The team at work extracting nematodes from the soil samples. Left to right: Josh Heward, Andy Thompson, Scott George, Byron Adams. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

The team at work extracting nematodes from the soil samples. Left to right: Josh Heward, Andy Thompson, Scott George, Byron Adams. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

With our short field season in McMurdo already drawing to a close, the team is having a busy time in the Crary Lab in McMurdo. Collecting the samples from the Dry Valleys is only the first step of our job. Down here, most of our working time – actually, most of our time awake – is spent in the lab. Our main tasks after the field missions consist in extracting* and identifying the invertebrates from the soil samples, and running analyses on the physical and chemical properties of the soil. Then, after entering and proofing all the data we have collected into electronic format, we prepare the biological and soil samples for storage and shipping to our labs in the States. Finally, after all work is done, we store our equipment and unused disposables for next year, do a thorough inventory for both our own and the Crary Lab staff’s records, and clear the lab.

With this busy agenda it is easy sometimes to forget the broader picture, but almost daily we have a meeting to keep track of the season’s objectives, and update each other on the progress with the specific tasks. We also find the time to talk about the science – many a fertile idea for a new study has sprung from conversations during mealtime or at the coffee bar.

Scottnema lindsayae left) and Eudorylaimus sp. right) extracted from Dry Valleys soil. Can you identify the sex of this Scottnema? Photo by: Byron Adams.

Adult Scottnema lindsayae left) and juvenile Eudorylaimus sp. right) extracted from Dry Valleys soil. Can you identify the sex of this Scottnema? Photo by: Byron Adams.

Some of our team members may have never seen a live nematode under the microscope before coming here, but by the end of the first or second week all of us are able to identify the nematodes from the Dry Valleys. By the end of the season, some of us will have counted several thousands of nematodes, plus a few rotifers and tardigrades. It is not at all an unpleasant or dull task – to some of us it’s the best part of the whole process (after the field trips). Not only is there life in the soils of the Dry Valleys, but there is also beauty – or at least, interesting action. Check out these two short videos that Josh, our PolarTrec associate, has taken of a rotifer and a tardigrade.

And here is a time-lapse photography video of the team extracting animals from the soil, also by Josh.

 

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As we have recently highlighted, plans in Antarctica often change due to the vagaries of the weather. Last week, after taking samples and treating experimental plots near Lake Bonney and South Side Lake Hoare, we were supposed to spend just one night in Lake Hoare camp – the main field camp in the Dry Valleys and one of our favourite places. But the next day all helicopter flights were cancelled due to poor weather, so we had to postpone our trip to sample an experiment and stay at the camp for at least another night. This gave us the chance to go on a hike to one of the most scenic places in the Dry Valleys. Along the way we encountered some remarkable signs of life – and death.

Walking along the Seuss Glacier in Taylor Valley. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

Walking along the Seuss Glacier in Taylor Valley. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

  • A mummified seal on the lakeshore
    Every now and then, seals and penguins stray from the vicinity of the ice shelf into the Dry Valleys. It usually doesn’t end well for them. There are many seal remains in the valleys, some well preserved due to the cold and dry conditions. Some are centuries old; some may be as old as the human-made mummies from ancient Egypt. One dead seal we saw close to our path during the hike, however, struck us as special for an altogether different reason: on the lake sediment behind its tail, we saw a trail of green and red. The decay of the unfortunate seal fertilized the sediment around it, allowing living algae and cyanobacteria to flourish and become visible to the naked eye. The fuel of this freshwater hotspot (the seal’s remains) came from the ocean, an example of what we ecologists call a resource subsidy.
A partly decayed, mummified seal from Lake Hoare. Photo by Walter Andriuzzi

A partly decayed, mummified seal from Lake Hoare. Photo by :Walter Andriuzzi

Life out of death - the bloom of life near the mummified seal. Photo by: Josh Heward

Life out of death – a dead seal provided a supply of much-needed nutrients to the microorganisms in Lake Hoare. Photo by: Josh Heward

  • A dead penguin and a hungry skua
    Near the Seuss Glacier, we saw another unfortunate marine animal – a rather fresh dead penguin lying on the shore. To our surprise, on our way back we found it a few meters away from its original position. A few scattered feathers all around, different from those of the penguin, gave away the culprit: a young skua which we had seen flying over our heads not long before. Skuas are large predatory seagulls with a particular taste for penguin entrails, but this seasoned penguin proved unpalatable even for the skua. The young bird will not find anything to its liking in Taylor Valley – unless scientists drop their guard long enough for the skua to steal their snacks, as sometimes happens at McMurdo base.
Mummified penguin on Lake Hoare shore near the Seuss Glacier. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

Dead penguin on Lake Hoare shore near the Seuss Glacier. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

  • The thousand-year old lichen
    Not far from the seal we found one of the largest lichens we have seen out there, at over 10 cm across. Since lichens in Taylor Valley have been found to grow less than one millimeter per century, this one must have started its growth at least one thousand years ago. This makes it older than most living organisms you will ever see, including some of the biggest trees.
A thousand-year old lichen in Taylor Valley. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

A thousand-year old lichen in Taylor Valley. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

It took us a couple of hours to get from Lake Hoare camp to the Seuss Glacier, one of several alpine glaciers in Taylor Valley. Courtesy of the cloudy sky, we could admire its jagged, rugged shapes without being dazzled by the albedo. But as impressive as its stalactites and column of ice were, the glacier was not our real destination today.

A large ventifact in Taylor Valley. Photo by Walter Andriuzzi.

A large ventifact in Taylor Valley. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

After a rather demanding trek over loose, sandy surface on a steep hillside, we reached our destination. In an expanse of sand incessantly swept by cold wind, overlooking the frozen cascade of the Seuss Glacier coming down from the mountain, we saw boulders standing out against the bleak sky. Instead of the curved or angular boulders typical of glacial landscapes, these come in shapes that would befit a sci-fi movie. This martian landscape is near Andrew’s Ridge in Taylor Valley and is a great place to see ventifacts, rocks wrought into peculiar shapes by the abrasive action of the wind-transported sand.

It took us almost four hours of walk to reach this place, and almost three hours to get back. On our return to Lake Hoare camp, after enjoying a wonderful meal prepared by camp manager Rae Spain and Renee Noffke, we were understandably tired, and eager to crawl into our sleeping bags! The next day there will be work to be done.

The soils team and friends at Lake Hoare Camp. Left to right, top row: Jeb Barrett, Ashley Shaw, Diana Wall, Walter Andriuzzi, Byron Adams, Matt Hedin, Josh Heward, Kelli Feeser; bottom row: Scott George, Andy Thompson, Ross Virginia, Kathy Welch, Renee Noffke, Melisa Diaz, Rae Spain. Photo by: Scott George

Soils team and friends at Lake Hoare Camp. Left to right, top row: Jeb Barrett, Ashley Shaw, Diana Wall, Walter Andriuzzi, Byron Adams, Matt Hedin, Josh Heward, Kelli Feeser; bottom row: Scott George, Andy Thompson, Ross Virginia, Kathy Welch, Renee Noffke, Melisa Diaz, Rae Spain. Photo by: Scott George

Written by: Walter Andriuzzi

Ice is an artist generous with its sculptures. Beyond audience or applause, it creates in profusion for only one reason – that it has need to create.
Jay Griffiths, British writer

Some of nature’s most spectacular works of art are made by ice. What better place to see them than Antarctica, the frozen continent? Below are some highlights of icy art that we were lucky enough to see in and nearby the Dry Valleys.

 

A rare 360° sun halo above Garwood Valley. Picture by: Walter Andriuzzi

A rare full sun halo above Garwood Valley. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

The first piece in our gallery was made by the collective effort of millions, billions of tiny artists: ice crystals in the atmosphere refract the sunlight and create a faint rainbow ring around the sun.

 

Blue and white ice in the McMurdo Sound. Picture by: Walter Andriuzzi

Mazes of blue and white ice in the McMurdo Sound. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

Most of the ice we see in Antarctica is white (duh!), but as we go to our field sites we often fly over mazes of blue ice in the McMurdo Sound. Blue ice is formed when snow falls on the ice, gets compressed under its own weight, and loses air bubbles, and the ice crystals then expand.

 

Lake Bonney, beautifully frozen. Photo by: Andy Thompson

Lake Bonney, beautifully frozen. Photo by: Andy Thompson

Blue ice can sometimes be seen also in the lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, as in Lake Bonney in the picture above, taken in November 2014. Here you can see the air bubbles, and even the ripples on the water surface, perfectly frozen.

 

Ice stalagmites stalactites on the edge of Canada Glacier, in Taylor Valley. Italian scientist for scale. Picture by: Summer Xue

Ice stalagmites stalactites on the edge of Canada Glacier, in Taylor Valley. Italian scientist for scale. Photo by: Summer Xue

The glaciers in the Dry Valleys are huge monsters of ice, and their fangs are fittingly impressive, easily taller than a person. If you prefer a more peaceful analogy, you may think of them as meditative giants, whose thoughts emerge as music – the dripping and cracking of melting ice.

 

Freeze-dried cyanobacterial mats on a frozen lake surface. Photo by: Andy Thompson

Freeze-dried cyanobacterial mats on a frozen lake surface. Photo by: Andy Thompson

Our last piece is courtesy of a collaboration between ice and life: freeze-dried cyanobacterial mats on the surface of a frozen lake. These formations of microbial and algal biofilms (plus entrapped sediment) are only active for a few weeks per year in the Dry Valleys, when it’s warm enough for liquid water. During the long Antarctic winter, when it’s too cold and dark for photosynthesis, they enter a freeze-dried state to survive. How long can they keep it up? Nobody knows, but at the very least for two decades. And once water comes back, they can reactivate within mere hours.

***

The beauty of ice is one of the big attractions of Antarctica. However, beauty may conceal danger. Last week, scientists working elsewhere in Antarctica found that an immense iceberg, as big as the US state of Delaware, is almost ready to break away from western Antarctica. Events such as this will become ever more frequent under climate change, and their cumulative consequences will reach far beyond Antarctica, contributing to the global sea level rise that we are already witnessing.

Written by: Walter Andriuzzi

Today we divided up into two teams: one to go to Beacon and Wright Valleys to collect soil samples and another to go to F6 near Lake Fryxell in Taylor Valley to maintain experiments and apply treatments. Sometimes things go as planned, and sometimes they just don’t.

First, the Plan A that didn’t happen.

Working in Antarctica comes with many challenges. One of the top unpredictable hazards that we deal with daily is weather. Since we travel from McMurdo Station by helicopter, and pilots fly by line of sight, unclear weather conditions keep us grounded. If there is too much wind or fog or clouds, we often cannot get to our field sites. But, we have spent much time carefully planning and then crafting backup plans for our plans. We are also prepared to be flexible and to keep our expectations in check.

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We were not able to go to field sites in Beacon and Wright Valleys today due to weather, but we were able to substitute Hjorth Hill and Many Glaciers Pond in Taylor Valley.

Today was a great example of plans going awry and then a backup plan coming into play. We were scheduled to fly to some of the more remote dry valleys at high elevation (including Beacon Valley and Wright Valley) to collect soil samples. However, we got word early this morning that low clouds had moved in, making flying there impossible. We quickly implemented a backup plan, trading tomorrow’s plans for today’s plans. So instead of flying to the high elevation valleys, we traveled to our nearby field sites: Hjorth Hill and Many Glaciers Pond in Taylor Valley. There, we collected moss and soil samples and checked on some experimental plots.

 

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Andy Thompson collecting samples at Hjorth Hill. He’s standing on a snow pack that is covering up a stream bed. Photo by: Ashley Shaw

It wasn’t what we’d planned to do today, but it was still a successful day of Antarctic fieldwork!

And the Plan A that did happen.

Meanwhile, the rest of our team went to F6, in Taylor Valley, to maintain the Stoichiometry experiment, one of our main experiments in the Dry Valleys. Cold is only one of the challenges that soil organisms in this ecosystem face, another big one being the limited amounts of carbon and nutrients. With the Stoichiometry experiment we seek to find out which elements are most limiting to the soil organisms of the Dry Valleys. To do this we add carbon, water, nutrients, or combinations to the soil, which requires hand-carrying relatively heavy carboys from the nearby camp to the experimental plots, and applying them to their respective plots. The soils team at F6 carried out the task well – despite one of them still having stiff legs from the marathon!

Written by Ashley Shaw and Walter Andriuzzi

Every January, McMurdo Station hosts the McMurdo Marathon (half and full). The race is run on the ice shelf near Ross Island. This is near the airfields where the LC-130 planes (the ones that brought us here) land.

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Josh Heward and Byron Adams in front of Ivan the Terrabus. They are ready to run! Photo by: Ashley Shaw

The McMurdo Marathon began in 1995 with just 2 participants. This year two of our team members, Ashley Shaw and Byron Adams, ran the half marathon, and Josh Heward ran the full marathon. On Sunday morning, we got up early and boarded Ivan the Terrabus, who transported us to the starting line. About 70 runners, bikers, and skiers were on board, ready to race to the finish line. The day was chilly, 24°F, and the wind was blowing hard.

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Ashley is ready to run. Runners lined up at starting line on the right. Photo by: Byron Adams

At the starting line, we had a few minutes to pull on extra layers of clothes and to stash our extra gear. Then, with the sounding of Ivan’s horn, we were off. The race course was out-and-back (or, in the case of the full marathon, out-and-back-and-out-and-back). We ran 6.55 miles on the snow road to a turn around point and then returned to the start line.

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An unusual participant… Photo by: Josh Heward

The first 6.55 miles we ran straight into the wind. The road was full of ruts, snow drifts, and ice patches. The day was cloudy, with a flat light, making it impossible to see details in the ice or anything but a flat white road. The returning 6.55 miles, the wind was at our backs.

After the race, we got into the dunk tank – a huge tank full of freezing cold seawater, fresh from the Ross Sea. This is supposed to help remove lactic acid from muscles. Wow, it was painful!

We were all pumped up after finishing the Antarctic race! It was a race day unlike any other!

Written by: Ashley Shaw

After a couple of days on hold due to the unpredictable Antarctic weather, today we made it to the field. We split into two teams: Diana, Byron, Josh, and Andy went to Miers Valley, while Ross, Ashley, Walter, Scott, and Matt went to Garwood Valley. The main objective was the same: collect soil samples from elevation transects above the glacial lakes at the bottom of both valleys. This will allow us to find out, firstly, how soil organisms vary in their abundance and diversity as the soil gets farther from the lakes and therefore drier; and secondly, by comparing this year’s data with those we collected in the previous years, to find out how the soil organisms vary in time. Ultimately the aim is to understand how some life forms can make a living in the very challenging conditions of the McMurdo Dry Valleys.

We are often asked how tough fieldwork in Antarctica is. The answer is that working out there can indeed be pretty tough – the cold wind, the UV-packed sunrays, having to hike on fickle terrain –but the rewards are enormous, and not only for the science. Very few places anywhere on the planet can rival the Dry Valleys in terms of grandeur of the scenery. Mountains as tall as the Rockies of Colorado stand behind glaciers taller than the Great Wall of China, and yet they are both made small by the sheer vastness of the place. To the naked eye the place looks barren, but this is one of the key ingredients of its beauty. And as often is the case with nature, this appearance of lifelessness is deceiving.

Ross, Ashley, Matt, and Scott wait for the return helicopter in Garwood Valley. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

Ross, Ashley, Matt, and Scott wait for the return helicopter in Garwood Valley. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

Garwood Valley, pictured above, is one of the very first sites in the Antarctic Dry Valleys that Ross and Diana went to in 1989, even before the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecological Research project was started. Back then, the soils of the Dry Valleys were thought to be sterile, like an enclave of Mars right here on Earth. Well, they are not: as Diana and Ross first found out, and as amply documented by their team in the following 27 years of research, the soils of the McMurdo Dry Valleys host a small yet surprisingly diverse array of very tough critters. Microscopic animals such as nematode worms, rotifers, tardigrades, and in few places springtails (close relative of insects), can and do survive in this ecosystem, and even contribute to the cycling of carbon and nutrients.

Scottnema lindsayae, the most abundant animal in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Photo by: Byron Adams

Scottnema lindsayae, the most abundant animal in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Photo by: Byron Adams

In the next couple of weeks we are going to collect samples and maintain experiments in several locations in the Dry Valleys. We’ll experience some intense cold, we may get sunburnt or wind-burnt, and afterwards we’ll work late into the evening in the laboratory – but it will all be worth it.

Written by: Walter Andriuzzi

This season in Antarctica we will be writing blog posts to share our experiences with you. We will be talking about our science, lab & field work, showing what life is like in Antarctica, and answering questions.

View of the helo pad and sea ice from the NSF Chalet at McMurdo Station. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

View of the helo pad and sea ice from the NSF Chalet at McMurdo Station. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

But, before we dive in to all that, let’s get introduced!

Who are you?  We work together with a group of scientists who study life on the edge of existence in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. On the ice we are known as the “Soil Team,” “C507,” (which is our science event number, like an ID number), or the “Wormherders” (we study nematode worms). The team this year includes: Dr. Diana Wall (CSU), Dr. Byron Adams (BYU), Dr. Ross Virginia (Dartmouth), Dr. Jeb Barrett (VT), Dr. Walter Andriuzzi (CSU), Ashley Shaw (CSU), Andy Thompson (BYU), Scott George (BYU), Josh Heward (PolarTrec), and Matt Hedin (VT).For the 2017 field season, both Walter Andriuzzi and Ashley Shaw will be writing these blog posts for our team. Walter is a post doc and Ashley is a PhD student in Diana Wall’s lab at Colorado State University. You can also find some very cool updates on Josh’s blog, Tough Tardigrades.

What are the McMurdo Dry Valleys? The McMurdo Dry Valleys are one of the coldest and windiest places on the planet. There are no vascular plants, no mammals, no birds, and no fish, who call this place home. There can be cyanobacteria mats or moss in moist places. The largest life forms are microscopic animals called nematodes, tardigrades, rotifers, mites, and collembolans. These animals inhabit soil, moss, and algae. But, we’ll talk more about all the life in the dry valleys later.

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View of the Commonwealth Glacier and Lake Fryxell (on left) from a helicopter in Taylor Valley, Antarctica. Photo by: Ashley Shaw

Who do you work with? We work with the McMurdo Long Term Ecological Research (MCM LTER) project to study the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem of this (very!) cold desert ecosystem. While our group specializes in soil, there are other teams who study streams, lakes, glaciers, climate, microbiology, environmental history, and geochemistry. The MCM LTER is part of the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program. The LTER program is funded by the US National Science Foundation. The aim of this program is to gather long-term data and to study ecological processes that take place over long time scales (10s to 100s of years). Core research areas of this program include: 1) primary production, 2) population studies, 3) movement of organic matter (decomposition and transfer of materials), 4) movement of inorganic matter (e.g., nitrogen, phosphorus), and 5) disturbance patterns. The MCM LTER was begun in 1993 and is one of 26 LTER sites. These sites cover a variety of ecosystems including grasslands, forests, marine, and desert sites. While most of the ecosystems are in the continental U.S., there are two Arctic, several coastal and marine sites, and one other Antarctic site.

Diana Wall talking with Josh Heward, Scott George and Ashley Shaw about nematodes! Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

Diana Wall talking with Josh Heward, Scott George and Ashley Shaw about nematodes! Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

You study soil? I thought Antarctica was just a bunch of ice! The McMurdo Dry Valleys are the largest ice-free area in Antarctica. The mountains surrounding the valleys block the glacier ice, keeping the East Antarctic Ice Sheet from filling the valleys. Strong winds, called katabatic winds also contribute to this unique landscape.

Written by: Ashley Shaw

 

Leaving Antarctica is no small feat. We have to break down and store the contents of an entire laboratory (that we set up just weeks earlier). Some items are returned to the Crary Laboratory stockroom, others are put in boxes for “the line” (overwinter storage in big wooden boxes that are kept outside, so things inside must be okay to freeze), extra chemicals are stored in the LTER lab, and finally, the most fragile items are moved into the cage (small locker-like cage that is indoors, so microscope accessories and other fragile items are kept here).

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Example of a box “from the line.” These boxes are filled with our laboratory and sampling equipment and stored outside over the winter. Photo by: Matt Knox

Samples must be prepared for shipment, a process which includes packing, weighing, measuring and labelling boxes, and grappling with an electronic shipping system that is still based on the MS software Access. It’s not only the organisms that live long in Antarctica!

Once everything is packed away, we have to clean – lab space, office space, and our own dorm rooms. Then, these rooms must pass inspection or we have to clean again.

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Walter boarding “Ivan” the Terra Bus for transport. Photo by: Jessica Trout-Haney

Finally, the evening before leaving, we take our own bags to be checked in for our flight. This process is literally officially called “bag drag.” At this time, we find out our transport time for the next morning (it can take over an hour to just get to the plane, so we have to arrive at this time for transport to the airplane). For the last night in McMurdo, you only have your carry-on bag with you – better remember to keep your toothbrush!

Written by: Ashley Shaw

From the time we arrive in Antarctica to the time we depart, we hurry around working to obtain our samples, get them processed, collect good data, and get the samples prepared for shipping home. Then it’s packing, cleaning, and rushing to get on a plane. The whole month is a whirlwind of science. It’s a blast, but it’s also exhausting.

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The C507 Soil Team in front of the Crary Lab. From left to right: Jessica Trout-Haney (Dartmouth), Dan Bransford (Virginia Tech), Summer Xue (Brigham Young), Tandra Fraser (Colorado State), Diana Wall (Colorado State), Walter Andriuzzi (Colorado State), Ashley Shaw (Colorado State), Jeb Barrett (Virginia Tech), Ruth Heindel (Dartmouth), and Byron Adams (Brigham Young).

I’ll give you the overview of what we did this season: In summary, we sampled five core studies at six different sites, applied treatments to two core studies at three sites, completed lab work on 420 soil samples, serviced meteorological stations, collected samples from aeolian (wind-blown) sediment collectors, and collected additional soil samples from multiple locations for our work in labs back home. Mixed in with this work are repairs to equipment, weather delays, establishing proper communications at field sites, and ensuring work is done in a safe way that preserves the Antarctic environment.

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Diana Wall takes a soil sample near Marr Pond in Taylor Valley. Photo by: Ashley Shaw

The first priority for work is sampling core studies, which are critical to the NSF Long Term Ecological Research program’s mission. So, on nine different trips (both overnight and day trips), we went to the McMurdo Dry Valleys via helicopter to sample our core experiments and long-term study sites. These included the Stoichiometry Experiment, the P3, the Elevational Transects (read about these here or here), the LTM, and the controls from the BEE plots. We bring these soil samples (each one weighs about 500 grams) back to the lab for processing (you can read about our soil extraction process here). Once the nematodes and other critters have been extracted, we use a microscope to help us identify and count every individual animal from each sample. Not only do we study which species are present, but also details about their life history, including their sex and whether they are alive or dead. This gives us information about community trends. At the same time, we are performing soil chemistry measurements to evaluate soil carbon, pH, salinity, phosphorus, and nitrogen. These chemistry data help to indicate which environmental conditions are most (or least!) suitable for life. We also extract and measure chlorophyll-a as a proxy for primary productivity.

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Jess weighing soil for soil chemistry analyses. Photo by: Ruth Heindel

Besides sampling these experiments, we also have to apply treatments to some of the core experiments. This year, we applied treatments to the P3 and the Stoichiometry Experiment. The P3 treatment took place over a couple days, and required Byron, Jeb, and Dan to stay at F6 camp and walk to the experimental plots. You can read about the treatments (here), but in short, this treatment involves pumping water up from Many Glaciers Pond, sterilizing the water, and pumping the water down slope at the subsurface to simulate melt flowing over the permafrost. The Stoichiometry Experiment requires nutrient treatments to be prepared in the lab (you can read about that here), this then requires hauling ~30 carboys filled with nutrient solutions (about 5.6 liters in each carboy) out to our experimental plots and applying those solutions.

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Byron carries carboys full of nutrient solutions to the Stoichiometry Experiment plots in Taylor Valley. F6 camp in the background at right. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

We went out on a few more day trips to put in new batteries and check on our meterological stations, take samples from and repair aeolian sediment collectors, and to collect some more samples to take back to our labs at home (for individual projects such as PhD or Masters projects).

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Summer and Byron are happy that the meteorological station in Miers Valley is now fixed and working! Photo by: Ashley Shaw

We are happy scientists –we had great weather with very few delays, our samples are ready to ship home, and all of the data has been collected for this season.

Mission complete!

Written by: Ashley Shaw

This is a story about living in McMurdo, told in 3 separate parts. This third and final installment of “A day in the life” will focus on another common question I get about Antarctica: What’s it like where you live?

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A line of dorm buildings in McMurdo Station. Photo by: Ashley Shaw

We live in dormitories in McMurdo and have anywhere from 1 to 3 roommates depending on the building arrangement. Luckily, I am sharing a room with another wormherder, Tandra, which is great because we work on the same project and share the same schedule. Others aren’t so lucky and share their rooms with roommates who work in different departments, keeping much different hours and schedules. When you have a roommate who has a totally different schedule from you, this is very tough because you both end up interrupting each other’s sleep – making for a very tired season.

There are 16 buildings that are considered dormitories, but most of us end up in 203, 206, 207, 208, or 209. Each of these buildings has a lounge area with a TV and sometimes a pool table or an area to play games and hang out. Sometimes we go there after working to watch a movie or hang out, but most of the time we go straight to bed, exhausted from a long day of working. There is a 24-hour quiet policy in the dorms to allow for rest, so the lounges are a good place to chat so as to not disturb others who may be working different shifts or are on different sleep schedules. There are also laundry facilities in some buildings, shared bathrooms, and sometimes even a sauna. One dorm has a library where you can check out books.

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A typical dorm room in McMurdo has 2 twin beds, 2 wardrobes, 2 small chest of drawers, and a desk. Photo by: Ashley Shaw

The dorms are not hotels and there are no maids in McMurdo, so each of us has to contribute to keeping our dormitories clean. We perform weekly duties called our “House mouse” chores. This could be anything from taking out the trash, tidying up a lounge, vacuuming the lounge, cleaning the laundry room, or vaccuming the halls. Last week, Tandra and I swept, vacuumed and mopped the front entryway and stairs of our dorm building for our House Mouse duties.

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Ashley doing her ‘house mouse’ chore for the week. Photo by: Tandra Fraser

If you forgot something from home or you want to buy some souvenirs, the station store is open for a few hours on most days. They sell snacks, toiletries, t-shirts, hats, stickers, and other goodies. You can also check out movies to watch and they have a pretty big selection. Overall, many of the comforts of home are available on station, but of course, it takes place in a community setting that leaves many of us feeling like we’re back in college.

Written by: Ashley Shaw

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