Camping in Antarctica – Episode 3
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Camping in Antarctica – Episode 3

Nearly 98% of Antarctica is covered with
ice. Up to three miles thick in some locations.
After spending a couple weeks at the McMurdo Station,
I placed my microscopes and a sleeping bag into a helicopter to venture to a
unique part of Antarctica known for its lack of ice: the Dry Valleys. The Dry Valleys are host to a few tiny
field camps of researchers, often only half a dozen people at each. My first
stop was Lake Bonney to spend a week camping at the frozen lake looking for
microbes living underneath the ice. So, I’ve just arrived in the Dry Valleys
for the very first time and it is nothing short of incredible.
I actually really don’t have words to describe just how alien and awesome it
is here. I actually feel like I need to whisper because this place is just so
amazing. It’s really unlike anything I’ve done, being here in Antarctica, at
Lake Bonney, the sight of Blood Falls and we’re just camping out here amongst the
mountains and with all the little microbes around us and it’s, yeah, I don’t
have words, it’s pretty special. The Dry Valleys here in Antarctica are
cool not only for looking like an alien landscape. They are the largest patch of
dry land, essentially land that is not touched by ice or snow, in all of
Antarctica. Antarctica is nearly the size of North America. You’re often wondering
what is exactly beneath my feet? I’m on the continent, but I’m on tons of ice and
snow. What’s beneath my feet? What does the continent itself look like? Well, it
looks something like this. So, we’re up here at the Zen Garden. It was a pretty strenuous, at
least for me, hike to get up here but it’s absolutely beautiful. You can see
there’s all these wind-swept rocks behind me. We’re actually near an area called the Upland Ponds at Lake Bonney where a lot of microbial mats are, and we’re just checking things out around here and then we’re going to go for dinner. I’m here at the Lake Bonney camp inside
the Jamesway, this is the name of the structure that I’m actually in, and this
is our common area. So this is where we eat. You can see a lot of the pantry
items behind me. If I go over here you can sort of, it’s bright, but you can see
there’s a cooking area, regular stove, and then over here is a lot of desks and you
can see right there, that’s actually my microscopy area where I’m looking at a
lot of microbes and doing a lot of the work. This space is really fantastic, having a
common area. There’s Christmas lights. It’s quite cozy, and it’s just a nice
area to catch up with everyone else at the camp. We’ve got about a dozen people
or so in the camp right now, so for Lake Bonney that’s actually quite crowded but
it’s fun getting to hear about everyone’s different science projects
and catch up with them at the end of each day. A lot of people say the Dry Valleys is
the closest thing to being on Mars. Right now I am actually going around hiking
looking at the shoreline and some of the different sediments around here and
sampling different types of microbes to see what we can see. [Jill Mikucki]: Right now, Ariel, you are standing on about 3.8 meters of ice, so almost 12 feet of ice, and you’re
looking at the water column of Lake Bonney. It starts here, this is the freeboard, so the distance from
the ice cover that the lake water came up. And the water goes down here almost
42 meters in depth. [Ariel]: How many times have you been to Blood Falls? [Jill]: How many times?
[Ariel]: Or how many years have you been coming? [Jill]: How many years have I been coming down? Well,
13 seasons to Antarctica, so 12 to McMurdo and 11 to the Dry Valleys, so
yeah, it’s been some time. But yeah, I’m excited about this hole. So I am actually at Blood Falls. You can
see it right behind me. It is this amazing, amazing thing. It’s really a
monument to science. They used to think it was algae, it’s actually iron oxide. It’s just absolutely beautiful to actually see it in person and not in
photos and to actually get to experience it and hopefully take some samples from here and
look at them under the microscope. We also had a bit of late-night fun at
the camp with the microscopes just looking at whatever was lying around at
2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Some of the scientists were pretty excited to have a
microscope to play around with for the first time. Science! Oh yeah! Oh my god! My finger looks disgusting. It looks like scales! I look like a freakin’ reptile. I’ve been sleeping over here
at Lake Bonney for a few nights and it definitely gets cold in the evenings. So
there are a few different techniques you can use inside your tent, which I am
right now, to get a little bit warmer. One is throwing your big red coat over your
sleeping bag. Another is having hand warmers handy. Another technique is
having a hot water bottle with boiling water in it to keep your, either your
feet or your belly, warm. This definitely is one of my most important things that
I go to bed with. Also, you know, at Lake Bonney there’s actually no showers, so
everyone here just kind of deals with it. Essentially showers take the form of
this. This is a good way of keeping clean while you’re here at Lake Bonney. Some
people are here for several weeks. Some people are here for only a few days. So
you definitely have to get creative with both how to keep warm and
how to keep clean. Today is my last day here at Lake Bonney
and I’ve had a really heartwarming experience getting to know all of the
scientists, getting to get a feel for the camp, and just getting settled into a way
of life here, even over only a few short days. I am now headed to Lake Hoare
which is a larger camp and has more infrastructure, so I’m interested to
compare the two. But here at Lake Bonney
I’ve just had a fantastic experience and it really is hard to really grasp that
I’m here in Antarctica and here literally camping amongst the mountains,
and what an incredible experience that is. I don’t think I fully grasped how it
will affect me. Perhaps that’s something that I’ll find out more when I go home. On the next episode, I hike up a glacier to drill into it in search of
tardigrades living embedded in the ice. To catch all the episodes of my
Antarctic expedition, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel. My
Antarctic work is ongoing and you can support it and these videos by joining my
Patreon. Thanks to all my patrons for making this possible and a special shout-out to the patrons listed in the YouTube description below: you’re spectacular.
Also thanks to the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists & Writers
program, the San Francisco Microscopical Society, National Geographic, and the many
Antarctic researchers, friends, and colleagues who helped support my work
along the way.


  • zapfanzapfan

    Very cool place, pun intended! 😉

    No diving in that lake? Are there microbial mats on the bottom of that lake like some others? What you are seeing could be Gale Crater on Mars 3 billion years ago 🙂

  • Objet D'Art

    If you ever want a lowly assistant to help you in these remote areas, hit me up… 🙂 Just kidding… Love your videos…

  • R Nacnud

    6:05 studying bacteria from blood falls,7:50 antibacterial hand wipes,never the twain shall meet.Seriously though are there restrictions on what you can bring with you to such a near pristine environment?

  • iPatroni

    Really enjoyed this. Great info and just amazing photography. I would love to do something like this. Fascinating. Thanks

  • Neoinfinity

    I thought Matt or the muppets from the Techmoan youtube channel were going to make an appearance when his outro music started playing at 2:30. Great video, thanks for taking us along on your journeys.

  • RideNV

    Awesome stuff. How cool is it that we have people that are down there, meanwhile we have people in Death Valley and at Mt Everest. Humans are so very adaptable. Gives me an idea for a follow up trip!

  • Wes Swingley

    Jiiiiilllllll!!!!!! Hi Jill! I was super excited to see her this episode 😀 Can't wait to hear even more about everything from you in person soon!

  • foxfax2

    You know, in that first panning shot from the helicopter coming into the Dry Valleys, my first thought was "I wonder who left all that rubbish on that small beach?" Then it turned out to be the camp. Perspective is a wonderful thing.

  • WM Bonner

    I wonder how much CO2 gets blown in the Air to get all those people down there..

    Must be a HuGe Carbon Footprint..

  • mythdusterds

    I just learned about you from an Instagram post that Adam Savage posted. I subscribed to your channel because of it.

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