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10 January, 2003

Upper Delta Stream

Sun streamed into my tent at 7:00 AM this morning and woke me up. The tent had warmed to the point of being almost too hot, but it was nice to get dressed without feeling I had to hurry to keep from freezing! The weather is so changeable. Last night we actually had a "snowstorm." Remember: this is the Dry Valleys. The sky got very dark with low clouds, the air took on a bone chilling feel, and there were several snowflakes. Of course there was no accumulation. Then this morning the clouds were gone and the sun was baking us like a day at the beach. Truly we have to put on lots of suntan lotion. Our faces are getting tanned no matter what we do, but we look like Antarctic raccoons, because we also always wear goggles or sunglasses.

The temperature can climb to the upper thirties and then the sun goes behind a cloud and it drops like a stone. The amazing thing about the changes in temperature is that it can be seen immediately in the stream flow. The streams on our side of the lake usually flow slowly in the morning and then increase dramatically when the sun is shining on the glaciers. Just as quickly though, when the sun goes behind a cloud, the streams turn off. It is an incredibly sensitive ecological system.

Susan Monroe, a chemist from Crary Lab in McMurdo, came out to spend a day helping Jen and me do an algae transect. The helo delivered her to F6 and later another came back to pick the three of us up and all our gear. We flew to Upper Delta Stream. Delta is about eleven kilometers long, so walking to the top with all of our equipment would have been pretty difficult. Barry, our pilot, put us down as close as he could get to the coordinates we had. Our worst complication is that sometimes the markers where we do our surveying from are very hard to find. If we can't find them, we can't take the samples or do the work we need to do. Today we had to walk over four miles and spent about three hours hunting for them. They are little tiny bolts in a big rock--but there are literally millions of rocks that all look alike. It's like hunting for a needle in a haystack. Some are marked with a stack of rocks called a rock cairn. THOSE I like, because I'm pretty good at spotting them. They are more like hunting for Easter eggs!

We were worried that by getting such a late start we would never get done, but we finished in record time. Susan was a big help and learned to take algae samples like a pro! The best part of today was that it was an absolutely bright, clear day. We were up high and could see the details of the glaciers that line the valley, and more than once we would stop our work and say, "Wow! Isn't it beautiful!" The water of the streams glistened and the sun reflected brightly.

For months after I found out I had been chosen to go to Antarctica, I would wake up with a jolt and say, "Omigosh! I'm going to Antarctica!" The uniqueness has not worn off. I find myself stopping during the day and saying, "Omigosh! I'm IN Antarctica!"

1. Jen teaches Susan to use the Pygmy Meter to

measure the stream flow rate. You wear earphones and the meter turns in the water making a clicking sound with each revolution. The person doing the measuring counts the number of clicks it makes in 40 seconds.

2. Me doing my least favorite job: the pebble count.

You stand in the stream and randomly measure the long and short sides of 100 pebbles. Your feet get wet, your hands are freezing and it doesn't do much for your back either. But it's all for science! (Jen is still the fastest pebble counter in the south. I don't even begin to approach her speed.)

3. Me in front of the Howard Glacier. I'm happy just

to be here!

4. Jen and Susan waiting for the helicopter to come

back and pick us up. That's the Canada Glacier in the background and the Upper Delta Stream glittering in the foreground.

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