With less than a week before leaving the US, preparations at Colorado State University for our field season in Antarctica (or, as we call it, ‘the ice’) are mostly completed. The “Research Support Package” (RSP) that is part of our required preparation has been thoroughly checked and updated before we leave, to make sure that we receive all of the equipment, supplies and support that we requested earlier in the year. Everything that we will use in the field and laboratory while in Antarctica, or that we would think we might need to use, has to be listed in the RSP. What we need is based on a number of PIs from several institutions examining our results from last season, and then developing an updated, detailed plan for field work and experiments for the 2013-2014 season. We have several field plan options (-in case of bad weather) with estimated days of helicopter trips, and the equipment we will need at each field experiment. We do lots of planning ahead of the trip, so we can hit the ‘bottom of the earth’ and get our samples and measurements. There are many items that are essential to the successful completion of the field season, some of which are specialized and cannot be found at McMurdo Station and have to be brought in from outside. Thus, it is vital that EVERYTHING is accounted for in the RSP – so, no pressure, right?

As well as the usual preparations to consider, this season we also have an NSF site review this season. The McMurdo Dry Valley (MCM) NSF Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program is funded in cycles of 6 years and has been running since 1993. Site reviews involve a visit by NSF representatives and other scientists to research site to evaluate recent findings of each LTER group in relation to the original science objectives we had in our proposal. Our MCM team has been preparing for the site review by compiling short summaries of recent findings in each of our areas of expertise (in CSU’s case – soil biodiversity and ecosystem processes), to be collated in one document and distributed to the site reviewers. We are well prepared, but I still feel a little nervous coming into this!

This will be my 4th season on the ice and every one has been different. Previously, I have travelled from New Zealand with Kiwis to the NZ base – Scott Base (2007), to the Ross Sea on board a research vessel (2008) and with Americans to McMurdo Station (2012). This season I’m preparing for a long haul flight from the USA, which most USA people have to go through every time they travel to McMurdo, so I guess I’ve been lucky so far… I am leaving from Denver to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, fortunately in the afternoon. This is fortunate because it means I will get to Skype my family on their Christmas morning in New Zealand – yippee! My wife and two kids have been in New Zealand since Thanksgiving – part of our deal (they don’t like winters).

When I arrive in Los Angeles, I will meet up with four other B507M (a designation we are assigned so everyone knows the different groups within the LTER) members from all over the US (Brigham Young University, Virginia Tech and Dartmouth College), and we will continue our journey together. Christmas in my time zone will take place quickly as we pass the International Date Line forwards, somewhere over the Pacific on the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney. We arrive there on the morning of Dec 26th (just in time for the Boxing day test – cricket to the uninitiated). Finally, after the layover in Sydney we will fly to Christchurch, New Zealand. I’ve been in the US since May this year and am looking forward to the brief stay in New Zealand, my homeland! Here we will all rest up for a couple of nights, get issued with our USA extreme cold weather gear, and I will have one final opportunity to wear the classic Kiwi summer attire – stubbies and jandals! Then, off to the ice! The next wave of CSU researchers (Wall, Gooseff, Wlostowski) will leave Fort Collins on Dec 27, 2013 and hopefully join us on the ice on New Year’s Eve!

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Where did Christmas go?

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