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.
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.