On the last day of 2008, the next Wormherder trip to the Dry Valleys was to Lake Fryxell/F6 stream in order to treat soil plots with various solutions as part of the mulit-year biotic effects experiment. This study site is located in Taylor Valley, south of Lake Fryxell and east of the F6 stream. This experiment evaluates the belowground effects of adding either water, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous or a combination of these compounds to designated soil plots. These elements are important nutrients in biological systems and Antarctic soils are particularly limited in these factors. Our first stop upon landing in the valley was the F6 hut, a permanent structure that houses a kitchen, lab, and various other operations for working in the field. Here you can see the Wormherders gearing up for sampling by resting on the porch of the F6 hut.

on the porch at F6

Inside the hut are facilities for performing and preparing field experiments. The picture below shows some of the lab space including a small hood for work with sensitive materials.

Lab at F6 hut

Applying solutions to the soil plots first involves the transport of many liquid-filled jugs the 100 yards from the F6 hut to the experimental site. Here is a chain of Wormherders lugging the jugs to the plots. Science takes teamwork!

Luggin' jugs

Once at the site, the solutions were moved from the jugs into different plastic carboys for ease of pouring. Each subplot received a different solution: either water, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon+nitrogen, carbon+phosphorous, or nitrogen+ phosphorous. Why do you think the experiment is designed in this way?
While some people transferred solutions between containers, others poured the appropriate solution on the soil plots. In order to ensure the solutions are added in a uniform way, a plastic cone is placed over the soil plot and the solution is poured within this guide. The picture below shows the pourers at work.

Pouring solutions

With the experimental treatments complete, time remained to have a look around this beautiful and unique area. Lake Fryxell is fed by various glacial meltwater and groundwater streams, and at this time of year was only partially frozen. The water is an interesting mix of clear blue around the edge and silty, cloudy water at the center.

Lake Fryxell

One of the streams flowing into Lake Fryxell is F6 or Von Guerard stream and is the namesake for the field camp since it is located along its banks. It was flowing quite a bit on this day, and a relatively wide delta had formed where the stream met the lake.

F6 stream inflow

The F6 hut is located a bit off the south side of Lake Fyxell, although many tents for the researchers housed here are scattered around the area. This photo was taken looking south from the lake back at the hut, some supplies and a tent.

F6 hut

A half mile hike upstream reveals that F6 meanders around rocky hillsides and is often just a trickle. But this moderate amount of moisture is an incredibly important source of water and nutrients for the biological community of Taylor Valley. Algae and mosses form mats around the edges of the stream, which provide habitat and food for many of the soil animals, including nematodes. Below, F6 winds its way through Taylor Valley.

F6 stream across Taylor Valley

From upstream, the F6 huts looks dwarfed by the massive, looming Commonwealth Glacier on the other side of Lake Fryxell. Scale continues to be mysterious in this landscape where life is cryptic and small, but landforms incredibly large.

F6 hut and Commonwealth Glacier

There was enough time to rest up and enjoy one last cup of warm tea in the sun before returning to McMurdo. Here, Bishwo shows one of our favorite ways to recharge the batteries and nourish the mind and spirit.

Bishwo having tea

An incredible end to a great year, soon our ride arrived and it was time to reload the helicopters and head for the station and lab. Best wishes to all in 2009!

Helo pickup