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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Ready to roll…

Demian, Nick and Robert have just arrived at McMurdo Station. They’ll update us soon on their travels. I leave tomorrow for Christchurch, so it is finally time to pack and organize all my gear. Here’s a photo of all the stuff I’m taking. The Antarctic program provides most of the clothing we need, especially the extreme cold weather gear, but it’s always nice to have your own boots that are worn in and thermal underwear that belongs just to you! — John

Here it is all laid out (click the picture for a larger version):

gear

and… with some assistance I’m ready to go!IMG_1921

IMG_1927

 

 

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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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Sad day for Antarcticans

We are saddened to learn of the discovery of the wreckage of a Twin Otter that crashed en-route from the South Pole to Terra Nova station. It appears none of the crew survived the impact. When we first learned of the missing plane we hoped and prayed that all would end well, unfortunately it was not to be.

We send our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the crew, and all those involved in the rescue attempt. We are especially thinking of all our friends at McMurdo, on the Joint American and  New Zealand Search and Rescue (SAR) team and the pilots and crew of ‘our’ Twin Otter who all played a key role in the search. We can only imagine how tough this is.

We’ve spent many hours flying with the incredibly skilled and dedicated pilots and crew from Kenn Borek, and it’s easy to forget that they operate in the most extreme and unforgiving conditions on earth. These guys and girls are just some of the many, many people who work ‘behind-the-scenes’ and endure all manner of discomfort to make science happen in Antarctica. These people aren’t in it for fame and fortune, they are genuinely dedicated to making a difference. Without these dedicated individuals, what we do would simply not be possible. For their efforts, and this case their ultimate sacrifice, we as Antarctic scientists, are truly grateful.

 John and the G-064 team 

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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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Graham’s Snowy Day in Antarctica Cinnamon Rolls

Hello all! Snowy, windy weather has us stuck in the tent on one our last few days in the field… Time to bake! We made some delightful cinnamon rolls and would like to share the recipe with you!

Graham’s Snowy Day in Antarctica Cinnamon Rolls
Dough Ingredients:                                               
2  1/4 cups white flour
3/4 tsp salt           
4 tsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup butter (softened)
1 cup powdered milk (or normal milk)           
Filling Ingredients:
1/2 stick butter (melted)
a bunch of brown sugar           
a bunch of granulated sugar
a bunch of cinnamon
bunch of chopped dates, golden raisins, almonds
Directions: 
Mix the dough ingredients in a dirty plastic bowl that hasn’t been washed in nearly two months. Soften butter on camp stove (or by any means) and cut into dry ingredients; when frustrated, mash the refrozen butter with your fork. Add enough cold water so that dough is slightly sticky (note: adding hot water from your “billy” will prematurely activate baking powder).
Preheat dutch oven (or any oven) to an unknown temperature. Clean off half of dirty, cold metal table with baby wipes and then wet paper towels. Sprinkle ample flower on the table. Roll out dough ball with purple Nalgene® bottle into a rectangle with a 2:1 x/z ratio that is ~3 mm (3×107 Å) thick. Pour melted butter over dough and slather with filling ingredients.  Roll up the fillings into the dough and cut into 3 cm tall pieces.

Use Crisco®, vegetable oil, or butter to grease pan. Place rolls in pan, adequately spaced to accommodate a bit of rising. Prior to “burny” smell, flip rolls to other side (note: this step is probably unnecessary in a normal oven). Remove once rolls are the color of titanite (or slightly darker than staurolite in plane-polarized light) on each side and enjoy while warm with lots of tea!

Note: the cinnamon rolls should be vegetarian if not cooked in an unwashed dutch oven with 8 weeks worth of meat residue. Note: Sorry if I ruined anyone’s appetite by mentioning “meat residue” in a cinnamon roll recipe.

Enjoy!

By the way, I included a graph to help people visualize the stinky-sock lemma that Forrest introduced in the previous blog post.

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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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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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