Antarctica

I returned to Colorado almost a month ago now from nearly four months in Antarctica. Some of the samples the team collected from our experiment there recently arrived in Colorado separately, and the rest should arrive this week. I am settling back in to life here, answering four months of mail, getting out in the mountains on my skis, starting to extract DNA from the samples, and continuing to analyze data from field seasons past.

For detailed updates during our season, check out the project blog I kept up almost daily while on the ice (despite the slow internet).

Here are a few highlights:

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We found our experimental cryoconite holes (mud puddles on the glacier we had made in a past season)! This was far from a certainty, because our holes look identical to those that form naturally and are difficult to mark accurately without affecting their melt. An organization called UNAVCO provided invaluable help with precision GPS marking our holes, and a way to recalculate their new position – they move about 3-4 inches every day because the glacier ice under them is flowing!

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We spent a long season in the field camp, and were able to watch the progression of naturally occurring cryoconite holes. Each of the small, round depressions in the ice at the bottom of the photo above is a cryoconite hole. Notice the ones nearest have a layers of new dust that blew onto their surface after a strong wind storm. When that dust melts through the ice lid, the microbes in it will “invade” the microbial community active in the mud puddle below. Will the new microbes be able to reproduce? Or will the existing community “resist” their invasion? That is one of the questions we hope our experiment will be able to answer.

Our team connected with hundreds of students around the US by Skype to answer their questions about our research and life in Antarctic field camps. I was even able to answer questions live in a Science Riot comedy show at the Clocktower Cabaret in Denver by Skype from camp!

And we looked good doing it all 🙂 After by brother-in-law told me about the fashion insert in the Sunday New York Times featuring layers of jackets as the “it” look this season (left photo above), I did my own fashion shoot on the glacier during a break from fieldwork in my 4-5 layers. Apparently I’m supposed to smile less while modeling. But I think my heals might be as pointy as the model’s.

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