I-184 on Taylor Glacier!

On Thursday morning we found out that we would be heading to Taylor Glacier at 7:30 pm that night! We spent the rest of the day preparing for the field, doing last minute laundry and sending off our final emails. We went down to the helo-pad about 45 minutes before our flight, picked out our helmets and weighed our small bags and ourselves. Getting up in the air and seeing McMurdo Station, Ross Island and the Ross Ice Shelf was an amazing experience.

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We could see seals down on the sea ice, and our pilot was nice enough to fly us up Taylor Valley so we could see the toe of the Taylor Glacier.

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At the toe of the glacier, you can see a small dark red stain called Blood Falls, which is oxidized iron from possible microbial activity. Scientists are currently studying this phenomenon to characterize the microbial communities and subglacial chemical reactions.

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The view up the glacier was amazing; it’s hard to believe that the glacier is more than 60 kilometers long! The mountains and glaciers here are large, but without trees, animals or buildings it is hard to see a real scale. Melt channels at the toe of the Taylor that look tiny while flying over actually have cliffs that are hundreds of feet high.

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We landed safely on the glacier and we were in awe for the first couple of minutes after landing.

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It was pretty late that night but we did have time to set up one mountain tent before the rest of us slept in the endurance tent (cooking/office tent). Since we are camping on the ice, we had to drill into the ice to properly anchor the tent.

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The next morning we broke into our food and Carli had a great time organizing everything for us! Here is a picture of her in her element:

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Our first night we ate very well, halibut with lemon and dill, and pasta with vegetables.

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The next day, we visited an ice cave where we will store our ice cores before the helicopter comes to pick them up.

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The views next to ice cave were unbelievable! We feel so lucky to be here.

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We haven’t collected any of our cores yet, the drillers are finishing up the set up of the drill (the Blue Ice Drill, also known as the BID), and making sure that they are drilling and extracting the core the same way each time for consistency.

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We’re hoping to get our first cores tomorrow, as long as the weather cooperates. The last 2 days have been very windy, sustained wind of about 30 mph, with gusts up to 40-50 mph. Keep on checking the blog for more pictures and information about collecting our ice cores!

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What are we studying?

Ice sheets and glaciers can provide records of climate including environment conditions at the time of deposition. Ice cores have been used to reconstruct past temperature, sea level, and ice volume on earth.

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Satellite image of Taylor Glacier (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taylor_Glacier)

At the Taylor Glacier, an outlet glacier from the Earth Antarctic Ice Sheet, we are studying the dust particles trapped within the ice. Dust, or airborne mineral particles picked up by wind from places like the Sahara Desert or the Pampas of South America, are suspended in the atmosphere and can travel long distances in the upper troposphere. The dust particles eventually settle and land in places such as ice sheets, glaciers, oceans, and terrestrial biospheres. The dust in ice can tell us a lot of information about the climate during its depositional period. For example, dust concentration is inversely proportional to temperature. This means that during colder periods (for instance, the Last Glacial Maximum), the dust concentration in the atmosphere was higher due to windier conditions and more exposed continental shelves and lakebeds. We can look at the dust concentration in ice core records, and infer whether the climate it was deposited in was a Glacial or Interglacial (like today) time period.

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Taylor Glacier aerial view

We will also measure the isotopes (strontium, neodymium and hafnium) of the dust in the ice. Rock, soil and dust from different continents will have different isotopic compositions due to varying geology in each region. This means that we can measure the isotopic composition of the dust in the ice, and we can figure out what continent or region that it most likely originated from. We are particularly interested in investigating a time period (55,000 to 6,000 years before present) where we believe that the storm trajectory in the region reversed due to the retreating Ross Ice Shelf. During the Last Glacial Maximum, moisture-bearing storms may have arrived at Taylor Dome (the point of accumulation for Taylor Glacier) from the north rather than the south as they do today. We believe that if there was a change in wind trajectories associated with the decreasing ice shelf extent, it should be reflected in the radiogenic isotopes, concentration, and size distribution of dust particles within Taylor Glacier ice.

 

This research has potential implications for predicting the climate shifts in circumpolar coastal regions that have been experiencing or will experience a decrease in ice shelf extent. We are very excited to finally go out and collect these samples to bring back to the University of Michigan and analyze in the lab!

Preparing for the field season

Getting ready for the field season is a lot of work. When we are going into the field with no access to electricity or plumbing we have to bring our own generators and receptacles for trash and human waste. It is very important to make sure that whatever we pack in, we pack out. We are here to collect ice cores and observe the environment around us, not to disturb it or introduce new invasive species or contaminate it. We also have to pack a lot of cold weather gear and survival equipment to make sure that we are as warm and safe as possible.

Additionally, we are responsible for planning out our meals and pulling all of the food and drink mix that we will need for two 2-week periods. We have to pay special attention to what kind of food items we bring. We can’t bring food in glass jars (like tomato sauce) because it will freeze, expand, and crack the glass.

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Student Sarah Aarons excited about pulling food for camp

Finally, we need to make sure that we have all of the equipment that we need to perform our fieldwork and collect our data! Below is a picture of us packing our 120 ice core boxes, which are made of corrugated plastic lined with foam. After each ice core is collected, we will pack it and prepare it for shipping back to the United States.

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Team member Luca Lanci behind ice core boxes with straps

After we have gathered all of our items to take out into the field, we pack it up, weigh it, and bring it down to the helo-pad for them to transport to our field site. We are scheduled to head out on Tuesday, which is right around the corner!

On a side note, we had a small amount of free time today and we took a walk to the historic Scott Hut, where we had a beautiful view of the sea ice and saw some live Weddell Seals!

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Field Support & Camp Training (aka Happy Camper school)

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On Wednesday morning we headed to a 2-day field support & training class where we learned the basics about cold related injuries and illnesses along, hazards associated with going into the field, and basic field and survival techniques. This class was very important for us since we will be heading into the field (Taylor Glacier in the Dry Valleys) on Tuesday, to conduct our field work and camp for at least 4 weeks.

After an introductory talk we then took a really cool ride in a Delta vehicle to the McMurdo ice shelf:

our ride (aka Delta)

our ride (aka Delta)
inside the Delta

inside the Delta

The ice shelf is right alongside one of the two volcanos on Ross Island:

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Mt Erebus

We practiced making snow blocks for protection from wind:

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cutting snow blocks

 

and learned how to properly anchor tents in snowy conditions:

Carli Arendt stabilizing the Scott Tent

Carli Arendt stabilizing the Scott Tent

Sarah Aarons stabilizing the Scott Tent

Sarah Aarons stabilizing the Scott Tent

 

We slept outside in a large Scott tent (a larger double skin tent) where we were very warm all night. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, it was very sunny and almost eerily calm at times:
industrious fellow campers decided to make an igloo

industrious fellow campers decided to make an igloo

After setting up camp we cut a kitchen out of the snow and learned how to properly setup a stove without spilling fuel:

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and then we made ourselves warm drinks and dehydrated meals (yum!). While we are out camping, it is important for us to eat a lot of calories since our bodies will be burning extra to keep warm. We also learned that the most important things are to keep hydrating, eating, exercising and to layer properly. After dinner we took a walk towards the island because the weather was beautiful but also because it is helpful to go to bed warm to stay warm all night. The next morning, we returned to our classroom on the ice shelf and learned how to properly operate VHF and HF radios, in case our satellite phone fails. To finish the day, we participated in a mock scenario where one of our team members went missing during white out conditions, and the remaining members had to brainstorm and come up with a plan of rescue while remaining safe. For proper simulation, we were sent out with white buckets on our head, since during true white out conditions, visibility is poor to none:

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white out simulation

We learned some valuable lessons about designating authority and listening to others.

We had so much fun camping out on the ice and we all feel more prepared for our outdoor camping field season!

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Made it to Antarctica!

There was no cancellation of the flight this morning and we headed to the airport bright and early with all of our gear. As we watched informational videos before boarding, it was hard to believe that we were actually on our way to Antarctica, a place that around 1% of the world’s population has been to.

We feel so lucky for the opportunity to travel and conduct field work here, and we could barely contain our excitement:

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After take off, we spent a few of the 5 hour flight catching up on sleep, and luckily we were able to walk upstairs and get a view of the cockpit and the amazing view of the sea ice surrounding the continent of Antarctica:

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Later on in the flight, we could look out of a small window and see mountains poking up through snow and ice:

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When we landed almost everyone from the flight stopped and took pictures and enjoyed the view, we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

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We will spend the next few days organizing gear and getting ready to head out into the field until mid to late December at the Taylor Glacier which is located in the Dry Valleys. Stay tuned for more information about our field work and research questions.

Delayed–but new adventures in Akaroa

This morning at 4:45 am we received a call that our deployment would be delayed 24 hrs due to bad weather at McMurdo Station, so we got a chance to catch up on sleep and explore the beautiful scenery near Christchurch.

We rented a car and drove about 1.5 hrs SE to Akaroa, a small town on the water surrounded by volcanic hills and lush farmland dotted with livestock.

 

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We had lunch at a small cafe right on the water, and spent about 2 hrs on a naturewalk where we had gorgeous views of the harbor and hillside.

The walk finished near a house with a great garden full of jasmine and roses.

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We are again scheduled to fly out of Christchurch tomorrow morning, but we will have to wait and see if the pilots feel comfortable enough to make the flight. If not, we may be doing some more exploring around the area!

Getting geared up for Antarctica!

We arrived in Christchurch very late last night and first thing this morning we headed to Christchurch CDC (clothing distribution center) to get all of our cold weather gear for Antarctica.

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We are scheduled to deploy to McMurdo Station early tomorrow (Monday) morning, and we are all keeping our fingers crossed for good weather so that we don’t have to turn around mid-flight (boomeranged) and return to Christchurch.

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Keep checking the blog for pictures from Antarctica!

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