Exploring McLane Research Labs


Luke examines the new RAS

This fall, our Antarctic team will be installing new instruments in Lake Bonney in order to measure water chemistry and biologic productivity year-round. These will be the first measurements of the Taylor Valley lakes during the Antarctic winter.

The instruments are made by a McLane Research Laboratories, a small company based near Wood Hole, MA, who specialize in oceanographic sampling equipment (but lakes are equally important). This week, part of our team visited McLane for training on our new water samplers prior to deployment in Antarctica.

Before we even touched our new equipment, the group of limnologists couldn’t help drooling over McLane’s 50′ test tank and associated 1-ton power winches. Back home, we’re stuck testing underwater equipment in sinks, or varsity swimming pools if we’re lucky.

Tank envy

We all wondered: How do you build a 50′ test tank?
Answer: Forethought
You build your factory around the tank. Too bad that universities don’t operate that way.

Building a test tank

Building a test tank





A week at Trout Lake

The days are getting shorter and thoughts of Antarctica are in the air. With the field season only two months away, logistic season is upon me. Luckily, I was able to spend the week with more temperate limnologists and avoid thoughts of looming deadlines.

Limnologists in their element

Limnologists in their element

I am fortunate to be part of a PhD fellowship program spawned by GLEON, a grassroots association of limnologists. The aim of the fellowship is to
train graduate students to exploit the rich information content of large and diverse data sets, operate effectively in diverse international teams, and communicate outcomes to a broad range of audiences

All cylinders firing

All cylinders firing

A mouthful. But an important one. In my field we collect a lot of data. This field season we will be instrumenting our lakes with the latest and greatest equipment so we can sample MORE lake characteristics MORE frequently. Collecting data is easy. Managing it is hard.

Faces of science

Faces of science

This past week was spent at the Trout Lake field station operated by the University of Wisconsin (one of the birth places of limnology… but you already knew that). Over five days, twelve graduate students met to work on our collaborative projects begun in January. We attended talks on Bayesian statistics, code sharing, and data management. In five days, the productivity was unbelievable. It’s amazing the output of graduate students when you stick them in a forest with free food.

Trout Lake

Trout Lake

I could write about my experience with these incredible scientists at length. But to keep it short, it was certainly an event that inspired us all to be better researchers. Thank you to Paul Hanson and Kathie Weathers for the vision of leading this program, and NSF for the foresight to fund it.

(photos by Grace Hong)

Flying at the poles

My memories of flying in twin otters are a mixed bag of emotions. At times I’ve never been happier to see a plane land. The pilots, my knights rescuing me from 11 weeks on a deserted Arctic Island. The dreams of plumbing and cookies in Resolute soon to be a reality. But how elation would quickly turn to¬†madness¬†when those wily planes didn’t land by our carefully and precariously stacked cache. The pilots not trusting the stability of our boggy riparian zone, and instead opting for a boulder field or the next valley. But they never complained (to our faces), and instead spent hours moving boulders, as we spent hours shuffling gear.


I remember air drops and fly-bys; short lived reminders of humanity beyond our tiny camp. I also remember foggy flights huddled behind our tonne of cargo, always trusting that the pilots could navigate their way through the labyrinth of the Arctic archipelago. And they always did.


The landings could be rough. Sastugi hammering the skis, large rocks punishing the tundra tires. But the planes and pilots were built for this job. Delivering incredible scientists to crazy places. Or is that crazy scientists to incredible places? There is inherent risk in flying at the poles, and it is only because of the talented men and women who willingly fly in these extremes that science is possible.

The pilots are our mailmen, our rescuers, and if we’ve showered, our friends. Thank you to all the pilots who really do put themselves at risk to help us do our jobs.

A new year

It’s been over a month since my last post. Since then, I’ve showered and found my way back to my office in Chicago. I have debated whether or not to keep this blog rolling now that I’m no longer in Antarctica. No doubt my springtime adventures will be less exciting, but I have a feeling that the ‘behind-the-scenes’ science might interested some of you.

So I’d love if you kept following the blog, but it’s up to you. The plan for the forthcoming posts is that they will focus on research we do here in the lab, the constant planning for field work, and other minutia that I find interesting (and somehow relates to Antarctica or Earth sciences). Now that I’m in the real world, I’ll try to keep my posts about bikes and my rants about the post office to a minimum.

Today is statutory holiday here in the United States, and it’s also the coldest day of the year. So in keeping with the trend, I offer you a virtual holiday in Antarctica. Over the last year my friends at the Polar Geospatial Center in Minneapolis have been shooting Google Street View images from some of the most beautiful sites around the continent. So check it out! And I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Street View Antarctica

ps. They’re shooting the Dry Valleys as I type, so stay tuned for a trip to my home-away-from-home later this year.

So long Taylor Valley

Dec 15th. Our last day in the field. Compared to Oct 15th, we’re a few pounds heavier, a little bit stronger, and a whole lot warmer. We’ve accomplished what we came to do, so it’s time to head back to McMurdo one last time. Adios Taylor Valley, we’ll miss you.