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I have got a few more impressions to share on our camp life. We have an amazing view from our cooking area, out across Lake Fryxell and towards Mt Erebus in the background.

 

View while cooking

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We brought a lot of equipment and some days the camp is turned into a workshop to get everything installed, assembled, checked and running for our measurements in the lake.

 

Preparing equipment for measurements in lake

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Another important task is to keep the heater running in the camp.

 

Lighting the heater

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The ice mass on Antarctica is the largest body of frozen water in the world so it is unsurprising that our drinking water is melted glacier ice. Our camp is near Canada Glacier and for several days some of us go over to Canada Glacier to collect chunks of ice that have fallen off the glacier. These chunks of ice are called glacier berries by the locals.

 

Trip to Canada Glacier to collect glacier berries

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Standing among the glacier berries

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Diving in Lake Fryxell

Posted by Anne D Jungblut Nov 27, 2012

As I wrote previously, all our microbial mat samples are collected by the divers in our team. AND the divers are back in the water! The diving is happening through a hole in the ice. It takes several days to make the hole. First a smaller hole is drilled and then a coil called a hot finger is used to widen the hole to ca 1 m in diameter.

 

We are not only collecting benthic cyanobacterial mat samples, but the divers are also collecting water from above the microbial mats for nutrient analysis and to determine oxygen concentration, as well as measuring the light conditions under the ice.

 

The scientific diving at Lake Fryxell is done with surface supplied air and there are always several dive tenders at each dive. Their responsibilities include tendering to the tethered diver or operating the console for the air supply and communication between the tender and diver.

 

We are getting ready for a dive

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My job is dive tender

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It is the end of a dive and we are getting the diver out of the water

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Full face mask diving set-up

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This afternoon we went for a walk on the Lake Fryxell. The ice is incredible clear in the moat regions, and one can find everywhere cyanobacterial mats frozen into the ice. These cyanobacterial mats were originally from the bottom of the lake, and are called lift-off mats. Microbial mats often drift to the top of the water when they are pushed upwards through the formation of gas bubbles. Although mats are now frozen, it is very likely that many of the cyanobacteria in the mats are still viable.

 

Lake Fryxell with Canada Glacier in the background

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Dried cyanobacterial mats in the ice

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Today, I collected water samples to study the diversity of cyanobacteria found in the water column of Lake Fryxell.  The water is sampled through a hole in the ice. We are very lucky the hole is covered by a heated tent, which makes it a lot easier. 

 

The phytoplankton biomass is concentrated on a filter. Some of the filters turned orange and brown because of the pigments of the phototrophic microbial community. After my return to the NHM, I will extract the DNA in order to characterise the cyanobacterial diversity.

 

Water sampling

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Niskin bottle

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Water filtration set-up

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Water filter coloured by the pigments of the phototrophic microbes in Lake Fryxell water

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.....and a little quiz: What is wrong in the following pictures?

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This year, we will be be out in the field for 5 weeks. Our first camp is at Lake Fryxell. During our time at Lake Fryxell, we will be able to use the facilities by the US Antarctic Programme, which is pretty cool! The camp consist of a James Way as living area with heating, internet and even a telephone line to Scott Base and McMurdo. We sleep in tents but spend most of the day out on the lake or in the labs and hut.

 

Lake Fryxell camp

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Inside the hut

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Our drinking water is melted glacier ice

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Snack corner

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Frozen Veggies

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Camping at Lake Fryxell

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My tent

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Solar  energy

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Wind energy

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Here some images from our flight from Scott base, the New Zealand Antarctic station to Lake Fryxell. We crossed the McMurdo Ice Shelf and flew passed Mt Erebus, which seemed more smoky than usual. We then entered Taylor Valley and crossed Commonwealth Glacier and landed at Lake Fryxell. Shortly after our arrival, the remaining camping gear and science equipment arrived on sling load.

 

Mt Erebus

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View from the helicopter over to the Commonwealth Glacier

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Campling gear and science equipment arriving with a sling load

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It is November 2012 and it is time to head back to Antarctica. This year we are a team of researchers and students from University of Canterbury (NZ), UC Davis (USA) and the Natural History Museum, London. We are coming from the research areas of Microbial Biodiversity, Microbial Ecology and Geobiology. We will be working in the McMurdo Dry Valleys and study the benthic biology of Lake Fryxell and Lake Vanda. In total, we will be in Antarctica seven weeks, two weeks at Lake Fryxell and three weeks at Lake Vanda, which is very exciting !

 

Cyanobacteria-based microbial mats and microbialites cover large parts of these lakes. The lakes are ice-covered and meromictic with a stratified water column, which makes them very interesting systems to study how environmental conditions affect microbial diversity and community composition and microbialite morphologies and their assemblages. The microbial communities will be collected by divers ( ...not me but the other members of my team). They will also characterise the different shapes of microbialite structures, as well as light conditions and photosynthesis activity of the lake environment.   We will also do light microscopy to study the cyanobacterial morphotype diversity.

 

Lake Fryxell at night

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The landscapes were just amazing in the Upper Wright Valley and sometimes we had time to just take some scenic images and close-ups of the rock formation.

 

 

Wind-eroded rocks and the Asgard Range in the background

 

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Part of this year's objectives was to sample cryoconite holes on the Upper Wright Glacier. They are vertical water-filled holes in the gaciers that are up to ca. 1 m in diameter and up to ca. 60 cm deep. At the bottom of these holes there is always a layer of sediment or small rocks, and many of these cryoconite holes have an ice lid. These cryoconite holes are formed by wind-blown dust and small rocks that melt into the ice. Some of our aims are to characterise the microorganisms living in these ice-entombed habitats and evaluate the relationships to microbial communities in other aquatic ecosystems in Antarctica.

 

 

Upper Wright Glacier and the large ice fall that is coming down from the polar plateau

 

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Stunning geological strata

 

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Hunting for croconite holes on Upper Wright Glacier

 

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Ian and Hannah are drilling into a cryoconite hole

 

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Most of the cyanobacterial mats that we have found were orange pigmented and the macroscopic structure was flaky to cohesive. The orange colour is due to carotenoids which are an protection against UV and oxidative stress.

 

I had a small light micrscope with me in the field and the genus Leptolyngbya dominated the orange mats. Leptolyngbya are filamentous non-branching cyanobacteria belonging to the order Oscillatoriales. They are mostly between 0.5-3 micrometre thick. However, the lower side of the orange layers sometimes had green pigmentation, which besides the Leptolyngbya also had some Phormidium. The genus Phormidium also belong to the order Oscillatoriales, but they are thicker with a width of around 5 micrometres.

 

   Flaky orange-pigmented cyanobacterial mats dominated by Leptolyngbya

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Cohesive orange-pigmented cyanobacterial mats

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green lower side of cyanobacterial mat with Phormidium

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Interestingly, we also found some cyanobacterial mats which were dark purple to black. This colour is due to the UV-screening Scytonemin. We found the genus Schizothrix sp. (Oscillatoriales)  in the mats which is known to produce Scytonemin. We also found several ponds with large accumulations of the genus Nostoc, which belongs to the order Nostocales and has specialist cells called heterocysts for nitrogen-fixation.

 

Cyanobacterial mats with the Scytonemin-producing genus Schizothrix

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Nostoc accumulations in a meltwater pond

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We also found a few ponds with green algae. Green algae biofilms are easy to distinguish from cyanobacteria as green algae are very bright green.

                                                                                              

Green algae

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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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Two-days ago we went for walk to the pressure ridges in the evening. The pressure ridges are forming where the ice shelf and sea ice are being pressed together at the shores of Ross Island. Last year the sea ice broke out and therefore the ice is still relatively thin and many large bright blue meltwater ponds have formed.

 

Meltwater pond in the pressure ridges

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Mt. Erebus is an active volcano that is ca. 3,700 metres high and is about 64 km away from Scott Base. Usually you can see little bit of smoke appearing from the top of the crater.

 

Pressure ridges and Mount Erebus

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Every year a few Adelie and Emperor penguins can been seen near Scott Base. At the moment, there is a lone Emperor penguin wandering through the pressure ridges. The penguins come from parts of Ross Island where the sea ice breaks out every summer. The Emperor colonies on Ross Island are quite far away and nobody really knows if these individual penguins will be able to get back to the colonies. Let's hope for the best!

 

 

Emperor penguin

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After a one-day delay, we left for Antarctica. It was a beautiful hot summer day in Christchurch and it felt a little bit strange to change into our Extreme Weather survival gear. We had check-in at 6.30 pm. After check-in there is always a safety briefing before everybody is driven to the C17 airplane.

 

                                                                                          Check-in for Antarctica

 

 

 

 

 

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The operations are shared between the New Zealand and US Antarctic Program.In the C17 there was a lot of cargo including some rather larger rotor blades.  Most of the passengers usually sit a long the sides… which is actually quite comfortable. We even get a brown bag lunch with yummy sandwiches, crisps and chocolate.

 

                                                                                 On the way to the C17 aircraft

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                                                                               In front of the C17 at Christchurch airport

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We left at 9 pm from Christchurch and got there just after 3 am in the night. It has been relatively warm on Ross Island lately with temperatures around 0 degree. Therefore, the flights are currently arriving during the hours of the day, when the temperatures are likely the lowest to prevent any damage on the ice runway.

                                                                                     Inside the C17

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When we arrived it was cloudy but not very windy nor cold. ….. At the moment there is 24-hour sunlight in Antarctica. It took 1 hour to get from the landing strip to Scott Base. The landing strip is on the ice shelf.

                                                                               Arrival in Antarctica

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At arrival we had a short welcome briefing and went to bed.At Scott base usually 3-4 people share a room. The windows have wooden shutters to block out the sunlight at night. The rooms are really comfortable.

 

 

                                                                                        bed rooms in  Scott Base

 

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                                                                                     View from the bed room

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