We’re ready!

Well, we’re off! The 2012-2013 season is beginning, and we all left the US for New Zealand (Christchurch) today. He’s a very brief look into John’s packing….
Here’s a photo of all the gear we each take. 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! And of course the very important laptop and cables which enable us to communicate from the field.

And it all fits!

More coming very soon. We’re off to collect all the rest of our gear tomorrow which is always fun. (Here’s a look at last year’s antics)

Arrival in Christchurch, NZ!

The team successfully made it to Christchurch, New Zealand, today after 16 hours of travel. We flew from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, then onto Auckland, New Zealand (~13hr flight), and finally Christchurch (~1.5 hrs). In the process we completelly missed the 18th of November (we left on the 17th and arrived on the 19th) – that’s what happens when you cross the international dateline!

This is our spot map so far – if you want to see more click on the Spot us! tab above

Christchurch is the logistics hub for the United States, New Zealand and Italian Antarctic research programs. From here we will get kitted out with all our polar clothing (tomorrow). Christchurch will also be our departure point for Antarctica. On Monday, we are scheduled to fly from Christchurch to McMurdo base aboard a C-17 Galaxy military transport plane (more about that soon!).

Christchurch has a long history of supporting Antarctic research and expeditions. Robert Scott provisioned his ships here during the Discovery 1901-04 and Terra Nova 1910-13 expedition. He took on board everything: hay to feed his ponies; coal to power the ship as well as food and building materials. You can find more about Robert Scott here

There is a memorial to Robert Scott and his men near downtown Christchurch. It commemorates their valiant efforts in reaching the South Pole and their unfortunate deaths on their return journey just a few days walk from their base. The memorial also recognizes the important role that Scott and his men played in pioneering Antarctic research – as well as being explorers, Scott’s expeditions undertook research on a wide variety of subjects – from geology to biology to zoology to meteorology.

Scott’s memorial used to look like this:

Unfortunately it was severely damaged during the 22nd February earthquake that struck Christchurch. Here is a photos of it after the earthquake.

Today we also had a chance to walk around downtown Christchurch. As maybe some of you will know much of downtown Christchurch was devastated by a series of earthquakes during 2010-2011. On the 4th of September 2010, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake occurred at 10 kilometers depth. This caused widespread damage but fortunately no deaths. On the 22nd of February, 2011 a magnitude 6.3 aftershock struck just to the north of Lyttelton, the city’s harbour. This earthquake was very shallow, at only 5km depth. This caused violent shaking, and is amongst the most intense shaking ever recorded in an urban area. Unfortunately, this earthquake resulted in the deaths of 181 people and many buildings and landmarks were severely damaged. On the 13th of June two more large aftershocks occurred, and although more building damage occurred, no more lives were lost.

Much of downtown Christchurch has only recently re-opened, and there are several areas that are still cordoned off because they are too unsafe for people to enter. We found visiting the outer part of downtown to be a pretty sobering experience. It certainly looks quite different to Christchurch that some of us remember. There are also new ‘container shops’ constructed of stacked shipping containers – very post modern! Many of the locals we spoke to were upbeat about the city’s prospects, but it must be difficult for anyone who hasn’t experienced them first hand to really comprehend what these events were truly like to go through. Here are a few pictures of what we saw:

Final preparations – packing!

The countdown is on! We have only 4 days to go before we leave the US. Our Principal Investigator (John) has been collecting all his things together to pack.

Here is a photo of what he’ll be taking.

In addition, we’ll all get extra clothes in the Christchurch Operations Center. We’ll update you with some pictures once we’re all kitted out. John takes more of his own gear than he actually has to – he prefers to wear his own things that he knows fit and work in the conditions. But really, the Antarctic Program supply everything except gloves, socks and drink bottles!

Meet the team

We’re getting close to departing now – only three weeks(!), so we thought it was time to introduce the team. If you have questions for us, drop us a line using the contact form or leave a message on our facebook page.  

Argentan John Cottle is an Assistant 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 skiing, climbing, surfing and growing fruit trees. This will be John’s 5th 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. 
Graham Hagen-Peter is a PhD student at UCSB. Graham grew up in rural Vermont­, where he spent most of his childhood exploring the woods and swamps at the foot of Mount Mansfield as well as having sheep dropping fights at his friend’s nearby farm. Apparently there isn’t much else to do in rural Vermont… Graham completed his undergraduate degree in geology at the University of Vermont, where he did a lot of local field work in Northwestern Vermont, in the hinterland of the Green Mountains. He also spent a summer in Italy working on projects as diverse as mapping, hydrothermal geochemistry, and cave geomicrobiology. For his undergraduate senior thesis he worked with Dr. Laura Webbat UVM to analyze the structural/microstructural evolution of metamorphic tectonites of the Tavan Har block in Southeastern Mongolia. Outside of geology, Graham enjoys playing soccer, hiking, snowboarding, and fishing. As a hobbyist, he is interested in entomology, arachnology, marine biology, planetary science, geomicrobiology, and engineering. This will be Graham’s first trip to Antarctica. He has been taking ice baths to acclimate (just kidding) and hopefully 22 Vermont winters have prepared him for the Antarctic summer – probably not.

dear Bryan Norman is an M.S. student at UCSB. Bryan is a native Santa Barbarian, having had the privilege of growing up surrounded by great mountains, ocean and weather. Bryan recently graduated from UCSB with a B.S. in Geology, where his senior thesis focused on geological mapping in eastern Nevada. For his graduate studies, Bryan is currently engaged in two projects – Antarctica and a field-based mapping project in Eastern Nevada, where he is evaluating the structural evolution of the Central Schell Creek Range. Bryan’s passion for geology comes from a love of the outdoors. He has always enjoyed hiking, biking, fishing and anything that involves being outside. Bryan is thrilled to be going to Antarctica and although he admits he might freeze, he is looking forward to an “amazing adventure”. Bryan’s other claim to fame is his appearance on the TV program “Wipeout” (which, incidentally, he won!) you can see video of his artful performance here.

Joanna Prince is the team mountaineer and logistics coordinator. Jo, originally from Dunedin, New Zealand, was introduced to the outdoors as a baby in a backpack and has never looked back. Jo has climbed and skied throughout New Zealand and the European Alps with notable ascents including an East Ridge-High Peak Traverse of Aoraki-Mount Cook, a traverse of  Mt Torres, Tasman, and Lendenfeld, and multi-day traverses of Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa and their surrounding peaks, to name but a few. Jo holds a B.S and an M.S. in clinical Psychology from the University of Otago and splits her time between working as a Clinical Psyshologist on the West Coast of NZ, lecturing in the Psychology department at the University of Otago, and outdoor instructing. As you might guess, in her spare time Jo loves to climb (both alpine and rock), ski and hike. She is also an active member of the South Westland Search and Rescue team. Jo is an accomplished writer, having contributed several excellent articles to the New Zealand Alpine Journal. You can see an example of her work here generisk levitra indien. Photo credit: Andrew Finnegan.

We’re all PQed!

When you work with the US Antarctic Program, you learn to love acronyms! Our latest news is that all the whole team is now “PQed”. This means that we are all physically qualified – wisdom teeth have been removed, flu shots given, EKG readings taken…and we’re all fit and healthy to spend 60 days on the ice. Anything that goes wrong now will have to be fixable by a trained First Responder and a first aid kit – that’s all we’ll have!

We also have our dates for deployment, so its getting close now. We (John, Bryan and Graham) will be leaving Santa Barbara on November 17. Because of the date line we’ll be arriving in Christchurch on November 19, and Jo will be ready and waiting for us. We’re due to fly down to the ice on November 21, weather permitting, so we’ll be spending Thanksgiving in the field. Perhaps we’ll have to see if we can pack some turkey! Then John will be flying out on December 15 and everyone else will be there for a cold Christmas and New Years – back to NZ on January 12.

So, we’ve got just a few weeks to get everything ready – extra socks, suncream, thermal underwear and eating as much pasta as possible to build up an extra layer of warmth!

Communicating from the field

We’ve been working hard to think of some different ways to update this blog and our facebook page from our field sites in Antarctica. We’d really like to keep everyone up to date on what we’re doing and how our work is progressing. Unfortunately there are no phones where we’re going – no cell phone coverage, or wifi, unfortunately.

So, we have to rely on satellite technology to send and receive emails and blog updates. We are experimenting with two different systems. The first involves a 2005era PDA (complete with stylus – no touch screen here!) attached to an Iridium satellite phone. The satellite phone connects to the PDA and works as a (slow) modem. Think dial up on a slow day! It takes around 4 to 5 minutes to send an email with a few small pictures.

We’ll have a laptop which we will use to make backups of our field observations / measurements, photos and videos. The satellite phone can also be connected to the laptop to send emails and blog updates. The laptop is slightly more complicated because it needs to be kept warm, which can be a challenge in Antarctica!

We’re also bringing a couple of other cool things to try out: We are taking an iPhone with a geological compass app ‘Lambert‘ It’ll be interesting to see how well the iPhone performs in cold weather and close to the magnetic pole. We’ll still rely on specially calibrated Bruntons but we’ll let you know how it works out!

We also have a spot device – basically it’s a small GPS transmitter that sends a location to a website as often as we like. On our blog you’ll see a page called “spot us!” This page will show our location every time the team updates their position. This is a neat way to keep up to date with where we are and what we’re up to.

A big thank you to Richard Laronde for his suggestions regarding the PDA – sat phone connection.

What are we doing to prepare to leave for Antarctica?

There is a lot of paperwork to be sorted out. Firstly, John, our Principal Investigator works with everyone at the National Science Foundation, United States Antarctic Program and Raytheon to organize all the logistics. They have to agree on how many people are going, where, when and how. They will arrange who is flying in and out of the field (from McMurdo, the base) on what dates; who needs to take the “Happy Camper” field safety course and whether we will need to move camps during our field season. They also need to know all the details of how much people weigh and how much the tents, bags, gear and food weigh as well. This is to make sure that the helicopter (that flies them from McMurdo to their field camp site) is not overweight and is properly balanced.

Once this is all organized, each of our team need to be medically and dentally qualified. This requires having a full physical exam, a flu shot, any expired vaccinations must be caught up, a PPD/mantoux test (to check for tuberculosis), blood and urine screens, an EKG (echocardiogram of the heart) and everyone must fill in a self-evaluation of their medical history. In addition, everyone’s teeth must be cavity and problem free. If anyone has any issues now, they have to be filled or pulled out before we go!

This is all done because Antarctica is so far away from everywhere and everyone. If someone gets seriously sick in the field or has problems with their teeth, its not at all easy for them to get help or medical care. We want to make sure that everyone is healthy and we have an enjoyable, safe trip!

Where are we going and how do we get there?

There are a few steps to getting to the TransAntarctic mountains, which are our final destination…as you can imagine, Antarctica is not the easiest place to get to.

Firstly, we have to get from California, to Christchurch, New Zealand, then to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.


Christchurch is located in the South Island of New Zealand, and is where the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) and Antarctica New Zealand are based, and where all US and NZ Antarctic travellers leave from. (It’s also where the big earthquakes were earlier this year and last year).

Our first leg is to fly from Santa Barbara (via Los Angeles) to Auckland (a 12 hour flight – you can see Auckland near the top of the North Island) and then from Auckland to Christchurch (about 1 1/2 hours).

We arrive in Christchurch and go visit the people at the USAP to get all our gear. (Look out for an update once we get to New Zealand to see what we’ll be wearing.) Once we’ve got everything ready, filled out all our paperwork, we’re ready to go on the next flight. We can never know exactly when this will be, as it depends on the weather. If its too windy, or too cold, or too snowy, we’ll have to wait for the weather to clear.
The flights to Antarctica are run by the US Airforce, so the plane is a bit different from what you’d expect on a normal commercial flight. We’ll be flying on a C-17 Globemaster plane which looks like this: 

There aren’t really proper seats inside, or any flight attendants! For take off and landing everyone has to sit on seats which are bolted to the floor around the cargo, and then after takeoff we can go and find a more comfortable place to sit/lie – on the cargo or on a box. The flight takes about 6 hours depending on the wind, so its not really that comfortable! As you can see, there isn’t a lot of room!
Once we arrive in Antarctica, we’ll be staying firstly at McMurdo which is the American base (just around the corner, about 2 miles away is Scott Base, which is the New Zealand base). 

While we’re at McMurdo, we’ll collect all our food supplies and load them into big wooden boxes. Then, we’ll take a helicopter flight to our field area. We’re heading into TransAntarctic mountains which are here: