Guest Post

I was lucky enough to be asked by my friend Matt to write a guest post for his blog “Geosphere”. Back in the day, I TA’d Matt in hydrology at Queen’s University. He’s now a PhD student in Ottawa, and writes a fantastic blog that is hosted by the European Geophysical Union (EGU).

You can check out the post HERE

Note: Some of my symbols didn’t format quite correctly. The lakes range in temperature from -13 to +25 degC, not -130 to +250… but wouldn’t that be amazing!

 

 

Wind

As I lounge around Lake Hoare waiting for the wind to blow away the fog bank that is nestled along the valley walls, it brings to mind just how powerful the wind is in controlling the natural environment of the Dry Valleys.

Antarctica is quoted as the coldest, driest, and windiest of the continents, and this is all too obvious in the Dry Valleys. Without protective vegetation or a blanket of ice, the exposed rocks have been unrelentingly frost-shattered and sand blasted for millions of years. The result are ventifacts that have been abraded and polished into statues attesting to the strength of the elements.

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In the valley bottoms, the wind may be dampened, but it’s no walk in the park. Here are some data from Lake Bonney from 2009. Note the manic-depressive winter winds from April to October.

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And in the spring, we often arrive in the valleys to find that in the battle of science vs. wind, wind can frequently take the upper-hand.

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All day, all night

Drilling never stops.

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ps. We will be without internet for the coming weeks. I hope this entertains you until then.

Another long wait

Today I have to wait out 11 hours at LAX before a red-eye to Sydney. I’m not entirely happy about it, but I’m placated by wifi and coffee. At least the layover has a finite timeline, unlike this past week.

As most of you are aware, the US government shutdown for 16 days earlier this month. It had many ramifications for science across the country, only one of which was closing the US Antarctic research stations. From the start of the shutdown until yesterday, it was unclear how the field season would proceed, if at all. When the shutdown finally ended, McMurdo was understaffed and unprepared for a deluge of scientists. It’s not a town that can easily be “turned back on”. Luckily, it has been. It appears that the McMurdo LTER will be able to carry out a full season of science, albeit a week later than planned. Unfortunately, many projects will not be so lucky, especially if this was their initial grant year.

Science aside, this shutdown has had a major impact on graduate students and young scientists. In a comment to Nature, Gretchen Hoffman, a research at UCSB, painted an informative picture of who Antarctic scientists really are. Shown below, it is clear that most field personnel are early career scientists. Losing an entire field season early in one’s career can be devastating professionally.

Most publicity about the shutdown in regards to Antarctica has glossed over this fact, and focused on the loss of longterm datasets. This is a huge part of why the McMurdo LTER has gotten the green light to head to the ice. The continuity of data is crucial in climate analysis.

But what bothers me, are quotes like these (published in Science news):

“I can guarantee you that everybody has had a gap for some reason—a storm, a vacation, a temporary loss of funding, or whatever,” … “And if people are honest with themselves, they will admit that it’s not the end of the world.” But… “it’s never desirable to have gaps in your data.”

As someone who is paid to deliver long term data, I can deal with a storm, or a sensor malfunction. It’s nature. But the fact that this shutdown, which has devastated a number of world class scientific endeavors, was initiated by a congressional hostage maneuver, is heartbreaking. But, it’s better than the government just brazenly cutting science funding, right Canada?

 

McLane: Part II

We just got our hands on our newest instruments for Antarctica! Our latest and greatest tools are expensive autonomous lake profiling systems custom made by our friends at McLane Research Labs out in Massachusetts.

The profilers are based around a CTD, which is a common instrument in limnology used to record Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (pressure). As sensor technology has improved over the years, CTDs have begun to get souped up. Our two profilers will measure CO2, PAR (photosynthetically active radiation), DO (dissolved oxygen), and even include a fluorometer.

But just wait, it gets better. Our profilers are autonomous! Typically, CTDs need to be lowered slowly on a rope by whoever is willing to act as a human-winch.

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With autonomous profilers, we will be able to record the physical properties our our lakes year-round without human interaction. This has never been done (reminder: it’s Antarctica).

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Unlike a standard CTD, these are a little more unwieldy. Part of the reason is that we need a large volume to insure that the instrument will remain neutrally buoyant. Air space offsets the weight of the sensors. The casing also houses a large battery pack and internal motor. This doesn’t even include the 300+ lbs of weight required at the bottom of the cable to keep it taut.

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Deploying it in an indoor test tank with 1-ton power winches was a relatively easy procedure. Next stop Antarctica. I’ll keep you posted.

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