Monday, December 30, 2013

Finally on the ice

December 30, 2013
WISSARD camp, Antarctica

On Friday we went down to the runway and boarded an LC-130 headed out to the CReSIS camp. We were a bit dismayed to find ourselves back on the ground after only twenty minutes in the air due to a problem with the beacon that communicates our location to other planes. However, the Air
Force crew kept working on the problem and got it fixed. By the afternoon, one week delayed from our originally scheduled flight, we found ourselves safely on the Whillans Ice Stream. The camp was already 21 people full, with the CReSIS scientists and engineers, cook, mechanics, pilots and weather woman. It was great to have a warm dinner (compliments, Sarah) after unloading the plane.

The next day we went out to the Subglacial Lake Whillans drill site to retrieve some of our equipment stored from last season.

The trailers and equipment at Subglacial Lake Whillans
 We found our boxes buried beneath a giant snow drift. It was exciting to finally hit the lids of wooden boxes after much digging. We soon realized that we would need to bring in some heavy machinery if we were to ever begin our science mission. On Sunday Kim met us with a CAT, bulldozing the drift and skillfully forking the boxes out.

A well-marked borehole, data logger and solar panels
to allow data collection to continue.
 Until the new year we are based out of CReSIS camp, conducting science from here and packing up our gear. We will be setting up an independent camp closer to the sticky spots of the Whillans Ice Stream which we hope to monitor. So far, Grace and Doug have retrieved data from seismic stations which have been recording data at Subglacial Lake Whillans for a year now.

The rest of us went to a GPS station that holds two years' worth of data on the ice stream's motion. The four of us each dug five foot deep holes to remove the anchors for the solar panel that powers the
station. I'm happy it does not snow much here or we would have had much farther to dig. I've shoveled snow in Wisconsin before, but I'm developing new strategies for digging straight down. Matt and I also reoccupied a location with GPS that has been visited since the 1990s,
making this one of the longest records of ice motion on the continent.

We are enjoying our time at CReSIS camp very much. The weather has been fairly nice; mostly around 20 degrees F with a bit of fog and some light snow. Fog is no good for the CReSIS folk because they depend on good visibility for flying their radar, but we don't mind too much. It is
lovely to have the company here, and it will feel very quiet when the 7 of us head out on our own. Grace and Neil went skiing last night, and I enjoyed a quiet evening of reading - it was hard to put the book down without the cue of a darkening sky. Tonight Slawek gave a great science talk to the camp about the changing view of life beneath the ice sheet and last season's discovery of life within Subglacial Lake Whillans.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Arrival Heights

The sea ice should be broken up by the time
we get back from the field.
December 26, 2013
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

After a day of eating and lounging around town, we decided to set off on an adventure.  The Hut Point Ridge trail is a 3-mile loop, all on volcanic rocks.  Once we had climbed up the first hill we realized how windy it was.  This trail exposed us to the elements much of the way, as you can see below.

Graham, Grace and I. Graham is a member of the drill team.

When we reached the highest point on the trail, we ducked down on the downwind side and snuggled to keep warm.  We sung a few Christmas carols and snow started lightly falling.  The view across the bay of the mountains was gorgeous.

I actually don't know what is contained within these domes.  I'll update the post when I find that information
Enhanced melting where there are sediment layers likely made this stair-stepping pattern.

On the way back, we walked through the upper part of town, where things go to sit for a while.  Among these are boxes of food waste, which is carried by boat back to the U.S., empty containers, and wood scraps.

The scrapyard above town

It would be pretty neat to play disk golf through the lumbar yard.  A bit too windy for that today though!
Valley of empty containers

Wind chimes
 We hopefully will be saying good-bye to all soon.  We are scheduled to get out into the field tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2013
McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Happy holidays from the UCSC group and friends!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Science Plan

December 23, 2013
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Here's a quick recap of what's been going on so far down here, and then I'll share with you our plans for the season.  It has now been three weeks since we left Santa Cruz.  We have gotten all camping gear and food and some of our equipment palletized and ready to be loaded onto an LC-130, which will fly us out to our field site.  We were originally scheduled to fly on Friday, December 20.  There is not currently a plane on base that can take us.  Three flights were scheduled to fly from Christ Church to McMurdo today.  Two of them are cancelled already and the weather is not looking great.  If we don't get out tomorrow we'll be here through the Christmas holiday.  The next date we may be able to fly would be Friday.  The days we are delayed are not added on to the end of our season, so we hope to get out soon and get the science done. 

This well-known ice velocity figure generated by Eric Rignot
shows what we mean by ice streams.  They are the high velocity
(blue to purple) regions that extend inland.
So, what are we doing this season?  The focus this season is studying how ice flows over the bed.  Ice streams are regions of faster flowing ice within a much larger volume of ice which in our case is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (right).  The ice stream we will be studying, the Whillans Ice Stream, is relatively slow-moving because it is moving down a shallow slope.  Its flow is so interesting to us because it is in sync with the tides.  The ice here is grounded on weak sediment but it still gets stuck in places and then slips forward once per day as the tides change. Our colleague Martin Pratt has identified two locations where these slip events initiate, marked on the map below as Sites 1 and 2.  When the ice slips it generates seismic waves which we can detect with seismometers placed on the ice.  This season we will be installing seismometers both on the surface and down boreholes so that we can better localize the slip events and learn more about how the characteristics of this signal.  We also use GPS grids to understand the spatial distribution of flow and infer the frictional properties of the bed.  We measure the ice stream's motion on short timescales with continuous GPS, of which we have a few instruments, and long-term changes with sticks, of which we have hundreds, whose location we'll measure in a year. 

The ice-bed interactions are complicated by the presence of subglacial lakes and rivers, whose water levels and flow paths may change with time.  Last season, WISSARD drilled into subglacial lake Whillans (labeled 'SLW Camp' below) and, using clean access techniques, found native microbes (chemoautotrophs).  A group from the Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) will be occupying the SLW camp this year and conducting ground-based and aerial radar surveys.

Next year, we hope to drill to the grounding zone in order to investigate ice-ocean interactions, the biological communities at this interface, and the stability of ice streams as is believed to be offered by sedimentary wedges located at the grounding zone.  In order to aid these investigations, we plan to lay out GPS grids at the future grounding zone camp (labeled 'GZ Camp' below) this year, continuing and extending our record of ice flow.  There is a legacy of fieldwork on the Whillans Ice Stream which has guided us in designing our field plan and will be immensely valuable to us as we interpret our data.
Satellite data from the Canadian RADARSAT-1 Antarctic Mapping Mission (AMM-1)

Gingerbread construction

December 22, 2013
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

This afternoon the galley hosted a gingerbread house-building contest. This has been the highlight of our week so far.  Check out our house and a few of our competitors'.

Let it snow (powdered sugar)! The chimney was converted into a helo pad

There's even a Christmas tree inside
Curling penguins!  A bit of Canadian spirit

A Hagglund
Building 155: the center of activity on station.

Tropical Christmas

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Meet the team

22 December, 2013
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Introducing our team as they appear from left to right:

Robin Bolsey: a specialist from UCSC who has been a huge help to us in getting our equipment operational for the field

Carolyn Branecky: Me, one of the lab's newest graduate students.  I'll be working on the GPS component of the project.

Neil Foley: Another graduate student at UCSC.  His primary research is on electrical resistivity in the Dry Valleys in Antarctica, but he'll be great to have with us in the field.

Slawek Tulaczyk: The P.I., our graduate advisor.  This will be his second project in Antarctica this season.  He just came to us from the Dry Valleys, where they are using the IceMole to drill beneath Blood Falls in Taylor Glacier.

Grace Barcheck: Another graduate student from UCSC.  She is heading the seismology part of the project.

Matt Siegfried: Graduate student at Scripps Institute of Oceanography.  He's implementing continuous GPS units on the Whillans Ice Stream.

Not pictured
Doug Bloomquist: A polar field engineer from PASSCAL, will be helping with the seismology part of the project.
Susan Schwartz: professor from UCSC, studies seismology
Dan Sampson: an engineer from UCSC that designed our borehole temperature and tilt sensors.

Some drillers will be joining us in a few weeks after traversing across the ice with a lot of equipment in tow.  Around the same time, Susan and Dan will be fly down to meet us as well and help out with the borehole component of the project.

In our dreams.  Compliments of Neil Foley.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Antarctic marine life

December 20, 2013
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Since I had some time this afternoon I did not anticipate having due to our delay, I decided to take a trip to the Crary Aquarium.  Now, I have the opportunity to give you all a tour of Antarctic marine fauna.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B.  The funny thing about this "touch tank" is that because it is -2 deg C, by the time your finger touches any of the organisms you can't feel anything.  The average annual temperature in McMurdo Sound is -1.86 deg C.

This seastar, Odontaster validus, is the most common seastar in Antarctica.  It may live beyond 100 years.  It has "eyes" on the end of each of its arms which allow it to see light and dark.  
It looks like this seastar just finished eating.

The white thing in front is a nudibranch, which means "naked gills" for the fringe on its exterior.  I think this species is Tritonia challengariana.  The colloquial name is sea slug

The Collossendeis sea spider in the mid-right are a deep sea species.  Their legs can span 50 centimeters, making them the largest sea spider.  They suck the juices from soft-bodied invertebrates like jellies or anemones.  The anemone on the left is also predatory and eats sea urchin and seastars.  I saw the spiky remains of a sea urchin in its mouth last week.

This sea urchin, Strechinus neumayeri, is abundant at <15m water depth.  It is slow growing, reaching ~7 cm at 40 years old.  In shallow waters, it eats seal poop.  For protection, it attaches bits of shell and debris to itself.

Tunicates, more commonly called sea squirts, are more closely related to vertebrates than invertebrates.  They have a nerve cord down their backs and a semi-rigid tail.

The yellow blob on the lower right is an Iamellarian gastropod, Marseniopsis  mollis.  Ir ranges between 1.4 cm and 7 cm (this one was on the large side).  You would think that this yellow color would not be a good strategy against predators, and it has no protective shell (mollis means soft).  It releases a chemical, homarine, which may deter predators.
These Lumitula hodgsoni are very common between 6 and 600 m water depth.  You can make out tubules between its two shells.  There is a variety of seastar which is its primary predator.
Isopod, or Glyptonotus antarcticus.  It can grow to 20 cm in length.  It eats anything it finds, including young isopods.  The isopod is also nocturnal.

This fish is a rockcod, or Trematomus bernacchii.  It lives on the seafloor and is a benthic feeder by ambush or hunt-and-peck feeding.  It is well-adapted to cold temperatures.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Delayed departure

December 20, 2013
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

We were scheduled to depart this morning but a fog rolled in.  After a week of temperatures close to 0 degrees C, it is now -8 degrees C and windy.  Since our flight was cancelled, we may have one more day here or the whole weekend.  Just in case we have the weekend, Grace and I are making masks for the Masquerade party on Saturday night.  We also get to drink eggnog tonight, which is the shiniest silver lining I can imagine.  Last night we checked in most of our luggage but I think I have most of the important items in my backpack.  If not, I expect I'll know otherwise soon.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Escape is still possible

December 17, 2013
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Why is there a door on the top floor of Big Blue (Bldg 155)?  I just noticed it a few days ago.  My first thought was that it was put in as an emergency exit in case of a big snowstorm.  Maybe they're planning for sea level rise when the Antarctic Ice Sheet melts.  I have yet to find a window in the building that opens.  Whatever the answer, now when I pass Big Blue I like to picture myself walking out that door onto a sea of white holding Big Red (the parka) close.

Goodnight, McMurdo

December 16, 2013
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

My priorities are such that I'm not going to write to you today, but I couldn't help but share with you the beautiful evening light I captured yesterday on my way to bed.  I hurried out to the edge of town in sandals and a sweatshirt to take these shots.  The cold kept me from enjoying the view for long.