Today we divided up into two teams: one to go to Beacon and Wright Valleys to collect soil samples and another to go to F6 near Lake Fryxell in Taylor Valley to maintain experiments and apply treatments. Sometimes things go as planned, and sometimes they just don’t.

First, the Plan A that didn’t happen.

Working in Antarctica comes with many challenges. One of the top unpredictable hazards that we deal with daily is weather. Since we travel from McMurdo Station by helicopter, and pilots fly by line of sight, unclear weather conditions keep us grounded. If there is too much wind or fog or clouds, we often cannot get to our field sites. But, we have spent much time carefully planning and then crafting backup plans for our plans. We are also prepared to be flexible and to keep our expectations in check.


We were not able to go to field sites in Beacon and Wright Valleys today due to weather, but we were able to substitute Hjorth Hill and Many Glaciers Pond in Taylor Valley.

Today was a great example of plans going awry and then a backup plan coming into play. We were scheduled to fly to some of the more remote dry valleys at high elevation (including Beacon Valley and Wright Valley) to collect soil samples. However, we got word early this morning that low clouds had moved in, making flying there impossible. We quickly implemented a backup plan, trading tomorrow’s plans for today’s plans. So instead of flying to the high elevation valleys, we traveled to our nearby field sites: Hjorth Hill and Many Glaciers Pond in Taylor Valley. There, we collected moss and soil samples and checked on some experimental plots.



Andy Thompson collecting samples at Hjorth Hill. He’s standing on a snow pack that is covering up a stream bed. Photo by: Ashley Shaw

It wasn’t what we’d planned to do today, but it was still a successful day of Antarctic fieldwork!

And the Plan A that did happen.

Meanwhile, the rest of our team went to F6, in Taylor Valley, to maintain the Stoichiometry experiment, one of our main experiments in the Dry Valleys. Cold is only one of the challenges that soil organisms in this ecosystem face, another big one being the limited amounts of carbon and nutrients. With the Stoichiometry experiment we seek to find out which elements are most limiting to the soil organisms of the Dry Valleys. To do this we add carbon, water, nutrients, or combinations to the soil, which requires hand-carrying relatively heavy carboys from the nearby camp to the experimental plots, and applying them to their respective plots. The soils team at F6 carried out the task well – despite one of them still having stiff legs from the marathon!

Written by Ashley Shaw and Walter Andriuzzi