Sometimes, when we think of a new experiment, we have to test it out first, to see how well it will work here in Antarctica. This year, we wanted to try an experiment involving permafrost. Specifically, we want to melt it to see what happens to the soils. This is the expected outcome of global warming, and is currently happening in the Arctic. It’s only a matter of time before Antarctic permafrost starts melting, and the sooner we can gather information, the better. What do YOU think will happen if the permafrost melts?

We decided to put out a black cloth to trap heat and warm the soil underneath. Then we will take soil samples for microbial and animal response and measure changes in temperature, moisture and carbon dioxide flux. But before we could do this, we had to test it out in a place that isn’t as fragile as Taylor Valley. We chose a spot near Arrival Heights, a protected area used for research by the United States Antarctic Program and Antarctica New Zealand.


First we traced the shape of the cloth and dug a trench all the way around.

Breana digging permafrost

Ed digging permafrost


We staked the cloth into the trench, hoping it would hold up through the winter. Then we backfilled the trench, covering the edges of the cloth. For even more protection, we put heavy rocks on the corners. Hopefully we will be able to see a response from this experiment, and be able to put it out near F6 camp. Another good thing about a “test run” is that you get some practice setting up the experiment. Ed and Breana learned some very important lessons about digging, hammering stakes, and moving rocks that will benefit them in the future. Especially if they quit science and take up trench-digging.

We will be back next year to see how well it held up over winter, and whether or not it warmed up the soil underneath it.