Now that we have lost our aviation support at Davis we have had to become a little more creative about how to get some of the field work done that was planned for the summer. As I have mentioned previously, there is one other biological science project running this summer which requires water samples to be taken from many of the numerous lakes that are found in the Vestfold Hills. The first and most important of the lakes that are left to be sampled is Deep Lake, a hypersaline lake that is 10 times saltier than ordinary sea water. This amount of salt in the water means that it can get to temperatures of around -20°C without freezing. However, that also makes it an incredibly hostile environment for organisms to survive in, which is why as scientists we want to know more about what actually does live in there (because there is always something in the water, no matter how impossible it might seem).
The girls who are running this project decided that in order to capture enough of the organisms in the lake they would need to run at least 50L of water through various sized filters to separate out the different organisms (phytoplankton, bacteria and viruses). The original plan was to take a helicopter to Deep Lake and use it to transport as much water as they could get but that was out of the question now. So instead they decided the only other way to get the water was to recruit a number of pack horses (otherwise known as summering expeditioners) to walk in there and carry the water out. Fortunately for them there are a few of us expeditioners who suddenly have a lot more spare time on our hands so they recruited four of us to join them on a mission to get water from Deep Lake.
Our primary mode of transport over the sea ice was a Hagglunds (otherwise referred to as a ‘Hag’) and two quad bikes. The Hag has seats for four people and an enclosed trailer for carrying all of our gear. We drove on the sea ice to a place called Brookes Hut where we dropped off some supplies (food etc.) for future field work trips and enjoyed a morning tea of cheese and biscuits with a cup of hot tea. After replenishing our energy stores we drove to a site a few kilometers away from the hut where we had easy access to Deep Lake through the hills. As it is getting later in the season now we got out and drilled into the sea ice to check the thickness and quality of the ice before parking the Hag close to the shore. No one here wants to come back after a walk to find their transportation floating in the water! The ice measured 1.2m thick, which is over the recommended thickness for a Hag is 80cm.
We unpacked our gear, which consisted of a sled, a bunch of empty 5L water bottles, a water pump and other sampling equipment, some empty packs, one pack of survival gear and a few day packs with lunches and cameras etc. We set off with all of our gear on the sled at first and pulled it for as far as we could on the snow. A few hundred metres in we had a surprise stand-off with an Adelie penguin who was hanging out near a frozen lake, which required us to change our track a little. When the snow cover ran out we distributed all of the gear into the empty packs and walked the remaining distance to the lake. The total distance to the lake was approximately 2km on fairly flat terrain through a valley while the lake itself lies 50m below sea level so we had to walk down into it over the final few hundred metres. The unfrozen lake is such a beautiful sight in amongst the frozen surrounds and being set so much lower than the surrounding hills made it look almost like it was formed within a quarry.
We enjoyed our lunch in the sunshine when we arrived at the lake and marvelled a bit at how fortunate we were to be in such a place on such a beautiful day. After lunch the girls got to work pumping water from the lake into our empty bottles. When they were done we packed everything up again and loaded the water into our packs and headed back up the hill. We took our time adjusting to our newly heavy loads but once we hit flat ground we were back at the sled in no time. We offloaded some of the heavier packs onto the sled and pulled them the rest of the way out. Upon returning to our vehicles there were high fives all around as we congratulated each other for an excellent effort at collecting all of the water that was needed. We pulled out more cheese, biscuits and chocolate for a well deserved afternoon tea before packing up the gear into the Hag and driving back to station just in time to unpack and shower before dinner.
* To see more photos of this trip have a look at my Facebook album: Deep Lake