Thursday, December 31, 2009

ready for science!

What are we studying? This project is focused on the biogeography of microbes in soils. That is, which microbes (say bacteria) live in particular soils, and why? We are specifically testing the idea that the snow patches that collect in the Dry Valleys (see pictures on our project web page: ) will be one control on the distribution of these microbes. So, I'm studying the snow dynamics through time and space with my student, Jeff Eveland.

We have been in McMurdo for several days getting ready to go to our field sites, which are about 1 hr away by helicopter, across McMurdo Sound. When you get to McMurdo, if you have not been here before, you must attend several briefings about how to sort your recyclable waste and garbage (there are 7+ categories!), and before you can go out to the field, you must attend Happy Camper School. Happy Camper School is an overnight trip to a location just outside of McMurdo where you learn basic survival skills for Antarctica - how to eat, drink, and dress to be warm, how to build a snow structure (i.e., igloo), how to build snow walls to protect tents, how to put up tents. You get to sleep out in your tents or igloos that you build. It's a great experience. However, because I had been down here before, I only had to go through a half day 'refresher' course. We put up tents, light stoves, talk about helicopter safety, etc.

We have also been working hard to build 3 stations that will monitor soil temperature and moisture around and under the snow packs we are studying. That has been a lot of work as we have lots of parts to put together. We finally have our 3 stations running and now they are also packed up and ready to go.

Over the weekend, McMurdo had a holiday - they took Saturday off for New Years and Sunday is a general day off anyway. So, we had the Icestock festival with several live bands that have evolved here in Antarctica. Here's just one picture from that fun day (though we still got a 9 hour day of work completed in the lab)...
We woke up to snow this morning, visibility is poor, so our plans for flying to the Dry Valleys today are probably going to be changed... I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

planes, trains and automobiles...

Greetings from the ice!

On 30 Dec, I made it to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. It feels so familiar in so many ways, yet it has changed a bit since I was last here in the 2005-06 season. As soon as I arrived (to a nice sunny day), my colleagues and I hit the ground running.

It was a very long journey to get to McMurdo. We fly commercial airlines to get to Christchurch New Zealand, and then we fly a US air national guard flight to fly to Antarctica. Here are some images of the different vehicles I traveled in to get to McMurdo:

1) I left State College in a Canadian Regional Jet to fly to Detroit Michigan (300 miles; ~1 hr - 1st pic at left)
** then I got stuck in Detroit because of a mechanical issue with the plane; delayed overnight ** (no sleep) In the Detroit airport they have a nice electric train to use to make your connections...

2) I left Detroit on a Delta jet to fly to Los Angeles, California (1979 miles; ~5 hr)
I had a long layover in LA, about 14 hr. I fought off sleep and got my last fix of pro football in the bars in the airport. I checked in with the Quantas counter early and was surprised to get bumped up to business class for my next long flight! When that happened, I was eligible to go to the exclusive lounge, where I was able to take a shower and recoup a bit.

3) I flew from LA to Auckland, New Zealand in a huge jet (~6500 miles; ~12.5 hr). This was a very long flight, but it was comfortable. My seat folded out to be flat so that I could sleep!

4) I flew from Auckland, NZ, which is on the North Island to Christchurch, NZ on the South Island on a moderately sized jet (~ miles; 1.25 hr). This was a full flight with a number of American students from the University of Nebraska, who were going to exchange farming practices and knowledge, I think...

Finally in Christchurch, I went straight over to the Clothing Distribution Center to pick up my Extreme Cold Weather gear (parka, long underwear, bunny boots, etc.) The CDC is run by terrific folks who are very efficient. I met up with a group of soil biologists in town and we went out to dinner (Dux de Lux - not to be missed!).

The next morning we caught a shuttle from our hotel to the CDC to change into our cold weather gear and get ready to fly a US Air National Guard flight (big C-17 military transport plane) to Antarctica. I had missed the flight the day before (given my delay in Detroit), but it all worked out because the flight to Antarctica had been delayed because of bad weather in McMurdo. The flight was about 5.5 hrs, must have been about 2000 miles...

As soon as you de-plane, you step out on to an ice shelf that is an incredible environment. Only snow and sky surround you. We took "Ivan the Terra Bus" from the ice runway to "town" (McMurdo base).

It takes a lot of different vehicles to get to Antarctica these days...

Please note that I will be focusing this blog on informing my kids' classes (kindergarten and 2nd grade), though I hope all will find it informative!

Saturday, December 26, 2009


It's the day after Christmas, and I'm heading off to the great white south - the highest, driest, coldest continent in the world, Antarctica. I am looking forward to my new research there as the project is already in full swing. The team is:
Dr. Jeb from Virginia Tech
Kevin and Adam - graduate students at Virginia Tech
Dr. Tina from University of New Mexico
Dave - a postdoc at University of New Mexico
Jeff - a graduate student from Penn State

I will overlap with a few of them in the coming days and then Adam and I will be on our own for a few weeks to wrap things up. I'll keep you posted here!