Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Change in Scenery and a Change in the Weather

Picture 1: Snowfall at the Lake Hoare campsite 
Picture 2: View of snowfall looking up-valley of he Lake
Hoare Campsite. 
As the saying goes, all good things must eventually come to an end.  The good news is I finished my second diurnal (24 hour) sampling of Anderson Creek.  However, the weather has been slowly getting colder by the day, which has definitely lowered streamflow in the area.  It’s been really interesting to watch this steady downward progression in temperature (the average daily high temperature is now in the low 20s instead of low 30s).  While some of it is due to the frequent cloudy skies of late, it is ultimately the result of the decrease in solar radiation as we move away from the austral summer solstice.  It’s pretty amazing to experience firsthand an environment slowly shutting itself down for the season.

Two nights ago, I woke up in my tent to the sound of howling winds. It’s a little disconcerting when you feel your tent shaking, but the wind was then followed by a sound which made it seem like the tent was being pelted by sand. I unzipped the tent door to discover it was snowing (Pictures 1&2)! I was supposed to be taking a helicopter ride to my next field site, but the helicopters that transport scientists to different locations throughout the Dry Valleys do not operate in these conditions. This delay was actually a welcome relief in some ways as it let me stay an extra day at the Lake Hoare campsite. I really enjoyed my time there, especially solving crossword puzzles with Rae and Rene during our free time.  They run a great camp that is a welcome reprieve from sampling.

Picture 3: View of the upstream portion of the Von Guerard 

watershed. Crescent Glacier is located to the right..
Yesterday, the weather improved and my helicopter arrived and transported me to my second field site F6.  Here, I will be sampling Van Guerard stream for its suspended sediment concentrations as well.  As an addition to the study, I’ll also be collecting separate samples for a colleague who is interested in determining the amount of atmospheric pollutants from other parts of the world that make their way down here and are deposited on glaciers.

There are some differences between Van Guerard and Anderson streams. The former is a much longer river whose source waters are from two glaciers instead of one (Crescent Glacier and an unnamed glacier to its east) (Picture 3).   

Picture 4: View of water tracks in the Dry Valleys.
There are also differences between the campsites. F6 is a lot more crowded than Lake Hoare, as there are many different research teams working in the area (16 people as I write this).  I was introduced to members of one group who call themselves the wormherders. These individuals are researching nematodes, small roundworms that live in Antarctic soils in the Dry Valleys. The nemotodes graze on yeast, bacteria, fungi and the microscopic life in the soil. The scientists are studying whether increasing the amount of carbon, phosphorus, and/or nitrogen will lead to an increase in food for the nemotodes and affect their overall metabolism. Another group is using the area as a base camp for studying water tracks along the surface of the soils (Picture 4). These features are superficial landforms that are created by the downslope movement of water originating from groundwater seeps. The ground water is ultimately sourced from the seasonal melting of permafrost, glaciers, and snow.

Picture 5: View of the F6 campsite with its many tents.
While many people in tight shared quarters can potentially lead to tension, everyone here has clearly made the best of the situation. We all chip in with the cooking and chores. There also appears to be a morning tradition of everyone participating in a group version of Wii’s Just Dance to get the blood flowing after a cold night.  Needless to say I didn’t do so well on the first day but I enjoyed myself.