The Wormherders are back on the Ice!

The crew this season consists of Dr. Martijn Vandegehuchte and Zach Sylvain, both from Colorado State, joined by Dr. Byron Adams, one of the LTER co-PI’s from BYU, and his student Jeremy Whiting. We’ll also be working with other members of the McMurdo LTER Soils Team throughout the season.

Since this is their first season on the Ice, Martijn and Jeremy had to do snow school, perhaps more famously known as “Happy Camper” school. The basic premise is that snow school prepares you to survive in Antarctica for a few days in case you are in a survival situation. You also learn how to set up a proper field camp. The class lasts a full day and half, including an overnight stay on the McMurdo Ice Shelf.

Martijn built a snow trench, which really ended up being more like a cave. He crafted stairs, built a cold sink (a dip in the cave for the cold air to settle), and had a heavily fortified roof. Despite the snowfall during the night, he was nice and warm inside his trench.

Martijn's cozy snow trench

Jeremy reported that he had a great night of sleep. Everyone was disappointed that he slept in a tent rather than in a snow trench. He said that snow school was a lot of work but contained valuable training for camping in general, especially snow camping.

A row of mountain tents at snow school

We have already returned from our first sampling trip in the field. We went to the south side of Lake Hoare in Taylor Valley to sample the soil of two experiments– the Long Term Monitoring (LTM) plots and the algae addition plots. The LTM plots are a collection of 64 1-meter square plots with a variety of treatments applied to them. The treatments include increasing temperature, adding water, adding simple table sugar (sucrose) mixed with water, adding natural sugar (mannitol, a sugar found in algae) mixed with water, and different combinations of each of those. Additionally, there are plots established as controls. The experiment was set up during the 1993-1994 season and the treatments discontinued during the 2004-2005 season. Since then, Wormherders have continued monitoring the recovery of the soil ecosystem to document the changes. Later, actual dried algae (without water) was added to a separate set of plots and another series of controls were established as well. These 16 plots became known as the algae addition experiment, or just the algae plots. The experiment was established in the 1994-1995 season and was decommissioned at the same time as the LTM experiment, so our current sampling is to document the recovery of the soil ecosystem just like with the LTM plots.

Zach and Byron sampling the Algae plots

Martijn and Byron sampling the LTM plots

After the sampling was complete, we dropped off Byron at a new experiment being established near Lake Fryxell while the rest of the Wormherders returned to McMurdo for sample processing. We’ll talk more about the new experiment in a later post.