We’ve been very busy setting up a new experiment and sampling our core LTER experiments. Ed and Dorota continued their crusade to sample the BEE plots at Lake Hoare while Byron, Jeb, Diana, Ross and Breana set up the first set of plots for the Stoichiometry Experiment (SE) at F6. We often split into smaller teams to get more than one sampling trip done in a day. In order to sample in the Dry Valleys, we have to fly there from McMurdo Station in helicopters. We spend a lot of time in helicopters, and our research could not be done if it weren’t for the hard work of all the pilots and heli-techs from PHI that fly us around to our field sites.

When flying in a helicopter you must always wear your ECW gear and a helmet. The helmet not only protects your head but allows you to talk to the pilot.
Antarctic Explorers

Because of the amount of wind a helictoper creates when it takes off and lands, anyone near the landing site must take precautions to hold on to lightweight items (like empty carboys or knit caps) and turn away to prevent getting blasted with sand.

Here you can see us (in red parkas) huddling together on top of our gear while the helicopter takes off.

Sometimes we get done with our work before the helicopter is scheduled to pick us up. Then we have to hunker down and wait. If it’s really cold, we wait in a big pile, and try to keep warm. It’s a very good time for sleeping, as long as someone listens for the helicopter. Usually the helicopter will radio ahead to tell you they are coming, but you can also hear them coming. The Dry Valleys are very quiet, so the sound of a helicopter carries for miles.

As you can see, this particular day was fairly mild by Antarctic standards, and we have all staked out our own sleeping spots.

If you’re very lucky and the pilot is feeling generous, on the way back from the Dry Valleys they will take you along the ice edge to see penguins, seals and whales. This year the ice edge is very close to McMurdo, so it’s not a very long trip. In other years, the ice edge is so far away that it is nearly impossible to fly out there without causing delays in the helicopter schedule. The channel, formed by the icebreaker, is also very clear now, and there are rumors of whales “spy hopping” in the broken ice near McMurdo Station.

Two killer whales hunting along the ice edge.
Killer Whales