Trapped by Julie

January 10th, 2008

I was supposed to leave Lake Hoare yesterday, but it will be at least tomorrow, if not later, before that happens. A large snowstorm, named ‘Julie’ for some reason beyond me, has been lumbering through the region. Here in the valley everything was dusted white yesterday, but most of that has melted and the winds have calmed. This is very nice place to be stranded, especially with the present company, but I’m very eager to get home to my family now that my research has concluded.

If the sun was out I could conduct some additional experiments. Of course, if the sun was out I could also go home. Since it is heavily overcast, we are left seeking other forms of passing the time, like watching movies, crossword puzzles (the Friday or Saturday NYT puzzles would have passed more time), and seeing what happens when you eat a lot of dried plums (not sure yet…).

The day before my scheduled departure, I got a farewell tour of all 3 major Dry Valleys to help Hassan with met station maintenance. It was really neat to see how different each valley is from the others, and we got to spend a lot of time in helicopters looking at cool stuff:


At the end of the day, I was treated to a wonderful oatmeal, chocolate chip, sweet, sweet cookie bar with a reproduction on top of my weir out of gingerbread as a going away celebration. It was oh-so-good, but left me with an odd sense of déjà vu:

this year last year

Creation & Destruction

December 31st, 2007

For Christmas, we made an amazing array of sugar cookies, and a very large gingerbread house.

2007_12_24: Christmas

Before Christmas, we did a series of exciting salt tracer experiments to measure the amount of surface flow and to see the storage of water in cryolakes. Part of that experiment required ‘channel maintenance’ – destruction of an ice dam on the stream.

Weird Science

December 31st, 2007

Today I got the opportunity to execute one of my clever science experiments. I’m not sure if it is going to work, but it was sure fun to install. Rae accompanied me today, and at different times I punched each of my legs through the ice and got both of my boots filled with water. I probably should have learned to always lead with the same leg over the sketchy bits. Still not as bad as Rae’s story of going in over her head one year.

Luckily my boots keep my feet plenty warm, even when filled with water. And it allowed me to not worry about getting my feet wet while splashing around in one of the streams flowing on the glacier. We chipped out a slot with ice axes and a drill with an 18″ long bit and installed a weir I had sawed out of plywood. The height of the water flowing through the notch in the weir can be related directly to the quantity of water flowing through, which is the quantity I am interested in. The finished job is a true engineering marvel, with a spillway, sandbags, and tie-downs. Working in ice was difficult and there still appeared to be some water flowing around the sides and under the bottom of the weir. It will be interesting to see what shape it is in after a few days. Filling sandbags with sand from the bottom of the stream channel taught me that I should bring some rubber gloves next time, rather than just my polypro liner gloves. Luckily it was an overcast day, and there wasn’t too much water in the stream. I can’t wait to see if this idea works. Even if it didn’t, it sure was fun putting in.

2007_12_31: Weir installation

Back in Antarctica

December 26th, 2007

Today it finally felt like we are really in Antarctica.  It was colder and cloudy, and I was truly cold for the first time this year.  The bad weather kept us from flying to Commonwealth Glacier for the 3rd time in the last week, but it wasn’t too bad to take a day trip up to Canada Glacier to see how our salt tracer works on a day without much flow.  The streams were much smaller (about 10% as much flow as last time), hardly more than trickles.  Still it was amazing there was water at all when the temperature was -4 C and the sky was totally overcast.  Our tracer experiments took much longer – 30 to 40 minutes for each run as opposed to the to 3-4 minutes last time.  We only got two runs in, but it was a useful exercise to see what it is going on up there on days like this.  I’d post some pictures, but they would just look like the other pictures but with everything looking flat and gray, and us looking colder with more clothes on.

The upside to this weather is that it is great for sleeping.  It actually feels like it is going to get dark tonight.  The tent will also be cool enough for me to sleep inside my sleeping bag. Speaking of which, I am going to go do.

Almost famous, pt. 2

December 25th, 2007

One of the more exciting events of late, other than Christmas, was the visit to Lake Hoare of one of the artists via the Antarctic Artist & Writers Program. Andrea Polli is a sound artist who made recordings of a whole variety of Antarctic noises while she was here, from the sounds of waterfalls off Canada Glacier to the noise of a gas-powered ice auger. One thing that was great about Andrea, as opposed to some of the other artists who have come through, is that she was genuinely interested in the details of all of our science projects. Another great thing was that she took a lot of nice hero shots of me using my FieldSpec 3 with my new hat on.

me and my toy me and my drill

She also worked with Hassan a lot recording, photographing, and videotaping various met. stations, and I believe her intent is to ’sonify’ that actual met. data – making wind speed one tone that varies as it’s windier or calmer, air temperature another tone, etc., something she has done with data from the Arctic.

While her work is not exactly front page news, it is still exciting to have her take an interest in our work. She has examples of her recordings on her blog at So for those of you not content in just seeing what Antarctica looks like, now you can find out what it sounds like. Apparently there is a recording of our cries of excitement as a helo flies away. Our internet connection is too slow to check it out, so let me know if I say anything stupid.

To everyone back home, have a wonderful Christmas!  Today was our recovery from a long day of cookie decorating, gingerbread house construction, ham eating, secret santa-ing, and general mayhem.  Though it’s hard to be away from family, this a very welcoming place to spend a holiday – and without the obnoxious ads and never ending holiday songs.  It was also probably warmer and sunnier than wherever you are.  I hope the big midwestern storms I read about have been manageable!

Research roundup!

December 22nd, 2007

Well, a lot has happened since we last spoke, both at home and here, so I haven’t had the chance to post much. Conditions stayed warm and wet for quite awhile before becoming very cloudy the last 2 days. Helos didn’t fly yesterday, and we are on weather hold still today, giving me time to write a post!

Before the weather turned we got to install 3 conductivity probes on supraglacial streams on Canada Glacier. The conductivity between liquid water and frozen ice is different so theoretically we should be able to see when the water flow starts and stops. Additionally, we have environmental clearance to use table salt as a chemical tracer to add to the streams. We can use it to measure the amount of streamflow flowing in these streams (which I can compare my model against), and also to explore the connectivity of subsurface passages between cryoconite holes. We plan to do that work after Christmas, but the probes are installed and ready to go. We found an extremely beautiful little basin with a pretty little pond we have dubbed the “Blue Lagoon.” Photos of the installation are here:

2007_12_17:Canada Glacier – conductivity install

and here:

2007_12_18: Canada Conductivity Install 2

Following this, we flew up to Taylor Glacier, which was a lot of fun to revisit, since I spent my first season there and I have been running my model for Taylor this last year. What was neat about our visit there was how much water was even at that location. I’d had the impression that you don’t find much water on Taylor except down in the lower channels. We saw a lot of soft, wet ice and running streams way up by the met. station. The photos aren’t as interesting as some of the other albums, but they are scientifically intriguing!

2007_12_19: Taylor Glacier water and ice

The last thing I have been up to is playing with my big fancy FieldSpec 3 that I received the opportunity to use through the Alexander Goetz Instrument Support Program that the manufacturer, ASDI, conducts. It’s basically an $80,000 instrument that measures the energy distribution of light across all the different colors and into the infrared. I’ve annotated some samples of my measurements explaining how I am trying to use it here:

Glacier radiation measurements with FieldSpec 3

I don’t have any photos of the instrument in action yet, because I am always the one operating it, but I’ll be sure to get some at some point. It looks a lot like the Ghostbusters’ getup, and we alternatively refer to it as the ‘proton pack’ or the ‘raygun.’

I’ve accomplished a lot so far, but so much still left to do. The Christmas festivities will be starting soon, but once they are complete I’ll be spending a lot of time at the Blue Lagoon with the salt tracer experiments and measuring streamflow on top of the glacier. I’ve got some thermistors to calibrate, so I’d better get on.

In search of wet holes

December 16th, 2007

Yesterday was my first day on a glacier in a year. The warm weather has continued – we know it was 4 deg. C at one point, plus there was constant sunshine and not much of a wind. All together these made for conditions unlike any I have experienced down here. You could say it was almost too hot at times – like hiking uphill in Colorado when it’s 40 degrees and sunny. The effect of all this warmth was to make the entire glacier surface turn into wet ice, mushy ice, streams, ponds, and waterfalls. This, too, was unlike anything I have seen down here. It was amazingly pretty to see the variety of blues, whites, and greys and to see so much movement of water, bubbles, and slush on an otherwise static landscape.

Contemplating a swim
Our purpose for traversing Canada Glacier was to scout out locations for a series of experiments having to do with the heating of the ice and the formation and movement of meltwater, as well as collect some cryoconite hole samples for Liz. She had sampled dozens of holes for chemical analysis early in the season, and is not in search of wet holes to determine how the chemistry changes once liquid water is introduced to the system.
Today is a rest day, but since we just got to the field 2 days ago, we will be using it as an instrument prep day and to get organized for a busy week It’s been odd with all this warmth and wetness – though everything feels familiar, I feel like I am in a totally different place – a bizarro Taylor Valley, if you will. Even sleeping in the tent seems off when I am using less blankets and feel hotter than I do sleeping in our bed at home. Best enjoy it – I could be whining about the cold in a few days.

More photos here:

2007-12-15: Canada Glacier

Laying on Warm Spit

December 14th, 2007

We arrived at Lake Hoare today, and it feels like I never left. The timelessness of this type of traveling is strange, but it certainly makes it much easier – no wasted time adjusting or getting settled. It’s fun to see people again, and everyone told me congratulations and seemed very excited about the existence of Penelo. I don’t quite understand why, but I enjoy it because I get to talk about her and show pictures.

One big difference from last year is how amazingly warm it is here at this time of year. I spent most of the afternoon walking around and setting up my tent in my t-shirt. I’m sure there will be cold days, but being here midsummer will be a totally different experience than my previous seasons. The mild weather is quite nice, but the flipside is everything is wet. The other big difference is I chose a different tent site! This one is in the thick of things and has wonderful views in all directions out on Warm Spit.

It’s nice to finally be here – we will head up on Canada Glacier tomorrow already and scout out locations for all my experiments. Time for bed!

Almost famous

December 7th, 2006

We’ve hit the big time now! The Vanguard, the Portland State University newspaper, featured a story on the school’s Antarctic researchers, myself included. I guess the article was published 2 weeks ago, but we are a little behind the times down here.


Being back in McMurdo is like being in a strange Purgatory. The exhaustion of coming out of the field has hit me (even though this season was much less exhausting than last). Taking a hot shower, wearing clean clothes, and sleeping on a bed really bring out the tired in ya. What is strange about McMurdo is passing through. I am only here 3 days (hopefully). I have some administrative stuff to do like returning gear (which I have largely finished already) and that’s about it. There is so much going on here – people to talk to, science lectures to attend, live music to hear, cosmic bowling to be bowled – that I feel like the country mouse coming to the big city for the first time. However being here for such a short time, it seems hardly worth it to inject myself into town life. So instead I am trying to reflect on the season, avoid catching a cold from the germy masses, finish a book, and slowly decrease my caloric intake. So being here isn’t as nice as being in the field or being in New Zealand, but with the right attitude, it can be an enjoyable stop en route. Oh – and having a bedroom with a window helps.

Happy Birthday!

December 6th, 2006

Last night was my last night at Lake Hoare (we fly out in a few hours). It is quite sad to go, as the place and the people have really grown on me. We have a nice quiet camp right now, with just Sandra, Rae, Joel, and Becki, besides Hassan and I. I was in the lab all afternoon yesterday processing ice cores, but everyone else was apparently very busy inside, making me an amazing goodbye cake. It was truly a group effort, with Sandra making the cake and frosting it as a glacier, Rae adding Blood Falls with red food coloring, Joel adding a network of ablation stakes (including a horizontal cliff stake!), Becki contributing the blue ice of refrozen crevasses and cryoconite holes, and Hassan adding the infamous Explorer’s Cove Met Station out of wire with me standing behind it with my core barrel on my back. There also is a fantastic likeness of an unused human waste bucket I had strapped to the cliff behind my tent to collect water melting off the cliff face (the gray thing to the right of Blood Falls). I had no idea that the highlights of my 5 weeks here could be condensed onto a single cake, but they managed to pull it off (everything but the nachos).

Anyway, the cake was as tasty as it was narrative, and it was a very meaningful goodbye present. In fact, I think I am going to go have some more right now…