Stories tagged antarctica


We finally made it to the lakes above Byrd Glacier, and what a beautiful site and perfect weather! It was a balmy -18F, but very calm winds made for a perfect afternoon for installation of our GPS units. The surface was a very densely packed snow rather than the blue ice we had been accustomed to working with which made the construction process go much more quickly! We did have to be quite careful of hidden crevasses, however. On blue ice, what you see if what you get. The crevasses are easily visible. On the snowpack, it becomes much more difficult to spot since the snow has been windblown and filled in the areas on the surface that would make crevasse detection relatively easy.

Upon our arrival to the deployment location, our mountaineers, Mike and Peter, had to probe around looking for these hidden dangers. Once an area had been determined clear and safe, we proceeded to unload the equipment. From here is was as simple and digging a hole for the equipment box, construction the frame and mounting the solar panels, then completing the install with the electronic hook-ups and testing.

Before we left on our flight yesterday we were able to witness the departure of the fuel tanker. It was quite interesting to see the Swedish ice breaker, Oden, tethered to the tanker to help pull it away from the dock and our into open water. By the time we arrived home, the container ship BBC EMS had taken the place of the tanker at the Ice Pier. The BBC EMS, is the annual resupply vessel, filled with containers carrying all sorts of items, from food to spare parts to new vehicles to chemicals and more.

Operations are conducted 24hrs-a-day for the offload and a lot of departments and work centers have reduced service hours during this time in order to support the effort. Meal times have changed, bars are closed, hiking trails are closed, and people are moving about station constantly.


Leigh and I have safely arrive in Christchurch, preparing for our second trip to Antarctica this field season. We flew down with several folks that will be wintering over on the ice. For some, this is their first trip to the ice ever, for others, this has just become a bit routine.

The weather here is a bit chilly and overcast this evening, with a very nice forecast for the next two days. The forecast for our friends and family back home in KS is not nearly as positive. I guess that all depends on how you look at it though.

It's already been a crazy winter, and now this! I'm not going to lie, there is a part of me that really wishes I was going to be there for this one. I'm obviously a person that doesn't mind the cold weather or snow. Safe travels to everyone back in the Midwest! Stay safe and warm! We'll try to do the same down south.

Pop QUIZ: How would you describe the job of a Petroleum Transfer Engineer?


Leigh and I are gearing up for another trip to the ice. We are scheduled to leave the states on January 29, arrive in New Zealand on January 31, and head further south on February 2. We’ll only be on the ice a short time for this second deployment of the field season, with the primary goal to recover the GPS units we set out in November. We will also be challenged with finding a suitable landing site higher on the glacier, in the catchment basin, above two subglacial lakes. Leigh, Gordon, and Peter tried to place those monitoring sites back in November along with the rest of our units but were unable to find a safe place to land.

We’ll be meeting up with Gordon, Peter, and Mike, along with another graduate student, Nora, who will already be waiting for us in McMurdo.

We’re looking forward to another great trip! In the meantime, make sure you check our YouTube page and photos from the November trip.


I see the American Museum of Natural History in NY is going to have an exhibit on the Scott and Amundsen 'race' to the South Pole. (See NYTimes Art section: ). I look forward to seeing that exhibit.

Being a weather guy.... Dr. Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the NOAA and an IPCC author, has a book (The Coldest March: Scott`s Fatal Antarctic Expedition) that indicates that an unusually cold Antarctic autumn contributed to the death of Captain Robert F. Scott and his four comrades on their 1500-kilometer (900-mile) trek back from the South Pole in March 1912. Temperatures were 10° to 20° colder than expected during the race to the South Pole. The cold weather cut in half the distance the explorers could travel in a day. A blizzard trapped them in a tent, where they froze to death 18 kilometers (11 miles) from a supply depot.

Another fact I find interesting, is that the Scott expedition revealed that Antarctica once basked in warmth. Among the 16 kilograms (35 pounds) of rocks the expedition collected were fossils of Glossopteris, a seed fern. This fossil is scientific evidence that the current ice-covered continent was once fertile.


Someone is going to get a serious haunting: until I get my whiskey back!
Someone is going to get a serious haunting: until I get my whiskey back!Courtesy Brianboulton
It’s widely accepted that, if it weren’t for whiskey, some of humankind’s greatest discoveries never would have been made.

The North Pole? Forget it. Nuclear power? No chance. Einstein’s house keys? No way. (Although, to be fair, he never would have lost the keys in the first place if it hadn’t also been for whiskey.)

Whiskey is for explorers and their ilk what spinach is to Popeye.

Don’t believe me? Check this out: A quasi-archaeological expedition to Antarctica to recover the explorer Ernest Shackleton’s 100-year-old whiskey.

Apparently there were several crates buried beneath a shed Shackleton had used. So, you know, why not grab a couple? Ice had cracked some of the bottles, but the freezing point of pure ethanol is about -114º C, and the whiskey was likely at least 80 proof (40% alcohol), so, buried beneath the hut, most of the bottles were safe from freezing.

The distillery that had originally supplied the Shackleton expedition with whiskey is hoping that one of the recovered bottles might be used to reverse-engineer the whiskey blend, since that recipe was lost a long time ago.

It’s sort of like the efforts to map frozen mammoth DNA to bring the species back through cloning. Except with whiskey.

A 12-mile long iceberg which broke off from Antarctica 10 years ago is now closer to Australia than any iceberg has gotten to the continent in over a century. The mega-iceberg is now just a third of its original size and continues to break up into pieces, posing a shipping hazard in the south Pacific. Here is more information, and photos, on the huge berg.


Ice sheets in Greenland
Ice sheets in GreenlandCourtesy ...Tim
Did you know that glaciers could be up to two miles thick and weigh more than a million tons? Have you ever wondered how snowflakes become ice? And what’s the albedo effect?

The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) has the answer to such questions and much, much more. Over the past four years, CReSIS has been developing technologies, conducting field investigations and compiling data to help understand the rapid changes in the polar ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. In conducting this research, their vision is to one day understand and predict the role of polar ice sheets in sea level change.

A total of five multi-disciplinary teams work together to conduct research allowing for efficient and well-coordinated progress. I took a closer look at the Satellite Measurements team and the instrumentation they’re using is quite fascinating. The instruments provide high-resolution information on everything from topography to temperature to surface melt. When comparing how these parameters change over time, the team can determine their effects on sea level, identify potential mechanisms controlling that effect, and then create computational models that explain these changes. You can even follow the field experiments that the center is currently conducting at their blog.

On top of all of that, CReSIS is also helping to inspire, educate and train K-12, undergrad and graduate students by encouraging the pursuit of careers in science and engineering as well as offering a variety of research opportunities. My personal favorite is the Ice, Ice, Baby lessons activities. Who cares if its designed for K-8 students! If you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day, I highly recommend making glacier goo. You can learn a lot while making a mess!


The entrance to my bedroom: Inside you'll find an Xbox,  dirty dishes, and something like a bed.
The entrance to my bedroom: Inside you'll find an Xbox, dirty dishes, and something like a bed.Courtesy Rita Willaert
Unlike my bedroom, however, the Russians are frantically trying to get to the Lost World. Unless…

Oh, God! Do you think the Russians might be drilling into my bedroom? They probably want my natural resources! The thought of the Reds, bursting through my coal chute, snatching up my… clean socks, or something. Brr. It hardly bears thinking about.

But, yes, I live in a basement. “Tiempos Finales” I call it, and it bears some striking similarities to the “lost world” I read an article about recently.

There are a few key differences. The main difference, I suppose, is that the lost world the article describes is buried beneath about two miles of ice in Antarctica. Tiempos Finales is buried under 2 layers of wood flooring (and some linoleum in the bathroom) in St. Paul. Also, while a healthy person can survive almost indefinitely in the basement (assuming they have the proper protective equipment), you would suffocate, or freeze to death, or both, in Antarctica’s lost world, because it consists of sub-glacial lakes.

And while Tiempos Finales is teeming with mysterious creatures (largely arthropods—there’s rarely more than one chordate present at a time), Antarctica’s lost world only may be teaming with mysterious creatures.

But if there is anything down there, under the ice… it would be a very mysterious creature indeed. And that’s why the Russians are drilling away.

Russians and Brits are both drilling, in fact, but not together. A team of British scientists intends to drop probes into Lake Ellsworth, which they believe to be about 300 feet deep with a bottom covered in thick sediment. The Russians are drilling into the much larger Lake Vostok. Both lakes (and about 150 others) were discovered relatively recently thanks to ice-penetrating radar.

Many scientists think that it’s likely that the Antarctic lakes could hide living organisms (probably microorganisms). If that is the case, those organisms will have been isolated from the rest of the world for somewhere between 400,000 and 2 million years—ever since the ice sheet above the lake was formed. That’s a long time to spend by yourself, evolving in the cold and dark…

Cool. If any organisms are found, they’d likely be pretty different than anything else on the planet (remember my post a few weeks about aliens living among us? I knew you would. This is like that—isolated, extreme environments, etc). Also, the presence of life beneath the Antarctic ice would raise the odds that life could exist elsewhere in our solar system. Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter is the main analogy here. Europa is a frosty little moon (it’s a little bit smaller than our moon). Its surface is entirely covered with ice, but many scientists believe that a liquid water ocean could exist beneath the icy crust. The water could be kept liquid by heat generated by tidal and tectonic activity.

Organisms in the Antarctic lakes would be living under very similar conditions. With no light reaching that far into the ice, they would have to survive by consuming nutrients accumulated in the sediment millennia ago. Life on Europa might be nourished by heat and nutrients from mineral-rich hot water vents on the sea floor.

The British scientists don’t expect to break through the glacier until the Antarctic summer of 2012-2013, and when they finally do they’ll have just 36 hours to drop their probes through the 14-inch hole before it seals up again. They plan to get two probes into Lake Ellsworth. The first probe will capture video, and sample the water for living organisms, or for chemical evidence of them, and it will grab some sediment from the surface of the lakebed. The second probe will be sunk deeper into the lakebed, and will hopefully bring back several feet of sediment.

The Russians don’t plan on putting any probes into Lake Vostok—they just intend to tap into the lake to sample the water. The Russian project is somewhat controversial because their equipment is lubricated with kerosene, and is non-sterile (the British use a sterile, hot water-based drilling technique). There’s a good chance that the Russian equipment could contaminate the otherwise completely pristine lake, which, you know, slightly defeats the purpose. The Russians have had trouble with their equipment, however, and when they will break through the ice is much less certain.

So what do y’all think? Are they going to find anything? If Ellsworth and Vostok are anything like Tiempos Finales, whatever they find will be pretty depressing. Still, this is pretty cool stuff.

That wasn’t a pun.

A golden opportunity: A minimal investment now and we could be real estate moguls in about a hundred years! Also... wait. Who do we ask about buying Antarctica?
A golden opportunity: A minimal investment now and we could be real estate moguls in about a hundred years! Also... wait. Who do we ask about buying Antarctica?Courtesy Augneblinken
Don't tell me I'm not looking out for y'all's best interests, Buzzketeers.

I recently received a very secret tip, about some very secret mountains hiding under the antarctic ice.

Actually, nobody is totally surprised that there are mountains on Antarctica—these mountains under the glaciers were first discovered something like 50 years ago—but the region has only recently received detailed mapping with ground penetrating radar, and the mountains have been revealed to be very Alpine in nature. That is, they have high, sharp peaks, and deep, er... what's the opposite of sharp... not dull, but like the inverse of... whatever. The mountains have deep valleys. Sharply cleft valleys, we'll say.

It's interesting information because it tells us something about how these massive (about 2 miles thick!) slabs of ice formed: quickly. If the glaciers had formed slowly, the mountains would probably have been ground down do just about nothing by now. But that's not the case.

Perhaps more significantly, knowing more about the character of these glaciers can tell us something about how they might melt if Antarctic temperatures rise significantly with global warming. 2-mile-thick chunks of ice hold lots of water, enough to significantly change sea levels if it all became liquid.

And certainly most importantly is the investment opportunity this presents. I don't know much about real estate. Or the Alps. Or money. But don't people love the Alps? And spend lots of money to be around them, and slide down them on things? Something like that. So c'mon, kidz. Let's move on this! With all the coasts gone, people are going to be searching for new tourism destinations! These mountains could be ours!

Whatever. Check out the article.