Project Extremes Antarctica

Scientists and teachers team up to conduct research in the most extreme environment on earth

Into the Field!


Yesterday, we arrived at the field camp designated F6 in the Taylor Valley. We had a fabulous day for flying – clear and calm. After leaving McMurdo Station we flew out over the sea ice of the Ross Sea and had amazing views of Mount Erebus.

On the way in to land at camp, we had outstanding views of the Canada, Commonwealth, Howard, and Crescent Glaciers. The camp looked tiny in relation to the Taylor Valley.

As soon as we landed, the helicopter technician helped us unload our gear and move it well away from the helicopter. The pilot stays in the helicopter and keeps it running, so it is important to watch out where you are walking but also to work efficiently and as a team. It is extremely noisy and windy!

At F6 at last! All smiles in my big red as the helicopter leaves us at the field camp.

Happy to be in the field! All smiles in my “big red” as the helicopter leaves us at F6.

Camp itself is tidy and comfortable. There are solar panels for power and we can get water from Lake Fryxell, which is right out the front door. There is an outhouse and big drums for gray water. Inside the shelter there is a lab, communications equipment, a small kitchen, and an eating area. We sleep outside in mountain tents that are really sturdy and very cozy – they warm up in the sun! There are lots of snacks and coffee and tea.

There are three scientists who have been living at F6. They have been out at the camp for about two months and were happy to have some new visitors. We had dinner together and all became acquainted. Living in a small, remote camp like this requires everyone to work together to be flexible to needs of all the other people.

The three scientists at F6 are the “stream team.” Their work is focused on measuring the discharge of the streams and rivers of the Dry Valleys. Seth Davidson, from the United States Geological Survey keeps his own blog where you can learn all about his work:

Seth was more than happy to show me all about his equipment and the work he is doing. As you will find from his blog, Seth and the team take measurements all over the Dry Valleys.

We ended our day late after hot tea and some games to entertain us. It turns out that there are some very fit scientists among us: Mike from the stream team won the chin up contest with 16! Lee and Seth wowed us by climbing completely underneath and back to the top of the table without ever touching the floor. Susan and Kallin amazed us by picking up a paper lunch bag from the floor while standing on one foot and without using their hands (they use their mouths). Despite many comforts out here, we need to find our own entertainment and no one was bored!

It was another exciting day of adventure, learning, and meeting lots of great people.

Seth Davidson, of the USGS, shows how to collect data to determine discharge Von Guerard Stream at F6.

Seth Davidson, of the USGS, shows how to collect data to determine discharge Von Guerard Stream at F6.


21 thoughts on “Into the Field!

  1. Happy new year, Ian! Your students are going to love reading about your adventures. You’re doing a great job of describing all the details.

    • Thank you, Lesley! You have been the topic of conversation here this morning as we are all so appreciative of the attention you are giving to our blog and the all of the positive feedback you are providing!

      There is so much to describe here that is so valuable from a teaching standpoint – I feel like I am wallowing in information!

      This has been a wonderful adventure and learning experience and I feel like the best is yet to come now that we are in the field!

      All the best to you all for a Happy New Year as well,


  2. Hey Ian,

    Looks like you are having a great time! I’d be interested in knowing what math the scientists are using in their work. I could share it with my students as we look at your blog (and I drool with envy :).

    Have fun.

    • Hi Ann,

      Thanks for following along and checking in – this has been an awesome adventure that is providing me with so many experiences to share with students.

      One example I have seen of math being used here by scientists in the field is related to the stream team scientists taking measurements of discharge in the streams and rivers of the Dry Valleys. They explained the specifics of how they are really using these measurements to determine the volume of water passing a certain point over time.

      There is instrumentation at the sampling points all over the Dry Valleys that collect stream depth data continuously. Then, the stream team (scientists) take manual measurements at least once a week of the stream velocity and depth at each of these points. Using these manual measurements combined with the measurements taken by the data collection equipment, they are able to extrapolate a curve of what the stream discharge would likely be over time.

      All the best to you, Ryan, and the whole gang for a Happy New Year!


  3. Hi Ian,

    Did you know you would be sleeping outside when you signed up? It is so exciting to read about what you are doing. We are enjoying another long night as you enjoy the longest days anywhere!


    • Hey Alison,

      Great to see that you are checking up on our blog! You would love it here – a bunch of scientists in the middle of nowhere talking about science day and, well, day…

      Yep, I knew I would be sleeping outside. The snow cave was a lot of work to build and wasn’t as cozy as I would have liked. The mountain tents are super warm and really sweet. They have issued us all a sleep kit: sleeping bag rated to -40 F (warm), a fleece sleeping bag liner (fuzzy), a rubber sleeping mat (insulation), a Thermarest air mattress (comfort), and a little pillow (great, when combined with a “big red” parka).

      The days are continuous – I have to make myself sleep. It is so wild!

      Having a great adventure and learning experience – thanks for all the support you always give me.

      Best to you all,


  4. Hey Ian! So cool! I cannot wait to get the students tuned in on Wednesday! I, too, am envious. Keep sending info, please – and Happy New Year – what a way to start 2010.

    • Jackie,

      Thanks for following along. I am having an incredible experience and am really having fun with the blog. Please do keep following and, if you have time, share with your classes! See you soon, Ian

  5. Hi Santa! Whoops, looks like you went to the wrong pole! At least your humongous red coat is keeping you warm. What kind of animals are you seeing over there? The seals and penguins in the movie looked amazing, not to mention the breath-taking sea life under the ice. You won’t get a chance to scuba, will you? Keep having fun!

    P.S, Do you think you’d be allowed to bring back a souvenir? Like a piece of ice or magma from the volcano? You know, so we could believe you and your crazy stories when you come back.

    • Hey Nikola!

      All of us out here at the field camp are eating our breakfast and enjoyed your questions! Yep, my beard is getting pretty long but not as long as some of the people who’ve been here for six months! Beards are pretty popular here – keeps the face warm.

      We have already seen seals and they are really cool. It is amazing that they can be in this cold water and seem so happy! We have also seen some skua, the most commonly found bird here. They kind of look like seagulls and, in fact, are related to the gull family. We are working really hard to see some penguins but we haven’t seen any yet.

      I would absolutely love to scuba dive and we are hoping to meet the scientist who are doing that work. Unfortunately, I don’t have the training to do that kind of diving (and even if I did, it sounds like only a limited number of people get to dive).

      The red jacket (called a “big red” down here) is absolutely the most warm and awesome jacket I have ever worn. It is full of pockets and our snow school instructor taught us to use it as a tool to carry all of our most important stuff (warm clothes, snacks, and water).I don’t get to keep it but you can bet I am wearing it every chance it is cold enough – I even slept in it last night because it is so comfy and warm.

      I’ve already taken between 600 and 700 pictures and will have awesome stories to tell. I am also making connections with lots of scientists and other people who might want to come in to our class when we return. I met a helicopter pilot from Nederland, a USGS hydrologist from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and, of course, tons of people from CU.

      There are some real restrictions on bringing back samples from Antarctica so I’m not sure I’ll be able to bring anything physical from here but I will have lots of video and pictures (and stories).

      Great to hear from you – keep following along!


    • Hah, hah, Nikola! We were just re-reading your post and realized that you have asked me to bring back either: 1) something that is INCREDIBLY hot and impossible to transport (magma); or, INCREDIBLY cold and difficult to transport (ice). I don’t know if you meant to be funny but we all loved it! Thanks! -Schwartz

  6. I read Ann’s question – it’s great! I taught stream biology for lots of years at CU, and there is some great math associated with discharge measurements. If you take a cross section and cut it up into boxes and measure the velocity and depth at each point, you get something like an integral problem. I don’t know if that’s too high level for your students, but I think it’s a great way to show applied mathemetics. Also, there’s some nice graphics that go along with long-term measurements that can feed into patterns and statistics. I don’t know where you teach, but I’d be happy to talk to you about some things you could do in a math class. I assume the discharge measurements are available on a website – maybe the LTER site. Ian, do you know or can you find out? Lesley

  7. Ian,

    Told ya you could do anything you want to in this life.


  8. Ian,
    Mr. Leary said i could tease you about going to the bathroom in a bucket!
    I am glad you got to have this wonderful trip.

    Consider it vacation!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    • Hah, hah, Mikey! it’s not as bad you would think and you get used to it after a while! It’s worth it to take care of this place – it is even more beautiful than Colorado!

      Thanks for writing!


    • Having fun but hardly vacation, Mikey! I have been working hard supporting research here and have met so many scientists that have taught me so many interesting things! People work around the clock here on their research because there is a limited time to be here. The other night I worked with a hydrologist taking 24 hours of samples from a streams – that meant I hardly slept at all! It was really interesting and he is a really great guy that taught me a lot of things about the lakes and streams of McMurdo Dry Valleys.

  9. Yo, Schwartz, still having fun? You have been given the great opportunity to awnser a pressing question I have. HOORAY! So, I feel stupid saying this, but here goes: Why don’t you feel like you are upsidown because you are on the bottom of the Earth?

    • Hey Ruth,

      Please excuse my delayed reply – we’ve been very busy in the field and “doing” science. You will love the project we are working on!

      As for your question: Because gravity always pulls us toward the center of the Earth, no matter where you are on Earth, the ground feels “down” and the sky feels “up.” On interesting indication that I am at very near the South Pole is that the Sun just circles the sky but never actually set (in the winter the moon would do the same). Other than that, it feels just like home!

      Thanks for your question! See you soon,


  10. Hey Schwartz…
    Glad you’re having fun (and a beard). Just a few questions:
    Do you filter the lake water or add chemicals before you drink it? And what are the daily highs and lows in terms of temperature?

    Keep having a great time!


    • Hi Shannon,

      The water here is extremely clean right from the lakes (and the ocean). We do filter the water at the lakes, but it is really as a precaution. There are strict rules here about how the lakes are treated to make sure there is no introduction of organisms that wouldn’t naturally be found in the water. For example, no swimming is allowed (although, I think you would need to be crazy to swim anyway as the temperature hovers just above freezing!).

      The temperature is pretty constant and has been in the 20s (F) most of the time. It seems like it is coldest when there is wind as it blows across large areas of ice before it gets to you! It has been below 0 (F) a few times and I think the warmest that I’ve noticed was about 35 (F).

      See you soon!


      P.S. Oh yeah, stay tuned for an entry on water treatment at McMurdo – i toured the facilities yesterday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s