Questions for Kate Pound

Learn more about my research In October, 2007, Kate Pound answered visitors questions about geology and climate change.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Joe's picture
Joe says:

As a kid, what inspired you to pursue science as a career?

posted on Thu, 10/11/2007 - 10:19am
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

Dear Joe,

There is no one thing that made me decide to be a geologist, it just sort of happened as part of a natural progression, for several different reasons. When I was growing up I loved to read about adventures in unusual and different places, where people were dealing with extreme conditions. I was captivated by Thor Heyerdahl’s trips across the Atlantic in Ra and RaII and I followed the Adventures of Chris Bonnington on Everest and elsewhere. I was also fascinated by the Apollo missions and the Moon Landing. I read a lot of books about exploration. I also enjoyed poking around outdoors, and I loved hiking, so in some ways it was a natural progression to become a geologist, because I could work and be outdoors at the same time. I also enjoyed figuring out the details of how things worked, and I liked being able to explain why they worked – I recall making my parents very unhappy by taking apart their precious transistor radio and trying to reorganize the parts so they would work outside of the radio ‘container.’ The most exciting part of any field of science is that it really is an adventure into the unknown – one can make predictions about what one expects to find, but one is working at a frontier, whether at the scale of atoms or continents, and constantly making discoveries.

Mt. Erebus, a volcano 40 km from McMurdo Station
Mt. Erebus, a volcano 40 km from McMurdo Station

Katie Johnson, Micropaleontologist, looks at Microfossils
Katie Johnson, Micropaleontologist, looks at Microfossils
I had some really inspiring teachers in Middle School, High School, and in College. They all used hands-on or field-based approach to learning, and they were all passionate about what they do. I struggled with the Math, Chemistry, and Physics when I first took them, because I didn’t really appreciate how they related to geology, but once I took more advanced geology courses, I could understand why I needed them . In my specialty field of Provenance Studies (the study of where sediments came from), I can study an area at the scale of mountain ranges or ocean basins, but I can use information collected at the microscopic scale to explain the history of the mountain range. This is what we are doing here in Antarctica – we are using detailed studies of the sediments beneath the McMurdo Ice Shelf, to help understand past climate changes, so that we can better understand how the earth is going to respond to climate change in the future.

Keep investigating and asking questions - one day you might be a scientist!

posted on Wed, 10/17/2007 - 4:47am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Do you think Antarctica will ever go back to having a mild climate like it used to millions of years ago?

posted on Fri, 10/12/2007 - 2:02pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

This is a really good question. The SIMPLE answer is that on the geologic time scale (which goes back 4,6 billion years) it definitely will at some point - climates have changed significantly in the past - and continents move as a result of plate tectonics. So, the position of the landmasses on the earth's surface will change, some ocean basins will close, others will open (this is a result of plate tectonics), ocean circulation patterns will therefore change, and all the 'external forcings' that control climate will change. So on a scale of hundreds of millions of years the landmass that now makes up Antarctica may be fragmented in some way, and parts or all of the landmass (es) may be enjoy a return to milder climates.

I'll get back to you on more immediate climate changes once I have a chance - we are REALLY busy at the moment - you will notice that I have gotten behind answering questions, so check back, I will add to this answer.

posted on Sun, 10/21/2007 - 3:27pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is global warming real?

posted on Sat, 10/13/2007 - 12:46pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

The temperature data that scientists have collected show that the temperature of Earth’s air and oceans has increased on average by over 1o Fahrenheit over the past 100 years; other data show that it has increased by as much as 3-4o F. This may seem like a small amount, but consider this: a fever of 5 degrees can kill a person, and likewise with parts of the planet we live on and depend on. These changes have already started to affect our planet, and will become more dramatic within our lifetime.

Scientific data show that humans have had an impact on earth’s climate (human-induced is called the ‘anthropogenic component’ of global warming), through the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide, methane). Scientists that model future climates (we call them Climate Modelers) use accumulated scientific observations about the physics of the earth’s climate to develop climate models. The models allow us to predict what will happen in the future. Basically the modelers write mathematical equations to explain how heat and moisture etc. get transferred in the earth’s atmosphere, and on the earth’s surface. The equations are then translated into computer programs. The programs allow us to see what will happen to the earth’s climate with varying amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and climate sensitivity. These climate models show that global surface temperatures will increase between 2° and 11.5° Fahrenheit before 2100. A temp increase would result in a totally changed planet. We don't know what it would be like exactly, but there will be very few glaciers, different patterns of rain and drought, and higher sea levels.

posted on Wed, 10/17/2007 - 5:04am
missindra24's picture
missindra24 says:

Since most of our glacier's are melting, will they ever go back to the way they were?

Or will another ice age have to take place in order for the glaciers to become part of our eco system again?

posted on Sat, 10/13/2007 - 2:33pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

Your question raises a very interesting point, which really gets to questions about how glaciers work, and what controls their growth or shrinkage and what controls whether they advance or retreat. These are topics that glaciologists are studying, because the trend of behavior of the glaciers and ice sheets can be used to evaluate and predict the effects of global warming.

First of all, glaciers form in regions where more snow collects than melts. As the snow piles up it gets compressed to form ice, and then the ice moves down slope due to gravity. The size of the glacier and whether the position of its ‘toe’ or ‘snout’ moves forward depends on whether the rate at which snow is accumulating (and turning into ice) is greater than or less than the rate at which ice is being removed . I say ‘being removed’ because there are actually several ways that the ice can be removed. It can be removed by melting, but it can also be removed by sublimation (going from solid ice straight to water vapor). Glaciologists use the term ablation to refer to all of the different ways in which ice can be removed. In Antarctica much of the ablation is the result of wind-driven sublimation. The balance between accumulation and ablation is called the ‘mass balance’ of a glacier, and basically controls whether it advances or retreats. The mass balance is controlled by climate.

This is where the next important fact comes in – glaciers can be classified as TEMPERATE GLACIERS which are glaciers that are always at or near the melting point of ice, these glaciers will always have meltwater associated with them (even if they are growing). Some glaciers and Ice sheets, such as those in East Antarctica are classified as POLAR GLACIERS, which are always below freezing point, and have no or very little meltwater associated with them (and if so, only in the summer). SUB-POLAR GLACIERS melt during the summer near their surface, and may have water moving through cracks in them.

So, in answer to your question, many glaciers are indeed melting faster than they are being replenished. Based on what we know about global warming, the overall long-term warming trend indicates that glaciers such as the Rhone Glacier (this is the one in Switzerland that has been very heavily studied) are melting away (ablation is greater than accumulation), and the extent of the Greenland Ice Sheet has been reduced. Many climate models indicate that global temperatures may increase by 4-5O Celsius within the next 500 years. These average global temperatures are similar to those on earth when there were no ice sheets.

posted on Wed, 10/17/2007 - 4:44am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is this your first trip to Antarctica? How did you get there? What is the weather like there now?

posted on Wed, 10/17/2007 - 10:06am
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:


Weather at McMurdo Station 19 Oct
Yes, this is my first trip to Antarctica – it has been really exciting, Antarctica is an amazing place. To get here I flew from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Chicago, then to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles I boarded a flight to Auckland, New Zealand, and from Auckland (which is in the North Island of New Zealand) I then flew to Christchurch New Zealand, which is on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. This part of the trip took at total of 44 hours and 55 minutes from when I left home until I arrived in Christchurch. It was about 3-4 hours more until we got to where we were staying in Christchurch. We crossed the international dateline, so we actually “missed” one entire day!

Christchurch is where the New Zealand headquarters for the United States Antarctic program is located. We stayed a couple of days in Christchurch as we got issued our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear, and tested it and packed our bags. Then we flew on a C-17 (Globemaster) from Christchurch to McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The C-17 was half-filled with cargo, and half with scientists and support people who work at various locations in Antarctica. Some of the scientists on board were part of the International Team associated with ANDRILL – they had flown to Christchurch from Italy and Germany. There are also some New Zealand scientists on the team. Other Scientists were ultimately headed to other stations in Antarctica, including South Pole Station. I met the woman who will be the Doctor at South Pole Station – she is from Minnesota too! Most of the ANDRILL Science Team are based at McMurdo, and work at the Lab here. However, the drillers and some of the scientists are living at the camp at the ANDRILL drill rig, 25 km northwest of McMurdo, on sea ice next to the McMurdo Ice Shelf.


View out Lab window - bad weather


View out Lab window - good weather
You ask about the weather – right now it is beautiful weather – very little wind, and a clear sky. The temperature is -14o Celsius (+07oF). Not very different to some winter days in Minnesota - but remember that his is the Antarctic spring/summer! The view out my Lab window is spectacular – not only can I see the Royal Society Range (part of the Transantarctic Mountains) – but I get some ‘advance warning’ of bad weather (which means winds and blowing snow), as I see it approach from the west.

Some team members are keeping a blog - you can find out more about what it is like to live and work at McMurdo Station by reading the blogs at http://www.andrill.org/iceberg/.

posted on Thu, 10/18/2007 - 8:55pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is there anything more that the people on Earth can do to slow down global warming?

posted on Wed, 10/17/2007 - 1:12pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

Yes, this is an example of how the litle actions that each individual takes can be added together to make a big difference. Basically we need to reduce human contribution to greenhouse gasses (which include carbon dioxide and methane) to or below what it was in pre-industrial time; this will start to reverse the trend of increasing greenhouse gasses that have undoubtedly been produced as a result of human activities (IPCC Report at http://www.ipcc.ch/). This means that by changing the way you do things - from reducing your use of personal vehicles, to taking public transport, or bicycling or walking, to remembering to turn off power strips and electrical appliances when you leave the room. We also need to encourage responsible land-use practices and policies that support continued existence of forested areas (forests use the carbon dioxide produced by humans in photosynthesis). If we all do this, it will ultimately make a difference, but this effort really does need to get everyone on board. The issue of global warming is one that is already facing our planet, and we are already seeing results from it - we can take action now that will help reverse the portion of the trend that is human-induced.

posted on Sun, 10/28/2007 - 9:07pm
Samuel B.'s picture
Samuel B. says:

What sort of supplies do you bring with you to strange places like Antartctica? I have always wanted to know about Antarctic gear.

posted on Fri, 10/19/2007 - 5:54pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

Clothing Display at the CDC in Christchurch
Clothing Display at the CDC in Christchurch
Getting all of our cold weather and survival gear, as well as having all our scientific equipment plus all the supplies and equipment for the support team is a major undertaking. The easiest way to explain how this works is to divide it into four types of gear and equipment.

First of all, there is the Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing that we each need to have. Several months before we leave our home countries we fill out forms saying what size we are. The day before our flight to McMurdo from Christchurch (New Zealand) we go to the USAP (United States Antarctic Program) Clothing Distribution Center (CDC), where we get a large orange bag of ECW gear. This includes wool socks, long underwear, all varieties of gloves and mittens, special boots, wind pants, fleece clothing, big winter parka (‘Big Red’), and thin red jacket (‘Little Red’), goggles, neck gaiter, and a nalgene bottle. We can supplement this with our own personal gear if we choose, but we are provided with the clothing we need to be safe in Antarctic Conditions. We have to return it to the CDC when we get back to Christchurch.

The MSCL in the Rak Tent outside Crary Lab
The MSCL in the Rak Tent outside Crary Lab
Second, there is the scientific equipment that is specific to one’s project and not part of normal lab equipment. For example, one of the many pieces of special equipment our project uses is a Multi-Sensor Core Logger (MSCL), which scans the split sedimentary rock core that we are retrieving from the floor of McMurdo Sound. We also have to ship down special computers and screens to display the images of the core for the geologists to enter the preliminary ‘core characterization’ data. This piece of equipment (along with many other pieces of equipment) had to be shipped to Port Hueneme in California by the start of August at the latest. It was then loaded on a ship for New Zealand, and it was flown to Antarctica in September on WINFLY, which is the name given to the first flights that go from Christchurch to McMurdo at the end of winter (to check out the acronyms and slang used 'on the ice' go to http://penguincentral.com/MCMslang.html). Getting the specially designed drill rig to Antarctica was also a major undertaking. It was first sent in 'modules' in shipping containers, and then reassembled 'on-ice'. It was stored at McMurdo over the winter, and the drill team (from New Zealand) arrived on WINFLY to set it up for this season's work.

A 'cage' where scientists pack up their field equipment
A 'cage' where scientists pack up their field equipment
Third, there is all the ‘routine’ lab equipment that we need, which includes mundane items such as metal spatulas for collecting small sediment samples, sponges for for cleaning rock saws as we cut core samples, the rock saws themselves, safety goggles, glassware, whiteboard pens – these are all ‘provided’ by the science support team at Crary Lab (the science research lab building where we work on the core after it has been delivered to McMurdo from the drill rig). We don’t have to actually bring that equipment ourselves, but we have to find out whether they have the equipment we need ahead of time, and let them know that we will be needing it. The science support group is responsible for getting it down here on flights from Christchurch – or by ship (which does not get here until the end of the field season, when the sea ice is broken through and materials arrive at the Ice Wharf at McMurdo).

A Pisten Bully  (originally designed for use in alpine environments)
A Pisten Bully (originally designed for use in alpine environments)
Fourth, there are all the everyday supplies and equipment that the science support staff require. This includes all the special vehicles – for example the special Fire engines designed for use in Antarctica (they can’t use water, because it would freeze), as well as all the vehicles adapted for travel on ice and snow (Pisten Bullys, Haglands, Deltas – see the Andrill ARISE Blogs to get a better idea of these machines). The science support staff also need all the equipment to maintain and fix these machines. We also have to have food and drink AND the kitchen needs all the cooking equipment, plus we need mattresses and bedding and cleaning equipment. The geologists that go into remote camps (‘Deep Field Camps') also need specialized equipment (Skidoos, sledges, Scott tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment,VHF and UHF radios etc.). The field equipment has to get shipped down here, and maintained. There are people who stay here over the winter, and spend all winter mending and fixing equipment in preparation for the next season.

As you can tell, it is a very complex operation. Remember also that we cannot leave ANYTHING down here, everything has to be shipped off the continent, including ALL waste. We want to (and the Antarctic Treaty requires us to) preserve Antarctica in a pristine state for generations to come. It is truly an awe-inspiring place – I just got back from survival training (they call it ‘Happy Camper School’) on the ice shelf, and watching the light on the landscape change as the sun moved through the sky during a 24-hour period was truly amazing - especially in the relatively warm and wind-free days that we were lucky to have.

posted on Sun, 10/28/2007 - 2:55pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Are there any volcanoes in Antarctica?

posted on Thu, 10/25/2007 - 12:19pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

Mt. Erebus from the McMurdo Ice Shelf
Mt. Erebus from the McMurdo Ice Shelf
Funny that you should ask that question – I just got back from our Survival School training, which is held out on the McMurdo Ice Shelf. When there is no cloud out there, we had a wonderful view of Mt. Erebus. Mt. Erebus is the largest, well-exposed ACTIVE volcano in Antarctica; it has an elevation of 3795 m, and is about 40 km away from McMurdo Station on Ross Island. One of the research groups studying Mt. Erebus has their office down the hall from me!

We can see the peak of Mt. Erebus if we walk up Observation Hill or up to the top of Hut Point Ridge from McMurdo Station. Mt. Erebus is famous not only because of its southern location, but because it is currently the most active Antarctic volcano. It is also unique, because it is one of the only volcanoes in the world to have a permanent molten lava lake, which means there is basically permanent eruptive activity.

USGS map of Antarctica showing the location of Mt. Erebus
USGS map of Antarctica showing the location of Mt. Erebus
There are actually more than 100 volcanoes in Antarctica, with only 8 of them providing undisputed evidence for recent activity. About 40 of them have probably been active within the past 10,000 years. It is actually very hard to tell how many of them are really currently active. This is for several reasons; sometimes people mistake clouds or wind-blown snow for ‘eruptive plumes’ (volcanological term for the material being erupted up into the atmosphere from a volcano). Sometimes the vicious winds blow dust and spread it across the snow and ice so that it looks superficially as though material from a volcanic eruption has been deposited. Finally, it is possible that there are active volcanoes beneath the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets that we do not know about, and we have not yet identified via other types of imaging.

Most of the volcanic activity in Antarctica takes place on or around the margins of the West Antarctic Rift System, which is essentially where Antarctica is stretching and breaking apart as a result of plate tectonics (i.e. the very early stages of development of a divergent plate boundary). This rift extends from the Ross Sea area across to the Bellinghausen Sea (west of the Antarctic Peninsula). The sedimentary basin (Victorialand Basin) that we are collecting the ANDRILL core from developed as the crust pulled apart, and we have seen some volcanic material in the core. The volcanic rock often reaches the surface where there are faults (cracks in the earth’s surface) associated with the stretching that formed the rift. Most of the volcanic rock is basalt of some kind, and forms shield-type volcanoes (like those in Hawaii).

The other type of volcanic activity in the Antarctic region is on the South Sandwich Islands and the South Shetland Islands. The volcanoes here are part of volcanic chains that result from tectonic plates colliding. The volcanoes in these chains are mostly stratovolcanoes (volcanoes built up with layers of lava flows and ash and debris), with the ‘classic’ conical volcano shape. Check out the United States Geological Survey (USGS) website for general volcano terminology. The USGS has lots of information on Antarctic volcanoes on their website.

posted on Mon, 10/29/2007 - 12:45am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How cold does it get where you are? Are you ever in any danger from the weather?

posted on Sat, 10/27/2007 - 12:59pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

Map of Antarctica, showing location of Ross Sea
Map of Antarctica, showing location of Ross Sea
I am based at McMurdo Station, which is right at sea level, on the edge of the Ross Sea / Ross Ice Shelf. It is actually very nice ‘warm’ weather here at the moment it is -04 degrees F or -20 degrees C (-30 degrees C or -22 degrees F with windchill), as you can see from today’s observations. But you should know that the maximum temperature at McMurdo for the Month of October is +44 degrees F, and the minimum is -40 degrees F. If you go to weather underground and type in Antarctica you will be able to find out the current weather at most of the Research Stations in Antarctica. The current temperature at South Pole Station is -41 degrees C (-42 degrees F). You may have heard that the lowest temperature ever recorded was at Vostok Station (the Russian Station) on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet; it was -88 degrees Celsius. The temperature at Vostok is regularly in the -30 to the -60 °C range. This chilly weather is due to the exceptionally high speed of the arctic winds.

Weather observations, Oct 29th 2007 at McMurdo Station
Weather observations, Oct 29th 2007 at McMurdo Station
You ask if we are in danger because of the weather , and the answer is definitely ‘YES,’ but there are several types of danger. First of all, there is the danger of not being adequately dressed for living and working in Antarctica; this is a danger we can (for the most part) overcome. We get trained on the dangers and consequences of not taking adequate precautions when we go outside, especially if we are going to be outside for an extended period of time. First of all we already know that it is cold, and that we need to dress appropriately when we go outside, and not to let our body core get cold, so the obvious dangers of hypothermia and frostbite should be avoidable. We also get trained on how to look out for symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite, and how to treat them, although the best treatment is prevention.

Current weather at South Pole Oct 29th
Current weather at South Pole Oct 29th
Second, we are required to wear or have all of our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear with us if we are going beyond limits that are set. There are several trails on Hut Point Peninsula, and we are allowed to walk on some of them by ourselves, but there are other trails that we are only allowed to walk on with someone else, and we have to check in and check out as well as carry a radio with us. The reason we have to carry a radio is that the weather can change very quickly indeed. At McMurdo the worst storms arrive from the south, and it can change from being a relatively calm day to being a ‘Herbie’ (a term that means it is like a cross between a hurricane and a blizzard). I already know that if I see clouds coming over Minna Bluff to the south (which I can just see from my office window in Crary Lab), it means that bad weather is arriving in a hour or two.

Weather extremes for October, McMurdo Station
Weather extremes for October, McMurdo Station
Third, we get trained in how to deal with emergency situations that are weather related (which effectively relates to everything here, because it is always cold). When we were doing our survival training (they call it Happy Camper School!) one of the exercises we went through was figuring out how to look for a missing team mate in a blizzard. We also heard stories about what had happened in some of the deep field camps when they got hit by really bad storms; they taught us how to plan a campsite so it would be as safe as possible in severe weather. We also did an exercise where we were told that our team had escaped from a damaged vehicle and had one survival bag with us, and a storm was approaching. We had to pitch a tent, boil a quart of water, build a protective snowblock wall, and radio McMurdo station in 10 minutes! It was really good practice at working together to be as safe as possible in a bad situation, and our team did as good a job as possible.

Louise Huffman wearing ECW gear, standing outside Scott Tent at Survival School.
Louise Huffman wearing ECW gear, standing outside Scott Tent at Survival School.
The weather at McMurdo is classified as either ‘Condition I’, ‘Condition II’, or ‘Condition III’, with Condition III being ‘good’ weather, and Condition I being ‘bad’ or ‘blizzard-type’ weather. Here are the definitions of the conditions:
Weather Condition III: which is defined as having winds less than 48 knots, wind chills warmer than -75 F, and visibility greater than 1/4 mile. This is to be considered the normal weather condition in McMurdo.
Severe Weather Condition II: which is defined by one or more of the following conditions: wind speeds of 48 to 55 knots sustained for one minute, wind chills of -75 to -100 F sustained for one minute, or visibility of less than 1/4 mile sustained for one minute.
Severe Weather Condition I: which is defined by one or more of the following conditions: wind speeds greater than 55 knots sustained for one minute, wind chills colder than -100 F sustained for one minute, or visibility of less than 100 feet sustained for one minute.

In 'Condition I' we are not allowed out of the building we are in, unless it has been deemed that we can travel from the dorm to the Galley (the cafeteria) in pairs using safety lines. We have been in 'Condition 3' since I have been down here.

posted on Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:10am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is there any wildlife around your camp?

posted on Sun, 11/04/2007 - 10:49pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:


Skua
It is really funny that you should ask that question, because I was talking yesterday with some of the other ‘Andrillians’ (the name used for people that are working on the Andrill project) about how I really don’t miss insects, but how it is strange not having ANY animals or birds around. But guess what, after that conversation I looked out the office window and saw a Skua – Skuas are birds that live and breed on the Subantarctic Islands and the Antarctic Continent. They have started to arrive – a sign of Spring in Antarctica. The Skuas are bold birds, and prey on weak penguins – they also try to steal food and other items from people. I am curious to see more of them closer up, but everyone is telling me I won’t like it when they attack me!

Adelie Penguins
Adelie Penguins
There was a penguin beside the Ice Runway the other day – we could see it through a telescope. The Firehouse Crew are the only people at McMurdo Station that are authorized by the National Science Foundation to touch or ‘remove’ penguins – the penguins are protected. We have not seen any other penguins here at McMurdo. There are seven types of penguin that are found in Antarctica – the Adelie, Chinstrap, Rockhopper, Gentoo, Emperor, Macaroni, and King. There is an Adelie Penguin Rookery not too far away from McMurdo Station at Cape Royds. I am hoping that I might get to see it if we have any free time, and I can get on a trip that is going out there – not many people get to go there.

Seal at Andrill Mackay Glacier Seismic Survey Camp (by Julia Dooley)
Seal at Andrill Mackay Glacier Seismic Survey Camp (by Julia Dooley)
The scientists at the Andrill drillsite have seen some seals, and Julia and Bob who are out with the Seismic Survey team near the Mackay Glacier have seen penguins and seals. I am hoping that we will get to see some seals when we go out to the drill rig – they see them there because they are closer to the edge of the sea ice, where the seals like to be.
I have also seen a mummified seal at Discovery Hut point. I am not sure how long it has been there. I'll let you know when I have seen some - I'll add any pictures I take to this answer!

posted on Tue, 11/06/2007 - 5:51am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How goes the drilling?

posted on Sun, 11/04/2007 - 10:49pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

Vehicle with tracks for driving across ice
Vehicle with tracks for driving across iceCourtesy Kate Pound
'Roadsign' for flagged road to ANDRILL drillsite
'Roadsign' for flagged road to ANDRILL drillsiteCourtesy Kate Pound
A short and simple answer to this question is that it is going really well; we reached 635.17 meters below sea floor as of this morning (Sunday 12th November). We have an amazing drill team working here, and we have a 98% recovery rate which is very good indeed. What this does mean is that we are very busy doing describing, sampling, and making preliminary interpretations of the core, and completing geochemical and other analyses before it gets shipped back to the Antarctic Core Facility at Florida State University at the end of the season. You asked this question at a perfect time, because I went out to visit the drill rig yesterday. The drill rig is 35 km to the NW of McMurdo Station. It is located on the sea ice, and it took us just over 2 hours to drive there in a vehicle that is basically a modified pickup – it has tracks on it, instead of wheels. Prior to going out there we had to get ‘Sea Ice Training’ so that we were knowledgeable about safe travel across sea ice.

SOME BACKGROUND
Geoscientists discussing core prior to sampling at Crary Lab, McMurdo
Geoscientists discussing core prior to sampling at Crary Lab, McMurdoCourtesy Kate Pound
For those of you that are not as familiar with this research, we are collecting a sediment core from below the seafloor in McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. You may ask “why go there, you could save yourself the trouble and get some sediment from the coast of New Jersey or from a Lake in Minnesota – why Antarctica?” Good Question. The ANDRILL team is collecting a core here for many reasons: Antarctica plays a key role in global climate system, but we do not understand how the ice that now covers Antarctica has changed in volume and behavior over the past 17 million years – understanding this dynamic (which includes how quickly ice sheets change, and when they have changed) is very important for helping us to predict how the Antarctic ice sheets may change in the future, and how any changes may affect sea level and the global climate system. We can learn about the advance and retreat of ice sheets by looking at the sediment that was deposited in the ocean near to them. That is why we are coring here; we will be able to combine the information we gather here with information gathered from sediment records that tell us about ancient climates elsewhere on the planet to help us better understand the intricacies of the earth system.

HOW WE GET THE SEDIMENT CORE?
ANDRILL SMS drillsite from distance
ANDRILL SMS drillsite from distanceCourtesy Kate Pound
Drill Bits
Drill BitsCourtesy Kate Pound
Diamictite (core 6 cm wide)
Diamictite (core 6 cm wide)Courtesy Kate Pound
This is an incredible piece of engineering. First you have to realize that the locations that we need to core are below sea level, and that the sea is covered by Ice that ranges from 8 to 80 meters thick. The tides cause the ice to move up and down about 1 meter twice a day. The water underneath the Ice Shelf is also moving. The drilling of course, takes place on the margins of the windiest, driest and coldest continent on earth. A simple explanation is that it is like poking a straw through the lid of a layered thick milkshake, pushing the straw slowly down to the bottom, putting ones finger on the top of the straw, and lifting the straw back up so there is milkshake in the straw. The milkshake in the straw is like the sediment core. The drill rig we use is based on a standard Minerals Industry drill rig (a HC 1600 from URS in Brisbane Australia), but it has been modified based on design specifications by Alex Pyne of Webster Drilling (Porirua, New Zealand, and the Antarctic Research Center in Wellington, New Zealand). The drilling platform was purpose-built, based on design specifications by Alex Pyne. The ancillary structures (drillsite lab, drill camp) were designed in part by Jonathan Leitch, and are maintained by Antarctica New Zealand. Here is an explanation of the drilling process.

WHAT WE HAVE FOUND
We have found a variety of sediment types. Some of the sediments are called diamictites; these sediments tell us that they were deposited underneath or just in front of an ice sheet. We have also found some sediments that contain a lot of diatoms (these are microfossils that mostly require nutrient-rich water). Diatoms are the tiny shells made by algae. We use the diatoms to determine the age of the sediment, and to help with understanding the environment. Other sediments are various mixtures of these two sediment types, and include siltstones, sandstones, and conglomerates.

posted on Mon, 11/12/2007 - 9:21pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Do you have much free time? What do you do during your free time?

posted on Mon, 11/12/2007 - 10:06am
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

My dorm room at McMurdo Station.
My dorm room at McMurdo Station.Courtesy Kate Pound
We have relatively little free time. We basically work every day, because new core arrives from the drillsite daily (sometimes it is less than 30 meters, sometimes more), so we have to keep up with the core that is arriving. The ANDRILL team is split into a dayshift and a nightshift, so we have to stay away from the dorm until 8 or 9 pm, which is when the nightshift gets up. There are actually too many things to do, so it is a matter of somehow getting the essential work done, but also finding some way of doing something that is ‘relaxing’ – or just gets one away from work for a brief time. My daily schedule looks something like this:

~7:30 am or earlier: Breakfast - The Galley closes at 7:30 am, so that is the last possible time for breakfast. Breakfast starts at 5:45 am - sometimes I have breakfast earlier and go for a walk en route to Crary Lab.

Crary Lab with Rac tent in front, and Pisten Bully parking lot.
Crary Lab with Rac tent in front, and Pisten Bully parking lot.Courtesy Kate Pound
~7:45 am: Walk over to Crary Lab (the science research Lab building where all the work is done on the core)

~8:00 – 9:30 am: Work on the teaching materials I am designing, read scientific reports, work on blogs, answer Science Buzz questions

9:30 – 10:00 am: ANDRILL “all hands” meeting in Crary Lab. One of the Co-Chief Scientists tells us how the drilling went overnight, then the nightshift (the team that ‘logs’ the core) gives a brief summary presentation of what they logged the night before. Then each day a different science discipline team presents results of their work to date. We are divided into discipline teams, which really just means we are divided up by our specialty e.g. paleontology, paleomagnetism, pore-water geochemistry. This is also when other general announcements are made.

Core Tour
Core TourCourtesy Kate Pound
10:00 – 10:30 am: ANDRILL CORE TOUR – This is when we look at the core, and have a chance to discuss what we see with other scientists. The dayshift sedimentology team gives a ‘guided tour,’ and then the scientists mark the intervals they need samples from in order to do their work. They do this by putting a label on a toothpick (we call them flags) in the cardboard core holder. After this the micropaleontology team collects small samples for ‘smear slides’ they will use to search for diatoms, and the paleomagnetic team collects their samples.

10:30 am – 12:30 pm: The ARISE team (which I am part of) meets. Sometimes we have lectures, sometimes we discuss plans, sometimes we work together on our own projects.

Lunch at the Galley
Lunch at the GalleyCourtesy Kate Pound
12:30 – 1:30 pm: Walk back over to the Galley for lunch. The station store is also open, as is the post office (in a different building), so now is my chance to do errands, such as buy more toothpaste or postcards. There is also a barber/hairdresser one can make an appointment with – I got my bangs cut the other day, because they were driving me crazy.

Curating the core
Curating the coreCourtesy Kate Pound
One of the rock saws
One of the rock sawsCourtesy Kate Pound
1:30 – 5:30 pm: I work at my ‘job’. For the first half of the season I was with the scanning and imaging group, and the sample curators. I was scanning the core, and I was collecting the samples that had been selected. In general this means I used rock saw to cut up the samples that have been marked on the core. We have to be very careful when we do this, not to make any mistakes at all. Then we pack the core up. Now I am working with the micropaleontology team. They have already made smear slides (I sometimes help them do that between 11:00 and 12:30), and I look at the smear slides through a microscope that has 750x magnification and determine the relative abundance of diatoms using a specific ‘formula’. I am learning all about diatoms, which is really interesting.

Observation Hill from Crary Lab
Observation Hill from Crary LabCourtesy Kate Pound
5:30 – 6:30 pm: I usually go back to my office space in the lab and do some reading, answer mail, or download pictures. Sometimes I go for a walk. A couple of days ago when it was nice weather I went for a walk around the base of Observation Hill with Christina from the micropaleontology group. Another time I went for a walk to Discovery Hut (hut from Scott’s 1901/1902 expedition).
6:30 – 7:00 pm: Dinner in the Galley.

7:00 – 11:00 pm: Twice a week on Wednesday and Sunday nights there are science talks, which I go to. On the other days I mostly go back to Crary Lab to continue my work. Sometimes I go for a walk – if the weather is okay. I discovered the ceramics lab a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to try and use the muck that collects under the rock saw when I cut up the core to make some pottery. I thought it would be cool to have a piece of pottery made from sediment that was collected from under the sea ice in McMurdo Sound. So as long as there isn’t another ANDRILL meeting, I go to the ceramics room from 7:00 – 9:00 pm on Mondays and Fridays. So far I have made a penguin from a mold, and I will glaze and fire it soon. Cosmic Bowling
Cosmic BowlingCourtesy Kate Pound
One evening we had an ANDRILL bowling night – they have a bowling alley here (two lanes, the pins get set manually); the bowling alley is in the same building as the ceramics room. Tonight there is an ANDRILL celebration because we are past the 500 meter mark – there is a 500 meter parade, and they call it the UNDRILL 500 – some people race it, and they do a Haka at the start. Two days ago our team had a trip to the drillsite, so we were away between 1:00 pm and 9:00 pm. At 9:00 pm I usually go back to Crary and finish some work off, or to email family and friends. Sometimes I stop by at the Coffee House on the way back to the dorm. I usually get to bed at about 11pm. It is a very full day, and it seems that I never get any of my project work completed – I just have to plan on getting a small part of it done each day.

posted on Mon, 11/12/2007 - 9:19pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What are you going to do to celebrate Thanksgiving? Or do you celebrate it down there?

posted on Tue, 11/20/2007 - 1:49pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

Decorations in the Cafeteria serving area
Decorations in the Cafeteria serving areaCourtesy Kate Pound
Yes, we definitely celebrated Thanksgiving at McMurdo Station. But because of the work schedule, we had our special Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday instead of on Thursday. This allowed people who did not have to work on Sunday a day of relaxation after the big celebration. Many people called or emailed their family on the Thursday or Friday. For some of the people from New Zealand, Italy, or Germany, that are working with ANDRILL it was their first Thanksgiving meal – many of them had never had pumpkin pie before.

My Thanksgiving Dinnerplate - it does not include my dessert!
My Thanksgiving Dinnerplate - it does not include my dessert!Courtesy Kate Pound
The Galley had three main ‘sittings’ for the meal, and a midnight meal for nightshift people. All of the ANDRILL group (except the nightshift) went to the 7 pm meal. Some people volunteered to help with meal preparation the kitchen or in cleanup afterwards, which really helped the Galley staff out. In ANDRILL we worked on Thursday and Friday, and Saturday until mealtime, although quite a few of us took time out to run in the Turkey Trot, which is a 5km fun run that goes out to the sea-ice runway and back. Some of the Andrillians are pretty dedicated runners, and won t-shirts - I was just happy to complete the run, it was good to get some exercise before having a big meal.

Walking to Castle Rock
Walking to Castle RockCourtesy Kate Pound
As far as our Thanksgiving meal, the Galley did an awesome job – we had wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables,and a green salad with the meal, as well as all the trimmings and a variety of desserts. They had tablecloths and we were allowed to bring wine or beer in to have with our meal.

The Emergency Shelter
The Emergency ShelterCourtesy Kate Pound

On Sunday we had the whole day off – what a treat! Some people used it to catch up on work, do their laundry, read a book, or just relax. I went for a longer walk with Bob, Rainer, and Greg. We walked the Castle Rock Trail and then came back to McMurdo from Scott Base via the Armitage Loop Trail – a trail across the sea ice marked by flags. It was 16.7 km total distance – it was really good to get out of the lab and have some good exercise, even if my feet were sore afterwards! You can see Bob and myself standing next to one of the emergency shelters set up near the trail. You can also see three of us (Rainer, Bob, and myself) walking up the trail towards Castle Rock. We were lucky because there was almost no wind, which made walking conditions very pleasant. It was a wonderful way to spend our Thanksgiving break.

posted on Thu, 11/29/2007 - 8:21pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What so far has been the best thing you have done since being stationed in Antarctica?

posted on Tue, 11/20/2007 - 1:50pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

Upper Beacon Valley
Upper Beacon ValleyCourtesy Kate Pound
Goodness, this is a hard question to answer. Just having the opportunity to be here and participate in research in Antarctica with a large group of geoscientists is exciting. The impression that the beauty and size of the landscape gives when one first steps off the plane is an image I will never forget . BUT, aside from the overall sense of the ‘magnificence’ of Antarctica, there are three big highlights.

Commonwealth Glacier
Commonwealth GlacierCourtesy Kate Pound

Twin Otter Plane (Ken Borek Air)
Twin Otter Plane (Ken Borek Air)Courtesy Kate Pound

Edge of Drygalski Ice Tongue
Edge of Drygalski Ice TongueCourtesy Kate Pound
First was my field trip to the Beacon Valley and Taylor Valley in the Dry Valleys area of the Transantarctic Mountains. Not only is the area a beautiful and dramatic glaciated terrain, it was also an area I have read geologic reports about for many years. Just seeing how the glaciers hugged the almost vertical walls of the valleys was impressive; I had read about them, but actually seeing them brought it to life. The wind has sandblasted the rocks sitting on the floors of the Dry Valleys to produce strangely and wonderfully shaped ventifacts. We ended up being stuck overnight at the base of Taylor Valley because the helicopter could not leave McMurdo to pick us up (it was okay weather in Taylor Valley). This meant that we ended up walking about 3 miles to a camp, where we stayed overnight. The camp was on the ‘shore’ next to sea ice in an area where divers examine life on the sea floor. A helicopter picked us up the next day when the weather at McMurdo cleared. Being able to spend extra time in the quiet Antarctic landscape was a rare treat.

Mario Zucchelli Station with Mt. Melbourne in distance
Mario Zucchelli Station with Mt. Melbourne in distanceCourtesy Kate Pound

Diatom blooms (the pale brown areas) in a polynya (area of open water)
Diatom blooms (the pale brown areas) in a polynya (area of open water)Courtesy Kate Pound
The second amazing experience was my (brief) trip to Mario Zucchelli Station (the Italian base at Terra Nova Bay), formerly known as Terra Nova Station. We flew 150 miles to the north across the sea ice in a Twin Otter (a 14-seater plane). The view from the plane was amazing – I got to see all the different kinds of sea ice (ice that forms on the surface of the ocean). I also flew over the Drygalski Ice Tongue, which is one of the fast moving glaciers that reaches the sea and then flows out across the sea. We also saw areas of open water (called polynyas) where tiny single-celled floating plants called diatoms multiply and provide a food source for the krill an on up the food chain. We had dinner at the station, and then we got a tour of all the station facilities and the immediate area from Giuseppe and Roberto. Mario Zucchelli Station is built in a cove on pale yellowish granite, so the rock has a wonderful warm glow – the granitic rock has also been weathered into all sorts of beautiful shapes. Across Terra Nova Bay one can see an active volcano – Mt. Melbourne; the most recent eruption was 200 years ago, and it has some steam vents near the crater. We went on a short walk up the hill behind the station with Lucia Simion, an Italian photojournalist staying at Mario Zucchelli, whom we had previously met at McMurdo when she was taking pictures of ANDRILL research. Next morning we got up and went for a walk before breakfast so we could take some pictures when the light was coming from the opposite direction. After our Italian breakfast we got into our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear, and weighed in for the return flight to McMurdo on the Twin Otter, and said goodbye to our wonderful hosts. We were accompanied by a large amount of cargo, and an Italian Scientist and a French Geophysicist that was continuing on the plane to Concordia Station at Dome C . Once again I had wonderful views of the sea ice and of Mt. Erebus and Ross Island – what a treat!

Five Adelie Penguins on the sea ice
Five Adelie Penguins on the sea iceCourtesy Kate Pound

Third, I saw some (5) Adelie Penguins! I went on a trip (one-and-a-half hours drive north across the sea ice) to Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans, which was fascinating – but on the way back we stopped because the driver saw five specks off in the distance. The specks gradually moved closer to us, and we could see the Adelie Penguins waddling, sliding, and preening themselves, as well as stretching their wings and sitting with their bellies on the ice. We watched them for about 20 minutes – I could have stayed to watch them forever!

posted on Thu, 11/29/2007 - 6:00pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

In school, we are studying geology, and I'm not really getting into it. How did you get into it? I would like to enjoy it, but I don't know how.

posted on Sat, 11/24/2007 - 2:50pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

I am glad to know that you are studying geology in school – I think it is really important for people to understand how our earth works, so we can make good decisions about how to use earth resources. I got into geology because I loved being outside, and because I always had questions about why the land is the shape that it is (this is the field of Geomorphology). I also loved doing the detailed lab work associated with describing and interpreting rocks, so that we can understand how they first formed, and how they got to where we see them today. I really like being able to look out the window or at any landscape and try to explain how it may have formed and why. I am always stopping at roadside ‘outcrops’ (places where there is rock sticking up near the road) when we drive places, and it really annoys my family! What I love about being a geologist is that there is always a ‘problem’ for me to solve – wherever I go, I look at the landscape and the rocks, and I try to explain to myself how they might have formed. I have also been very lucky and I have traveled to many different places as I have worked as a geologist.

One of the hard parts about any field of scientific study is all the vocabulary that is used. I always think that people get so worried about using the ‘right’ words to describe and understand what they are seeing that it stops them focusing on really describing and understanding what they see. Learning the language or terminology of geology is like learning a whole new language, and learning the terminology can sometimes make the topic seen less interesting. This is one of the reasons that some scientists have a really hard time explaining what they do to non-specialists – the scientists forget that they are speaking in ‘a foreign language’.

Some parts of doing any science are basically quite 'boring' - even for people who love the subject. For example I just finished doing a pebble count - I was identifying the rock type and measuring the long, intermediate and short axes for each of over 2000 rocks. It was really tedious work, but I knew that the data I was collecting would be very useful, and I was excited about having a good dataset that would let me make some interpretations that would be useful for interpreting the ANDRILL SMS core.

When I teach geology I try to make sure that students can visualize the processes or landforms I am talking about, as well as making sure that students understand why it is useful and important to understand those processes. We all have slightly different ways of ‘seeing’ or ‘processing’ information. Some of us are very visual, other people ‘see’ numbers or the mathematical aspect of a situation, others have an understanding or real grasp and interest in the human aspect of the topic. We all think and learn in different ways, and I have found that some people like to start with details, for example “What exactly happens underneath a glacier that is frozen to the rocks below? How does it move?”, whereas other people want to have a big picture “Why is Antarctica glaciated? or Why do we have glaciations?” before they look at the details.

I think it is easiest to enjoy learning a subject when one finds some question or aspect of the topic that really interests one, then it is easy to learn, because one is interested. Good Luck, and I hope you can find part of geology that really excites you – it is a wonderful field of science to be involved in. Check out the new ANDRILL videos at http://www.andrill.org/iceberg/ - I think they give a good explanation of some key geological concepts.

posted on Thu, 11/29/2007 - 9:37pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

My teacher said that Denmark and Ireland have to worry most about global warming because their climate would become colder, so cold that humans would not be able to live there, like Antarctica. Is this true? If so, how does that happen?

posted on Fri, 11/30/2007 - 12:42pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

Since I use the rock record to study acient climates, I am not familiar with the many models that are developed to predict details of future climates. What I will assume your teacher is refering to is that if the 'great ocean conveyor belt' (the circulation system in the oceans) is disrupted by the melting of large volumes of ice, it is possible that the Gulf Stream - which is the current that brings warm water to Europe - might not exist as we know it.

posted on Sun, 12/09/2007 - 3:28am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is your camp anywhere near where that New Zealand airplane crashed like 20 years ago?

posted on Thu, 12/06/2007 - 1:52pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

On the scale of Antarctica, yes, very close – about 25 miles away. I am based at McMurdo Station (the main US Base). Both McMurdo Station and Scott Base (the New Zealand Base) are on Ross Island, which is on the western edge of the Ross Sea, close to the Transantarctic Mountains. Mount Erebus is one of the three larger volcanoes (Mt. Erebus, Mt. Terror and Mt. Bird) that make up the northern part of Ross Island. I went for a walk to the top of the nearby hill yesterday (Observation Hill), and had a good view of Erebus. Some of the researchers on our floor of the Lab here are working on Erebus – they have been waiting for more than a week to fly in there by helicopter – the weather can be really harsh up near the summit (I think they are installing a video camera and various other monitoring devices).

posted on Sun, 12/09/2007 - 3:09am
painschab's picture
painschab says:

Have you seen any polar bears?

posted on Fri, 12/07/2007 - 12:18pm
Kate Pound's picture
Kate Pound says:

No, I have not seen any polar bears - and I would not expect to. While both the North and the South Pole have polar climates, and 6 months of light and 6 months of dark. One of the differences is in the wildlife. Polar bears are known only in the Arctic (North Polar region), and Penguins are the 'hallmark' of Antarctica (the South Polar region).I have seen 5 adelie penguins, which was very exciting for me - even though they were quite far away.

I expect that this will be the last question I'll be answering because I am leaving Antarctica shortly - if you want to learn more about my adventures (and the adventures of my ANDRILL ARISE team members) go tohttp://www.andrill.org/iceberg/ and see what we have been doing! Some of our team just went to visit a Penguin Colony.

posted on Sun, 12/09/2007 - 3:37am