Monday, January 14, 2013

So much snow

Snow in McMurdo, coupled with some icing conditions that make it to dangerous for the helicopters to fly, have kept the team grounded again today. Still, a flightless day can be profitably spent. Yesterday, the team dodged snowflakes and raced back to New Harbor to move some of Chris Thomas' CO2-sniffing equipment. Alex and Chris stayed overnight in our old camp so they could finish fine-tuning the station, while Brendan and I flew back to Lake Hoare with samples and lab equipment that we had left behind during our last camp move. Chris and Alex are hiking back up the valley even as I type this. It's a rather long walk, but the scenery is spectacular!

I spent the day doing much less entertaining chores than hiking home. We've been so successful sampling Taylor Valley's groundwater that a backlog of raw samples had piled up in the lab fridge. My chore today was to filter all of the muddy water we collected over the last few days so that it could be analyzed (the chemical analysis tools used by Kathy Welch and Berry Lyons--our collaborators at the other OSU) don't handle mud very well, so we have to filter out the clay and silts that hang out in the water tracks.

The water has to be filtered by hand, using syringes to push water through very fine filters (imagine a strainer with holes in it that are half the width of a human hair). We have to hand filter because one of the things we measure about the water (its isotopic composition) needs to be kept free of contamination. If we used a re-usable, automatic filtering system (like a vacuum pump), we'd have to wash it out every time we used it...and then all of our samples would look like the wash-water, and not like Antarctic groundwater!

My day's work is now neatly stacked in the fridge, awaiting analysis. Satisfying, but I'd rather be out on a mission gathering more samples in a neighboring valley.

It might not look like much, but there's a lot of water tracks represented in those bottles. You can tell it's a lab fridge because there's no old pizza in it.

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