FAQ about research in Antarctica

 

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I had about a billion questions about what Antarctica would be like before I arrived, and many others once I got here. Folks back home have been asking me questions by email since I’ve been here, too.

Here are answers to some things I always wondered, and some others I never thought to ask – send me your questions! What do you want to know?

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The view from our lab window.

What does it look like? Just how cold is it? You can see a webcam image (and current temperature!) of McMurdo Station here. The webcam doesn’t do the view across the ice shelf justice, though.

Does the light ever change? It’s summer here, which means the sun never sets. It does move around in the sky, though, and shadows get long after dinner. I stayed up past midnight once, and the sun dipped near enough to the horizon to get that “alpine glow” on the far-off glaciers and the “golden hour” lighting like an hour before sunset.

Am I camping or what? Right now I’m stationed at McMurdo, which has indoor laboratory, dining, and dorm buildings. If you’re picturing small college dorm rooms with multiple people per room and a bathroom down the hall, you’re right on. Thursday I will fly about 45 minutes by helicopter to a field camp, where I will be living in a tent for the rest of November.

GOPR0025.jpgHow is the food? Am I doing okay? (Yeah, that was my mom who asked.) The food is good. It’s a dining hall (“galley”). There are indeed vegetables and fruit. That said, everyone being inside a lot and eating out of the same galley, viruses go around like wildfire. I’ve been here less than a week and am already sick, despite using the handwashing stations outside the galley and the hand sanitizer on the tables religiously.

What the heck do I do all day here? So far, I have had days of briefings and meetings on safety and field logistics, things like how to safely approach a helicopter on a glacier and which directions storms come from at McMurdo. I have also been chasing down and checking over all the equipment for the field work and the lab work that we will need to use over the next three months, then organizing and repacking it. Every day has been different and new and exciting. And it will only get more different and new and exciting once we get to the field.

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What am I doing here anyway? Studying microbial communities in cryoconite holes (which I liken to natural test-tube experiments)! You can see my previous post and also follow our research team’s blog for more details.

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