The First Field Day at the Cotton Glacier

Yesterday was our first big field day.  I was so excited to finally escape the lab after this week and get back outside!!  Our primary field site is located at the Cotton Glacier, which is about an hour helicopter ride from McMurdo station.  The trip was gorgeous -- it was slightly overcast in the morning, but it was beautiful as the clouds spread out.
McMurdo from the helicopter!

 Clouds over the coast
Ice breaking away from the coastal line

As we flew over the coast, we passed a bunch of black looking spots, which the pilot confirmed were a bunch of Adelie penguins!  These penguins are one of the most common species found in Antarctica (total of 7 different species found here).  Even though they just look like little black spots, I took a bunch of pics -- which was pretty funny.
The tiny black dots are really penguins, I promise!

We had a lot of work to get done during the day, so we had planned to have around 9-ish hours of ground time at the glacier.  Our actual work takes place in the primary surface meltwater stream on the glacier surface.  However, when you are actually in the channel, it looks like you are in the middle of some sort of bizarre desert.  There are sand dunes everywhere, with rippled surfaces from the strong winds.  However chunks of ice stick up through the sand in random spots throughout the channel.

We collected several short ice cores, which will be melted under controlled conditions to examine bacteria content.
My teammate Heidi (left) and one of the Principle Investigator pulling our first core out of the manual ice core drill.

We also set up a Meteorological station that one of my teammates Mike has tirelessly been working on.  It was pretty impressive once he got the whole thing set up.  There is a "Plant Cam" attached to the side (little green box) which takes a picture at a set interval so that we can monitor stream flow and changes in the channel when we are not out in the field.  The station also has a temperature guage, a wind direction/speed propeller, relative humidity gauge, a li-core (involving CO2 measurements) and a solar panel to power it all!  I learned a lot helping mike get all of the various gadgets wired up!
Intense concentration setting up the solar panel to power the station.

 The completed weather station

We deployed a bunch of other sensors including temperature and pressure sensors for the streams.  Through the pressure sensors, we can calculate stream height.  We also collected 60L of water to filter for various analyses back at the lab!  We had an enjoyable but long field day.  Our pick up time was scheduled for 7:45pm, so around 7:00, we started gathering up all of our gear near where the helo was going to land.  As it got later, the temperature began to drop and we tried to stay active to keep warm.  We were doing jumping jacks, short laps, sit ups, and attempted some yoga poses.  However, in the amount of clothing we were wearing, just moving around was difficult -- the sit-ups were pretty hilarious since none of us could sit up in our giant jackets!  We even got creative and started making people pyramids!
Ta da!

However, as 7:00 rolled around, the clouds moved in blanketing the upper valley and the temperature began to drop.  By 7:30, only a small window at the end of the valley was open.  The helicopters don't fly in heavy cloud cover or fog, and we started to get a little apprehensive.  We had survival bags with us (that contain sleeping bags, a tent, a camp stove, and dehydrated meals), so we would be fine for the night, but possibly unhappy.  7:45 came and went and we all still sat with our grear.  By 8:15 I was getting a bit worried and not super excited about employing my new skills from happy camper on my very first day out in the field.  8:30 rolled around and Christine (our Principal Investigator) pulled out the satellite phone to call into the base to see what was going on.  As she was trying to get it warmed up and turned on, at around 8:45 we all heard the distant, whop, whop, whop, of the helicopter blades -- we were going to get back to McMurdo.  Thank goodness.

On the way back our pilot spotted the same group of penguins that we saw on the way out, but he flew us really low down to the ground so we could get a better look!  It was great!!  Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the helicopter to really see them well, but I still got a few pics!  They were so cute.  Whenever there was a hole in the ice, it was filled with the penguins swimming in the water.




Overall, it was a long but fun first day out in the field.  I was glad to finally escape the lab and spend some time outside on the Cotton Glacier!
Posted on November 25, 2010 .