Saturday, January 07, 2006

Your own two eyes

1/24/06 ---"We are doing a terrible thing to this globe and a terrible thing to future generations of Americans", Senator John McCain said on CBS's "Face the Nation" last Sunday, in reply to host Bob Schiefer's request for his thoughts about global warming, returning from visiting Antarctica last month and the Arctic earlier in 2005.

"I'm confident, unfortunately, that climate change is real," added McCain. "It's taking place every day we don't do anything about it in implementing national policy to try to stop the emission of greenhouse gases, which are generated by human activity".

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Today is Sunday, shower day at Lake Hoare, Antarctica. But today was no ordinary shower day. In addition to a bucket of water and a bar of soap- the sky rained Senators and Representatives today. 9 Representatives from the House Science Committee and Senators McCain, Sununu and Collins visited this remote camp in two one-hour shifts--- with most of the Representatives arriving around 10 in the morning, and the Senators arriving at 1 in the afternoon.

Rep. Darlene Hooley from Oregon took a picture of Hassan and I because of our Oregon connection--- there may be a small press blurb. (I am comparing the Canada Glacier with the Eliot Glacier on Mount Hood, Oregon). She was friendly and excited and all parties were interested in the workings of the camp, sleeping in tents, and the daily routine of sampling and conducting science in the Dry Valleys....) We took pictures of various Representatives posing against the bold backdrop of the Canada Glacier.

The most exciting part of the visit was definitely the second Helo visit carrying the Senators. When I shook Senator John McCain's hand I said "Thank you for speaking up about global warming-please continue to fight for legislation". Senator McCain said "Sununu, come over here, Sarah has something she'd like to talk to you about"- then he looked at me and said "Sununu needs some convincing" McCain's speeches in the Senate on climate change have included pictures of the receding ice in the Arctic and the pictures of glacier recession in Kilimanjaro (he became intrigued with this site as a boy)....he said he would not stop fighting and that Global Warming would be recognized and action would be taken, but he wasn't sure how much damage would be done. (Neither am I).

On his way out, I gave Senator McCain a postcard I had painted of the Canada Glacier, thanking him for his efforts- then he thanked me. As he and Sununu were standing outside, Sununu said something like---"the climate is one of those issues that is really hard to resolve, there is so much information." A few people from the camp mentioned that we are working to gather such information. I said "Five of the last 10 years are the warmest in historical record"- and McCain interjected "Go Sarah! Sununu all you need to understand global warming is your own two eyes."

Tomorrow its back to science, back to chipping out a piece of the influence of humans on climate, on ecosystems. We must take efforts to preserve our planet and understand the reprocussions of environmental policy.

White Ninjas

Today Hassan (from Portland), and Liz (from Bristol), and I completed several tasks. The first was updating two met stations, the second- collecting cryoconite hole (melt holes in the glacier that fill with sediment and are sealed with an ice lid), and the final was sampling trace metals in the supraglacial streams. This final task required Hassan and I to don the billowy (XXXL) white non-particulating suits, complete with head covering. The suits are huge in case it is very cold and you have to wear Big Red underneath. (Big red is the fond name for our huge Antarctic Parkas.) It was mild (1 C) and sunny, no wind and no big red, so we looked like white ninjas posed for attack in the fierce landscape of the glacier... it is fierce, there are steep cliffs in the ablation zone that host treacherous icy spears, and Mount Erebus looms forebodingly in the background.

I am hot (red-faced) and tired, and soon I will sleep with the billowing ninjas in my mind. There is an artistry to sampling, Hassan stood downwind so he did not blow any of his 'dust' into my bottles.... and it was a simple dance to keep out of each others way while maintaining the quality of the samples. It was a lot of hiking- we started up the glacier at 9 and I just finished filtering samples at 9--- after getting of the ice at 7. I am glad that I like long steep walks. Its worth the view and the science. These samples may illustrate the metals in this terrain, or may point to pollution from the Southern Hemisphere, the may be the food that the smallest of organisms thrive on... I can't wait to find out... but for now, I must sleep...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Resting Valley

The intense sun of yesterday has been replaced with a few stray snowflakes and a thick ceiling of clouds. There are three of us alone in camp. Me, Rae-the camp manager, and Heidi- the assistant camp manager. Stranded, no helicopters will buzz overhead dropping beakers (scientist) along the Taylor Valley. I feel remote. (Minus the email- and this feeling would be amplified). Rae made crepes more delicate than any restaurant for breakfast, and we had steamed milk with our coffee...a good way to spend a gray morning.

The assistant camp manager Heidi is helping me sample today. We are leaving camp every 2 hours for a total of 12 hours to sample Andersen Creek above the stream gauge (pictured below), this is just 20 feet from my tent and slightly more from the comfort of the main kitchen building. We all laugh every time the big white clean suits zip over our clothes... they are remniscent of the Stay-Puff marshmellow man from ghostbusters..

I would rather get samples today than wait. You can never count on the weather getting better in this place, although, I do have high hopes that tomorrow will be blisteringly sunny and the surface of Canada Glacier will begin to seep, meriting a climb around on the glacier, collecting its melt to determine if the pollution we produce in the industrialized world is contaminating its blood.

The sun expands the valley, stretching it far to the sea and into the iceshelf, on sunny days the valley is endless and the peaks of mountains unreachably high, bracketing our camp in their sturdiness. Protecting one side of rocks from racing winds, yet leaving other sides exposed, to whittle down into body forms, perhaps giving the rocks attitudes to walk themselves slowly out the valley over the course of millions of years. It is during these gray days that the rocks and people take their naps.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Descent into the Valley

Last night I stayed up late- for some bleary-eyed catching-up with Carolyn Dowling, I haven't seen her since she left Columbus a year and a half ago to teach at Arkansas State- and is looking at gas chemistry in the Dry Valley lakes. As the night progressed, the memories grew funnier ...Laughing, I went out from the dark of the coffeehouse into the bright light of the Antarctic summer and ran one last bag to the Science Cargo cage--- because I have been booted out of my dorm room at McMurdo while I stay at Lake Hoare.
Lake Hoare, beautiful breathe-taking Lake Hoare. The lake has developed an aquablue moat and is coated in feathery juts of ice. Next to the lake, I gasp at the site of the Canada Glacier's steep but rounded cliffs, they are sturdier than the mobile faces of temperate glaciers (pictured above). More familiar glaciers like those seen in Alaska, in Iceland, the Discovery Channel. The glaciers in the Taylor Valley are plump martian fingers resting on the skin of the valley floor. It really does look like skin from high in the helicopter, with permafrost cracking the ground along lines of freeze and thaw into patterned squares. The glaciers are slowly seeping water along their margins in shallow proglacial streams. (The surfaces of the glaciers are hummocked and rough from sediment and melt- pictured are Liz and Hassan on this surface).I took a brief nap after taking a 3 hour hike and woke up delighted to hear the sound of percolation. There will be water for me to sample. Will the fate of our pollution register in these extra-terrestrial melts? I cannot wait to find out!

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Spines of Antarctica

Pictured is the spine of Erebus... however, today I learned that buildings also have spines. Crary Lab- the Antarctic Science building- appears to be a long Jamesway in the style of a ranch house gone military. AKA brown, metal and no roof--- yet the building is no ranch--- it hosts many researchers from fisheries scientists, soil biologists and chemists- and the building stretches as deep as it is wide (but you cannot tell this from the front) The spine of Crary lab is gently sloping ramp that leads into the basement and down a steep hill on which the building rests. The basement is where the pumps aerate the fish tanks and strange experiments brew.

Chills ran up my spine today for the first time in this icy adventure. The temperature has dropped and winds are gusting up to 30 mph off the Ice Shelf. I have run back and forth between the helicoptor pad (HeloOps) equipment staging building and the lab and my dorm room myriad times today--- I have all of the DI water, filter towers, boots, and gear down at the Helopad now waiting for my flight out to the Dry Valleys tomorrow. (The Asgard Range- The Spine of the Taylor Valley pictured below)And good news, it looks like I will be digging my snowpit and sampling early in the season. I am more anxious to get the snow sampled than the streams as I won't need mountaineer support to sample the streams- and I don't want the mountaineers to be overwhelmed by the field requests of other scientists... so, Trevor- the hoss who taught my field safety refresher yesterday will be flying out to Lake Hoare (the field camp where I will be staying) on Friday for a glacier travel refresher and then he will stay in camp until Tuesday so we can catch a Helo up the Canada Glacier on Saturday or Monday to dig and sample my snowpit for trace metals. Then it is likely that my samples will make the boat out on the 16th--- the stream samples can be air mailed later...

The whipping wind is a great contrast to the warmer weather of the last few days...and to the very high temperatures kept in the science and dorm buildings. I cannot help but imagine how loud my tent would be rattling in this....oh, that Trey found me some earplugs!!! (Thanks:)