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Exploring cyanobacterial diversity in Antarctica Blog

5 Posts tagged with the taylor_valley tag

This year, we went back to Lake Joyce to study the benthic biology in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. The 3D microbial structures that are growing out of the mat are particularly interesting because most of them have a calcite skeleton. This is the only lake in the Dry Valleys where microbial mats have such distinctive calcite skeletons.


The calcite skeleton makes these microbialites particularly interesting for geobiology, where modern microbial mats are studied to enable a better interpretation of microbialite fossils from early Earth. 


Over the last three weeks we collected samples that will allow us to investigate if the water chemistry, light and sedimentation effect the growth of microbialites in the lake. We also collected mat material to carry out DNA and microscopy analysis to evaluate the role that cyanobacteria, other bacteria and eukaryotes play on the formation of microbialites and their calcite skeleton.



Microscopy image of Phormidium cyanobacterial filaments in Lake Joyce mats. Most of the Phormidium filaments have a strong purple pigmentation though the production of Phycoerythrin for a better utilisation of the limited light that is available in Lake Joyce.



Anne working at the microscope.



Close-up image of microbialites with calcite skeleton covered by thin microbial mat webs .



Microbialite structures with calcite skeleton collected from Lake Joyce by diving.



The team getting ready for a dive to collect microbial mats.


The main efforts of the field event led by researchers from UC Davis, California, were to map the distribution of the microbial structures in the lake and to test what the influence of sedimentation is on the microbial structures.


The imaging is done by a drop camera that is held on a rope through a hole in the ice. The team installed several traps in the ice that will collect sediment from now until next season.Each hole is individually drilled with a jiffy drill in order to insert the traps and document the microbial mas and microbial structures.



The team drilling a hole in the ice.


(It has been two weeks since I last had internet access so this post is a bit of a catch up!)


After arriving at Scott Base and having a refresher AFT (Antarctic field training) course, we spent two days packing our field gear. We had a long list to get through ranging from equipment, radios, solar panels, tents, sleeping bags to food and toilet kit.


Cages with field equipment in Hillary Field Centre:

preparing for field 1.jpg


...and this is our final pile of everything that we would need for the next two weeks out in the Wright Valley:

preparing for field 2.jpg


As last year, we flew out by helicopter to our first site in the Wright Valley. We were very lucky to get out on the scheduled day as the weather and visibility are often too bad to fly.



Arrival at the helicopter pad:



We caught our last views of Scott Base while flying - last year the sea ice broke off at Scott Base and therefore the ice is still very thin and forms beautiful meltwater ponds.


Scott Base and meltwater ponds:

preparing for field 4.jpg

Flight into Taylor Valley

The flight to our first site took nearly one hour. We passed the ice shelf and flew into the Dry Valleys via Taylor Valley and then crossed over to the Wright Valley via the Asgard Range.


flight into WV 1.jpg


Crossing over the Asgard Range into Wright Valley:

flight into WV 2.jpg



Last view of the helicopter:

arrival WV.jpg



Our camp

We found a great camp spot on a large snowbank near the Wright glaciers. We had each a tent and a small kitchen tent. This will be our home for the next week.




Today we went to an area that is classified as Antarctic Specially Protected Area or ASPA. These are sites that are of special historic or ecological significance and a permit is required for entry.


The area comprises sloping ice-free ground with summer ponds and small meltwater streams draining from the Canada Glacier to Lake Fryxell. It is  is on the other side of the Canada Glacier and  the hike took ca 1.5 hours including the crossing of Canada Glacier.





The Canada Glacier stream area has high biomass accumulations in comparison to most other regions of the Dry Valleys. Several moss species (Bryum argenteum, Hennediella heimii and Bryum pseudotriquetrum), lichens (Lecanora expectans, Caloplaca citrina) and freshwater algae (Prasiola calophylla, Tribonema elegans) have been described from the stream area (Management Plan for Antarctic Specially Protected Area No. 131).



                                                                                                      Canada stream and Lake Fryxell




Cyanobacterial mats are also abundant. Oscillatoria, Leptolyngbya, Phormidium, Calothrix, Nostoc and Gloeocapsa are the common cyanobacterial genera the mats growing in the streams.



                                                                                                   Cyanobacerial mats




                                                                                       Nostoc and other cyanobacteria growing on moss



After 10 days at Lake Vanda and collection of many fascinating samples, it was time again to pack and move on.  This time half of our team would go back to McMurdo station as they were finished with their field work and three of us would move on to Lake Hoare.  Lake Hoare is in the Taylor valley next to the Canada Glacier. Lake Hoare is part of the US Long Term Ecological Research Program (LTER). The LTER does important long-term research on for example glacial systems and the ecology of streams and soils in the Dry Valleys.


                                                                                              Lake Hoare camp





Lake Hoare is one of the bigger camps in the Dry Valleys and run by Rae and Sandra . It has a main hut with a  huge kitchen, computer area and some bunk beds, several small laboratories and even shower facilities (Sunday is shower day). Rae and Sandra cook the most delicious food and  fresh cookies keep appearing everyday in a magical way. It was a real treat after being in the field with only a small kitchen tent and no shower or proper toilet facilities for several weeks.



                                                                                             My tent site



The tents are nestled between the wall of Canada Glacier and Lake Hoare – the most beautiful place I have camped. My tent is right next to the glacier and I could hear the meltwater running of the glacier in small waterfalls during the night.


                                                                                         Canada Glacier




Although I have been writing already for several weeks about different regions and lakes in Antarctica, I have never posted a map.





Map of Antarctica showing the location of Ross Island with US (McMurdo ) and the NZ Antarctic (Scott Base) stations, and the Dr Valley located in Victoria Land, continental Antarctica.




                                                                                     Dry Valleys (Southern Victoria Land)


Map of the Dry Valleys (McMurdo Dry Valleys ASMA Manual) , showing Pearse Valley with Lake Joyce, Wright Valley with Lake Vanda and Taylor Valley with Lake Hoare, which will be the last lake that we are planning to visit. The Dry Valleys are on continental Antarctica.



Anne D Jungblut

Anne D Jungblut

Member since: Sep 2, 2010

I'm Anne Jungblut from the Botany Department. Join me as I head to Antarctica to study cyanobacterial diversity in ice-covered lakes of the Dry Valleys and Ross Island where already scientists on Scott's and Shakleton's expeditions made many discoveries.

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