Hunting lamprophyres from the sky

A helicopter is the ultimate tool for geologists; it provides access to the inaccessible and views from the sky where the landscape can be seen on a tectonic scale (almost). We were fortunate to commandeer the use of a Bell 212 helicopter—a twin-engine Huey—from McMurdo with a bright red and blue NSF paint job.
First stop: Buntley Bluff on the Mulock Glacier. On the third flyby of the 1500 ft looming cliffs, the pilot finally spotted a small flat patch. Over the intercom we hear, “Might be able to set down there…heavily crevassed… need to watch for rocks falling from above…overhanging serac of snow above us…not much room to manoeuvre…lets do a compaction test…” The skids of the helicopter bounced several times on the surface without it caving in, so we were ushered out. I wielded the hammer, Graham and Sophie the notebook and GPS. We stormed up to the cliff, whacking off samples and taking some notes before returning to the aircraft. Off to the next stop.
Hopping our way back to camp in great helo leaps, we kept our eyes pealed for dark lamprophyre intrusions. Approaching our final destination, we finally spotted a lamprophyre running across the top of a mountain ridge. Sophie had to be refrained from jumping out of her seat in excitement so we asked the pilot to land us there. After a few circles, we had to abandon the idea of landing, but managed traced the dark strip of rock across the mountain, collecting a sample of the host rock at the base of the slope.
The next morning at 5:00 am, I was hearing helicopter rotors in my sleep. Then I realized I was awake and that the sound was real.  Except it wasn’t a helicopter…it was the snowmobile. I bundled up and crawled into the morning wind to investigate. All the tents were closed tight and everyone was asleep. Why was the snowmobile running? Who turned it on? I woke the others and we have yet to solve the mystery. Strange things happen in the land of the midnight sun.

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Phone call from Antarctica!

Hi everyone, Last week we did something a little different – John (and Anna) visited a 6th grade class at Franklin Elementary school in Santa Barbara. We talked to the class about the team’s trip to Antarctica and what it’s like to be a geologist. The class was also lucky enough to get to talk to Graham by satellite phone from Antarctica! Graham shared some of his experiences and answered a ton of interesting questions from the children. I think everyone had a great time. Below are the videos of the interview with Graham – they’re a total of about 20mins long.

For those of you who are interested in how we set this up – Graham used a satellite phone to call a Google voice number which was then played through a laptop connected to the internet. This allowed us to turn the volume up loud enough so everyone in the classroom could hear Graham, and, using the inbuilt laptop microphone we were able to ask him questions. A pretty simple solution with excellent audio quality, no echo and best of all the Google Voice number was free!

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Back at McMurdo

Hello everyone,

We arrived back in Mac Town on Friday right on schedule. We have spent the last few days returning all of our gear, which was quite a process. We have had some time to get cleaned up and kick back as well. We have been running and hiking around the base and Hut Point Peninsula.

There was marathon on the Ross ice shelf on Sunday. Bryan talked me (Graham) into doing the half-marathon, but w missed the registration deadline by a few hours when we arrived on Friday. Lucky for other runners – we would have won that marathon fur sure! Next year.

Well, this concludes our first Antarctic field season. Bryan and I are going to do some traveling in New Zealand for a couple of weeks, and Jo is getting married soon! Congratulations!

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the science or the journey. Thanks for following along with our adventure!

Here are some miscellaneous videos that were too big to upload to the blog while out in the field. Enjoy!

-John, Graham, Bryan, and Jo of “Geologists on Ice”

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Happy New years from Antarctica!


Happy New years from Antarctica! 2012 is here, which means are field season is winding down. The weather in Antarctica as been up to its old tricks with 2 days of strong winds 1 day of nice weather and 1 ½ days of snow. When the winds started we all tried to be tough and work anyway, but that left us fleeing the hills after 70 km/h gusts made field work nearly impossible. New years day greeted us with beautiful weather, sunny and warm (if you can call a few degrees under freezing warm). On January 2 we woke up to 3 inches (~7.5 cm) of fresh white fluffy powder. Although the snow is pretty and fun for boot skiing it covers all the wonderful rocks, making geology more difficult. January 3rd we left camp with a light dusting of snow covering are tracks. At lunchtime the weather looked as though it was taking a turn for the worst. We were slowly being buried by snow as we enjoyed crackers with cheese and tuna and bumper bars. We finished eating and continued up the steep ridge we had started before lunch. The wind began to pick up and the visibility was decreasing. We decided it was time to call it a day and make are way back to camp. Currently the wind is still blowing and we are recording some of are coldest temps of the season at -29o C (-20 F) with wind chill. Hopefully the wind blows away the snow covering the rocks. Today graham emerged as a rugged Antarctic mountain man he is, with a healthy beard filled with blowing snow and icicles hanging from his mustache.

Well that’s all for now, we wish all are friends and family back home the best and Happy New Years. Panorama Glacier Out!

The top of the Panorama Glacier with Mt. Erebus in the far distance

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Some new videos

Now that John is back in Santa Barbara he’s had a chance to upload some videos. Check out these selection (there are a bunch more on our youtube channel – Antarctica360). They play best if you open the Youtube link in the lower right of each video.

A ride across the Radian Glacier on a skidoo at 8x speed. The skidoo sound isn’t normally quite this bad…
Our first camp put. Flying into the field from McMurdo station

Bryan’s review of the Tundra skidoo – our trusty field vehicle…

Graham’s mineralogy exam

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Christmas Day in Antarctica!

A lot has happened since are last blog update, including the celebration of our first Antarctic Christmas. Jo and Bryan made a tree out of snow and decorated it with miscellany from camp. Santa Claus came, even for Graham. Bryan and Graham did some shovel-sledding (videos to come pending bandwidth), and Jo cooked a feast– by Antarctic or any standards. It wasn’t quite the same as home, but we had a great time regardless.

Panorama Glacier Christmas Tree

Monday was business as usual. We had he snowmobiles slung back to Mac Town for lack of appropriate terrain, so all of our work has been on foot. We have trekked across the panorama glacier a couple of times and also checked out some of the rocks close to camp. The new field area has introduced a great deal of variety of the geology, and Graham and Bryan are reinspired. A particular highlight was finding huge books of biotite, the largest weighing in at over 20 lbs! We walked back with overloaded packs full of samples for mineralogy class– hopefully our students don’t need a hand lens to identify a Bt crystal the size of their heads!

Very large Biotite Crystals!

We have just past the half-way point of our field season. For those of you anxiously awaiting our return, especially Mike awaiting Graham, we will see you soon! I promise, we will shower first! The last few weeks will fly by, as did the first few. At first it seemed that we had a surplus of time, but we are now trying to maximize our efficiency to get everything done! Cheep Cheep!

Shovel sledding on Christmas day

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Christmas Eve on the Panorama Glacier

The last few days have been full of excitement and adventure and we are now known as “Panorama Glacier’ on our nightly radio check-in with Mac Ops. The last time we wrote we were in the midst of packing for our camp move in the sunshine. Later that afternoon the cloud on the horizon developed and filled the sky and the wind increased. During the night we were woken by the wind banging against our tents and when we arose in the morning it was pretty obvious that there wouldn’t be any choppers flying out to us. As the day progressed the winds increased and we experienced our first ‘real’ Antarctic weather. The sound of the wind was much worse than it actually was but combined with the snow being driven it was a battle to do anything outside. We tired to pass the day by sleeping and conserving energy but even this was made difficult by the noise. By mid afternoon we were registering gusts of up to 80 kph and constant high winds in between. Not that strong in the scheme of things and nothing for what the tents can withstand but still a change from what we’ve been used to our here so far. Our campsite was transformed once again, this time with drifting snow and some piles of gear set out ready for the camp move were slowly disappearing from sight. Fortunately, this storm was only brief and by early evening we were getting some respite between the gusts. By bed time things had calmed down a lot and it was difficult to believe how different life was a few hours previous.

Antarctic weather!

So it didn’t come as a complete surprise to wake to light winds and sunshine yesterday morning and thus action stations. A call to Helo Ops confirmed that the choppers were flying and we started the process of dismantling camp. Gear packed away, food into boxes, tents dug out of the snow, and sling loads built for the helicopters. We also had the added fun of digging out skidoos, sleds, and our toilet area, all which had been drifted with the wind-blown snow. We timed it perfectly and had been relaxing for about 10 mins when the sound of the first helicopter was heard. We had made the decision not to take the skidoos to the next camp, so as the first one was being slung back to McMurdo, the helitech finalised and sorted our other loads.

Bryan and Graham arranging Sling loads with a Helo tech

The larger Bell chopper then arrived with our friend the French pilot, Fromage (Flo) from the other day and we were quickly loaded with our gear and off to find our new camp. Up above the Panorama/Glimpse Glacier we circled around scoping out potential spots before choosing what we hoped would be a sheltered spot. -14degrees C still air – as expected about 10 degrees colder than our lower camp. The chopper left and returned soon after with our tents and gear slung beneath. With a blast of wind and the thwop of the blades the Bell flew off and we were left in our beautiful, high camp. 2000m surrounded by the high glaciers and peaks that we’ve been looking up at for the past 3 weeks. A stunning spot but definitely an increased sense of exposure to the elements. We were blessed with a calm afternoon which we spent up pitching our tents and organising our camp. A tiring process especially after already breaking down our camp that morning but we took our time ensuring the tents were well anchored and buried. Fortunately the sun never goes down but by the time we sat down to eat tea at around 9pm, we were hungry, thristy, and ready for bed. We’d lost the calm from the afternoon but were relieved and impressed by how little our tents shook. It looks like we’ll be getting used to the sound of the whistling through the tent guys but hopefully we’ve chosen a spot sheltered from the worst.

New campsite on the Panorama Glacier

After 13 hours of camp breaking down and building we allowed ourselves a lie in this morning and in recognition of the holiday weekend, a more relaxing day. A little more camp set up and then the boys headed off to explore the outcrops above camp while Jo spent a pleasant afternoon tidying up the mess tent, putting up Christmas decorations, and making treats for tomorrow. Adding to the toilet wall built by the boys yesterday she also discovered a new passion – snow sculpting. Despite a brief trip the boys had a productive afternoon discovering a wide range of rocks including a new sample ‘never seen before’ which they called ‘BryanNormanite’. After tea and cake made by the girls at the BFC (delivered by the chopper yesterday) we set about building an Antarctic Christmas tree with the snow saws. Pizza for dinner, the last door on the Advent Calendar opened and soon it’s off to bed to await the arrival of Father Christmas. It’s a beautiful evening here, with a little wind (up to 20kph) so he shouldn’t have any difficulty landing the sled. Captain Oates is keeping an eye out and  will no doubt provide a friendly welcome to him and the reindeer. We’re taking the day off tomorrow so should have time share our Christmas celebrations with you all. One more sleep… 🙂

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Sun, sun, sun!

While the previous week had been governed by seemingly continuous snow showers we are now basking in sunshine. Today and yesterday we have been blessed with calm, sunny weather which we weren’t sure existed in Antarctica. There was wind up high yesterday which was moving all the fresh snow around but at lower elevations we only got the occasional gusty breeze. With the wind and sun working together the mountains have mostly been transformed back to what we previously knew them as – less white and more rock.
  We made the most of the weather yesterday with a long day out up the North side of Rucker Ridge, above the Walcott Glacier. Finally the snow had melted away and we were able to actually see the rock and outcrops. Jo spent the day lapping up the views and sunshine whilst drinking her tea while the boys geologised. Although the sunscreen was the order of the day, we must point out that as soon as there was a breeze the temperature was around -10oC so we refrained from sunbathing. Late afternoon we reached around 1550m and the wind hit us. Still plenty of snow at this height (much of it being blown around) and with the anemometer registering a windchill of -22oC our motivation to continue waned pretty fast. We’re going to be dealing with enough of that at our other camp, no need to push it now. The wind dropped as quickly as we descended down the edge of the glacier. Blue sky, beautiful ‘evening’ light, stunning situation with seracs towering high above us, the valley below stretching out to Walcott Bay and Mt Discovery. The snow underfoot was still light and fluffy and Jo almost shed tears at the injustice of not having skis to take advantage of such perfect conditions. As we rounded the corner back to camp we were greeted with the rather ominous sight of cloud pouring over Mt Huggins and the other peaks (very similar to The Divide from Mt Cook Village for the Kiwis). With the whole upper glaciers being stripped of their snow by the wind we were somewhat fearful of what to expect from the weather but the wind stayed high and we slept well.

Today we are unfortunately not able to take advantage of the beautiful weather as we are on the helicopter schedule to shift our camp tomorrow and need to spend the day sorting, organizing, and packing. We also snuck in a sleep-in, have done some washing, and are communicating with the outside world. Although we’ve had another calm, sunny day so far, as I write this the cloud from the far horizon has finally developed over us, the temperature has dropped, and it disappointingly looks as if the MacTown Weather Ops forecast for an incoming storm might be correct. If we can’t do our camp shift tomorrow or Friday it will be Boxing Day, as the pilots are having the holiday weekend off. We’re keen to have as much time to geologise from our high camp as possible but there’s plenty we can do down here now that the snow has melted. Captain Oates would prefer to stay at lower elevations as it means less distance to travel to the sea should he no longer wish to be part of our team.

Tune in next time to find out where we’ll be having Christmas!

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Slight failure in comms…

So it seems we had a slight failure in our communication system, this blog is actually from December 15 but it didn’t get to me then. So here it is now!
Any excitement over the past few days has been completely outdone by the arrival of the fourth member of our party. Captain Oates will be a quiet, yet significant member of our team, assisting us to stay positive and in good humour whilst not consuming too many of our resources. See photo of him keeping an eye on the weather for us, out the tent door.

The last couple of days have been a mixed bag – another day of low cloud and big fat snowflakes saw Graham go almost insane and Bryan retreat to his sleeping bag. In an attempt to ward off cabin fever, Graham and Jo spent the afternoon developing an aerobics routine to Blondie ‘Heart of Glass’ much to Bryan’s dismay. We plan to post the video once we’ve perfected the routine.

Yesterday we were stoked and relieved to wake to improved weather and finally some SUNSHINE! We’d forgotten what it felt like to have the warmth of the sun on our skin (faces) and to make all the daily tasks seem that much easier. With heaps of snow still lying on the slopes and outcrops and the weather not completely settled we decided to head across the Walcott – our closest destination. Our walk through Dr Seuss-land was made more bizarre and stunning by the additional 3 inches of creamy sparkly snow topping all the features. The fresh snow also made the trip a bit more challenging, as we were unable to determine what sort of ice was hiding underneath. Once we reached the slopes on the northern side of the Walcott it was crampons off and another day of interesting measuring and sampling whilst Jo amused herself with the lightest, fluffiest snow that she had ever seen. By mid-afternoon the clouds had thickened and clusters of stellars were again falling on us. We headed further up the hill but soon found the geologizing difficult with the thick snow layer hiding many interesting features. The descent was somewhat slippery until we reached a ‘road’ conveniently carved back down the hill. Back across the Walcott and through Dr Seuss-land with our tracks barely visible from the new snow that had fallen during the day. Satay for dinner and we weren’t long out of bed. To our surprise and delight the sun burst through the clouds just as we were brushing our teeth and continued to shine through the walls of out tents as we fell asleep.

This morning we were treated to views of the mountains that we had forgotten existed – Dromedary and Huggins against a blue sky. Yay for sunshine and warmth. This beautiful weather was unfortunate timing as we were expecting visitors to our camp this afternoon for the first time so couldn’t get out to work. We’d received a message from MacTown that the Environmental Officer would like to bring some NSF representatives to view our camp set-up. This proposed visit had provided us with a great source of amusement and distraction over the past couple of days, so it was with some disappointment that the helicopter containing our visitors arrived two hours early. Fortunately our camp was already in good order and our visitors were impressed with what we had going on here – a tidy, compact base camp in a beautiful environment. They had a couple of suggestions for us and we provided them with some feedback so the trip was mutually beneficial. In addition to bringing us some baking from MacTown, still warm, our visitors were kind enough to deliver our mail and some other items we required. The afternoon was spent opening our packages and enjoying the delights within. Graham’s feet are now toasty warm with his new down booties and Jo shared her Dark Ghana chocolate with the boys whilst reading copies of the Listener magazine. (Bryan’s family and friends – put something in the post soon, he felt left out!). Thank you to all those who sent us mail, it’s a great joy to receive in the field. A special thank you to Jo’s folks for Captain Oates, the inflatable Emperor penguin, who has already begun an integral part of out team.

To our dismay the sky clouded over yet again and snowflakes fell from the sky, our sunshine and views once again hidden. This weather cycle is becoming somewhat tedious because even if we can get out onto the slopes, the snow has no chance to melt meaning the time spent is less efficient than desirable. On the plus side, we were delivered a weather monitor today as well, so we can now keep an eye on the wind speed and wind chill. Watching the temperature drop by 60 C with the slightest breeze has increased our understanding of the cold we’ve been experiencing.  Captain Oates is more than content with the cold climate but we are hoping that this weather system will move on and we can get out there and geologise some more.


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Artefact hunting

Sunny day at camp
Mount Dromedary

Sorry that we haven’t updated in a few days. We are finally hard at work again, after about a week of bad weather during which we were only able to work for a couple days. The best part about snow days is pancakes for breakfast and dinner! Reminds Graham of school snow days in Vermont. We have worked the last few days, but have been slightly hampered by ~6 inches of fresh snow covering all of the rocks. We succeeded in getting useful data and samples through diligence and outcrop sweeping. The last couple of days have been sunny and nice!

A few days ago, while working on a remote ridge at ~1200 m, we noticed a couple of blankets wedged between some boulders. Bryan thought for sure that they were the last attempt at a shelter by a now mummified explorer. We gingerly pulled them out with our ice axes, but to our dismay, there were no other artefacts.  We are now in possession of two raggy US Navy wool blankets.

The geologizing has been going well. Today we had helicopter close support and were able to access a few remote areas  including Heald Island in the Koettlitz glacier. We flew over some of the highest peaks in our field area, including Mount Dromedary, and the views were incredible. We scoped out the location of our next camp. The terrain looks relatively accommodating, although it will be considerably colder camping at ~2000 m.

Until next time, have fun and don’t forget to stimulate your gums!!!

Koet

Jo and Bryan and Helo

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