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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Changing mindsets

20151019_052912This summer has been one of the busiest I can remember. More than 30 days of lab work, two conferences, two back packing trips, and TA’ing. It feels like I have hardly been around at all and I am about to take off again. Everything but my underwear is packed (I can just borrow that from someone else right?). In the last couple of weeks I have been trying to tie off as many loose ends as I can before I leave: organizing data, grading, packing, and taking time to be with my fiancée. It’s hard to image how different our lives will be in Antarctica… right sit at a computer for at least 8 hours a day. It’s been consistently in the 80’s to 90’s for weeks in Santa Barbara and here I am packing insulated super gaiters in case my winter mountaineering boots with 2 pairs of thick wool socks aren’t warm enough. It doesn’t quite feel real. A few days ago, I was telling people how it didn’t seem like I was about to leave for a long field season, because I didn’t feel the stress that normally comes with it, but with less than a day to go before we fly across the Pacific, the stress is coming. I’m excited and a little nervous. I can’t wait until the helicopter drops us off at our first camp. I’m looking forward to the desolation of ice and rock, the simplicity of working in the field, no email, no internet, no office… just walking around the other side of the planet and hammering some rocks. — Robert

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Sliver of Apprehension

Antarctica is a strange place, a very strange place, and the particular corner of Antarctica that John, Demian, Robert, and I are about to set out for might be the strangest and most alien part of it all. And thus, wedged in with excitement and perhaps a sliver of apprehension, comes a feeling of bemusement: as much as I’ve heard or read about the McMurdo Dry Valleys, I know there’s nothing that’ll quite prepare me for the sight of it.  And ultimately, I’d say that I’m quite blessed to be able to do this, to visit and study a place so utterly alien to human experience.

One of my housemates, who says it’s something of a personal goal of hers to visit every country, someday, described it as not a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity,  but rather, something somehow even scarcer and more unique than that. I can’t really argue with her point, and I’d say that it’s true both in regards to life experiences, in general, and as it relates to geology. Perhaps it’s not exactly a place that encourages a human presence (to say the very least), but it is indeed a place for geologists to dream about: if you think of geology (in general terms) as unearthing and deciphering the information in some very, very old time capsules, then those buried capsules buried in the McMurdo Dry Valleys are especially enticing. Consider: no vegetation, virtually nothing in the way of weathering, little deformation since the end of the Ross Orogeny, virtually no destruction at the hands of humans and, perhaps most importantly, much more work remaining to be done on it, simply because of its sheer remoteness.

So perhaps it’s fitting that such a time capsule be in such a strange place. As an example, just about everybody I’ve spoken to has, upon finding out that I’m going to Antarctica, gotten excited at the prospect of me seeing penguins. I’m definitely hoping to come across them when we’re all at McMurdo Station itself, since, according to my birder friend Carlos, a decent number of people have recorded sightings of them there, but I suppose it goes to show that the McMurdo Dry Valleys are, truly, a strange place, even relative to a place as strange as Antarctica.

John was kind enough to let me know that there are indeed some springtails and lichens that make there home there, but there’s otherwise hardly even any flies there, much less penguins, and given how little water and how little life there is in this place, you might as well be on Mars. Perhaps it’s ridiculous for me to compare this to space travel, given that there’s ultimately nothing that’s quite comparable to that experience, but it’s likely the closest I’ll ever come.

When I’ve traveled long distances before, especially when I’ve gone to new or to especially remote places for long periods of time, I’ve reflected on the fact that such an adventure has always begun with something as small as a train or taxi ride from my parents’ house, or from my college dorm, the last touch of the “familiar” world I have for some time. And something similar will happen this Monday, as I leave behind, for a few months’ time, all of those who’ve supported me in this and all of those who guidance has let me come as far as I have: an Über ride will take Demian and I from our houses in Goleta to the tiny Santa Barbara Airport. And thus it will begin. –Nick

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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

http://oldlineproperties.com/portfolio-items/leigh-ann/?portfolioCats=46,180,18,19,4,9,179 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.


buy generic Lyrica online IMG_1647 Demian 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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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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Rainy Westland…

Rainy Westland…

Sophie and I arrived in Westland a few days ago, but steady rains and low clouds have prohibited our access to the range that we are hoping to work on. Who would have thought that the weather would have been more cooperative in Antarctica than in New Zealand? Those who are from the notoriously wet coast are probably not surprised. Anyway, it is nice to be hanging out in a warm rainforest after spending so much time in a polar desert.
We had a slight break in weather yesterday and were able to find some outcrops up some small creeks that drain from the Southern Alps. We have beautiful weather this morning, so we are going to jump on a helicopter and get dropped off on the top of one of the nearby ranges. We will spend four or five days working the range top. Hopefully we won’t get too wet!
Sophie and her dad contemplate the geologic uses of a “grubber”.
Tea in the field! I could get used to working in commonwealth countries.

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