BY Peyton Adkins
It is one month until I leave for Antarctica! Just a quick background on me before you find out what it is I am talking about. I am starting my senior year at LSU as a pre-med English literature major, and I have worked in Dr. Brent Christner’s lab in Life Sciences since the beginning of my freshman year. This trip feels like I’m coming full circle.
Greater than 80 percent of the world’s biosphere maintains temperatures at 5ºF (or C) or below, yet scientists know little about the biology of microorganisms that inhabit this vast territory. Dr. Christner has positioned his lab to answer some of the fundamental questions of how life can even begin to survive in the extreme environments.
So, back to Antarctica! Antarctica contains 90 percent of the world’s ice and approximately 60-70 percent of the world’s freshwater. Therefore, it is a hub for scientists from around the world to explore different fields of research from glaciology, geology, geochemistry and many more. For me, I am interested in the microbiological aspects of subglacial streams and lakes that are found hundreds of meters below Antarctica’s ice sheet. Thus, introducing the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling, or WISSARD project. It is a project funded in part by the National Science Foundation, or NSF, with the overarching goal of studying the hydrological system of the Whillans ice stream, which lies approximately 800 meters (.49 miles) below the ice. This is the distance from the center of Tiger Stadium to Middleton Library!
Preparing for Antarctica has been quite a rollercoaster for the people involved. The logistics of planning such a huge mission is incredible! My trip to Antarctica will last from November 19th to February 15th, plus or minus a few days depending on weather delays that might crop up. From planning exactly what experiments we would like to perform right down to listing every piece of equipment and all of the materials we would need to complete our tasks becomes tedious; we can’t miss a single minute detail. It is a nerve-racking undertaking because, given the isolated setting, everything must be thought out and accounted for well ahead of the field season.
On the other hand, I am incredibly excited to get out on the ice. I have been looking forward to this mission for years now, and I am proud to say that hours of research and preparation will culminate in gathering samples from Antarctica for my research. My personal research pertains to culturing anaerobic sulfur and iron oxidizing bacteria. In short, that means that I am researching ways that microbes live on very small to no amounts of oxygen and use the natural chemical processes that sulfur and iron undergo in order to harvest energy to survive and grow.
One of the things I am most excited about is the survival training that I get to undergo once I land in McMurdo, Antarctica. Among many other things, I will learn how to survive in the cold and unforgiving environment by learning how to build an igloo and stake a tent in snow.
You can follow my journey to the most southern region of the world through this blog! For more information about the project you can also visit www.WISSARD.org.