Antarctica: Dry Valleys

On the next leg of our NSF Antarctic Artists & Writers project we flew to the Antarctic Dry Valleys from McMurdo. It is almost an hour helicopter ride across the ice shelf, and we hopped from site to site all day: landing at Lake Hoare for a moment to drop off someone and pick up Zach Sudman, a stream hydrologist who we spent most of the day with. We flew with Zach another 10 minutes to Lawson Stream – yes a flowing stream (from summer glacier melt) in the Taylor Valley. We video photographed Zach Sudman using surveying equipment to measure the height of the lake and the stream.

Here is a photo of Mike Johnson from the Stream Team research group at Lake Bonny camp checking a weather station.


The helicopter in the background took us back to Lake Hoare camp after spending about an hour at Lake Bonny so Mike and Zach could get their lake level measurements. Here is a picture of Mike and Zach at their Lawson Stream equipment box.


The box is located about 100-200 yards from where the helicopter lands and contains monitoring equipment that is connected to probes in the stream that measure stream temperature, flow, and depth. The box has been anchored in place there and working for about a decade as part of the gigantic LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) project in Antarctica, which involves many different researchers studying Antarctic ecology across the spectrum. Lawson Stream is not really visible in the above photo, but is about 3 yards to the other side of the box. The landscape shown is typical for the Dry Valleys – lots of “dry valley” punctuated by glaciers (small glaciers, but each has their own name – and a small glacier is still often bigger than an airport).

Here is a photo of me taking a photo near Bohner Stream.


This photo really shows the Martian like landscape of the Dry Valleys. While the Atacama desert in Chile has also long been used as an Earth-analog for Mars, now it's seem more the Antarctic Dry Valleys, as the cold makes it more analogous to Mars. If it looks isolated and lonely in this picture, it feels 10 times more isolated while there.  Oddly, it doesn't feel lonely, but that seems to be because your mind makes an instantaneous strong connection to the people you are with on site.  This is made easier by the fact that nearly everyone working at McMurdo is extraordinarily nice and interactive.  At this site, the Stream Team finished their work early and called for a helicopter pickup. Trish had already headed up the hill to take some pictures when we got a call on the radio that the helicopter was landing immediately. Zach, Mike, me and Forrest (another Stream Team member) had to run full speed up a 100 yard sand hill to get to the helicopter. If you’ve ever run up a sand dune you know how fun that is – especially in big boots and with each of us carrying about 30 pounds of equipment. The helicopter pilots do not like waiting and want you to be in the landing area and waiting when they are still several minutes out. Helicopter landings in the Dry Valleys also consist of taking a sand and dirt shower. Zach and his colleagues showed us their technique for kneeling facing away from the helicopter as it lands (or as it leaves after making a drop off) with your jacket hood up as a good way to avoid a rock blasted face. More soon…

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