Image courtesy of S.E. Walker

From: Sally Walker
Explorers Cove to Commonwealth Glacier Delta, December 3, 2008

Ending the Field Season: Mapping the Distribution of Fossil Scallops

After spending almost three months in nature’s most silent and frozen landscape, nothing was more startling that the sound of gurgling water.  At first I did not recognize the sound, so used to the Antarctic silence I had forgotten sounds that we take for granted back in our busy lives at warmer latitudes. But right in front of me was a river of water, flowing down from the Commonwealth Glacier and forming braided stream deposits along its way.  The Sun is now higher up in the sky and it is warmer than when I first arrived.  The Dry Valleys were not so dry anymore!

To make a map of where fossil scallops are found, I walked for eight hours from our camp to the delta of the Commonwealth Glacier, noting the locations of scallops in the terraces along the way.  I saw more than just the scallops out there. I saw a mummified Weddell seal pup, freeze-dried and eyeless.  And here and there, the spindly legs of sea spiders emerged from the sediments, as if stretching their long, dead limbs in celebration of the warm summer that has finally arrived.  

I was starting to miss the smell of the rich soil I was so used to back home. Here, no smells existed.  What will a flower smell like when I get back home? I wondered.  While I worked, hunched over the fossils, my intuition told me I was not alone.  Turning around, I spied a Skua eyeing my bright yellow field notebook!  I managed to shoo him or her away. Undeterred, the Skua returned with friends, several of which tried to take my fossil-preparing paintbrush and my metric ruler.  

I enjoyed my last field day in Antarctica that bright evening and said farewell to the beautiful Taylor Valley that had been my Antarctic home for several months. The next day, Shawn, Steve, Cecil, and I packed up the camp and lab supplies for our return to McMurdo.  I must sign off for now, and until next year, take care!

Glaciers and the Simple Life in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys, Exploratorium Ice Stories

Landforms in the Dry Valleys

Postcards from the Field: Polar Fossil Mysteries

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