We received more questions from Ms. Chamberlain’s class! Apparently, due to some very very cold weather in Michigan, some of them are ready to come down here and be research scientists, just to get a break from the cold!

1. How do you spend your time if you cannot go out and do research? – Amy

Amy, we had this problem a lot this year, with all the bad weather. We have a LOT of work to do, so when we can’t go out to the field, there is plenty for us to do in the lab. If we run out of things to do in the lab, well, then we get to explore McMurdo! There are plenty of things to do, such as climb Observation Hill – so named because that’s where men from the Terra Nova expedition hiked every day to look for Robert Falcon Scott and his team. It’s really high, so there is a good view of the Ross Sea, and Scott’s men were expecting him back after he reached the South Pole. Unfortunately, he never made it back. You can read more about Scott and his Antarctic expeditions here; it’s a fascinating but sad story.

If you prefer skiing, there are plenty of marked trails near McMurdo to explore. We can also take a short walk to Hut Point, where Scott built a hut during the Discovery Expedition (1901-1904). If you get permission and a guide, you can even take a tour of the hut, preserved as Scott left it! The sea ice tends to break up right there, so it’s one of the best places to spot a seal, whale or penguin close to McMurdo! Below are some photos of our tour of Scott’s Hut. Click on the picture below to go to more pictures from our tour of Scott’s Hut.

Scott's Hut

2. How long was the flight from the U.S. to New Zealand? – Kevin

Kevin, the flight from LAX to Aukland takes about 14 hours, although it’s faster on the way back (here is some info on why that happens). Because the flight is so long, they feed us dinner, turn off the lights to let us sleep, and then feed us breakfast the next morning before we land. There is a television for each seat, with movies and television and even video games. We try to sleep for as much of it as we can, which helps prevent jet lag once we get there.

3. How long do you stay in Antarctica? – Ryan

That all depends on how much we have to do, Ryan. We study soil animals, so we wait for them to become active before heading down. When the water in the soil is frozen, so are the animals. Typically the soil is warm enough by early to mid December for the animals to start becoming active. At the end of the season, the people who run McMurdo Station want us off the ice so they can begin to prepare for winter (typically the end of February), so we are racing against their deadline to get done. It’s a short season, but we get a lot accomplished.

4. What is your favorite item to test? – Taylor

I think that depends on which one of us you ask! Diana and Breana really like to look at live nematodes, so they like to do experiments that involve a lot of microscope work, such as counting and identifying nematodes, or making cultures of nematodes to use in experiments. They are biologists and are interested in how nematodes respond to environmental pressure, such as an increase in temperature, moisture, nutrients, or other animals. Byron is our resident DNA expert, so he likes to squash the critters and see what makes them tick, genetically speaking. He studies the evolution of soil animals, and asks questions like, “Where did these nematodes come from? How long have they been here? What is in their DNA that allows them to freeze over the winter?” You can read all about Byron’s research on his website, BYU Nematode Evolution Lab. Ed probably likes to measure soil CO2 the most, because there is a fancy gadget for it. But his favorite experiment is probably the one we started last year, when he sterilized the soil and is waiting to see which animals will colonize the sterile soil first. You can read more about that experiment here.

There is also a running joke in McMurdo, “Who can create the most awesome dessert using soft serve ice-cream (aka Frosty Boy)?” We do this test every evening, and so far, Byron is winning.

5. We just learned about the Antarctic Treaty. How do the provisions in the treaty affect your research? – Ann Marie

The treaty is important to us because it’s a pact between countries designating Antarctica a place of research, with freedom of investigation and scientific operation. There can be no military activity, and the continent runs without a government. This is possible because all the separate bases operate under the same principle of scientific discovery, and that means we can go anywhere we want and collaborate with anyone we want. Cooperation between treaty-states (those countries who signed the treaty) is incredibly important when working in such an extreme system. The Treaty also protects Antarctica from nuclear activity and radioactive waste, keeping it free of pollution for future research. Basically, the framework set in place by the countries who have agreed to the terms of the Treaty indirectly allow us to do exciting work in a pristine environment.