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: http://water.engr.psu.edu/antsnow/ ) 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!