Home Sweet F6
Ten days ago I took a helicopter from McMurdo station (on Ross Island) across the sound to the Dry Valleys of the Transantarctic mountains on the mainland of Antarctica. The helicopter ride in was beautiful and passed numerous glaciers on the way to my final destination, so I was able to snap a few photos along the way.
Once I arrived I set up my tent and settled into my camp, which consists of only two other teammates at a site called F6. The name F6 refers to its fieldsite location next to Lake Fryxell (named after glaciologist Fritiof Fryxell), which is a glacially fed lake in the Asgard range of the Transantarctic mountains in between Canada Glacier and Commonwealth Glacier.
The view from my tent is striking, with mountain ranges on either side of me, multiple enormous glaciers, and frozen lakes that are safe to walk on.
F6 consists of a small wooden building that contains space for our hundreds of sample bottles and filter towers, which we will use to collect stream water once the glaciers start melting later in the austral summer season, and a very small kitchen area with an oven and stove. We have non-perishable, canned food here for the first month, and helicopters will resupply us later on for the next two months of our stay. All of our electricity comes from a large solar panel in front of our hut and to my surprise we actually have internet here, which I wasn’t expecting, although I still won’t be as reachable here as I would be at home. There is no plumbing here and we need to chip and melt lake ice in order to have drinking water. We separate our trash into eight separate containers (food waste, paper, non-recyclable, plastic, aluminum, greywater (dishwash/ used water) as well as separate camp toilets for #1 and #2) which all need to be sealed up and removed from the camp at the end of the season in February.
The Dry Valleys are an extremely protected area in Antarctica and we can’t do things like dump our used dishwater or throw anything outside because we need to protect the environment. Before we left for the field, a ‘field review’ session in McMurdo stressed how important it is to protect the environment and mentioned the lengthy protocols, decontamination, and paperwork we’d need to follow if we did something as simple as spilling juice or granola outside. The gist of these review sessions was simply “Don’t spill or contaminate ANYTHING!” so we need to be very careful and follow a ‘pack it in, pack it out’ mentality when it comes to our food, trash, and supplies. We can’t shower here at F6, but once every week or so we will hike a few miles around Canada Glacier to Lake Hoare (named after physicist Ray Hoare), which is a larger fieldcamp with a rudimentary field shower we can use once a week when we take stream measurements in that area.
The streams in the Dry Valleys aren’t flowing yet (since they are seasonal streams they will only flow when summer gets warmer towards December and the glaciers melt a bit, then they’ll freeze up again in mid January), but we’re quite busy in the mean time setting up all of our stream gauges which will measure temperature, conductivity, water flow, and other data. We’d like to get all of the instruments set up before the streams start to flow, and because the three of us are known as the ‘Stream Team’ in Antarctica, we’ve started to get radio reports from other field teams who know of us and are excited to report trickling streams they’ve spotted in their respective locations. With all of these melt reports reaching us it should only be another few days before the melt season starts with a bang and we’ll be busy with the water chemistry and hydrology of Antarctica’s seasonal rivers and streams. (Usually, once the melt starts, things start to surge quite quickly.)
Things have been extremely busy here but soon I’ll try to write in about Thanksgiving in Antarctica, my team members, and the beginning of the melt season soon.