Sastrugi, smelly socks, and ocelli

It has been 6 or so weeks on the ice (to be honest, we’ve lost track of time and don’t even know the day of the week). If anything, time is measured by alternating cooking duties and the numbers we write on canvas sample bags—in excess of 400 so far. Some changes have become hard to ignore. For example, our toilet fortress, once a 4 ft deep hole surrounded by 4 ft walls of snow blocks has filled in with drifts and eroded down such that it hardly provides any shelter or privacy; the sastrugi on the interior adds décor. In the cook tent, snow has melted and compacted under the floor such that the stove, food boxes, and chairs are precariously inclined to crash inward.

Our clothing is also disintegrating. My pants are torn from crampons, my jacket is accumulating patches, the seams of my boots unravel more each day, all my gloves are riddled with holes, and my sunglasses have been scratched by flying rock chips. Every morning I’m haunted by my brother’s unheeded advice: “Bring 10 pairs of socks and always, always, always, save one for a rainy day.” All three of my sock pairs have long since passed from the “crusty” stage to the “cheesy” stage, but there is still no alternative to drying them at head level in the cook tent. My only consolation is the fact that the smell of dirty cloths increases asymptotically, and mine are now nearing the limit of maximum stench.
Small discoveries keep life interesting here. Upon washing my hair—something I’ve only attempted once in the field—I was humoured to find small chips of granite on my head, but was unable to identify their exact lithology. Most exciting of all are the lamprophyres, chock full of pyrite, ocelli (ask Sophie), and xenoliths of various origins.
 Unfortunately Grahams camera is on the ridge somewhere, so we’ll send pics when we find it…

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Summiting Diamond Mountain (Hill)

Happy New Year from Diamond Glacier!!! 
We hope that everyone had a wonderful 2012 and are looking forward to 2013! We certainly have had a few fun and eventful recent days. We decided that we needed to end the year with a bang, so we decided to clime a peak on Dec. 31. Diamond Hill towers over our field area and was the obvious challenge. I know, “Hill” sounds kind of wimpy, but I’m sure that it would be considered a small mountain anywhere else in the world. In truth, it was not the most technical or difficult climb, but going from 400 m to 1400 m while collecting and carrying rocks gave us a pretty good workout! We toiled to the mighty summit only to find out that a hardened Kiwi mountaineer had arrived moments before! She denies any relation to Edmund Hillary, but I’m sure that everyone on those two little islands are somehow related.   
That night we stayed up and welcomed the new year in the bright sunshine of a spectacularly warm and calm midnight. The midnight hours, when the sun is low over the southern horizon, offer the most stunning pastel views of the landscape. Sophie and I recently remarked how Antarctic vantages often appear more like paintings than real landscapes; I’m certain that our photographs will never do justice.    
We took a lovely 1st of the new year off from work to rest, relax, read, and run (the “four r’s” of leisure). The afternoon brought the warmest weather that we have yet seen (ambient temperatures around freezing, but hot in the sun). We took the opportunity to get some vitamin D and work on our tans before our return to society, that is, society outside of camp. My tan obviously leaves room for want.   
The morning of Jan. 2 brought a bit of a surprise. We got up lazily at 8:00 and proceeded with our delectable breakfast of oatmeal, soggy mini-wheats, and black coffee for the rugged “Alaska” Larry. After eating I called “Helo Ops” to provide details for the close-support day that we were expecting on the 3rd. I identified our team and said that we were calling about our close-support day; the response: “Oh yeah, they’re on their way. They left at about 7:45.”    
Ooh! “Everyone get ready; the helos are coming today!” We all scrambled to get our gear together and consolidate the items to be taken back to town, including Larry (not to objectify our friend Larry). We managed to get everything together just when we heard “gulf-zero-six-four, gulf-zero-six-four, this is zero-eight-hotel” on our VHF radio as the deep whir of the Bell 212 came into earshot. Whew! We were ready just in time… to find out that they were going to go to a satellite fuel cache to fill up! Well, an hour for some more tea then! Anyway, we had a very successful day and covered lots of ground with the help of the awesome helo team. We were sad to see Larry go back to MacTown, but happy to have some new food and mail! Thanks for the mountaineering guidance Larry!

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Survival of the fittest on the Darwin

Across from camp, seven triangular ridges expose layers of granites and metasediments, sandwiched between steep tributary icefalls. Reaching the cliffs requires crossing the five-mile-wide Darwin Glacier. Although the Darwin has a central corridor of shiny sun-scoured blue ice, strips of crevasses line the edges. Melt water runs in and amongst crevasses, creating mazes of small channels and deep cracks. Complicating navigation, variable amounts of wind-blown snow cover and hide the surface of the glacier. Fortunately, we have been joined by Alaska Larry, a mountaineering guide on Denali in the other summer, to help navigate the Darwin.

After an hour of zig-zagging between crevasses on snowmobiles, we reached a tumultuous region where the ice falls merge with the blue wavy ice of the Darwin. Larry dismounted every several yards to poke and probe the ice, but I kept my ice axe convenient in case I needed to make a hasty jump off a tumbling snowmobile. I can testify that the machines have an impressive ability to bridge crevasses up to two feet wide (if on a perpendicular trajectory of the crack) and we eventually made it through a hazardous rollercoaster course to the cliffs. Cramponing up a steep snow chute provided great access to several prominent granite layers that we sampled while hiding from occasional loose rocks crumbling from the cliffs above, thawed by the afternoon sun. 

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Geologists are on the Ice!

This morning we woke up at 5am, and headed from our Hotel in Christchurch to the International Antarctic Center to check in for our flight to McMurdo.

Getting our gear together prior to the flight

We then headed to the passenger terminal with all our gear and checked in.

Forrest, checking in.

We then boarded a C-17 military plane for the 5 and a half hour flight to McMurdo. As you can see, it doesn’t exactly look like a regular airliner!
Graham and Forrest enjoying the inflight entertainment…

Some spectacular views from the windows on the way down. Here are some photos of the Antarctica a couple of hours north of McMurdo

The C-17 lands on an ice runway about 20mins drive from McMurdo station. The ice here is about ~2m thick. Beneath that is normal sea water.

Forrest and Graham enjoying the view!

Here’s a short video of the trip we took today. We’re now getting our gear together and will hoepfully be leaving McMurdo for our first field site in about a week. We’ll keep you posted!

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New iPhone App To Follow Our Progress

We’re in the final stages of preparation for our trip to Antarctica. We should be on our way to New Zealand by the end of the week. We’ll post some more details of our preparations soon, but we thought we’d let you know about an iPhone App we wrote. It’s pretty basic but it’ll let you follow our progress in the field right from your phone.  You can download the app for free from here or visit the app store and search “Geologists On Ice”

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Getting Ready for a new field season!

It’s that time of year again! We’re gearing up for a new field season in Antarctica. This year we’re heading further south in the TransAntarctic Mountains to map and collect a suite of samples for analysis. We’re scheduled to depart Santa Barbara for Christchurch during the first week of November, so we have a lot of preparations to do before then!

More details about our trip preparations soon, but first, let’s meet this years team. John and Graham will be heading down again, and in addition, we have a couple of new members joining us. Here are some quick introductions:

hop over to this web-site Forrest Horton is a PhD student at UCSB. Born in Montana, Forrest moved to the East Coast for school, receiving his undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College in Maine. Traumatized by the flat landscape of New England, Forrest has subsequently sought mountainous environments for work, study, and recreation. After dabbling with gold exploration (and mosquitoes) in the Kuskoquim Mountains of Alaska, he raced cross-country ski marathons in Idaho. Eventually realizing that wearing bright spandex doesn’t pay the bills, Forrest embarked to the Indian Himalaya to begin a Masters Degree at San Francisco State University; his research focused on determining the age and origins of granites near the India-Pakistan border. Hired temporarily as a geologist by the Department of Defense, he worked for a stint with the Afghan government to identify mineral resources. At UCSB, Forrest studies the heating of middle and lower crust in young/active (Himalaya) and old/eroded (Madagascar) continental collision zonesfor more on his research, visit his website for further details. In California, cold weather and helicopter withdrawal have driven Forrest to take up telemark skiing and paragliding. However, he spends most of his spare time tromping along trails and consuming spicy foods.

find out this here Sophie Briggs is a first year PhD student at UCSB. She is originally from New Zealand where she developed an interest in geology while working as a tour guide on White Island, an active marine volcano near her home town of Whakatane. She completed her undergraduate degree in geology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. For her senior honours thesis she investigated the petrology of the Alpine Dike Swarm in south Westland, New Zealand. Before coming to California, she spent four months working in gold and uranium exploration in Western Australia. Sophie enjoys camping, surfing, waterskiiing and playing the ukulele, and is very excited about her first trip to Antarctica. Experiencing a white Christmas in the southern hemisphere will be a first!

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In the lab!

Sorry that it has been so long since our last post. We have all been very busy back here at UCSB, our home institution. The field work in Antarctica that you followed along with is only one aspect of this project. Now it’s time for the “science-y” stuff. We have been organizing our samples and preparing them for dating and geochemistry.

Here’s Jason Schmidt, a research assistant working with us this summer, helping archive our samples in the dingy basement of our Earth Science department. We start with whole-rocks collected in the field and try to extract accessory minerals that are useful for dating and geochemistry. We crush the rocks using the disk mill you see below and then send the material down the water table (basically a glorified gold pan). This sorts the material based on grain size and grain density.

Next we use special chemicals to further separate the material based on density. Here I (Graham) am working in the fume hood, isolating dense minerals such as zircon, monazite, titanite, and garnet.

We take the most dense fraction from the “heavy liquids” step, and separate different minerals based on their magnetic properties. We use this funny looking contraption, the Frantz isodynamic separator. After this step, we hopefully have nearly pure separates containing only the accessory minerals that we are interested in.

 It’s time to image our samples before analyzing them on the mass-spectrometers. We take cathodoluminescence images using a scanning election microscope.

Finally! It’s time to get some data! The real interesting stuff happens in our plasma-source mass spectrometer lab. We have two lasers and two inductively coupled plasma- mass spectrometers that enable us to measure a wide range of isotopes as well as the concentration of trace elements at several ppm precision!

More to come on the lab work this summer… Stay tuned for updates on the upcoming field season as well!

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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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Last post from the field (hopefully!)

Hey Ya’ll, This should be our last blog update from the field! We are scheduled for extraction tomorrow morning, of course, subject to weather. We have had a busy day breaking camp. We prepared a sling-load full of our heaviest gear and dug out our tents, which were buried beneath >1 m of compacted drift snow. Hopefully the wind doesn’t pick up tonight, or else we will be digging out all over again tomorrow morning. It will take three Bell 212 Helo loads to get us and all of our gear out.

Because this is our last field blog, we thought that we would include some photos of some different aspects of the camp. Here we are looking a bit disheveled after seven weeks out here.

 Here is our blog station (yes, of course that’s a lherzolite xenolith). I like to eat tots while I blog, and sometimes they get on John’s computer, but I’m sure he won’t mind. Tots have been a staple here– “Napoleon, give me some of your tots. No, get your own!”. It’s amazing that we have all lost so much weight, despite eating butter fried tots most nights. Bryan lost 20 lbs! He is just a wee boy now.

Here’s Captain Oates as Penguin Perry (Antarctica Penguins music video to come soon).

 Well, next time you hear from us, we should be back in Mac Town. We have arranged to have a phone chat with a Santa Barbara elementary school class on Saturday (the kids’ Friday). John, I hope there having tots for lunch when you visit! Panorama Glacier out…

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