Here is sit in Christchurch, about 100 hours after I left home, finally ready to fly to Antarctica tomorrow morning – weather permitting.
I’m on my way to Antarctica for science, of course. My mission is to check on Chris MacIntyre’s experiment, in which we are trying to measure soil microbial metabolism, via soil-emitted gases, in one of the most sterile locations on earth. Here, even microbes have a tough go of it. Our job is to try and partition the biological emissions from those that come from abiotic sources – not an easy job. Though these experiments have been going for a few years, Chris added a new piece of fancy instrumentation last year, and we’re excited to see the data – so long as the instrument didn’t fail.
Many people are surprised to hear that Antarctica has soil. There isn’t much of it, to be sure. But, in some of the driest locales, on the lee side of the Trans-Antarctic mountains, there is a coastal location that sees more evaporation / sublimation than precipitation. These McMurdo Dry Valleys are glacier-free, and are amongst the driest places on earth. They’re also generally as cool as one might expect, being a small amount cooler than Fort McMurray. It’s currently summer, and in the Dry Valleys I expect that it’ll be 5 degrees. Not bad for January. Better than in July, when it’s -35 or -40.
I’m going down to Antarctica with a team of 8 ecologists, called “Team K020”. This group is organized by Charlie Lee at the University of Waikato, with whom we’ve been working for a few years. The project falls under the umbrella of both the International Centre for Terrestrial Antarctic Research, and Antarctica-New Zealand which is the governmental logistics provider. This is likely to be my only visit to Antarctica for this decade, as it’s a sabbatical year. Normally I’d be knee deep in teaching during January.
Today I met my team, and was kitted out in Antarctic-New Zealand clothing by Paul “Woody” Woodgate. The clothing was a particularly welcome sight for me, because I haven’t seen any of my luggage for 60 or 70 hours now. Thank you Air Canada! By tomorrow, I will have touched 3 continents without a piece of luggage, which must be a record or something. Hopefully all my stuff will arrive soon in Christchurch, to be forwarded along to Antarctica by Woody.
Our flight “to the ice” as they say is set to depart at noon tomorrow. We will fly 8 hrs to Ross Island in the belly of a ski-equipped USAF Hercules, donning in our ANZ Extreme Cold Weather equipment. And, earplugs. If weather is good (it wasn’t today), I can expect to arrive at Scott Base about 9 pm. I’ll be there a day or two before being helicoptered into the Dry Valleys.
But, before tomorrow comes, I’ll catch up with friends. Tonight, I’m going out with Fiona Shanhun and Peter Almond for dinner and a beer! And, they’ll also take me to a socks and underwear merchant!