Category Archives: Life

Antarctic Thanksgiving 2012

Due to the seasonal constraints of studying flowing water in one of the driest and coldest landscapes on earth, I am obligated to spend the austral summer in they Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The warmest annual temperatures, and highest net solar radiation occurs between November and February in this region. This means that I will spend the holiday season away from friends and family in the continental United States. The idea of spending three major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years) away from home is a bit daunting. However, I have quickly discovered that folks here in the Dry Valleys know how to have a good time with holidays.

I began Thanksgiving day at F6 camp. Unlike previous Thanksgivings, I packed my bags for a scenic hike to Lake Hoare, instead of sitting around watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. My colleague,  Tyler, and I set off for the six mile treck (turkey trot) under cloudless blue skies. 2.25 hours later, we arrived at Lake Hoare, where we were greeted by 20 of our friends and co-workers, who were busy making final preparations for a proper Thanksgiving feast.

Chris basting the bird

…. all the fixins

The menu was right in line with traditional American Thanksgiving fare. We enjoyed two turkeys prepared on the grill, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, cornbread pudding, stuffing, roasted pumpkin and carrots, cranberry sauce, and a nice green salad. For dessert there was a large variety of pies to chose from. Everything was homemade and totally delicious. The best part was the abundance of fresh veggies! It had been a while since I had the chance to chow down on fresh veggies, as they are particularly hard to come by in the Dry Valleys.

dinner inside the main hut at Lake Hoare

After dinner we enjoyed conversation and games over fantastic New Zealand wine. Although nothing is quite like Thanksgiving at home, most certainly nothing is like Thanksgiving in the Dry Valleys. I’m quite grateful for the abundance of good people (and good food) here in the Dry Valleys for the Thanksgiving holiday.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, surrounded by loved ones and tasty food.

Cheers,

Adam

Outside my tent just prior to turkey slumber

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Traveling is done, and work is beginning

Hi All!

I have finally arrived! After many airplanes, a terra bus, McMurdo Station, a helicopter  Lake Hoare Camp, and another helicopter I am finally settled in at our primary hub of activity – F6 Camp. Located on the beautiful banks of Lake Fryxell, this glorious two-room hut will be home to the MCM-LTER stream team, and other more transient researchers.

F6 camp. Home for now!

The kitchen side of F6. We make some pretty awesome meals, and drink LOTS of coffee

We have one room for cooking/hanging out and another room for laboratory work. Thanks to the good folks at McMurdo Station, we were set up with lots of delicious looking food to keep us going while we are out here. Unlike my experiences at Toolik Field Station, in northern Alaska, F6 is D-I-Y. We make all our own meals, and keep the camp running by completing a long list of daily chores. But when the work is split amongst myself and two other teammates – it’s not so bad. I’ll further elaborate on camp life in a future post.

 

Tyler instals instrumentation inside a gage box at Harnish Creek. I’d love to show photos of streams but there is no liquid water to be found…. yet!

Today was our first day of field work. In brief, the stream team is responsible for maintaining a suite of US Geologic Survey (USGS) gage stations established in 1994, here in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. A “gage station,” basically monitors the discharge of a stream through time. Discharge is the volume of water passing through a cross-section of stream, per unit time. Although this sounds simple – it’s not. There are many streams running throughout the Dry Valleys, which requires us to cover lots of land on any given day. We utilize ATVs, helicopters, and our feet to get from site to site. Also, to put it simply: things break. Trouble shooting and fixing broken stuff often becomes the focal point of our job. Again, I will use future blog posts to explain how we measure discharge in greater detail.

It’s getting late, so for now I’ll leave you with some photos. Enjoy!  ~ Adam

 

Nov 06 – Nov 08: Happy Camper

Hi!

Tuesday, Nov 06

Only a few hours after stepping off the C17, I was assigned to attend a mandatory field training course, commonly known here at McMurdo as “Happy Camper.” Happy Camper is a two day course which covers the basics of living and more importantly surviving in the cold, beautiful, yet unforgiving land/sea-scape of Antarctica. We began in the class room discussing cold weather basics such as frostbite, hypothermia, dressing for extreme cold, and understanding the importance of team work. Here is a picture of our two instructors, Ben and Alasdair. Alasdair is the one all bundled up in ECW.

By 1030 we (16 other classmates and myself) had packed our bags for the night and were boarding the bus, which would take us out onto the McMurdo Ice Shelf, where we’d stay the night. Standing on the ice shlelf was a surreal feeling. To the north and south you’re bounded by mountains. However, looking east, the ice seemed never ending, revealing the curvature of the earth. Directly north of our small campsite was Mt Erebus (shown on the left), an active volcano and the topic of some very interesting research. Because there is nothing to provide a sense of scale, distances are difficult to grasp – what seems 5 miles aways may actually be 22 miles away. Also the snow pack acts like a big mirror reflecting the ever-present sun, making snow blindness and sun burn serious threats to ones overall comfort.

several mountain tents sit between two Scott tents, all safely behind a snow wall

Snow walls 101 with Alasdair

Ben and Alasdair showed us some essential field techniques. We learned to tie some cool knots, my favorite was the “truckers hitch,” used to secure tents to the ground. We built a snow wall to protect our camp from the possibility of a wind storm, the worst of which always come from the south (off of the ice cap). We use two types of tents, here in Antarctica: the Scott tent (sorta looks like a teepee), and mountain tents (modern expedition tents). The very first Antarctic expeditions used Scott tents – remarkably robust shelters. Around 1800 our instructors left us out with some stoves, food, and shelter. We spent the night on the ice shelf. Thanks to my -50 sleeping bag and a few wisely place bottles of hot water, I was plenty toasty and slept quite well. Overnight lows likely reached -10 F.

After eating a solid breakfast and breaking down camp, we reconvened with our instructors in a nearby hut to work on some scenario situations. My favorite scenario was as follows:

Your team and you are all sitting around inside a warm hut, when the weather suddenly turns bad – Very high winds, very cold temperatures, limited to zero visibility (known as Condition 1 in Antarctica). You all notice one of your teammates is missing. Maybe they’ve been gone 30 minutes? Someone thinks he/she has gone to the bathrooms, which are located appox 40 yards from the hut. What do you do?

Well, we decided to go look for our missing teammate  So, in order to simulate Condition 1 weather, each team member that stepped out of the hut needed to be wearing a bucket on his/her head. We sent two teammates who held onto a rope, which was fastend to the inside of the hut. After a several minutes of stumbling and fumbling they came nowhere near the out-houses. Lesson learned: Condition 1 is no joke. However, watching my new friends stumble around with buckets on their head was worth quite a laugh (see below).

Snow School was easily the best class I’ve ever taken. I reviewed things I already knew, learned some completely new things, met lots of new friends, and got my first thorough Antarctic experience. I am definitely a “Happy Camper!”

On Saturday Nov 10, I’ll fly to the Dry Valleys to meet my fellow MCM-LTER Stream Team members. I absolutely cannot wait – feeling like a kid on Christmas. McMurdo station is pretty sweet, but it’s time for some new scenery and lots of quality (big)science in the field!

Cheers,

Adam