1) What is your daily schedule like? Our schedules are based on the schedule of our experiments. While out in the field for example we will wake up at 4am. Then by 5am we will be sampling on the lakes, this will take around 2 hours and then the samples will be processed for the following 24 hours (this starts at 7:30 and ends the next morning at 7:30). So when you put your new samples in you retrieve yesterday’s samples and analyze them in the lab. Remember we are studying: salt (NaCl), bubble air (CO2 and O2), chlorophyll a (photosynthesis), bacteria (extremophiles) and the overall composition of the water sample. So that should take us into the night. Our group will have it worked out so that the three people who get up early go to bed a little earlier. Then the other two people will stay up until midnight running the samples until they are done.
2) What are you doing right now? Right now I am stationed at McMurdo still. This is the main lab station for all of the research done in this part of Antarctica (the other three stations are: South Pole, Palmer-in the peninsula, and Scott Base-which is a Kiwi only group). My job right now is to prepare for all of the bacteria runs that we will be doing out in the field. I am washing and labeling bottles, preparing gels for the bacteria to be grown on, and organizing for our flight to the dry valleys. Some members of my group have left for the dry valleys already, so right now I am in charge of all the preparations, which includes getting all of the needed food ready for flight. I should be headed toward Lake Bonney in one weeks time (weather dependent of course).
When I am lucky I get to go on hikes, the picture shown is from a recent hike to Castle Rock and after getting there I climbed up it (around 1,000 feet).
I am also working with another researcher here at McMurdo. We are looking at stream water (which flows into the lakes I will be studying). We are sampling the water and testing the amount of sediment that is suspended in it. The ecosystem here in the Dry Valleys is very co-dependent on all the variables. The glaciers melt into the streams which then flow into the lakes. This glacial flow represents the only nutrients that the lakes will be receiving all year, so it is all very important!
3) Is it colder then you expected? Right now it is still summer here in Antarctica, and the summer is much warmer then I expected. On a daily bases I am wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. When you go on hikes up Ob Hill for instance, then it gets a little colder and you want to have a parka and long underwear on, but for the most part it is warm here. By warm I mean around 20-25 degrees F. It will get much colder soon however, when winter comes in mid February the sun will go down and the temperature will drop significantly.
4) The animals that we see around McMurdo are Skuas (shown right, it feeds on krill and fish), seals (we are currently right on the sound so we can see the sea ice where the seals constantly break through and lay around on the ice) and, if you are lucky, Penguins! Penguins move around a lot so it is really hard to catch them around the sound. The last sighting of Penguins was around a week ago at 3am... I missed that one.
5) Will you see Penguins in the Dry Valleys? Hopefully not. The Dry Valleys are, remember, a desert. There is no liquid water there and no mammals besides humans can survive there. In short, like any desert, the poor animals (including humans) who are unlucky enough to get lost in the Dry Valleys, end up dying there. So the only penguins and seals I will find will be mummified specimens. (Which I will not touch or disturb because it is not a part of my research project and it is therefore prohibited.)
6) Do you like it in Antarctica? YES! I love it here, the people are amazing, the research is really interesting and life is really exciting. It is a hard life to get used to and it is important to make time to relax. Research is a full time job so we all have to work hard to make sure that we are stopping for the day eventually. We also have to make sure that we are going to sleep. No matter how awake you feel at midnight when the sun is still high in the sky and the air is cold on your face, you need to remind yourself that tomorrow will be just as beautiful, and you need your sleep. Also because we are in such a tight community lots of people are currently coming down with the flu. So we have to be really careful that we don't get sick. Sickness out in the field is horrible, and sickness here in McMurdo is not much better.
7) What do you eat? Unlike past explorers who had to resort to eating seal meat and their dogs to stave off scurvy, we are lucky here at McMurdo and there is never a shortage of food! Much of our food is flown in from New Zealand (or even brought in by ships like the Oden shown right), so our food is really good and fresh (mostly, out in the field it will be frozen and/or dried). However, when the flights are delayed it affects the food too. Also we have our own green house here, something I wasn't expecting. All of our fresh veggies are grown right here in Antarctica; of course we are very careful that no seeds or pollen escapes the green house area because that would contaminate this pristine environment.
8) When I head out to the Dry Valleys (in one week) I will stay there for around 5 days, then return to McMurdo to prepare for the next trip and investigate what we found on this current trip. Starting in February my group will begin to stay in the valleys for a month at a time and then return to McMurdo for a week. McMurdo itself shuts down in mid February because most people leave. My group of 14 scientists is the first one ever to stay in the dry valleys during the extended season until April 17.