30 December, 2002
Surveying and Sampling
My mettle was tested today! Jen and I did our first lone hike to two of the streams. First we loaded our gear into the ATV, or All-Terrain-Vehicle, to drive it west to the end of Lake Hoare. We found out before even getting to the machine why we should always wear our ice grippers when walking on lake surfaces. Jen took a rather graceful, but nasty, fall on the slick ice just before reaching the rough edge of the permanent ice. Luckily she was not hurt badly, but it shook us both up to realize how quickly accidents can happen.
At the end of Lake Hoare, we parked on the permanent ice and walked across the slick young ice near the shore. Then we headed overland, climbing small hills, traversing uneven rocky surfaces, and sinking inches into soft, deep sand. The walk itself was interesting with beautiful scenery and not all that long or difficult. BUT, then strap on a fifty pound backpack and carry a fifteen pound tripod, wear twenty pounds of clothing, and all of a sudden your back and shoulders are tested to the max.
You are so alone out here that it is easy to imagine you have been dropped off on an alien planet. The only signs of life were a lone skua and three helicopters with sling loads that were being dropped off in different camps in Taylor Valley. Do you remember that a sling load is a heavy load tied under the helo on a long rope? It swings freely as the helo flies, and it is kind of a strange sight to see.
Even though there were not many signs of life, there were lots of signs of death, and reminders that Antarctica can be harsh and unforgiving of mistakes. We passed at least eight mummified seals or skeletons. You can not help but wonder how they got so far inland and why they came. It was a mistake that cost them their lives.
I am camped in the Taylor Valley of the Dry Valley system of Antarctica. Most of Antarctica, 98 per cent, is covered by snow and ice, but 2 percent has not had much, if any, precipitation in millions of years. It looks like I imagine Mars would look, BUT, there are glaciers that reach their long frozen fingers in through the mountains which surround the valley. In the summer, which of course is now, the edges melt and send streams flowing through the valley, feeding the four frozen lakes. There is not much life here--a little algae and moss and some microscopic worms and bacteria.
Jenā¤s and my job, along with Erin when she arrives, is to re-survey the streams. We were trained in McMurdo on how to use the surveying equipment. You may have seen surveyors working near your home. One person sets up the Total Station, our surveying instrument, at a known elevation. It has to be carefully balanced and leveled which takes some time to do. Then the surveyor measures the distance to the other partner who is holding a rod on another known elevation, called the backsight. After that measurement is entered into the machine, we take measurements up and down the streambeds, where the water is running; the wetted zones, where you can see wet ground; the snow edge, if there is one; and through the thalwig, or deepest portion of the stream.
When the Total Station first turns on, the word Theo comes on the screen. We now fondly call it by first name, Theo! I'm the "rod-man" with the survey equipment. I walk up and down the streams, deciding where the rod should be placed to make the best topographic map of the stream. Jen records each measurement that she takes after making an infrared sighting through Theo directed at the prism on top of my rod. I have had to develop skill in recognizing the different parts of the stream. It requires a lot of walking, but it is good exercise, and since I am moving, I do not get cold very often. My waterproof boots are letting water in, so when I take my thalwig measurements my feet are getting wet. That has been pretty miserable! I plan on talking to the company who sold these to me. If they do not make them good when I get home, I will let you know which brand NOT to buy! Theo takes about an hour and a half to do the whole stream.
We then take algae samples and must also survey the exact location where the samples were taken. We take four samples from each spot. Three are put into bags, and one is placed in a bottle. All will be analyzed later. I will explain that process in another journal.
Then we do a pebble count. Randomly, without looking, you reach down and pick up a pebble. You measure the long side and the short side and then put it back. We do this one hundred times to get an average of pebble size in the stream. This is called the Wolman Pebble Count. You can imagine that this has quickly become my least favorite job! It does not take long for your hands to start freezing, and your back begins hurting from leaning over. Jen and I are trying different ways to divide the task. One of us records, while the other samples. We tried switching after twenty pebbles, so the picker- upper can warm her hands. Today Jen felt it was not as cold, so she did all one hundred while I recorded. She was fast! Guess it will have to be my turn tomorrow. And now the challenge is on to see who can do it the fastest!
Another job at each stream is to take water samples, conductivity readings which measure ions in saturation, pH and temperature readings, and a flow measurement. All of these jobs are new to me, so I am learning as we go. Jen has been a patient teacher and I am trying to be a quick and careful studentā¤"a new role for the teacher!
There were a few frustrations today. We hiked to House Creek, but after a careful scouring, we could not find our two elevation marks. Without those we could not do the work we were sent to do. At one point I was actually rock climbing the face of one of the steep slopes looking for the mark. It reminded me of working out back at Kennedy Junior High School where Mr. Scarpino was having me climb our school wall blindfolded, training me for this trip. Thanks, Tony. Except for the blindfold, it was a skill I really needed. Luckily I did not fallā¤"there were no mats under me this time!
We left House Creek feeling a little defeated, but knowing that this is science. Often when you are in the field, things do not go according to your plan. You adjust and make the best of the situation. Soā¤|we hiked around Lake Chad to the south side of Seuss Glacier where we found Wharton Creek. Those backpacks were feeling really heavy by this part of the trip. But we had a good day, and finished almost all of the measurements we needed to make. Tomorrow we can make a quick trip without most of our gear and finish quickly.
By this time we were cold, tired and hungry, but we still had to walk back to the ATV carrying all of our gear. That was truly the longest, most grueling hike I have ever taken. My back, shoulders, and legs were aching, but when we arrived back at Lake Hoare, Thomas Nylen, the glaciologist, and Leslie Blank, the assistant camp manager, had made a wonderful Thai shrimp meal for us and suddenly everything was positive again! The aches are still there, but I am no longer hungry and cold.
My grandfather McNeill was a surveyor in Florida many years ago. He was also always full of adventure. I think every once in awhile that he is looking down at me and smiling that a granddaughter of his would be doing such a thing in this wild and wonderful place!
to carry across rough terrain!
down the valley toward Canada Glacier, the one outside my tent at Lake Hoare.
is a harsh environment.
water fall that is flowing into the origin of Wharton Creek.
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