TEA Banner
TEA Navbar

19 January, 1997

Another wonderful day in the dry valleys of Southern Victoria Land Antarctica found me walking from Bonney Lake to Lake Hoare after having turned down the 7 minute helicopter ride in favor of the 8 mile hike through the valley for an up close and personal view of the valley. It really looks like I am on a different planet - maybe the moon. There are large ventifacts strewn about between large sandy beaches along side glaciers. The helo did take my sleep kit, computer and gear to Lake Hoare so the hike was unencumbered by carrying a heavy load. The land between the lakes looks much like a dry lake bottom with piles of gravel and sand and an occasional stream winding through. The land is very soft, especially in the sand. There are numerous mummified seals lying about. They do not decay but rather dehydrate. Do you know why?

I hiked with Dr. Ray Kepner, a post Doc working with Dr. Bob Wharton, the PI on this project. I was assigned to him as a mentee, so as my mentor, he has some obligation to work with me, a job which I see as including hiking! I had to do some fast talking to convince Ray that

it was just fine to turn down a helicopter ride in favor of a long walk. The rules here are that no one goes out alone for very long or very far.

We hiked along the Suess glacier where we met some New Zealand scientists who had used an electric chain saw to cut a 28 meter tunnel into the side of the glacier to better study the dynamics of the glacial movement. We were invited to tea and a tour of their tunnel. Of course we accepted (we had been walking for 4 hours and they had not had any company in quite a while). Inside the tunnel grids of small stakes were positioned into the wall at various heights with the intention of measuring how the glacier moves through time. The New Zealand campwas very small with only two people there. They have only two small tents and none of the luxuries of our field camp.

Several of you have asked whether any of our research has anything to do with global climate change. The answer to that question is yes! We can tell that the lakes in this valley have been rising for the last 100 years. The first measurements come from the historical journals of Scott and Taylor when they first explored these valleys. Water systems drive the ecosystem in this valley. Because it is a fairly simple system with no large animals or plants, it is much easier to measure the impact of water. There is effectively only one season here - summer when some of the ice melts and water begins to flow. Flowing water goes into the lakes causing them to rise and also delivering to them inorganic carbon in several form, calcite, dissolved carbon dioxide and minerals. One of our water tests measures doc - dissolved inorganic carbon. Another test measures cations and anions. These include sodium, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, chlorine, nitrates to name a few. Without melt water, none of these materials would get into the lake and the organisms that require them in order to survive would be in serious trouble. So, the melt water is important and is directly influenced by the temperature of the air and the amount of solar energy reaching the glacier along with the amount of material in the valley that absorbs the energy - like dark colored materials - rocks, sand and mats. So the bottom line is that the climate directly influences life in the ecosystem of the dry valley as it does the rest of earth. It is just easier to measure the impacts of global climate change with a much simpler system than where you all live. We can be fairly sure that the hydrological systems behave much the same way regardless of where they are. Do you agree with that? Do you have any further questions about the impact of climate change? Do you think there is global warming? Why is it important to measure glacial movement or solar absorption and reflection, albedo? Does it have anything to do with the hydrological system?

Tomorrow I will tell you about the experiments that I am doing with the rotifers that live in these lakes.

Contact the TEA in the field at .
If you cannot connect through your browser, copy the TEA's e-mail address in the "To:" line of your favorite e-mail package.