Just to be clear from the start, I don’t ‘do’ science. There are too many Bunsen burners and funny shaped bottles to injure yourself on for my liking. I think the closest I came to science once was owning a microscope set when I was a kid. Unfortunately, this just resulted in the ‘cleansing’ of every type of invertebrate unlucky enough to set foot on our garden path. Not that I've got anything against science either — far from it — I’m just not an academic person so didn’t make it past remembering all the bits that make up the periodic table without thinking they were scrabble pieces.
If, however, somebody sends out an email asking for volunteers to assist with some science work out in the field, I will happily shout “Pick me!” whilst waving two arms in the air — any excuse to get out of the office. That’s why we're in Antarctica right?
The plan was to travel on foot to a collection of lakes all within a few hours walking distance of Watts hut. Initially we were going to be there for five days and were to take small samples of each of the lakes, bring them back to station and then Sarah and Alyce would put on white coats and rubber gloves and interrogate the bits of extrapolated lakes in a dark room until they gave the girls the answers they wanted. My function in all this was to make up the numbers for search and rescue purposes, carry some cheese and crackers to the hut, and be the scapegoat for any card games so that neither of them would feel that they had lost.
We had a bit of snow the morning we set off. The snow was quite greasy underfoot so we decided to wear micro spikes over our boots. Falling over in itself isn’t so bad, but when it’s on boulders and with a twenty kilogram pack to help you towards the floor it’s no time to be taking risks. The walk in was great — some great scenery and the fresh snow gave it that proper Antarctic feel that we hadn’t had for a while.
Now here’s the funny bit, the bit where everyone in the normal world will give us a raised eyebrow: we turned up at the first lake on the list and it was frozen. Now the intelligent amongst you would be sitting there saying,“Yep, you're in Antarctica, of course it’s frozen” but this hasn’t been the case for the past few months. It was only a few weeks ago that most of these lakes would have been in liquid form, so we were actually quite surprised by this. I know, scientists huh? A quick review of our situation and the map dictated that given the first lake was frozen, a great number of the other freshwater lakes would likely be in a similar state so we got to the hut for the evening with a plan to only visit the saline lakes the next day as their freezing temperature is far lower than freshwater.
On day two we had better luck as the collection of lakes to the South of Watts hut were still unfrozen and proved willing enough to give up part of themselves in the name of science. Now I must mention that Sarah and Alyce had different handwritten numbers marking each of the lakes on the map. I asked what these were for and it turned out that this was to signify each lake’s importance. I was quite upset to hear that some lakes were more important than others so I made sure the lakes didn’t find out, and that they didn’t get to see the map as they could have developed insecurity issues.
I have no idea about the equipment the girls used to sample the lakes but one of the syringes looked like it could be used to vaccinate a horse. During the sample taking I ate sandwiches, sat on rocks, took pictures and told the lakes that they were all equally important and that they were doing a great job, just in case the girls let loose their opinion on them.
That night was another night at Watts hut. I drank tea and abstained from joining in with knitting. As such I was then forced into a card game that I’d never played so that the lake stabbers could beat me at something. Having been bullied enough, I went outside to take some time lapse photography of an Aurora which didn’t appear. Oh well.
We walked back to Davis station the next day due to running out of non-frozen lakes to sample. We did vow to return next time though with an ice drilling kit, a greater supply of cheese and biscuits, a Monopoly board (I’m good at Monopoly) and a range of gifts for the lakes to make them all feel special.
Stuart Shaw, Supervising Communications Technical Officer