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Today, we went to Cape Evans, where the famous hut from the Terra Nova Expedition is located. The helicopter flight took 20 minutes and it was spectacular with great views over the the McMurdo Ice Shelf and sea ice. A group of conservators from the Antarctic Heritage Trust has been spending the whole summer here to work on the famous hut. They have a cosy camp with a communal kitchen and dining hut and several polar tents. Actually, these kind of tents were also used by Scott and their design has only little changed since then. They are can withstand stronger winds than mountain tents. From our lunch break we had a great view on Scott’s hut . After we were done with our sample collection the conservators from AHT showed us the hut.

Flight over the ice


Polar tents at Cape Evans


Scott's hut  build during the Terra Nova Expedition


Conservation work at the hut by Antarctic Heritage Trust



Yesterday we sampled cyanobacterial mats and water samples on the McMurdo Ice Shelf. We went for the day to an area near Bratina Island. In this area, the ice shelf  is covered with a  layer of sediment and hundreds of meltwater ponds can be found. During the summer they forms a large network of meltwater ponds  and it has the most extensive microbial growth and largest non-marine biota in southern Victoria Land. It  has been suggested that the  area plays an important role as  source for inocula through dispersal by winds into the more extreme regions such as the Dry Valleys.


Although some of the ponds are only several meters away from each other , they can have very different characteristics. A large range of salinities can be found in the area ranging from fresh to hypersaline.




                        McMurdo Ice Shelf and Bratina Island with Royal Society Range in the background




   Temperature, conductivity and ph measurements at an hypersaline pond near Bratina Island. The pond is called Salt Pond and has thick white salt crust around the water edge.





                                  Cyanobacterial mats with orange pigmented pinnacles




The most southerly colony of Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is located at Cape Royds. I have come to Antarctica for several years now, but I never had the chance to see a penguin colony. Therefore I am very excited to be at Cape Royds! The penguins come to Cape Royds every summer to breed and at the moment little penguin chicks can be seen everywhere.

Penguins seem to be very curious little fellows and we would see them wandering around in small groups all over Cape Royds.

                                                                                          Penguin colony at Cape Royds


                                                                                               A penguin is visiting us


                                                                                                    Penguin chick



The terrain surounding Cape Royds is covered with many ponds that vary in size, depth, shape and conductivity (salinity). There are also two larger lakes: Blue Lake and Clear lakes that are ice-covered all year. They were named during Shakleton’s expedition because of their blue and clear ice colour.  We were amazed by the variability of pond characteristics and diversity of microbial mats.

Back at the Natural History Museum we will study the cyanobacterial mats using microscopy and DNA-based tools to see if different mat types comprise different cyanobacterial communities.

                                             small pond with lift-off mats at Cape Royds



                                                                 Cyanobacteria-dominated mats







Cape Royds, Antarctica

Posted by Anne D Jungblut Jan 11, 2011

Cape Royds is located at the west site of Ross Island (166°09'56"E, 77°33'20"S). Shakleton’s hut from the Nimrod Expedition (1907-1909) is located at Cape Royds and the Antarctic Heritage Trust  did conservation work on the hut this summer. The Antarctic Heritage Tust is also doing conservation work on the other historic huts at Cape Evans and at Hut Point next to McMurdo Station , which is documented in a blog:

Historic hut at Cape Royds


One of the aims of the field event is to collect cyanobacteria from locations where the scientists of Scott’s and Shakleton’s expeditions collected material 100-years ago and compare them with the historic samples. We will sample cyanobacterial mats on Ross Island and the McMurdo Ice Shelf.

Cyanobacterial samples were collected during the three expedition:


1) The National Antarctic Expedition (1901-04; Discovery Expedition) led by R.F. Scott


2) The British Antarctic Expedition (1907-1909; Nimrod) led by E.H. Shackleton


3) The British Antarctic Expedition (1910-1913; Terra Nova) led by R.F. Scott


                                        Hut Point in front of McMurdo Station with the Discovery Expedition hut


                                                                           Discovery Hut



Scott Base, Antarctica

Posted by Anne D Jungblut Jan 11, 2011

     The next three weeks I will be doing fieldwork under New Zealand Antarctica Program (Antarctica New Zealand), and I am now based at Scott Base. It is a great place. Everybody is really nice and the food is always great!

Scott Base is located on Ross Island and is only a 35-minute walk from the McMurdo Station.  Since 2009, Scott Base is obtaining its energy from three windmills that are located above Scott Base on Crater Hill. Over the austral summer it is busting with activity: renovations, construction work and many science projects.

                                                                                                    Scott Base






Mummified seals can be found all over the Dry Valleys. It is believed that the seals came from the seas ice into the Dry Valleys . It is not known why exactly seals end up far away from the sea ice. Explanations could be that they become disorentiated due to sickness or bad weather conditions, and  starve to death.

Due to dry air and slow degradation processes in Antarctica the seal carcasses mummify and are thought to be hundreds of years old.


                                             Mummified seal near Canada glacier and Lake Fryxcell



                                                             Mummified seal near Koettlitz glacier



Cyanobacteria are also very common in hypolithic communities that are microbial communities growing under translucent rocks such as quartz rock. These communities can be a mixture of cyanobacteria, other bacteria, green algae, protists, mosses, lichen and fungi.

It is still very little known about these hypolithic communities. As environmental conditions in Antarctica are extreme scientists believe that hypolithic habitats can provide some protection from high UV radiation and rapid fluctuation of freeze-thaw processes. The Dry Valleys are cold deserts with very limited liquid water and hypolithic rock habitats provide an increased water availability through water condensation processes on the rock surfaces.

                                                  Quartz rock


                                       Below the same quartz rock    

The green spots on the bottom of the rock are cyanobacterial communities  



                  Green hypolithic community growing around the bottom of a small quartz rock




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



In Lake Hoare the mats are vertically stratified. Each year one layer is formed and they can be used as indicators of growth and environmental conditions just like tree rings. Similar to microbial mats in other lakes the layers have different pigmentations for light capturing and protection.


                                                                                Cyanobacterial mats in Lake Hoare




After the divers had brought up mat samples from a depth of ca 10 m, we went back to the lab and identified the diversity using light microscopy. The microbial mats contained different cyanobacteria including the genera Oscillatoria, Phormidium, Leptolyngbya and Nostoc.


After returning to the Natural History Museum, we will carry out DNA-based methods to characterise their evolutionary relationship to other Antarctica cyanobacteria.


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.




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



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



Dried river bed near Boulder Pavement


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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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