There is no daily routine in the field, at least not this field season. The range of things I did was huge. Some things fall into the “keep camp going” category, some into “preparing to do science”, some “doing science”, some “entertainment” and some “personal care”. I’ll give a few examples of each.
Keep Camp Going
When you stay out in a harsh environment for long periods of time, there are numerous tasks that have to be done to keep the tents up and healthy, people fed and healthy, and the environment clean and healthy. Here are some of these tasks:
Check (and tighten if necessary) guy lines on tents - every couple of days and every time the wind blows hard
Sweep tent floors - variable depending on the tent and how much dirt is tracked in. The dive tent floor was swept every day to keep the water that drips off the dive gear down at one end. The lab tent was swept twice or so during the whole field season
Fill water jugs and carry them up to the kitchen tent - average of one jug per day or a bit less [These jugs are ~20 liters (~5 gallons), and the distance from the lake to camp is several hundred meters with about 30 m of elevation gain. We also have to drill a hole in the ice to get the water, and break up the ice that forms in the hole every time we need water. We typically dip the water out with a pan.]
Cook dinner - every night. The first person who started dinner got to make it. Usually someone volunteered before 7 pm and we ate at 7:30 or so. Breakfast and lunch were individually prepared unless someone decided to make pancakes or other pan bread.
Wash dishes - every night and sometimes after breakfast or lunch.
Restock the food boxes in the kitchen tent - a couple of times per week [basically whenever there is something you want but it is still outside in the storage box, frozen. We also have to keep track of food levels to ask for additional supplies before they are needed. They have to be brought in by helicopter, which can take days to schedule.]
Empty the trash - about once a week or before visitors came. [This involved putting the trash into a big weighted box that a helicopter will pick up at the end of the season and take back to McMurdo.]
Change the human waste bucket - about twice a week. This consists of putting a good lid on the old bucket and putting a new bucket in the toilet box. We also made sure there were toilet paper and hand cleaner available.
Put heavy objects (rocks) on light items that could blow away - every time we saw a light item left outside.
Put fuel in generators - regularly depending on generator use
Turn the solar panels to face the sun - many times per day
Dig out items that melted into the ice - too many times... [it is obviously best not to leave anything on the ice to melt in...but sometimes that can't be avoided.]
Preparing To Do Science
A lot of time is spent preparing to get samples, fixing equipment, clearing an area to work with samples, deciding what you want to do, etc. This is an essential part of any scientific project, even though you might not be “doing” the science for these tasks. They include:
Getting dressed for diving, warming up after diving [for the divers. People like me who "just" provide surface support also need to make sure we have warm enough clothes on that we can stand around for 45 minutes above the ice without getting too cold.]
Cutting core tubes, filing the ends to sharpen them, screwing screws into rubber stoppers, and tying the stoppers to the tubes
Figuring out how to extrude sediment out of core tubes given that you’re missing a critical part (I failed on this one after more than 18 hours of trying over several days.) [We now have the proper parts to do this well.]
Taping wire to bamboo poles for a transect line [probably won't do this again, but we do have sediment traps we are going to leave in the lake over the field season. They will likely need some assembly.]
Me, sitting out of the wind on a warm day bending wire and taping it to poles for the transect line.
Calibrating instruments such as pH meters, salinity meters, turbidity meters, etc.
Figuring out why instruments quit working or what went wrong with the data
Fixing broken equipment, for example soldering the wires on the digital thermometer
Drilling or melting holes in the ice; melting the drill flights out of the ice after getting them stuck. [We have LOTS and LOTS of drilling to do this year, thanks to my proposed science plan. It will be hard work.]
Preparing for the last bit of drilling that will break through the ice. It's HARD work and the bit has to be pulled out of the hole before it freezes in. I'll write more about this later.
Unwinding and winding lines and ropes for underwater equipment
Making lists of things to do and planning the day’s activities
This part is often the most fun, although some jobs are tedious. Here is a small sampling of what we did:
Collect samples, choosing ones that look interesting after deciding what “looks interesting”
Look at samples under the microscope
Measure the concentration of chlorophyll and determining its potential activity
Photograph and describe microbial structures under water
Photograph and describe collected samples
Choose and cut out bits of mat to preserve for later examination under the microscope
Pull mat off pieces of calcite, describe the relationships between the calcite and the mats, and prepare the calcite for drying
Dissolve calcite in acid or organics in bleach and describe the relationships between them
Lower instruments that photograph the bottom or measure chemistry or light levels into holes in the ice
Collect water samples for various analyses
Filter water to collect chlorophyll and suspended sediment
Titrate samples to measure alkalinity
Place and manipulate microelectrodes in mats underwater
Talk about our observations and results
When you are in the field for weeks at a time, it is important to include things in daily life that aren’t work. Different people like different things, and here are some of the things people did for entertainment:
Listen to music
Do logic and word puzzles like sudoku and crosswords
Surf the web (only for very brief periods of time when it actually worked) [This won't happen this year - due to sequester cuts, we won't have any internet or e-mail access from the field at all except through very slow satellite phone service.]
Without much water, we didn’t wash much. However, for a long field season, it is essential to keep yourself healthy, warm, and happy. If you don’t, you’ll be miserable. Here are some of the things I do to take care of myself:
Use hand cleaner several times per day and always after going to the bathroom and before eating
Wipe off with baby wipes regularly. This was easier once the weather warmed up and they weren’t frozen hard.
Remove my boot liners almost night to make sure they dry
Change my clothes every day. I put dirty clothes back on, but rotating them and letting them air out between wearings helps a great deal.
Mend clothing with holes in it
Have an extra sweater handy to put on if I get cold
Go pee more often than normal so I don’t wait until I have to go very badly because sometimes it’s inconvenient to go. For example, there might be a bunch of people around, and I wouldn’t want to get out my pee bottle, find a sheltered spot, etc.
Spend at least a little quality time by myself every day
Keep an interesting idea or question to think about when I start getting tired
Push myself hard physically, but admit to myself and others when I am at the limit of what I can do
Take a nap when I need to
Take a walk when I need to
Eat plenty of food and drink plenty of water
Do something nice for someone else. This always makes me happier, particularly if I’m irritated at the person I do something nice for. (For my friends: I also do nice things when I'm not irritated at you, so don't read too much into this!)
Overall, there is plenty to keep one busy in the field!