Yesterday's Helicopter Ride From McMurdo To The Dry Valleys
A walk in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica feels what I'd imagine a walk on Mars might be like.
This is our camp at Lake Fryxell. This picture was taken at 2am on my way to bed. My tent is the one on the right.
We had a 3-mile hike this morning to get to Many Glaciers Pond, where we would be conducting our the P3 experiment.
Many Glaciers Pond which is in the Taylor Valley of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. This is the site of our P3 experiment.
The P3 Experiment Explained Clearly
P3 stands for the "Pulse Press Project". We are simulating permafrost melting to see the effects of microbes in the soil. The "Pulse" in the experiment is simulating a large change in the ecosystem. This plot gets water treatment every other year. It could be something like a hurricane. The "Press" is the gradual change that is happening. This is like climate change. This plot gets water treatment every year. The basic steps to this experiment include: pump water from the pond up into the large black tank at the top of the hill (like in the picture you see above), and use gravity to fill troughs dug into the side of the hill, above the plot to be studied.
Dr. Byron Adams explains the P3 experiment hypothesis as follows: "In addition to looking at how this affects the microbes in the soil, we think it first affects the soil chemistry (mobilizes salts and nutrients, as well as biota, moves them around, mixes them, makes the soil more homogenous), which then affects the microbes (like bacteria), which then influence higher trophic groups, like nematodes and tardigrades."
Our P3 site. Water is pumped from the pond, up to that water tank, purified, and put back onto the soil to simulate permafrost melting so see how the microscopic animals respond.
Watering the troughs in our P3 experiment plot area.
So why pump it up the hill, just to run it back down into the troughs? Well, prior to pouring the water into the troughs, it is sterilized using UV light so we would not be introducing organisms from the pond into our plots to study.
This is our UV water filter. We sterilize the pond water prior to application to our plot so we will not introduce pond microbes into the soil. This is adding one more "Controlled Variable" to our experiment.
The troughs are dug about 10 cm into the "active soil" (soil not frozen) down to the permafrost. Water then runs along the top of the permafrost, through the active layer, back into the pond. We then make observations in the plot receiving the water treatment. We took soils samples that will be taken back to McMurdo to check for nematodes and tardigrades. Soil temperature, salinity, and water content is also being monitored. We will return tomorrow to repeat the water treatments to the plots.
Hike to Commonwealth Glacier
Once the troughs were filled with water, we had an hour or so for that water to soak into the soil before we could add another treatment. I took advantage of this spare hour and took a run for the Commonwealth Glacier.
I am about halfway to the Commonwealth Glacier, which is in the background. Notice the flowing stream behind me I had to cross. The headwall of the Commonwealth is about 30 meters high.
This is the headwall (end of) the Commonwealth Glacier. This wall is about 30 meters. You don't want to get too close to this because big blocks of ice, known as seracs continually peel off the end of this and tumble down.
Ice formations at the bottom of the Commonwealth Glacier.
More scenery from the Commonwealth Glacier.
Lake Fryxell Hut "Family Time" and Tasty Dinner
We had a great dinner made by Dr. Jeb Barratt. He made us curry scallops and lentils. We meet in this hut, made plans for the day, use the microscope if needed, visit, and then head out to our tents to sleep. Notice the sun shining through the windows during our late night dinner.