Research Update

It has been a whirlwind week here at B518. We went out on a helicopter flight again today. This time we flew to the continent of Antarctica. Up until now we have been collecting samples around Ross Island, but today we went to Lake Frixell, which is in the Dry Valleys.

The Dry Valleys

The Dry Valleys are to the west of Ross Island, on the continent of Antarctica. They stand out on the map below, since they are not covered in ice. BV and F mark their location.

A map of Ross Island and Dry Valleys
The map indicates all the sampling sites where we are collecting sediment: M marks the McMurdo Station sites, R marks Cape Royds, B marks Cape Bird, F marks Lake Fryxell and BV marks the Barwick Valley. Map courtesy of USGS.

The Dry Valleys are the largest region without ice in Antarctica. As you may imagine, they are a desert biome with extremely cold temperatures and a dry climate. The dry conditions in the area are similar to Mars as well as an ancient Earth and scientists visit the area to better understand past changes in climate.

Lake Fryxell

Our team flew into Lake Fryxell (labeled F on the map above) to collect sediment samples. Lake Fryxell is located between the Canada GlacierA mass of ice that persists for many years and notably deforms and flows under the influence of gravity. and the Commonwealth GlacierA mass of ice that persists for many years and notably deforms and flows under the influence of gravity. at the bottom of the Taylor Valley. It is a facility zone, which means humans have been visiting the area to do research. Because humans have been here, we are collecting sediments to track the impact they have had on the land.

The camp at Lake Fryxell
The camp at Lake Fryxell has tents, science buildings, as well as a shelter for meals.

Lake Fryxell is 4.5 kilometers long and sits near the research camp. The lake is rising, so the camp will be moved to a higher location.

SamplingSampling refers to the process of selecting units or portions of a larger group that will be studied in order to answer questions about the larger group. The units can be people, water samples, ice cores, or any other appropriate object. Participants will explore the meaning of sampling and how it impacts experimental design and explore factors that define and limit sampling in the variety of projects visited during the expedition. They will consider how results from the chosen samples are used to describe the bigger target of a project's study. Time

Our team has become quite efficient at gathering sediment samples. Carl locates the sampling sites using a backpack with the GPSA Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system used to track the location or position of objects on the Earth’s surface.. Terry, Steve and I collect and record measurements at each sampling site and Andrew collects sediment samples.

Sediment sampling at Lake Fryxell
From left to right: Andrew Klein organizes sampling jars, Steve Sweet and Terry Palmer review data and Carl Green prepares to locate sampling sites at Lake Fryxell.

Michelle Brown probing soil depth.
Michelle Brown determines the depth of the sediment level at a sampling site while Carl Green locates the next sampling location.

Time for a Hike

Since we collected our samples so quickly, we had time to hike around the area. Andrew and I hiked out to the Canada GlacierA mass of ice that persists for many years and notably deforms and flows under the influence of gravity..

Canada Glacier
The Canada Glacier flows down toward Taylor Valley and Lake Fryxell.

First we hiked out onto the frozen lake. The ice on the lake was beautiful, but slippery!

Ice at Lake Fryxell
The ice in Lake Fryxell had cool patterns in between the cracks.

We discovered a narrow trail to hike on. It is important to stay off the soil and stay on the trails and ice in the area. This is because there are microorganisms living in the soil. Stepping on the soil could harm this delicate ecosystem.

Andrew at Lake Fryxell
Andrew Klein hikes toward the glacier at Lake Fryxell.

Science on the Trail

While hiking, we came across a stream gauge. This stream gauge measures the stream stage (the water level of the stream) in 15 minute intervals. From this information, the discharge, or streamflow of the stream can be calculated using a mathematical relationship called a rating.

Stream gauge
A stream gauge near the Canada Glacier helps measure the flow of the stream which empties into Lake Fryxell.

I could hear the water melting from the glacier and flowing downstream as we hiked. The melting water forms streams that head towards Lake Fryxell.

Up to the GlacierA mass of ice that persists for many years and notably deforms and flows under the influence of gravity.

After passing the stream gauge, I headed towards the glacier. It towered over me and I was amazed at how large the river of ice was.

Michelle near Canada Glacier
Michelle Brown stands near the Canada Glacier.

We hiked back to the Lake Fryxell shelter just in time to get on the helicopter back to McMurdo Station.

Meet Mikey!

While we were at Lake Fryxell, we ran into Mikey Johnson. I had met Mikey back in New Zealand when we were all flying to McMurdo Station together. He is a technician who helps conduct research on the streams here. Mikey and his team are part of the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-Term Ecological Research program. Their team monitors streams over time to help better understand how they are changing.

Mikey Johnson
Mikey Johnson stands in front of the Lake Fryxell shelter.

Life in Antarctica

Art is all around McMurdo Station, even hiding under bridges. This welded bridge troll is an example of the eccentric art at McMurdo Station.

Bridge troll
A metal bridge troll guards the bridge between the galley and science labs at McMurdo Station.

Brought to you by...

Today's journal is brought to you by the Ms. Maroncelli's class at Nittany Valley Charter School in State College, PA.

Brought to you by Ms. Maroncelli's class.
Today's journal is brought to you by Ms. Maroncelli's class from Nittany Valley Charter School in State College, PA.

Lake Fryxell
Weather Summary
27 F
Wind Speed
17 knots
Wind Chill
13 F


Ethan Baldonado

Mr. Steve are you proud of your beard.

Angelina Frank

Why did you chose to research in Antarctica? From reading your journals I read that Dry Valley has the same conditions as mars. How do you know that?

Jordan Broadhurst

Do you get used to the cold weather, or is it always cold.

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Jordan,
The temperatures range somewhat--in early November it was a lot colder and
now as we're heading towards solstice (for you, it's winter solstice--the
shortest day of the year, for us it's summer solstice, the longest day of
the year) the temperatures are getting warmer! So it isn't always cold. But
you do actually get used to colder weather here, plus you have lots of
layers to keep you warm!

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Angelina,
The first time I came down here in 2011, I wanted to come to Antarctica to
learn about science here and work with a research team. Antarctica also
seems like an exciting, extreme place and I like getting to explore
interesting places. This time I was invited to come back--so Antarctica
chose me more than I chose it! I'm thankful that you are reading journals
carefully and noticed my point that the Dry Valleys are similar to Mars.
What is cool about science is that often times we don't know things for
sure, but have educated guesses based on measurements or observations. We
know that Mars is very dry--scientists have found very little water on the
planet using satellites and rovers to detect it. We also know that besides
the poles, Mars does not have lots of ice covering it, like the Dry
Valleys. Mars is also very cold-- the average temperature is about -81
degrees F. Of course that too was measured remotely using satellites and
rovers. Those are just some of the reasons why the Dry Valleys is a good
proxy for Mars. Asking the question "how do you know that?" is one of the
best scientific questions you can ask! Keep doing that!

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Ethan,

I asked Steve about his beard for you, and here's what he said: "I'm not
sure if proud is the correct term, but I do like having a beard. I grow it
out when I go to Antarctica to keep my face and neck warm. When I was
younger the beard was light red instead of white as it is now. It is nice
to have a nice white beard this time of year!"