North side of the lake. There were lots of self-timed pictures opportunities with the glacier and large boulders along the shore.
Me in front of Taylor Glacier
Me in front of a 20ft tall boulder

That's when the real trouble began. The sled full of ice behaved itself, and slid behind the ATV, like a sled should. But in the last 25yards, the sled slid around and lifted up the back tire of my ATV and shoved me into the shore! I couldn't go forward, or backwards. I was stuck. So I got off the ATV and turned it off. I hiked up to camp and got a knife. I cut the sled off the ATV and rolled off it. I was so upset! I couldn't believe I had broken a sled! I drove the ATV back to the Jamesway and left the sled where it was. I unloaded all the gear and sat down. I wanted to cry! It was the most frustrating experience here to date. I didn't want it to be broken, but try as I might I could not get it to hook back to the ATV.
The ATV/sled accident

The team was still out at the Endurance site, and I had to bring dinner out to them. So the time to be upset was not yet upon me. I finished up dinner and hooked it up to the ATV and headed over to West Lobe. I knew I was just dropping off dinner, and coming back to do dishes, so I decided not to wear my stabilicers, the straps we hook to our shoes, that help you walk on the ice. I arrived at the Endurance site and grabbed the food off the back of the ATV. Then I took my first step off the ATV and Woosh! the ground below my feet was lost and my face was rocketing towards the ice! Whack! My face slammed against the ground and I felt my tooth pierce into my skin. This can't be happening, I thought to myself. It felt as though I easily had pierced all the way through my lip. I held my neck warmer against my lip and walked, basically crawled into the bot house. I delivered the food and borrowed some stabilicers so I could head back to camp and check on my lip. I finally got back to camp and assessed the damage done to my lip and knees. I was a little worse for the wear and a quite bruised up. But my lip was only cut through on the inside. In the epic ongoing battle, of Antarctica vs. Emma... Antarctica had won.

Today's day off was well deserved and welcomed on all fronts, both for leaps forward in the science and a few snags in the day. Tomorrow we are back to business as normal. Hopefully I will come out victor in the battle royal against the fierce Antarctic wilderness... haha, oh it's really not so bad :)




  1. Emma, Sorry about the fall. On the positive side,
    there is plenty of ice around for the lip boo boo! Sorry to hear about the sled. Better the sled than the ATV. Dad saw Christina at the train station today - going opposite ways.
    Stay safe..sorry bout the rocky goings on.
    Miss you, Love You, Mom

  2. What did the robot do?