10 November 2004

New Harbor!

Today, without a hitch, without a delay, with only having 1 missing item (a sled), we arrived at our new home for the next two weeks: New Harbor. New Harbor is located approximately 50 miles west, across McMurdo Sound. Where McMurdo is on Ross Island (which is easy to forget because the ocean surrounding the island is always frozen and thus gives the appearance of land), New Harbor is approximately 50 miles across McMurdo Sound and is located on the continent. This is probably the only time our team will get to set foot on the continent. New Harbor is located at the mouth of the Taylor Valley, which is in the Dry Valleys area.

McMurdo station located on the tip of the Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island in McMurdo Sound (east side of the map) and New Harbor across McMurdo Sound (west side of the map)

The location of our camp at New Harbor at the base of the Dry Valleys

They are called the Dry Valleys, because well, they are dry. Only 2% of Antarctica is not covered by ice and 1.8% of that is located in the Dry Valleys. The Dry Valleys were formed from the scouring of retreating glaciers. The Valleys have been relatively ice free for almost 4 million years. They remain dry because there is a large mountain range (the Royal Society Range) that blocks the glaciers from spilling back out from the polar plateau into this area. It is also dry because there are very strong and dry fohn winds that descend from the polar plateau. These winds blow the little snow that does collect away.The fohn winds can reach paramount speeds, strong enough to blow our emergency cache (a 4’ X 4’ X 12’ box) to little bits.

The survival cache that used to be here at New Harbor before it was blown to bits by the strong fohn winds that occur here

The Dry Valleys are areas of special importance and hence we have to be very careful while we are camping out here. When people see pictures of the Dry Valleys they generally remark about how stunning the landscape is but the word barren also generally comes to mind. However, the Dry Valleys host a very unique ecosystem, albeit microscopic. It is the only ecosystem like it in the world with microscopic lichens, bacteria, small organisms (e.g. mites), and wind sculpted rocks in a desert environment.

A beautiful view up the Taylor Valley

We have sites located in Explorer’s Cove and out at Cape Bernacchi. This location was picked because, unlike the area directly in front of McMurdo station, there has been no human disturbance to the seafloor. Therefore, we can assess what a ‘healthy’ system looks like on the other side of the Sound. Not only is it healthy, the habitat and benthic community is also different from our sites near McMurdo. The silt is very fine here and there are different organisms on the seafloor that we do not see at our other sites, such as large brittle stars and scallops. Conversely, there are other organisms that make up the majority of the fauna on the seafloor at our sites near the station that are conspicuously absent here, like large sponges, Nemertean worms, and colorful seastars (Odontaster). Therefore, we can study the effects that organic enrichments have in an undisturbed community that has a different benthic community.

Not a bad view of our home for the next two weeks

A birds eye view of camp

So, stay with us as we collect the experiments and write about our adventures at New Harbor, because I am sure we will have adventures, there always are.

A different perspective of our ever faithful watchdog, Mt. Erebus

Lets see the next day!