Over the coming weeks Ms. Niccoli's first graders and Mr. Brad's preschoolers will be joining us on our science expedition in Antarctica. While we (a science team from various parts of the world) work in sub-freezing conditions and sleep on ice for several weeks on end, the students will be enjoying the adventure from their warm and cozy classrooms. Feel free to follow along on our adventure together.

Scroll down to the bottom of this page to read a little about our science team.

Satellite image of Antarctica, courtesy of NASA. The blue dot is McMurdo. The red dot is our field area on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Journey Home and the Five Senses

It took about 5 days to get from WAIS Divide camp to my home in Utah. I left my awesome fieldteam to complete our work in Antarctica. I will continue to let you know of their progress over the coming weeks.

The trip home was long, but just as amazing as the rest of my journey. I flew from WAIS Divide Camp to McMurdo on a C-130 military plane. I was the only passenger, so the pilots let me sit in the cockpit with them for the entire flight. They also let me roam around and take pictures throughout the flight. It was amazing to watch out the windows as we flew from the interior of the ice sheet out to the sea ice and ice shelf.

If you look closely in the photo to the left, you can see WAIS Divide Camp and the long ice runway as we leave the camp.

After a day in McMurdo giving science lectures, touring the ice caves, and hiking through the pressure ridges, I made my way to New Zealand. Going from the cold, white, dry Antarctic to New Zealand was actually a real shock. We have five senses - hear, smell, taste, touch, and see. All five of my senses were going crazy - I was hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, and even tasting things that I'd missed while in Antarctica. Here are a few of the things that amazed me upon leaving Antarctia:

See and Smell
The only colors we see a lot in Antarctica are white (the ice and snow), red (our coats), blue (the sky), and brown and black (the rocks). The colors I loved seeing again when we landed in New Zealand were green, purple and pink. I really missed green.

I also hadn't smelled flowers, grass, trees, or any other vegetation at all while in Antarctica. The smell of these gardens was really overwhelming after smelling nothing but snowmobile exhaust for so long.

While I did hear lots of wind while in Antarctica, it sounds very different blowing through the trees. I missed that sound. I also missed the sound of running water. The water in Antarctica is frozen solid. But the thing I missed most were the birds. There were no birds chirping out on the ice sheet. It was fun to hear all these things again when in New Zealand.

Feel and Taste
The three things I loved most about coming home were the feel of big hugs and kisses from my family, the feel of a real bed, and the taste of a home-cooked meal. I love being home!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Heading Home

I am officially headed home. I've left Drs. Koenig and Koutnik, Mike, Clement, and Landon in Antarctica to complete our work, and am headed to Utah's toasty warm winter. I'm very excited to get home and see my family, but I will miss Antarctica and my wonderful field team there.

The trip home will be a long one, just like the trip coming. It takes 6 different airplane flights to get from WAIS Divide Camp to Salt Lake City, Utah. Adding it all up, I will be sitting on planes for about 30 hours. Yuck!

I'll write another blog with pictures of the journey back to the states once I'm officially home. I'll also continue to update you as to our team's progress in Antarctica. I'll definitely be anxious to get them all home safely to their families and to hear about their many adventures since I left them.

See you all soon!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Ice

People often ask me why I would want to study snow and ice. Isn't it just white and cold? Well, yes. It's mostly white and it's definitely cold. But I study ice because it impacts the way people all around the world live - from skiing to drinking water to dangerous avalanches to providing a record of past environments. The more we study ice, the more we understand just how important it is.

I also study ice because it's beautiful - from the smallest ice crystal to the vast expanse of the ice sheet itself. It's hard to describe just how beautiful ice can be.

In this post, I'll show you just a few pictures of the ice from Antarctica, though pictures really can't capture just how amazing Antarctica really is.

Ice Crystals
If you look really closely at these ice crystals, you can see that each one has six sides. Snow flakes are another six-sided ice crystal. Next time it snows in Utah, see if you can see the six sides.

Ice Caves
Caves form in the ice in some areas of Antarctica, and scientists are trying to figure out how and why they form. I never thought I would get to explore caves in Antarctica!

Pressure Ridges
The ice on either side of a long break or crack in the ice floating on the ocean can be pushed up ontop of each other creating what are called pressure ridges. The pressure ridges look like a long series of jagged peaks that stick up out of the relatively flat ice all around it. The two pictures and video below show some pressure ridges we saw while near the coast of Antarctica. They are some of my favorite features of Antarctic ice.

Ice Covered Mountains
Most of Antarctica is completely covered by ice. You can only see rock or ground in very few places. Below are three photos from near the coast of Antarctica, where you can see some of the mountain peaks and rocks poking up out of the ice.

The snow in Antarctica is so dry that it blows around and forms dunes, just like sand. Snow dunes are called sastrugi.

West Antarctic Ice Sheet
Most of Antarctica is covered by so much ice that you see nothing else anywhere around. It's like standing on a frozen ocean with no land anywhere in sight. The first two pictures below show what the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is like when standing on it; the last picture shows what it looks like when flying above it.

Wildlife in Antarctica

While not many animals can live in the very harsh and cold environments of Antarctica, there is unique wildlife in some areas, especially along the coast. We have been lucky enough to see some of this wildlife when in McMurdo.

We've seen seals on several occasions. They're really fun to watch slide around and sun themselves on the sea ice. Here are some of Landon's pictures of seals sunning themselves on the sea ice.

We have also seen lots of Skua. Skua are a type of fat, brown seagull. I'm told they just look fat because they have lots of extra feathers to keep them warm ... I think they really are fat because they keep steeling my food.

Unfortunately, we have not seen any penguins yet, but we'll keep looking.

(Cartoon from greatbluemarble.com)

Ocean Wildlife
We also went through the "Ob. Tube". A tube or tunnel was built through the sea ice with a little glass room at the bottom. You can crawl through the tube into the room and see what everything looks like under the sea ice. In Clement's picture below, you see the water (blue), bottom of the sea ice (glowing greenish yellow), and krill (little green spots floating under the sea ice). Krill are shrimp-like critters that live in these really cold waters and are food to much of the sea life in the area.

The marine biologists in McMurdo do research on wildlife along the coast and in the cold ocean waters. In their lab at McMurdo, they keep a "touch tank" and science tanks. In the touch tank, they keep some of the animals and organizms that live along the coast - and we're allowed to touch them. Here area a few pictures from the touch tank.

I got to spend some time with one of the marine biologists, Dr. Buckley from Portland State University, who is studying rockcod from beneath the Antarctica sea ice. The rockcod he is researching are a type of fish that live live deep in the water under the ice. Most of them have never before touched the surface of the water or felt air before - they've only felt rocks, water, and the bottom of the ice. While in these tanks, they bob up and down all day long trying to figure out where their ice went. They are really fun to watch. Here are some short videos of these fish.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tents, Snow Mobiles, and Weather

Our preschoolers and first-graders back home want to know where we sleep (buildings or tents), how cold it is, and whether snowmobiles are fun. Great questions.

First, the fun part - the snow mobiles. These are our only mode of transportation while we're away from McMurdo - they carry us and all our gear all around. And, yes, they are lots of fun. We were excited about them before we ever left New Zealand. Below are some fun pictures and videos of our snow mobiling experience so far.

Left: Landon and Clement practicing their snow mobile skills in New Zealand.
Right: Dr. Koenig wishing she had brought her motorcycle helmit to Antarctica, instead of using the ones given us in McMurdo.

Left: Our snow mobile mechanic attempting to teach us how to fix them when we brake them
Right: Mountain Mike on one of our snow mobiles at WAIS Divide Camp

The first video below is the view from the snow mobile as Landon is driving out towards our first ice core drilling site. The second video is Landon pulling Dr. Rupper in a sled across some of the sastrugi (snow dunes). Yeehaw!

Where do we sleep? We slept in buildings when we were in McMurdo, but out here at WAIS Divide Camp everyone sleeps in tents. We have two types of tents with us: Mountain Tents (red) and Scott Tents (yellow). Landon and Clement sleep in one of the Scott Tents; Drs. Koenig, Koutnik, and Rupper sleep in the other Scott Tent; Mountain Mike sleeps in the Mountain Tent.

How cold is it? Temperatures in this area change quite a bit from day to day. Our warmest day so far was -15 F; the coldest day was -35 F. How cold is that? Well, I went to bed inside a fleece sleeping bag which was inside a -15 F down sleeping bag which was inside a -40 F down sleeping bag. The toothpaste and baby wipes I was hiding in my sleeping bag to keep them warm were completely frozen when I woke up in the morning. Since we haven't showered in ... well ... a long time, the baby wipes are my only way of keeping clean. They don't work so well when they're frozen.

Drs. Rupper and Koutnik snuggling in for the night. Do we look warm yet?

Frozen gloves hanging inside the scott tent

The cold temperatures really aren't too much of a problem. The real problem is the wind. It is always windy here, and the wind makes it feel much colder. Plus, you can never set anything down or it will just blow away or quickly be covered by the blowing snow. The first video below shows the typical windy day. The second video is taken in the same spot during a wind storm. We weren't able to work on that very windy day - so we slept and ate a lot instead.

Ground Penetrating Radar

While ice cores and snow pits give us a look directly at the ice, they really only let us look in a few spots. We use ground penetrating radar to look at the amount of snow fall between the ice cores and snow pits.

Snow falls in both winter and summer in Antarctica, which creates layers of snow each year. The radars can "see" these layers beneath the surface, and we can use that to determine how much snow fell each year.

The radars are pulled on a sled, imaging the ice beneath the surface all along the way. A few months ago Dr. Koenig, Clement, and Landon went to the University of Kansas to build the radar sled to make sure it would work in Antarctica. They took the sled apart and shipped the pieces to Antarctica. Landon and Clement put the sled back together again at WAIS Divide Camp, while the rest of us set up camp and organized gear. It's a lot harder than it looks to build in these cold conditions.
Left: Landon and Clement building the radar sled
Center: Landon and Dr. Rupper finishing the radar sled
Right: Radar sled completed and loaded with the radars (red box) and radar gear

There is something very unique about this sled - it rides on three snowboards. Pretty creative if you ask me.

Watch this video to see a little more of the sled and radars.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ice Core Drilling

Sorry for the long time between blogs. We do have great news - our science expedition is going really well. We'll show you a bit of the drilling in this blog, and then the radar in tomorrow's blog.

The goal of our science expedition is to determine just how much snow has fallen each year for the last 30 to 50 years in this region of Antarctica. One way to do this is to actually look at the snow and ice that is buried beneath the surface. We look at the ice two ways: snow pits and ice cores.

Left: View from the first ice core drilling site.
Right: Landon getting gear ready for drilling.

Snow Pits: We dig our snow pits with shovels and saws. Each pit is over six feet deep - which is much taller than I am. It's hard work and takes a couple of hours, but working hard keeps us nice and warm. Once we've dug the pit, we can look at the snow and ice from the surface down to the bottom. We put some of the snow in bags to bring back and study.

Left: Mike and Dr. Koutnik digging our first snow pit

Right: Completed snow pit with stairs for climbing in and out

Dr. Rupper taking measurements and sampling the snow pit wall

Ice Cores: Once we're done collecting snow from the wall of the snow pit, we cut back one of the walls to make room for the ice core drill. The drill is made of metal barrels, a motor that makes the barrels spin, and a cutter at the bottom. The cutter is a ring of very sharp metal that cuts through the ice. We use the drill to bring up ice deep beneath our feet, much deeper than we can dig with shovels. You can watch Landon and Mike drilling an ice core in the video below.

When we're done drilling, we measure the core and put it in special bags to ship back to our lab at BYU. You can watch a video of the ice core being removed from the drill in the video below. Also, while it looks like it is the middle of the day, it is actually very, very late at night. The sun never goes down - which means we can work late into the night.

Our first day of drilling took us about 14 hours - that's like going to school twice in one day. We loaded the sleds with the gear, drove by snow mobile out to our drilling site, dug and sampled the snow pit, drilled the ice cores, loaded the sled back up and headed back to camp. Upon returning to camp around 11:00 at night (well past my bedtime), after a very long day in temperatures around-30 F, Landon smiled and said "that was really fun".

Over the last week, we really have had a great time digging snow pits and drilling ice cores. We are learning so much, and Antarctica is so beautiful. Just two more weeks of digging and drilling to go!