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!

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…

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!

Mountaineering on the Glacier!

Hello from Panorama Glacier! We hope that all of you are well around the world, as we are in here Antarctica. Much has happened since our last update (and I apologize for the vagueness and indecision in the audioblog). We have been awaiting a resupply and a helicopter close support day since last Friday. The weather up here and at MacTown has been inconveniently complimentary. It seems that it is nice here while it is stormy at MacTown (100 km away), and vice versa. We are hopeful that the flight will happen tomorrow. The helo staff at McMurdo have been incredibly helpful and patient during the weather delays. We have plenty of food, but the variety has been impacted ☹. Jo still manages to cook up some tasty meals– I am currently watching and smelling in anticipation as she cooks up sausage with curried vegetables and rice. Despite non-ideal weather we have accomplished quite a bit out in the field. We have covered almost everything that is in range of our camp, and we should be able to complete everything that we need to if we have a few more nice days within the next week and a half. Yesterday, after waking up early only to find out that we would not be flying that day, we set out across the Kemp Glacier. Most of the glacier travel that we have done so far has been on solid blue ice. The path across the Kemp looked sweet on maps and when we approached it, but it is almost entirely snow covered, so we roped up in case there were bridged crevasses. It was our first time roping up, and Bryan and Graham learned a lot from Jo. No crevasse experiences (to my relief, rope or not). The afternoon was sunny and pleasant, but a wind storm with gusts up to 75 km/hr and wind chill down to –35° C (~ –30° F) came in when we were making our way back to camp¬– see picture of Bryan (small dot on right) and blowing snow below. It was a tid-bit chilly, but we made it back without incident.

Well, we best be signing off. It’s time for vittles. Until next time… Don’t forget to stimulate your gums!

Audio update from the field

We’re experimenting with a few different ways of updating the website. So, here is an audio update from Graham via satellite phone from Antarctica! For those of you interested, we set this up using the free(!) voice-mail system in Google Voice. Graham called our Google Voice number and left a message, and Google voice records it as a digital file. It also transcribes the message into text – although it didn’t do so well with his Vermont accent…

To listen to his post, just click the play button to the right of the large telephone.

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

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

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!

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.

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 tadalafil generique! 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!!!


Jo and Bryan and Helo