Monday, 13 July 2020

A video about the MICROBIAN project

At the occasion of the Antarctica exhibition, a video was created to present the MICROBIAN project!

Friday, 3 April 2020

Help of APECS-South Africa to safeguard our precious samples during confinement!!

We are very grateful to Mariette Smart, Tich Samkange, Sharon Rademeyer & Ruegshana Ederies from the University of Cape Town! The frozen samples collected during our field mission arrived in Cape Town just before the confinement started and we could not manage to send them safely in time to Belgium.

"The samples are safe and sound, so no need to worry about then." (Mariette email)

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

The field campaign is finishing!!

Hello from Princess Elisabeth Station!

This might be our last day in the station before leaving to start the trip to go back to Belgium. The time flies!! Today, we are packing all the laboratory material and samples we have to bring with us. This evening all the cargo boxes will be stored on a big sledge and tomorrow morning, around 7 a.m., we will all departure to Perseus, the closest airstrip for big cargo. Although Perseus is not so many kilometers away from the station, it will take us at least 6 hours to arrive there, because we will be traveling inside containers and bringing big sledges, so the speed won’t be over 20 km / h. In Perseus, we will also need quite some time to get the flight prepared, as everything we are bringing needs to be store inside the plane, including big containers. Then, we would depart to South Africa and we may stop in Novo station again or not, we still don’t know. As everyone says here, “You know when you arrive to Antarctica but never when you will leave”.

Concerning the project, this week has been very productive as we were very lucky with the weather conditions, which allowed us to map with the drone the whole nunataks we have been sampling during these three years. So, finally we have been able to accomplish all the objectives of the project! We’ve been in Teltet, Perlebandet North, Pingvuinane South and North and Petrellnuten. In the two first nunataks, we had to reach the summit, because the drone needs to be controlled from there, so Juri could see where it is going during the whole flight. Therefore, we’ve had the opportunity to practice some hiking and enjoy amazing views from the top! Here, you can see some of them!

View of Utsteinen nunatak and the PEA station from Teltet summit. As you can see, there was almost white out this day.
Another view from Teltet nunatak

Valentina and Raphy going down Perlebandet North summit
The other side of Perlebandet North nunatak
Finally, last night we gave a short talk to everyone in the station to explain them what we have been doing during this campaign and the objectives of the project. Valentina showed some preliminary results from previous years, Quentin explained what kind of information from the nunataks he is obtaining with satellites data and Bea introduced the importance of the biocrusts in drylands and why she is sampling them in Antarctica. Tonight, Juri will show some results obtained with the drone. We believe is important to show to the rest of the crew working in the station what we are doing here, as without their help we would not have been able to achieve all our objectives. From here, we thank all of them for their help: Raphy for been an excellent field guide, always willing to help; the station managers, for organizing all the work so we get it done on time; chefs who provide us with super tasty food; the rest of the crew for always helping when we needed a hand with many things, such as the skidoos or to build everything we might need (as a big wooden box they made). Also, the rest of the scientists and in general everyone in the station, with whom we spent very funny and friendly moments, interesting discussions, hikes or just enjoying some free time, playing some games or drinking a beer on Saturday night. The “Antarctic spirit” that one can feel when living with such a nice group of people for one month, in this case, sharing everything and working together to make the station a charming place to inhabit, is an amazing experience that probably most of us won’t ever forget.


Monday, 3 February 2020

Skype meetings with schools in Belgium and Spain


During the last two weeks, Valentina and Bea had two Skype calls with two different schools in Spain and Belgium. Henri Robert, the scientific manager of the Princess Elizabeth Station had organized both meetings with the students and asked for our participation, as we could speak with them in Spanish and French, respectively, apart from English. The aim of these meetings with the students was:

  •  to arise their awareness about the importance of protecting Antarctica and the consequences of the climate change
  • how PEA station could be taken an example as it is the first zero emission Antarctic station
  • which are the main scientific projects that are participating to BELARE 2019-20
  • how is the life in the station .

The first online meeting was done with the Escola Reina Elisenda Virolai, from Barcelona (Spain). Approximately twenty 8-years-old kids with their teachers attended it. Each one had prepared a question in English that they asked to Henri or Bea. They were interested in many different aspects, such as which animals can be seen in this region; how is the daily life in the station; how do we move from one site to another; what is the origin of the energy used here; how is the waste water treatment or how do we spend our free time here. They were very excited and motivated to have this contact with researchers from Antarctica. All of them said they would like to become scientists and work here. Also, after pointing out that more women are needed to come and work in Antarctica, as at the PEA station they are just 4 of the 37 people working here, all the girls wanted to participate even more.

The second online meeting was done with the high school “École Montjoie”, from Brussels (Belgium). In this case, they were mainly 17-years-old students, who also prepared a few questions to address to Henri and Valentina. One of the most interesting question they asked was our position concerning climate change. We could then explain what are the main issues that we try to understand.

We think that it is important to make science more accessible to children, as well as the rest of society. However, as Henri pointed out, children are easier to get touched by the importance of taking care of our planet and become very easily passionate about doing science, in this case, in Antarctica. It is also well-known the higher participation of women in research, especially in the first steps of the scientific career (such as PhD students or young postdocs), compared with previous years. However, the low rate of women at the station is a very clear example of the improvements that still need to be done to overcome the gender inequalities in science. Motivating young girls to choose a scientific or technical career and showing them referent women undertaking this kind of jobs, it is of importance to build a more equal future world.

Therefore, we are very happy to help Henri motivating future generations to protect Antarctica, as well as the whole planet, and overcome gender and other kind of discrimination.


Sunday, 2 February 2020

News from Antarctica

Good afternoon from Antarctica!

Today we are officially taking our first day off. Thanks to the great weather conditions we were able to complete almost all the essential tasks of this campaign. Most of the sampling and the high resolution elevation models have been completed. This is the first time such high resolution imagery has been taken consistently for these sites! We are now off for a week and a half of least priority tasks and packing. Being the third and last campaign of the MICROBIAN project, we have quite some material that has to be sent back to Belgium.

Yesterday, we went back to the Dry Valleys and while Quinten and Juri were busy mapping one of our last sites, Valentina and Bea carried out the planned contamination experiment. This experiment´s aim is to provide the scientific underpinning for policy support related to the Committee on Environmental Protection of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), by assessing potential means of cross-contamination of (alien) microorganisms between different ice-free region. 

Bea sampling Valentina´s boots

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Bad weather starts in Antarctica


During the last days, the weather was still good. As it is supposed to change and get worse today and the following days, we have been going to the field everyday to do as much work as possible. The weather in Antarctica changes so fast that, even if the forecast for the next day says it is going to be sunny and without wind, we still need to check every morning if the conditions haven’t changed. For example, today was supposed to be very windy and cloudy, but in reality, it is sunny and the wind speed might drop down during day. Therefore, Jury and Quentin might be able to go to Teltet to map it with the drone (see map). To fly the drone, we need a speed of less than 10 knots and a homogenous light (that means that it is either sunny or homogenously cloudy), so the weather conditions are very important for a safe flight and good models.

Map of the study sites we visit. Note that PES is for Princess Elizabeth Station.

These days we’ve been mapping and finishing the sampling in Perlebandet and Pingvinane, both North and South nunataks. In the following picture, you can see Quinten, Juri and Bea waiting in Perlebandet South for the drone to finish the flight. It was getting a little bit windy and cold, so we sat next to the rocks to be protected against the wind. Moreover, the rocks are warmer than the air temperature because they absorb the solar radiations.

Picture over Perlebandet South taken with the drone.

Finally, yesterday we went to Petrellnuten, a granite nunatak close to the mountain range of Pingvinane (see map). Here, two kinds of birds inhabiting the Sor Rondane Mountains are very common: the Snow Petrel (Pagodroma nivea) and the South Polar Skuas (Stercorarius moccarmicki). Skuas are top predators, and they are the only ones in this region. Therefore, we need to always be careful and check with Henri Robert, the scientific liaison officer of the station who is also an ornithologist, which precautions we need to take once we are in the field with the drone. For instance, if there are nests, we don’t approach them, avoiding noise disturbance for the birds. The noise is even more noticeable in Antarctica. Here, you can hear the silence. Sometimes we could hear the birds or the ice breaking when we walk over it, as the only noticeable noises. One of the two parts of Petrellnuten nunatak that Juri mapped was inside the wind scoop and only accessible with crampons and a rope installed by our field guide, Raphy. That wind scoop is one of the most impressive ones that we have seen during our campaign!

Raphy and Valentina going down the wind scoop with a rope in Petrellnuten

Wind scoop in Petrellnuten nunatak


Microbian Team signature on the snow with Pingvinane North nunatak in the background

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

What happens at the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica?

 BBC News is publishing the story of the participation of its correspondent to a English/American field campaign to study how the Thwaites glacier is becoming more fragile with the warming of the seawater temperatures.

Antarctica melting: Climate change and the journey to the 'doomsday glacier'

Friday, 24 January 2020

News from Antarctica

Good evening from Antarctica!

We have news! The drone is finally active and getting very cool digital terrain images. This means also that Juri is able to join us now in the field. Indeed, he has stayed inside the station for more than a week!
Yesterday, we went to the Dry Valleys where we could finish sampling the OTCs and snow fences plots there.

The full group after finishing the work in the dry valleys
Because of the big difference in snow cover that we are encountering this year, compared to the previous ones, we were even able to find one of our data loggers that we considered lost (we placed it in January 2018). During the past week, the weather was amazing, with temperatures around the station reaching positive degrees… the sunny days clearly make all the field work much easier! This was also the case in Pingvinane, a nunatak where Valentina and Bea went on the 22nd of January. There, the snow coverage was incredibly low and we were able to sample all the plots very fast. It is a very beautiful site!

Valentina sampling an OTC in Pingvinane
Finally, that day, we also went sampling some biological soil crusts or biocrusts on the Utsteinen ridge, which is very close to the station. The biocrusts are communities that colonize the soil surface and are composed by different organisms such as, lichens, fungi, cyanobacteria, heterotrophic bacteria, mosses, algae or microfauna. In the following picture, there is one of the beautiful biocrusts we found there. These communities are very well adapted to survive under extreme conditions such as those in the Antarctic, other polar regions or hot deserts. Their conservation is very important because they play a main role in these ecosystems, for example increasing soil fertility and stability. They are very susceptible, among other things, to trampling, so don’t bust the crust!

Biocrust found on the Utsteinen ridge


Monday, 20 January 2020

The sampling continues!


We have still good weather in Antarctica, so we have been able to continue the sampling last Saturday and today. On Saturday, we went to the nunatak Perlebandet, which has amazing views from the top, as you can see in the picture. There, we have spent the whole day retrieving data loggers left last year and sampling OTCs.

Quentin and Valentina sampling in Perlebandet

Today we have visited the Dry Valleys. There, apart from the OTCs, we have a different experiment. There are two snow fences installed (see picture) in perpendicular direction to the wind, so that the snow accumulates behind. This allows us to simulate a climate with higher snow precipitations.

Quentin digging the snow behind the snow fences at the Dry valleys


Friday, 17 January 2020

We start the field work!

Hello from Antarctica!

Today we could start visiting the study sites! Valentina, Quinten and Bea went with Raphaël (the field guide) to Yuboku Valley in the morning. Part of the lakes were not frozen and Valentina could measure the photosynthetic activity of the cyanobacteria living under the water. We also retrieved the i-buttons that are continuously recording the humidity and temperature since last year and sampled some of the dry and wet cyanobacterial mats.

Cyanobacteria in the Yuboku valley
As we finished early, we went to the other field sites on theTeltet nunatak and the Utsteinen ridge. There, we have dug out a part of the snow covering the OTCs and let the rest melting. So, when we will come back another day, we will be able to take soil samples. An Open Top Chamber (OTC) is a hexagonal open chamber made of transparent plastic to let the sunlight go through it. Due to the decreased cooling because the plexiglas protects from the wind, it produces an increase of temperature as is expected from climate change. However, this is not the only effect, as the snow might accumulate and does not melt so quickly. We have often encountered this problem and found that the solution was to remove a part of the snow but taking care not to touch the bottom. Then, the chances are great that at our next visit, we will find that all the snow is melted. This allows to retrieve the i-buttons measuring temperature and humidity, but also to take samples if we need.

Valentina and Bea digging the snow covering an OTC at Teltet

Juri, our drone man, has been making the last adjustment of the drone that we will bring with us the next days to the field. He could make some trials this evening, see the amazing picture he took!!

Princess Elisabeth Station and Utsteinen nunatak


Arrival at the Princess Elisabeth Station!

Hello again!

We are very happy because we finally arrived at the Princess Elisabeth station on the 13th of January! After a first boomerang flight on the 9th of January (see precedent blog), this time everything went well and we landed in Novo airfield. Besides, we only had to wait for 2 hours at Novo to take the next and last flight until the Princess Elisabeth station. A perfect time to arrive for dinner, meet our new family during the following weeks and rest before starting the trainings.

Due to the windy weather during the first days, the trainings were postponed until the 15th of January, when we did the skidoo, medical and GPS trainings. These are basic knowledges we need every time we go to the field, as we use the skidoos to reach almost all the study sites.

Skidoo training

We also need to use the GPS to find the tracks we want to follow and the radio to be in contact with the rest of the group or the station. The 16th of January, we did the crevasse training. Crevasses happen when the holes produced by the ice movement are covered by a thin layer of snow. Therefore, they are not visible and if you walk over them, you might fall inside. In our case, it is not probable that we will find one, but it is good to learn the procedure to rescue someone that could have fallen. In the picture, you can see how each person went into the crevasse and the rest of the group has learnt how to pick him/her up. Being inside is really amazing as the crevasses are beautiful!

Juri being rescue from the crevasse

Inside the crevasse