Yesterday we awoke to a windy snow storm in McMurdo. That was discouraging because we were supposed to fly to our field sites... We spent the day in McMurdo hoping for clearing weather that never came.
This morning we awoke to another snowy morning, but this time we had big fluffly flakes and little wind. We were discouraged again. The helicopter schedule was delayed and we had all resigned ourselves to another day in 'town'. Then, around 9 AM, the weather broke in the direction of the Dry Valleys and we were able to head out!
The Dry Valleys is a region of Antarctica that is mostly free of ice, though there are still glaciers that come down into the valley sides and floors. Also on the floors of these valleys are several ice-covered lakes. Some of the lakes are more than 60 feet deep with ice covers that are 10-15 feet thick.
Below is an image of Taylor Valley, where you can see glaciers with meltwater streams feeding Lake Bonney.
We fly on helicopters to go from McMurdo base to our field camps and field sites in the Dry Valleys.
Above is an A-Star helicopter, which has great range and limited payload. We were a group of 5 people and LOTS of gear, so we flew a 212 today (see below). This is a big helicopter that can carry lots of weight - we had it full of our field gear...
Today was great - we visited a very special place in the Dry Valleys call the Labyrinth. It is an area that has lots of steep narrow canyons that was formed by a large lake that was under a glacier many years ago. Now we see some little isolated ponds here and there (ice covered). We came to study our snow packs at this site and collect samples from the ponds. Because of the weather, we could only stay for 4 hours. We got plenty done though. This is a pretty cold part of the Dry Valleys, so we wear our 'big red' parkas when we work here.
Finally - if you get a chance, check out http://elise-on-ice.blogspot.com - a blog by a visiting artist. She has a terrific video posted of penguins on the ice edge: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-_9EWYAbbI.