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Exploring cyanobacterial diversity in Antarctica Blog

8 Posts tagged with the wright_valley tag
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The Wright Valley is one of the ice-free Dry Valleys. The Upper Wright valley is characterised by the so-called Labyrinth, which is an area of steep-sided canyons and channels. It is mainly dolerite and most rocks are bright red. Based on the literature it was formed by large 'floods during the mid-Miocene era'.

 

The Labyrinth

 

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In the area you can find many strangely shaped rocks. They are called ventifacts, and are wind- and dirt-sculpted rocks.

 

Ventifacts in the Labyrinth

 

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Wherever you look you only see rocks and it often reminded me of images showing how it may look on Mars.

 

 

Landscapes like on Mars

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However, there is life. On one of our walks, we found these lichens. They were on the top of one of the ridges, where the overall humidity seems to be higher due to its location at a height of greater than 750 metres, and the greater influence of clouds and fog. Many of the lichens grow under or in cracks of the rocks, and this enhances the erosion of the rocks.

 

 

Lichens on rocks in the Labyrinth

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AND, as soon as you get running water and temporary ponds you get thick accumulations of orange-pigmented mats. To date there have only been few morphological descriptions and there is no DNA-based data available at all.

 

 

Meltwater ponds covered by ice with bright orange mats

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Orange cyanobacterial-based microbial mats

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Close-up of microbial mat

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(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:

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

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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:

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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:

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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.

 

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Crossing over the Asgard Range into Wright Valley:

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Last view of the helicopter:

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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.

 

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

 


 

                                                                                                         Antarctica

 

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.

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                                                                                     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.

 

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Extreme wind conditions

Posted by Anne D Jungblut Dec 15, 2010

The last several days, we had very windy weather, and made it impossible for our dive team to do any diving from our second dive hole that is further out on the lake. Winds out in the mountains and towards the polar plateau were far more extreme than at the lake, as we could see enormous snow plumes.

 

 

                                                                                    Snow plumes on the mountain peaks

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Boulder Pavement (77.5227°S, 161.7466°E) is an area ca 1.5 hour hike from the Lake Vanda along the Onyx River. It is the most extensive area of microbial mats in the Wright Valley. When I visited the area it was still too early in the season to have  water running or much growth of microbial mats.

 

However, i was able to find one spot where the ice had melted and bright orange microbial mats were visible. The orange colour is due to carotenoids, pigments that protect the cyanobacterial cells from UV radiation and reactive oxygen species.

 

Orange-pigmented cyanobacteria-dominated mats

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Dried river bed near Boulder Pavement

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The lake floor is covered with cyanobacteria-dominated mats of different thickness. The microbial mats from 59 ft are ca 1 cm thick and have small pinnacles growing out off the flat mats. The cross-section show differently coloured layers with a brown layer on top and a green and purple layer below (the colours are difficult to see under the yellow coloured light of our science tent). The different colours are due to the production of  pigments for efficient uptake of light.

 

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Lake Vanda  is in the Wright Valley and a lot bigger than Lake Joyce with a length of around five km. It is also ice-covered but the ice is in average only 4 meters thick. Lake Vanda is meromictic, which means that the deeper layers never mix with the upper layers. This creates very different condition in the shallower and deeper parts of the lake, and therefore very different microbes will likely be found in the different sections of the water column.

 

Lake Ice

In contrast to Lake Joyce the lake ice is very smooth with millions of fine cracks and trapped bubbles, creating amazing patterns and shapes.

 

Lake Vanda

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Lake Vanda ice... just like an abstract painting

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Ice flowers

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After one week at Lake Joyce it was time to pack and move our entire camp to Lake Vanda. Although i only stayed one week at Lake Joyce the rest of the team had spend close to a month there. It took two days to pack and four days to move all of the team and the equipment to Lake Vanda. This was also partly due to strong winds, which stopped the helicopter traffic.

 

Packing  Lake Joyce  camp

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Lake Vanda is also an ice-covered lake of the Dry Valleys and located in the Wright Valley. In order to get there we flow over the Asgard Range with amazing views over glaciers and mountain peaks.

 

Asgard Range

 

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Lake Vanda, Wright Valley

 

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