Before we can venture too far away from the station to look for suitable samples, we need to get some safety training and familiarize ourselves with working in Antarctica. Also, just to reassure those that may be worried about our safety, when ever we go sampling in the field away from the station we will have an experienced mountain guide with us. Because we were not yet trained, Monday and Tuesday was spent exploring some potential sampling sites near the station. Tuesday afternoon we had some exciting safety training that we will tell you about in an upcoming post.
The station is built upon a ridge of rocks that is about 2 km long. The further south you walk along this ridge, the more life there appears to be. Close to the station, the rocks are large boulders with very little exposed fine material As we walked further from the station and the rocks got smaller, more evidence of life existed. At first, we were only seeing small bits of orange lichen mixed in with some green moss. But the further along the ridge we went, we starting finding evidence of soil formation and thick black mossy mats. These mats consisted of fine root structures that were about 2 inches (5 cm) thick.One of the major objectives of this work is trying to figure out how active these organisms are. Since the climate and environment here is pretty inhospitable, it is likely that the organisms here grow slowly. So we will likely take samples of these mosses and soils to figure out what organisms are there and how active they are.
About a 1km north of the station is a large nunatak, or rocks that protrude from the ice. While there is a lot of snow that has accumulated on certain parts on this nunatak, there are also many parts of it that are exposed glacier ice. On warm days, some of this glacier ice melts and drains into small ice covered lakes. This melt makes the surface of the glacier quite smooth. And you would think that there is only melt on the surface, however yesterday we took a small ice corer with us and tried drilling into the ice to see what is below the ice. Walking on the ice requires crampons because it is quite slick. Some of the ice is smooth without bubbles, while other places it has pretty fractal patterns.
One of our objectives is to sample lake water to understand what microbes live there and how old the water is. After experimenting in various parts of the ice, we found that the liquid water was about one meter (3 feet) below the ice surface and there were some cryoconite about 20 cm below the surface. Therefore, we will need to get creative as to how we can sample water that is down a 3 foot hole and only 3 inches in diameter. The hole is not big enough to fit our bottles or our hands, so we will have engineer another means to get the water out of the hole.