Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's science Sunday

So it's Sunday here.  My weekend.  Slept in, woke up to snow and 25 knot winds, about 10 degrees F today.  It's still getting cooler.  So it was a nice wake up walk to brunch in the galley.  They take out the "good stuff" for the weekend.  I stuffed myself nicely.  Now everything is pretty much buttoned up on Sundays so I tried figuring out what to do.  There is board up daily showing what's happening and when around "town". 

I hopped on a shuttle to drive to the neighboring camp run by the Kiwi's (New Zealanders) called Scott Base named after Robert Falcon Scott who first landed here in 1901 in the Discovery. I went to their store to compare what kind of trinkets they were selling and found a couple items to bring back.   I'm ticked I didn't bring my camera because their camp is right along the sea ice edge where there are crevasses leading to exposed water and with that a couple hundred Weddell Seals were out sunning themselves perhaps after munching on an Adelie penguin.

Either way, I came back to base and went over to the Crary Labratory where the scientists bring their field work back to analyze and earn thehir grant money back.  There are hundered of projects going on varying from Glaciology, microbiology, genetics, atmospheric, particle physics, you name it there are a hundered PhD's studying it.

The front of the Crary Lab
Right off the bat we were introduced to one of the marine biologists who has been studying the Adelie penguin populations on Ross Island, the two largest in the world with somewhere around 300,000 breeding couples.  He's been doing this for upwards of 15 years here.  You can see his work at
Adelie Penguin researcher David Ainley
  So we were led around the facility by a grad student who took us through multiple labs, introduced us to scientists that were working on their projects and showed us a snapshot of what they were doing.
Our tour guide explaining how many PhD's it take to screw in
a light bulb.  Actually its a special light that is dipped into the lakes
in the dry valleys (see previous post) to help measure bio activity
year round in the water beneath the lake ice.
Next wandered around and were introduced to a collaborative project called the Dry Valley Long term Ecological Research (LTER) project.  A number of different sciences combine together to understand a particular ecosystem better by sharing work together and jointly learning more together than they would have on their own.  This guy studies some of the microbiology, specifically an earthworm that is the dominant predator in the ecosystem--everything is relative at -50 degrees F.  Soon after the project, the pilots jokingly began calling the project members "wormherders" which is now the name of there base camp in the Taylor Valley. 
A wormherder
 We then went down into the a place colder than the outdoors where they kept projects from the field really cold. The lab / freezer is -20 degrees and we met an Oregon State grad student who is working on some 50,000 year old ice cores.  They contain gas bubbles that trap the atmospheric conditions at the time so if you melt the sample and extract the gases, you get a glimpse at the air composition, therefore the climate (CO2 and Methane levels specifically).
Holding a piece of 50,000 year old history
Touching the touch tank
 We finally ended up in the aquarium where it was fairly quiet--most of the science there was earlier in the season.  There are huge tanks throughout and a small tank for display containing some local sponges and sea anemone (I think that is already plural : )  ).

Some local critters
 After the tour I wandered around.  They have all kinds of projects on the walls to read up the latest stuff. Thank God I have a science background to be able to slightly understand these.  I stumbled onto a neat find found in the transantarctic mountain range which bisects the continent roughly in half.  The picture below is a 270 million year old tree stump.  Yes stuff grew here.  Yes it has been warm before. Interesting stuff.
An ancient stump from the Queen Alexandra Range in central Antarctica
 Well, I hope that was enlightening.  Tonight there is a "science talk" with one of the previously mentioned scientists focusing on the oceanography of the Ross Sea.  Should be fun! Back to school. Cheers to all!

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