Looking Down.

There are few things that I expected of Antarctica; one was that I would see things, while looking up, that I have never seen before. I was right about that and when I first arrived in the Dry Valleys my eyes were glued to the mountain ranges and glaciers. For the past few blogs I have attempted to convey some of the wonders of these landscapes, from Mt Erebus to the ice bergs floating at sea, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the astounding wonder of all the things there are to see closer to the ground . In short, Antarctica is one of those few places on earth where looking down can be just as interesting as looking up—here’s why.

I work on lakes in the Dry Valleys. Every day we are walking across frozen lakes to get out to the Polar Haven, where we do research. Sometimes we can find clumps of agal mats (shown left and below) that represent the life that survives underneath the ice of Lake Chad. These algal mats float to the surface of the lakes during the Antarctic summer when Lake Chad is finally ice free.
The texture of the ice on each of the lakes is so different that it is almost possible to discern which lake you are on solely by looking down at the lake ice. Parts of Bonney and all of Chad are so glassy that you can see down to the rocks that scatter the bottom of the lakes. They also have hidden caves in the layers of ice, which make walking treacherous to the unaware, but which also turn the lake into a mysterious land of secret forts and hideaways.
In the Polar Haven we use niskins (tube-like bottles that catch water only from one certain depth) and winches to gather our samples. Looking down through the hole in the lake ice (which is around 3-4 meters thick) we can see water frothing as instruments are lowered down and when we look closely we can see the sediment trapped in the bubbles in the ice.
The wind howls through the valleys at such speeds that rocks and glaciers alike are carved and molded into ventifacts that scatter the ground and the sides of mountains. These huge sculptures are shaped by the wind that howls through the valleys whipping our faces and freezing uncovered fingers. Smaller stones also cover the desert ground and occasionally flurries of snow whip through creating a thin blanket of white on all of the surfaces.

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