Antarctica bound!

Now that I have passed all the medical tests and received my ticket to New Zealand, I can officially announce it… I’M GOING TO ANTARCTICA!!!

I have three more days in Bozeman before I head South to “the ice” to start the first field season of my PhD. I started my PhD at Montana State University this fall working in the Priscu Research Group. I’ll be traveling with a team of scientists from MSU to Antarctica for 3 months each winter over the next few years to conduct fieldwork. I’ll be based at the largest research station in Antarctica, McMurdo Station (population: 1000), but my team’s research takes place in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.

The Dry Valleys are the coldest and driest desert on the planet, and part of the 2% of Antarctica that is NOT ice covered. The average temperature is -5 °F (though we’ll have a few days above freezing in the austral summer!). My team, the “Limno Team”, will spent most of our time surveying the permanently-ice covered lakes in the region. We’ll visit several lakes, most of which have heated trailers nearby to serve as a kitchen and lab space, but we sleep in one-person tents every night. Every 3 weeks or so I’ll return to McMurdo Station to resupply on food, do lab work, and shower!

LimnoTeam Patch

The Limno Team I’m joining has been studying these lakes, which are covered by 12+ feet of ice even in the summer, for 25 years. The lake research is part of a larger effort to understand the ecology of the area as a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site.  Broadly, we examine how life (mostly phytoplankton and bacteria!) has adapted to live in such an extreme environment.

This environment is unique because it is so cold and so dry that even seemingly minor changes to temperature can have dramatic effects on the way the ecosystem functions. The glaciers, lakes, and streams respond to changes in climate, such as warming temperatures, almost immediately, and are a sentinel ecosystem to study the effects of human-induced changes to climate.

The Dry Valleys are also the closest analog to Mars we have on Earth, so the work done there helps scientists not only understand the constraints of life on our planet better, but also what life might have been like on our nearest celestial neighbor.

Want to know more?

I’ll posting updates every few weeks on this blog, but if you’re curious about the work I’ll be doing, check out the following resources:

McMurdo LTER Website

Priscu Research Group

Are you a teacher or a student?

If you or your students have any questions about Antarctic fieldwork or day-to-day life in Antarctica, e-mail me at carolynn.m.harris[at]gmail[dot]com, and I’ll answer them in a future blog post!