Monday I’ll be heading out to Lake Bonney, located in the unique Dry Valleys of Antarctica.

See image: Taylor Glacier and Lake Bonney (both lobes visible)

I’ll be observing Bess B. Ward (Princeton) and her colleague Mark Wells (University of Maine) and their team — studying the low rates of denitrification in Lake Bonney, Antarctica. As I understand it thus far, Lake Bonney has two distinct areas: West Lobe and East Lobe, and they are functioning very differently. On the bacterial level, one lobe is fairly “dead” compared with the other lobe. Ward’s team drills down through the lake ice and retrieves water samples from the layers at the lake’s bottom. Lake Bonney is fed by glacial melt, so there it has a fresh water ice cap — but at the bottom there is a dense brine layer. The salt water brine is likely the result of dried (& re-dissolved) salts left in the Dry Valley terrain/lakebeds from times when the ocean water covered the land. Ward/Wells and team are investigating the Lake Bonney water to see what chemical “triggers” will make the bacteria react/flourish. Triggers they are considering include chelation, and levels of heavy metals dissolved in the water (iron, copper, etc). From what I understand, their “procedures” emphasize clean bagging and fast handling, maintaining the water’s conditions (even the gas levels) and flying back to the lab with the samples, so they can work on the water as it was in situ.

Note: Mark Wells and I had an interesting conversation last night, while we were saying goodbye to Tom Wagner, the NSF Science Rep. Tom’s background is in Geology, but now he works in the administration of the National Science Foundation. I’ve enjoyed our conversations because his job makes him a scientific “generalist” – curious and knowledgeable about a number of subjects. Working as a scientist, Mark said, one invariably becomes more and more “specialized.”

Mark now defines himself (grinningly) as a Marine-Bio-Geo-Chemist.

In related news, someone asked me yesterday if I was a “freelance” poet.

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