Ed and Dorota went to F6 today to collect soil and data from the BEE plots. BEE stands for Biotic Effects Experiment, and was set up in 1999 to study the effects of increases temperature and moisture on soil animals. Climate change, such as global warming, is expected to have a big impact on animals that live in sensitive environments, like Antarctica.

Here are Ed and Dorota, ready to collect some worms!

To study the effects of increased temperature we put open top chambers on the soil, which act like mini greenhouses. To study the effect of increased moisture, we add water to the soil. To study the effect of increased temperature AND increased moisture, we put a chamber on the soil AND add water. We also have control plots, which are plots that we do not disturb at all. Science is objective, therefore we must always have a “control” with which to compare our data.

These little chambers are often called “worm farms” which makes us the Wormherders!
Worm Farms

These particular chambers happen to be at F6, a stream that is part of the Fryxell basin, in Taylor Valley. We also have “worm farms” in the Lake Hoare basin and in Lake Bonney basin. We collect soil from the chambers, add water to those plots that require increased moisture, and we also take measurements of respiration, or the release of carbon dioxide (CO2). Measuring CO2 release gives us an idea of how active the soil organisms are, since we can’t actually see them living in the soil.

Ed and Dorota were joined at the worm farm by Ross, Diana, Jeb and Byron, who were taking soil samples at F6 and Bonney. We want to set up a new experiment, but because the distribution of soil animals is so patchy, we want to make sure that there are worms there before starting our experiment! Field work in Antarctica is tough, because it’s very dry, which causes dehydration, and it’s very cold, which causes hypothermia. Because of this, we have to be careful to drink lots of water while in the field, and also to wear our warm clothes. It helps to take breaks and drink hot drinks, which warms the body from the inside.

Here are Ross, Jeb and Diana, taking a break with a hot drink inside the F6 hut.
Tea Break at F6

Tomorrow, Diana, Ross, Jeb, Byron and myself are headed back to F6 to set up our big experiment. Hopefully this experiment will run for many years and give us a lot of information on how nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon) in different concentrations will affect the soil animals (rotifers, tardigrades, and nematodes) over time. In our soils we find very few animals at all, but one in particular, a nematode called Scottnema lindsayae, is our favorite.