Bad Karma

Since we got here, things have gone mostly well. But like at home there are those days where everything goes wrong and you feel like you have done something bad that caused bad karma. Two days ago was one of those days.

We had a big sampling day ahead: visiting two sampling sites, drilling into two lakes and several so calledcryoconite holes (= “ice dust”).Cryoconite holes form when dark material (dust, rocks, etc.) melts into the ice surface due to the higher heat absorption of the dark colour. They are water-filled holes that harbour complex microbial communities with exceptionally high activity. In the Arctic they are generally open to the atmosphere in summer, whereas in Antarctica they become lidded over by ice, sometimes for several years. That makes it also more difficult to sample the dark sediment layer since a drill is needed.

It took us a while to get ready that day. Our plan, where to sample first, changed a few times during that morning. Finally we put our sampling gear together, put on lots of warm layers, the skidoo suits and helmets, and off we went.

Luckily we decided to first go to the sampling site that is not far from the station. After the first few holes, the drill started to behave weirdly. We didn’t want to break it and decided to head back to the station to fix it. We solved (or we thought we had solved) the problem and got ready again. With lots of spare batteries wedecided to head to the second sampling site further away (about half an hour by skidoo).Initially the drilling went well, but soon it started to misbehave again. We managed to drill two holes, which took us forever because the drill engine got weaker and weaker. Exchanging the batteries didn’t help. And then the drill stopped for good. The funny smell wasn’t a good sign either. It seemed like we were too strong for the drill and it couldn’t cooperate with us… Once more we had to abort the sampling and leave with not enough samples. Back at the station the guys were highly amused that the ladies broke the drill, but were also very helpful and handed us over a new one.

Already slightly frustrated we went back to our first sampling site. With the new drill and plenty of spare batteries, we assumed we would finally achieve what we wanted.  But the bad karma didn’t stop. We started to drill, which took us a while because the ice layer was quite hard and about 80 cm deep. The liquid water under the ice seemed to have been under a lot of pressure. Water started to gush and didn’t stop while we were there. We sampled the lake water and then focused on the cryoconite holes at the edge of the lake. We started to drill and were ready to sample just when the very loud and scary cracking noises started. In a landscape that is usually lacking any sounds (no planes, no wind in the trees, no birds) any kind of noise seems foreign and frightening. Because of the pressure release cracks started to form at the surface of the lack. Rationally we knew that we were unlikely to break into the lake with an ice layer of 80 cm depth (later we were also assured that even a plane could land on this). But since we were having such a bad day, we didn’t want to end it with a bath in an Antarctic lake. So we quickly packed our stuff and drove our skidoos off the lake and called it a day.  We finished the day feeling very tired and frustrated and also slightly worried that we “broke” the lake.

New day, new luck and hopefully better karma: We went back to the lake to happily find the lake as it was before (and not “broken”). There had been no reason to panic, but better to be safe than sorry. In the end we did get all the samples we wanted. We just had to accept that the previous day was not meant to be a good day for sampling.