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From the time we arrive in Antarctica to the time we depart, we hurry around working to obtain our samples, get them processed, collect good data, and get the samples prepared for shipping home. Then it’s packing, cleaning, and rushing to get on a plane. The whole month is a whirlwind of science. It’s a blast, but it’s also exhausting.

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The C507 Soil Team in front of the Crary Lab. From left to right: Jessica Trout-Haney (Dartmouth), Dan Bransford (Virginia Tech), Summer Xue (Brigham Young), Tandra Fraser (Colorado State), Diana Wall (Colorado State), Walter Andriuzzi (Colorado State), Ashley Shaw (Colorado State), Jeb Barrett (Virginia Tech), Ruth Heindel (Dartmouth), and Byron Adams (Brigham Young).

I’ll give you the overview of what we did this season: In summary, we sampled five core studies at six different sites, applied treatments to two core studies at three sites, completed lab work on 420 soil samples, serviced meteorological stations, collected samples from aeolian (wind-blown) sediment collectors, and collected additional soil samples from multiple locations for our work in labs back home. Mixed in with this work are repairs to equipment, weather delays, establishing proper communications at field sites, and ensuring work is done in a safe way that preserves the Antarctic environment.

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Diana Wall takes a soil sample near Marr Pond in Taylor Valley. Photo by: Ashley Shaw

The first priority for work is sampling core studies, which are critical to the NSF Long Term Ecological Research program’s mission. So, on nine different trips (both overnight and day trips), we went to the McMurdo Dry Valleys via helicopter to sample our core experiments and long-term study sites. These included the Stoichiometry Experiment, the P3, the Elevational Transects (read about these here or here), the LTM, and the controls from the BEE plots. We bring these soil samples (each one weighs about 500 grams) back to the lab for processing (you can read about our soil extraction process here). Once the nematodes and other critters have been extracted, we use a microscope to help us identify and count every individual animal from each sample. Not only do we study which species are present, but also details about their life history, including their sex and whether they are alive or dead. This gives us information about community trends. At the same time, we are performing soil chemistry measurements to evaluate soil carbon, pH, salinity, phosphorus, and nitrogen. These chemistry data help to indicate which environmental conditions are most (or least!) suitable for life. We also extract and measure chlorophyll-a as a proxy for primary productivity.

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Jess weighing soil for soil chemistry analyses. Photo by: Ruth Heindel

Besides sampling these experiments, we also have to apply treatments to some of the core experiments. This year, we applied treatments to the P3 and the Stoichiometry Experiment. The P3 treatment took place over a couple days, and required Byron, Jeb, and Dan to stay at F6 camp and walk to the experimental plots. You can read about the treatments (here), but in short, this treatment involves pumping water up from Many Glaciers Pond, sterilizing the water, and pumping the water down slope at the subsurface to simulate melt flowing over the permafrost. The Stoichiometry Experiment requires nutrient treatments to be prepared in the lab (you can read about that here), this then requires hauling ~30 carboys filled with nutrient solutions (about 5.6 liters in each carboy) out to our experimental plots and applying those solutions.

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Byron carries carboys full of nutrient solutions to the Stoichiometry Experiment plots in Taylor Valley. F6 camp in the background at right. Photo by: Walter Andriuzzi

We went out on a few more day trips to put in new batteries and check on our meterological stations, take samples from and repair aeolian sediment collectors, and to collect some more samples to take back to our labs at home (for individual projects such as PhD or Masters projects).

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Summer and Byron are happy that the meteorological station in Miers Valley is now fixed and working! Photo by: Ashley Shaw

We are happy scientists –we had great weather with very few delays, our samples are ready to ship home, and all of the data has been collected for this season.

Mission complete!

Written by: Ashley Shaw

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Hurray!!! We made it to the field yesterday! We are very happy scientists!

In the helicopter on the way to F6, we passed over the icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star. This ship is cutting a channel for the resupply vessel to reach McMurdo Station in a few weeks. It’s amazing that the ship can break through several meters of sea ice! Also, if you look closely, you can see one of our stoichiometry treatment carboys (lower right corner) safely tucked away in the helicopter. Photo: Ashley Shaw

In the helicopter on the way to F6, we passed over the icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star. This ship is cutting a channel for the resupply vessel to reach McMurdo Station in a few weeks. It’s amazing that the ship can break through several meters of sea ice! Also, you can see one of our stoichiometry treatment carboys (lower right corner) safely tucked away in the helicopter. Photo: Ashley Shaw

Yesterday, Tandra, Andy, Matt, and Ashley went to F6 near Lake Fryxell to apply treatments to the stoichiometry experiment. It took us a little over two hours to complete our mission. First, we carried the full carboys from the helo pad to the plots. And at 25lbs per carboy, they get heavy! After setting up all of our supplies near our experiment plots, we carefully filled the pouring containers with the correct nutrient treatment. Then, we slowly applied the nutrient solutions to the correct treatment plots. After each one has been poured out onto the correct plot, the pouring container has to be refilled and poured out again on the next plot! We do this 8 times for each treatment (48 times!), because each of the 6 treatments that requires pouring has 8 replicates.

At the stoichiometry plots at F6 yesterday. Matt (L) is happy that we’re out in the field and getting some work done. Andy (R) prepares supplies for the treatments. If you look closely, you can see the plots that have already been treated (they’re wet!) and the stakes that mark the plots. Photo: Ashley Shaw

At the stoichiometry plots at F6 yesterday. Matt (L) is happy that we’re out in the field and getting some work done. Andy (R) prepares supplies for the treatments. If you look closely, you can see the plots that have already been treated (they’re wet!) and the stakes that mark the plots. Photo: Ashley Shaw

Today, Byron, Zach, and one of our Italian colleagues are on standby to visit New Harbor at the mouth of Taylor Valley for an algae and moss project. Tomorrow, Ashley, Andy, Matt, and Tandra are heading to South side Lake Bonney to treat the second set of stoichiometry plots and to sample the BEE control plots (read about that experiment here).

We got some help from the Artist-in-residence, Lily (far-right). She and Matt (right-center) are filling the containers. Tandra (left) heads out with a full pouring container to treat one of the plots, Andy (left-center) waits for the next pouring container. Photo: Ashley Shaw

We got some help from the Artist-in-residence, Lily (far-right). She and Matt (right-center) are filling the containers. Tandra (left) heads out with a full pouring container to treat one of the plots, Andy (left-center) waits for the next pouring container. Photo: Ashley Shaw

 

Written by: Ashley Shaw

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