We have landed

Elizabeth fills us in on her travels and arrival in Antarctica.

The last several days have felt much longer than a week. A lot has happened. I packed my bags and then made the long haul to Christchurch, New Zealand. There I was issued my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear at the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) before the final deployment by the US Antarctic Program. If you are heading to McMurdo from the U.S., then you traveled the same path as everyone else. Your flight agenda took you from Los Angeles, CA, to Auckland, New Zealand, to Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. We left the 16th from Santa Barbara and arrived to McMurdo on the 20th for an arrival briefing at the Chalet. We are officially here.

International Antarctic Center in Christchurch
International Antarctic Center in Christchurch
View over Northern Victoria Land
View over Northern Victoria Land
The edge of the Ross Icehself from the flight south to McMurdo Station
The edge of the Ross Icehself from the flight south to McMurdo Station

Antarctica is one of the coldest and most remote places, and it is incredible to be here. I snapped a few in-flight photos of my first views of this beautiful continent. Our flight path took us across northern Victoria Land, the region of my current research focused on the petrochronology and geochemistry of Ross Orogen magmatism. Right away you can see how challenging this environment is for field studies, with the majority of all surface area covered in snow and ice. We were lucky enough to make the four-hour flight via Boeing 757 operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Christchurch to McMurdo is approximately 4,000 kilometers. That is a similar distance to the entire length of the Transantarctic Mountains.

 

Stepping off the plane to my first view of Antarctica
Stepping off the plane to my first view of Antarctica

 

Elizabeth just after landing in Antarctica
Elizabeth just after landing in Antarctica

Since arriving, my days have been full of safety trainings, briefings for all field equipment and operations, and triple checking of our RSP (Research Support Plan). The RSP includes every aspect of logistics for our field season, from air support to scientific services to equipment and food allocations. It is incredible to know that there is an entire base at McMurdo to enable the research that will come from our sample collection. Each year NSF funds approximately 50 scientific projects on Antarctica. These highly collaborative projects are tasked to expand the fundamental knowledge of the region as well as undertake projects reliant on unique characteristics specific to the Antarctic continent. From my brief observations, this translates to an incredibly organized community of highly intelligent and motivated individuals ranging across both the staff and research grantees. This is truly an incredibly opportunity that I am fortunate to be a part of. ~ Elizabeth

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When in Christchurch: Lolly cake and male modeling

IMG_3557 After 31 hours of movies, drug-induced sleep, and caffeine-induced wakefulness we finally made it to Christchurch via Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Sydney. The flights were surprisingly painless: only one 30-minute delay and no lost baggage. On top of that, my row wasn’t full on the 14-hour Los Angeles-to-Sydney flight so I got an extra pillow and plenty of space to spread out my things. The only hiccup occurred at NZ customs, where my juggling balls were confiscated (they were filled with millet)… Once through customs we were greeted by ASC staff and quickly sent to our hotel where we appreciated some hot showers (take ‘em while we still can!), before walking around in search of dinner and some beer. The following morning we went to a café down the street for some coffee and lolly cake, which was one of the few things John said I MUST have while in New Zealand. For those of you unfamiliar with lolly cake (lolly=candy), it is a dense chocolate-coconut cake packed with colorful, stale marshmallows. I suspect that it was created by a devious dentist who was starting to lose business, because I’m pretty sure I got a cavity just from looking at it.

20151022_074429After breakfast we headed over to the Antarctica Center to get outfitted in our extreme-cold-weather (ECW) gear and be briefed for our flight to McMurdo station tomorrow. Someone in Denver missed a stroke on the keyboard and my clothing form said that I was 5’1” instead of 5’10”. After getting the right sized gear and wanting to keep the tradition started by former Antarctica360 PhD students Graham and Forrest, we naturally had to do a photo shoot showing off how good we looked.

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Thoughts On Antarctic Showers

IMG_3525I went shopping for my Antarctic shower today. I found the various types stacked in cardboard boxes next to the baby diapers in an aisle of Costco I had never been down. I weighed my options and decided on Kirkland Brand Moist Flushable Wipes, Enhanced Cleansing & Freshness—Ultra Soft. Most people probably don’t consider that five weeks of deep-field work in Antarctica won’t involve running water. The closest thing to a hot shower we’ll get will be a handful of moist towelettes that will never meet their “Flushable” purpose. Preparation for geologic fieldwork in Antarctica is a series of odd purchases and tedious logistics. Things must be printed out, correspondence must be sent, and files must be saved. We’ll be tromping around the Dry Valleys of Antarctica without internet for a long time. I’ve never been unplugged for that long and it’s the first time I’ve felt self-important enough to prepare an “out of the office” automated reply email. Needless to say, geology isn’t at the forefront of my mind the day before I ship out—though it will be, soon enough.

            Tomorrow Rob, Nick, and I will fly to Christchurch, New Zealand, where we’ll begin our journey. As far as I know, we’ll grab some gear and receive some initial training before we take another flight a couple days later to McMurdo, Antarctica. In McMurdo we’ll grab even more gear and receive even more training before we are deployed via helicopter to our field site in the Dry Valleys, where we’ll set up camp. I feel somewhat like the ragtag team from the movie Armageddon that’s unprepared for the extreme conditions we’re about to encounter. Unsurprisingly, our seasoned leader, Dr. John Cottle, appears mostly entertained with how green we are. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has only two weeks to get us ready to work in Antarctica, but I’m confident we’ll be prepared. Now that I think about, I still have to buy another water canteen and write a will… — Demian.

 

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Meet the 2015 Expedition Team

2014-08-26 07.05.38_croppedRobert Holder is a PhD student at UCSB. He grew up in hiking, climbing, and skiing in Bishop, California; lived in Sweden for a short period during high school and again as an undergraduate; and completed his bachelor’s degree in both geology and “Scandinavian Studies” at Gustavus Adolphus College, Minnesota, in 2012. Before becoming a graduate student, he worked as a student ICP-MS lab technician at Gustavus and a field technician for the Air Pollution Control district of Inyo, Mono, and Alpine counties in California. He received his MS in geology at UCSB in 2014, for which he, coincidentally, did fieldwork in Scandinavia (Norway this time). His research involves a combination of fieldwork (Norway and Madagascar), geochronology (determining the ages of rocks), and modeling mineral growth/equilibrium to understand how the continents of Earth have grown and changed through time.

 

IMG_1647Demian Nelson is a PhD student at UCSB working with  John Cottle. Born in San Luis Obispo, CA, Demian has spent most of his life living on the coast of California. As a graduate of Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo he transferred to UC San Diego to study Earth Science. While at UCSD he became a McNair Pre-doctoral Scholar and completed an honors thesis as an undergraduate researcher in the Scripps Isotope Geochemistry Laboratory. After graduating summa cum laude and with high distinction he now pursues a PhD in Geological Sciences at UCSB as a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow. He has diverse research interests with a focus on Antarctic and Californian geology (see his website for more details). He also has diverse recreational interests including, but not limited to: surfing, cycling, swimming, volleyball, diving, climbing, and dancing.

 

 

 

Nicoletta Browne is a geochemistry M.S. student at UCSB who grew up first in Tucson, AZ and then in the San Francisco Bay Area; she’ll always argue that the latter area outdoes just about every other place, food-wise, though Tucson might have it beat with Mexican food. For her undergraduate degree, Nicoletta went to Pomona College in Claremont, where she studied geochemistry and completed a Senior Exercise with Distinction, studying the growth of sphene crystals during skarn formation. She also undertook a KECK Geology Consortium project in Iceland, studying lava flows. Having been surrounded by mountains all of her life, she’s happy to be in the Santa Barbara area, and she’s grateful for the improved air quality and reduced traffic after four years of being in the Los Angeles Basin. She has several interests in igneous and metamorphic petrology but primarily studies lamprophyres from the East Antarctic Craton with John Cottle, and she is currently a Chancellor’s Graduate Fellow in the Department of Earth Science. Outside of geology, Nicoletta plays the cello and formerly hosted a radio show at KSPC, a non-commercial college radio station in Claremont; she’s probably more opinionated about music than just about anything else. She’s also an avid hiker and a devoted anime fan, and she writes for an anime review site when she has spare time.

 

John Cottle is an Associate Professor at UC Santa Barbara and is the principal investigator for this research project. Originally from New Zealand, John studied for his B.S. and M.S. at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. In 2004, he moved to Oxford University for his PhD, supervised by Dr. Mike Searle and Prof. Randy Parrish. His thesis focused on understanding the geology of the Everest Himalaya in southern Tibet. After completing his PhD he worked as a Postdoctoral scholar at the NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratories in Nottingham, U.K., before joining the faculty of the Earth Science department at UCSB in 2009. Since completing his PhD, John has continued to work in the Himalaya and has expanded his research program to understanding the evolution of the Transantarctic Mountains. In addition to his tectonic research, John helps run a state-of-the-art mass spectrometry facility at UCSB dedicated to measuring a variety of isotopes and elements in geologic materials. Outside of geology John enjoys exploring the outdoors with his young family, skiing, climbing, surfing and growing fruit trees. This will be John’s 7th trip to Antarctica, having previously worked for the New Zealand Antarctic Research Program both as a scientist and guide. You can find more about John’s research on his faculty website. 

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Farewell to the field…

 Tonight is a special night– our last in the field. We are to return to McMurdo tomorrow via Twin Otter. The occasion is joyous, but the mood is sombre– not out of sadness, but with deep reflection of last seven weeks. It is easy to overlook the specialness of an experience when you are living it, and the realization of the wonder often lags. We now look back at all of the wonderful events of the last seven weeks– the majesty of the landscape, the extreme weather, the physical challenges, and the serenity of a small camp in Antarctica, hundreds of miles from another human. We flew over the TransAntarctics in small aircraft, climbed mountains, ran on glaciers, and came back to our cosy camp to have meals of salmon alfredo, Thai curry, and roast cornish hens. We have seen and done amazing things during this field season, and we have much to be thankful for and much to rejoice. We all feel a sense of success, and we owe much appreciation to all of the support from the contractors in McMurdo, the National Science Foundations for funding, and of course, to John, who made all of this possible. We hope that this will not be our last trip to this beautiful continent.
I know that all sounds very sentimental, but I assure you, we are all anxiously anticipating our extraction! Perhaps I should save the sappy blog updates until we have actually departed. The weather is unpredictable, and we may be spending the weekend in our tents eating the dehydrated meals that are left over. By the time you read this we will hopefully be in MacTown, groomed and warm. Wish us luck!
-Sophie, Forrest, Graham
G-064

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A day in the field

So, what have we actually been doing in the field for the last 2 months? Each workday begins by starting up a snowmobile with a broken choke switch, which requires two pairs of hands, a set of pliers, and some love (i.e. Graham hauling violently on manual-ignition chord). Once parked near our destination ridge or cliffs, we dismount and set out for our farthest destination on foot and work back to the machines. “Empty” backpacks (i.e. without samples, but laden with sledge hammers, chisels, first aid kit, water, spare cloths, crampons, ice axe, etc.) are never lightweight, but the crampons are invariably necessary to climb off the glacier or up a hardened snow slope. 
When it comes to approaching fresh outcrops of rock, each geologist has there own style; Sophie, for example, crouches to look for minerals in her magnifying hand lens, whereas Graham takes measurements with his Brunton compass. I generally prefer the more direct approach of obliterating the nearest piece of rock with a six-pound sledgehammer. After heated debate of the geologic characteristics of the rocks—orthognessic? poikioblastic? porphyroblastic? pseudomorphic?—we scribble in yellow notebooks. The detail and thoroughness (and accuracy?) of my notes scale with temperature (1+ page at 25 F, 3+ lines at 5 F, and 1 line at -10 F), but I reason that writing with frozen fingers will yield illegible results anyway… Before stumbling to the next cliff, we chisel away and pack grapefruit-sized samples for extracting zircon, monazite, titanite, or garnet. Each of these lucky samples will have a scenic journey to sunny California onboard a freighter before being bombarded with electron beams and blasted with lasers.

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This season’s fashion report

We’re currently in Christchurch getting our gear sorted. We’re scheduled to fly to McMurdo at 6am tomorrow. Think clear weather thoughts for us!
 
Below are a few pictures of Forrest modeling the new season’s Antarctic ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) Gear. We usually only wear up to layer four + a hat and sun glasses in the field unless it gets extra cold.

Layer 1: Merino thermal underwear and socks.

Layer 2: Polar Fleece pants and jacket

Layer 3: insulated wind/snow proof pants and Bunny (insulated rubber) boots)

Layer 4: Big Red insulated Jacket

Layer 5: Furry hat, balaclava, goggles, neck gaiter, gloves

Layer 6: for extra wind / cold protection put the hood up. 

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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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Home Stretch!

Hello All,

Much has happened since the last blog. We have had a productive few days. Four work days in a row is a tie for our longest streak at Panorama Glacier camp. We have had fantastic weather, with temperatures up to 0° C in the sun with no wind. We had our second helicopter close-support day and a resupply, finally. We visited several locations in the Miers and Hidden valleys, north of the Howchin Glacier. We were working below 750 m, well below snow line, and the area had much more of a Dry Valleys feel. Below is a picture of Bryan and Graham working just outside the A-Star helicopter. Going down to 750 m on a sunny day felt like a beach vacation.

Well, we are back up in the cold, trapped in tents due to snow and poor visibility. We covered most of the immediate area early at this camp, so we have been relegated to working across the Kemp and Pipecleaner glaciers– long days and weary bodies. A day’s rest is somewhat of a relief.

It’s almost time to head back to Mac Town. Hopefully we will salvage some sanity. Bryan hasn’t taken off the pink wig for days, and his alter ego switches between a king penguin and the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane. Graham and Bryan have hypothesized the existence of snow gorillas and south polar bears, plotting against us.


 Anywho, y’all take care, and we’ll do the same. Remember healthy gums are the key to happiness!

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A hint of sadness…

 There is a hint of sadness in the air in the mess tent this evening as we have just farewelled our fearless leader John on the helicopter – back to civilization, his wonderful wife, and the joys of office work. We’d been watching the cloud level all day and then, in the whirl of helicopter wings he was gone and in place we were left with some boxes of food and some empty rock boxes. The tent is now somewhat quieter but also noticeably more spacious. As we sit down to eat our spaghetti bolognaise John will be looking forward to dinner at MacTown before heading to NZ on Wednesday. It’s just started snowing again so despite the MacTown menu, he’ll be glad that he got out when he could. Speak soon John!

Since our last post we’ve only been able to spend one day out in the field because of the weather. We had a more relaxed day back over above the Roaring Valley which was memorable for the insipid stagnant cold. Low cloud blocked out all rays of sunlight and the temperature hung between -4o to -7o C without any wind. As we wandered back across the moraine at the end of the day, the cloud lowered and the snowflakes started, and by the time we had ridden back to camp the visibility was poor and our tents were white. Home just in time! With the anticipation of a 5 year old, Graham frequently checked outside the tent as dinner cooked, with the hope of a snow day the following day.

Snowy camp

Graham’s childlike excitement was rewarded as the snowflakes were still falling when we woke and we couldn’t see much past 50m around the camp. Back to sleep until mid-morning before a late breakfast and numerous cups of tea – John and Jo teaching Bryan and Graham the ancient mountaineering art of the ‘pit day’. Graham started reminiscing about ‘sticky buns’ of his childhood and after discovering we had most of the necessary ingredients embarked on his first ever baking mission. Mom – you’ll be proud – he did a great job, they were cooked to perfection and delicious (see photo). The rest of the day was spent reading geological papers (Bryan), fantasy novels (Graham), or mountaineering stories (Jo), calling family on the satellite phone, and undertaking domestic tasks (see photos of Jo being the good nanny that she is – sewing up Graham’s jacket and sweeping the floor). Dinner was pizza made in the frying pan and we weren’t long out of bed. Not much to do and despite little change in the weather we were aiming for an early start for John’s flight out.

Graham and his baking
Jo sewing Graham’s jacket

When we stuck our heads out of the tents this morning the clouds had a grey tinge (different from the white of yesterday) and we took this as a good sign. By midday the cloud still hadn’t lifted and the chances of John getting out were looking slim. More tea drinking and more reading (but no more baking for today). Mid afternoon the cloud base started to lift and after making a call to the Heli Ops crew at MacTown we were given 40mins to before the chopper was due. A final rush of sorting and packing of gear, rocks, and waste to be flown out, the chopper arrived on time and John was gone. In the quiet of the tent we excitedly sorted through our resupply of mostly snacks. Oh the excitement – we’ve only been away for 10 days, imagine what it will be like in a months’ time! We’ve decided to divvy up the Bumper Bar and chocolate bar supplies – for two reasons 1) to ensure we can each choose how we consume our supply over the next 6 weeks and 2) to introduce the potential for a novel bartering system when supplies run low – ‘I’ll swap you one Apricot Bumper Bar if you do the dishes for the next week’. The third reason is that it provides Jo ‘the Nanny’ with increased powers of coercion should the boys decide to misbehave in the weeks to come. We’ll keep you updated on how this plan actually works out. But for now, it’s time to melt some snow and get the dinner on…

Descending a lava flow

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