Preparing for Research at the Field Camp
We immediately set up the camp after a beautiful helicopter ride from McMurdo Station that took us over fields of sea ice fronting the jagged, ice-draped Transantarctic Mountains. Our field camp, in Explorers Cove in above postcard, is situated at the mouth of the Taylor Valley, one of the many McMurdo Dry Valleys. These relatively ice-free valleys are U-shaped and were once sculpted by glaciers. The landscape was also sculpted by fierce katabatic winds. These winds can blow up to 260 mph, their relatively warm air contributes to the dryness, and the Transantarctics now act as an ice dam, blocking (for the most part) the East Antarctic Ice Sheet from encroaching into Explorers Cove.
After setting up camp, we turned to the most backbreaking part of the field endeavor: making dive holes through the sea ice. Dive holes provide the only entryway into the icy waters of New Harbor, for the ice divers who will put our experiments in place on the ocean floor and collect samples of sediments. It is an unbelievable process of drilling through the sea ice, melting a hole with the BBQ-like "hot fingers" and then powerfully chipping, sawing and mucking-out the hole to get it big enough for the ice divers to descend to the crystal clear seawater below. I found maintaining dive holes to be a difficult process. As I mucked to make a perfect ice-dive hole, I was exhausted within minutes, my arm muscles wore out, sweat turned to steam immediately. By the time the hole was finished, I was so hot, that I wished I could jump in. But since the water is -1.9°C (~28°F), that would not be a good idea. Finally, the dive holes are ready, and we can now deploy our experiments and collect our sediment samples.
The Dry Valleys, article in The Antarctic Sun
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Postcards from the Field: Polar Fossil Mysteries