Posted by & filed under 2014 / 2015 Field Season, 2014 / 2015 Field Season Preview.

Hi Everyone!   Welcome to the first post of the 2014-2015 Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) field season.

Satellite image mosaic of the Davis-Ward area. Mt. Ward is on the left and the Davis Nunataks are on the right, with a moraine linking them towards the bottom (south). The dark patch at center right is a cloud shadow.

The 2014-2015 field season takes ANSMET back to the Davis-Ward icefields, one of a number of productive meteorite stranding surfaces in the southern headwaters of the Beardmore Glacier.    ANSMET has visited the Davis-Ward icefields four times previously.  Reconnaissance visits in 1985 and 2003 demonstrated the potential of the site, and later systematic searching visits in 2008 and 2010 led to the recovery of over 1000 meteorites from these icefields.   Meteorites recovered from the Davis-Ward site bear the DOM sample prefix,  as do samples recovered from the nearby Dominion Range icefield.

The Davis-Ward site is fairly compact compared to many of the places ANSMET has worked, with a main icefield in the form of a pendant glacial tongue filling the area between Mt. Ward and the Davis Nunataks.  A terminal moraine along the tongue’s northern edge connects  “Davis” to “Ward” and separates this main icefield from a set of icefields of similar total area on the downhill side of this moraine.  The entire site is only about 10 km across,  making daily commutes from camp to almost any recovery area quite reasonable.  This is welcome change from places like the Miller Range where a trip from one end to the other can be a day-long production.

The proximity of Davis Nunataks and Mt. Ward to the exposed ice means that terrestrial rocks are common on almost all parts of these icefields.  Even worse,  most of these consist of dark, fine-grained dolerite and basalt, making it difficult to identify meteorites at a distance.  There is a silver lining, however;  several locations harbor a fantastically high spatial density of meteorites.   In one such location, a linear depression informally known as “the Trough” (aptly named given the feeding-frenzy it often produced)  It is not unusual for several dozen meteorites to be found on an area the size of a football field  (see photo). Most days (weather-permiting) at Davis-Ward are productive and include a significant amount of warmth-inducing foot-searching.

The “Trough” at Davis Ward, with 27 meteorite flags in view.


Choose wisely, Indy……….   a typical dilemma at Davis Ward.

Given some of the difficulties we faced last season (primarily due to last October’s government shutdown) the unassuming and straight-forward job ahead of us at Davis-Ward is something to look forward to.  Of course it’s still a trip to the end of the Earth,  so nothing is ever completely normal and predictable, and we’ll bring our usual flexibility to the situation as we get ANSMET’s 38th field season underway. As in recent seasons, ANSMET is fielding only a single team this year . The first few field party members (mountaineers) will deploy in mid-November, with the remaining field party members departing from the US in late November. They should get to McMurdo in the first few days of December and deployment into the field is planned about a week after that,  with most of the crew returning to the “civilized world” in the third week of January.

PROGRAMMATIC NOTE:   As in previous seasons, there will be at least a few more pre-deployment posts, including an introduction to our fantastic  2014-2015 field team.  Once the whole group is in McMurdo we expect to post daily, so stay tuned!

-posted by Ralph, also sarcastically referred to as “Da Boss” or “Oh Mighty One”.



Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

Left to right: Ralph Harvey, John Schutt and Shaun Norman during ANSMET training


The Antarctic Search for Meteorites Project is seeking an Assistant Field Safety Officer for initial employment during the 2014/2015 Antarctic field season (November 2014 through January 2015).


We are seeking candidates who can help support ANSMET fieldwork by playing an active role in the training of ANSMET field party members, helping with field season preparations, managing and maintaining our field camp and equipment, and playing an active role in meeting our scientific goals. The ideal candidate will therefore have:


-Significant experience in glacial travel in both alpine and icesheet settings.

-Experience as a professional guide/instructor of mountaineering and wilderness safety skills is preferred

- Certifications or references documenting their mountaineering and wilderness skills

-experience with camp management, including maintenance of snowmobiles, solar power systems and similar equipment

-a  proven interest or educational background in the geological/ glaciological/ physical sciences is preferred


The current offering is for one season only;  however, individuals who prove to be significant assets will be strongly considered for future long-term hiring.


Those interested are encouraged to submit a letter expressing your interest in the position to the contact address below.   Please include an up-to-date CV that documents your qualifications as listed above.  In addition, please arrange for at least 3 letters of reference from past or present clients and/or employers be mailed to the address below.  For full consideration, all application materials must be received no later than May 10,  2014.


In employment, as in education, Case Western Reserve University is committed to Equal Opportunity and Diversity. Women, veterans and members of underrepresented minority groups are encouraged to apply. Successful candidates must be able to meet the medical and dental exams for deployment to Antarctica as described in Chapter 2 of the US Antarctic Program Participant Guide (see


To apply, or for more information contact:

Ralph Harvey

EEPS Dept.,  112 AW Smith Bldg.

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland,  OH 44072


Phone: 216-368-0198


Posted by & filed under 2013/ 2014 Field Season.

-RPH here.   I got this email from Jani a few days ago,  and thought I’d post it.  It shows the deep bond these folks developed this season; sometimes a little bit of adversity really does brings out the best in us….


Please note the snarky captions are mine,  not Jani’s.  can you say “Jealous”?


Hi everyone -

Since we were joined at the hip not long ago, I thought I’d let you know where we are these days. Barb, Morgan, Manavi and I were all in Christchurch together for a couple of days after leaving the ice, just cruising around the gardens, eating good food, and even having a spa day (see below).

From left to right, the toes of John, Jim and Steve. I think.



Morgan was the first to peel off, and the last we heard, she was headed for Auckland and may be working a dairy farm. Barb and I were next to go, and we headed north to Rotorua. Our primary mission was to sit in hot springs, and that was accomplished in several ways. One of these included a long day hike through the fern-laden bush to a HOT SPRING BEACH. That such a thing exists is proof New Zealand is nearly perfect.

Through the Fern Gully. No sign of Zak or Crysta.


Okay, a hot beach AND ICE CREAM?!?! You are being cruel now.

We were also hobbits for a day and loved every minute.


Extremely happy faces, lager and hobbit clothes.  Meanwhile Morgan is off somewhere milking goats or something.

We think Manavi left the evening of our flight to Rotorua, and is madly packing, or hopefully enjoying her last tours of Hawaii, before departing for the mainland. Just this morning Barb and I were on the same flight from CHC to SYD, where we tearfully parted ways east and west. She is being waited on hand and foot by Gretchen in lovely, hot Perth, while I’m winging my way somewhere over Nevada. I’d love to hear if Steve is on his volcano or Alex made it to his fjords, if Johnny saw Shaun on his way home, etc.

I spent many hours going over pictures last night on the plane, and I feel so lucky to have spent the last couple of months with all of you. We saw and did amazing things. I can’t wait to finally be reunited again at LPSC!


Posted by & filed under 2013/ 2014 Field Season.

I had the chance to talk to the remaining ANSMET folks in McMurdo last night.  Everyone is well,  and as clean and shiny as can be expected. They are taking care of typical end-of-season chores for a few days;  things like packing and shipping the cargo that must go north,  carefully storing the gear that stays in mcmurdo, and inventorying everything that we might wonder about as we prepare for next season (e.g.,  where IS the data cord for that camera?).     Steve and Alex are due to fly to Christchurch on Thursday their time (Wednesday late our time)  and Jim and John are scheduled about one day later.

I don’t know if the boys are going to do any posting from McMurdo (though that would be nice).   I’ll keep posting updates as I get them,  and when everyone is home I’ll post a grand season summary. For some of us a new season begins pretty much when the old season ends;  cleaning up after one becomes preparing for another.


-posted by rph

Posted by & filed under 2013/ 2014 Field Season.

HI all,   A few minutes ago I heard from the operations office in McMurdo that our remaining four field party members (Jim, John, Alex and Steve) made it back to McMurdo late last night.   Meanwhile Jani, Manavi, Morgan and Barb are in christchurch.   This is Progress with a capital P, and combined with the blue skies that came with the subzero temps here in Cleveland,  make me happy.

Posted by & filed under 2013/ 2014 Field Season.

Barb (right) and Jani (left) on Hut Point with the direction home (north) over their shoulders
Manavi, Morgan, Jani and I have just finished dragging our bags up to the Movement Control Center and are all checked in for a flight north tomorrow. We’re in the Coffeehouse now, with our final drinks, writing postcards to friends and missing our other half. Unfortunately, low clouds precluded our guys from being picked up on Saturday from the field. They have ample food and fuel left, so are safe and warm. However, the soggy state of the Pegasus runway means that only ski-equipped aircraft can enter and leave McMurdo, and there’s a backlog of folks waiting to leave the ice on the Hercs – so we have no choice in the logistics of when we leave and are flying out tomorrow before we can see them safely home.
Today’s postcard to our readers includes lots of pictures, since we have a good internet connection here in town and some time to sightsee in between unpacking, cleaning, and stowing cargo coming in from our field site. The icebreaker came in a week or so ago, and between its work and some favorable winds, McMurdo sound is open water nearly as far as the eye can see. Lots of wildlife is taking advantage of this – seals and skuas abound, along with new and exciting visitors like Minke whales, orcas, and Emperor and Adelie penguins! The icebreaker is still in port with a crew of Coast Guard folks, and we had a private yacht full of visitors too. Every time I walk out, it looks like a bustling little seaside village – so very different from the mining town we left in December. We’ll all be sad to leave it.
(p.s. I titled this Part 1 because I hope you’ll still be hearing from the rest of the team as they come in later this week!)
The Polar Star, a Coast Guard icebreaker that NSF recently refurbished (with Mount Discovery in the background). It broke up the ice so that a fuel tanker can come in next week and then the cargo ship after that.


An Adelie penguin uneasily eyes a Weddell seal looking to move in on its iceberg – near Scott Base.

The Adelie assumes the Kiwi pose.

The seal laughing at the Adelie (probably just yawning).

A pod of Minke whales in a little area of open water near Scott Base. There are lots more than this around as well, in open pools and at the ice/water edge.

So. Many. Seals.

Morgan, Barb, Manavi, and Jani in the “cage,” or storage area for ANSMET gear in the Berg Field Center (BFC). I put a sepia filter on this photo because with the stacks of boxes it reminds me of images of the early Antarctic explorers in whose footsteps we follow.

-posted by Barb (editing by rph)

Posted by & filed under 2013/ 2014 Field Season.

The women of ANSMET arrived in Mactown in the late afternoon yesterday, and we and our precious cargo made the long journey across the ice sheet and past the Kiwi Scott Base into town. Notice how important our cargo is; there is an entire flatbed Delta with just our little meteorite box on top! It’s interesting to think that those 333 specimens are the whole reason for all of this work. We then spent most of the day today in the BFC, the Berg Field Center, taking care of the gear that came in with us. We washed out food boxes, cups, bowls, pots, stoves, and coolers and we set up our tents to dry. We really like being in the BFC because of the vibe – it’s a warm and cozy old warehouse, and there is always fun music playing. I think I mentioned before this place is one of many here that feel like home. Everything is clean and so are we – it feels a little strange.

From the field – Our guys are still out at the Miller Range, awaiting takeout tomorrow. A Basler flight arrived today, as far as we know, to carry back some of their gear, which we’ll start putting away tomorrow before they come. We want them back! We hope it will happen soon.


Posted by & filed under 2013/ 2014 Field Season.

Just a quick note from the field – the Basler is on its way from McMurdo and should be here in the next hour or so. We’ll load up all the gear for Barb, Morgan, Manavi and Jani and ourskidoos, and we’ll form the first party home to McMurdo. The guys will follow, we hope in the next day and day after. We are excited things are falling into place, though are sad to leave the amazing Miller Range. The iPod set this morning includes Some Day I’ll Fly Away, Sailing Away and Antarctica.

UPDATE – The ladies have made it to McMurdo! It is basically tropical here, with snowmelt all over the ice, and a huge swath of open sea. We are clean, fed, and tired. We really want our guys back – let’s hope they can get two Baslers tomorrow (which would require bad weather at Siple Dome, not impossible…).


Posted by & filed under 2013/ 2014 Field Season.

Barb and Jim playing on the Sastrugi Slide

This part of the Antarctic plateau is famous for crazy weather. While the typical katabatic (cold, dense) winds from the south blow here frequently, there are also many warm, calm days as well as clouds and sometimes snow. Any Miller Range veteran can tell you about a snowy day, or two, or three during their season. This means that the blue ice is often covered in snow, which makes finding meteorites a real challenge. On the plus side, because there is snow and wind, the landscape is covered in beautiful wind sculptures, and my favorite of these – dunes. We typically think of dunes as being made of quartz sand, derived from beaches or found in broad desert basins. However, because the only requirements for dunes are wind, sand (of any kind) and a place for them to form, we can find dunes of basalt, on Hawaiian volcanoes, gypsum, in White Sands and in the sand sea of Tunisia, and even snow. The properties of snow enable it to be changed by wind and sun and then welded together into particles large enough to be rolled or carried a short ways by the wind, forming ripples and then dunes. If you’ve been skiing or on a snowy plain maybe you’ve noticed these forms.

Elvish Footprints- High winds cause blowing snow, the formation of ripples, and the elevation of footprints (our favorite things around camp!).

Antarctic conditions, with especially cold temperatures and high winds, cause snows to be manipulated into fantastical forms. After a new snow fall, winds will carry snows and deposit them into simple dunes, in the Miller Range most commonly barchan dunes (students, which way do the horns point? What kind of “sand” availability leads to barchans?). Wind and sun will quickly sinter the snow together, hardening the dunes and ripples. Continued winds will then begin to erode the dune, though because the dune is already welded together, the erosion is piecemeal, and the dune clings to the surface as long as it can. The erosional forms, called sastrugi (a Russian word, as Alex informed us) are ridges elongated in the direction of the wind, undulating and overhanging in lovely wavelike structures. The erosion of sastrugi then leads to the availability of more snow to make ripples and dunes, and the process continues. We saw the formation and alteration of many dunes, ripples and sastrugi because of changing weather, and especially new snowfall, at the Miller Range this season.

the wind giveth and the wind taketh away. the softer band of ripples in the middle is being deposited, while surrounding older snow is being eroded away. Ripples are about 4 inches apart.

I have been keeping a careful eye on these forms because of what they can tell us about other dunes in a remote desert in the solar system – on Saturn’s moon Titan. Giant dunes encircle the moon, and reveal properties of the winds and surface, as we observe them with the Cassini spacecraft. Like snow in the Miller Range, the sands of Titan are not typical of dunes on Earth. They are made of complex hydrocarbons, created high in the atmosphere from the breakup of methane, and then deposited on the surface, eroded, and ultimately blown into dunes. We are not sure of all of the properties of these sands, and while most forms result from the blowing of loose sand, some forms may have been sintered together much like the snow sands outside my tent door.

I feel lucky to be in this unique desert environment because of how it has helped me understand similarly alien and forbidding landscapes on other bodies in the solar system.

A field update: We are holed up again today, as the Kenn Borek Basler aircraft is supporting the withdrawal of the WISSARD field group, on the other side of the Ross Ice Shelf. We are on as primary for tomorrow, so cross your fingers. Meanwhile, because winds are fairly high, we’re enjoying catching up on writing, reading and some inward contemplation. We all think we’d be better off if we could keep this up in the real world.

Love to all -

-posted by Jani

-editorial note from rph:  My senior prom had the most depressing theme song ever: “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas.  The appropriate lines?  

“….Don’t hang on-  nothing lasts forever but the Earth and Sky……..”

Posted by & filed under 2013/ 2014 Field Season.

4.566 billion year old carbon,  A small carbonaceous chondrite, about the size of your last thumb nuckle, with a characteristic  ”breadcrust” texture fusion crust.

A big hello from 83 deg S 157 deg E a.k.a our beloved Miller Range Camp!

Remember the Crosby, Stills and Nash song… “We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year carbon….”? I find myself humming it a lot when I’m working late in the lab and I was singing it on the skidoo after we found several meteorites that looked like carbonaceous chondrites to some of the experts in our group. Carbonaceous chondrites often look like a chunk of charcoal in the field. If the interior is visible, it is almost as dark as the fusion crust (see picture. Remember, we are unable to say for sure what kind of meteorites we collect till they are classified by the folks at JSC but we usually try and make an educated guess while in the field). Barbara talked about chondrites earlier in the season and I just wanted to elaborate on my favourite kind of chondrites. Carbonaceous chondrites are chemically complex and heterogenous. They sometimes contain water-bearing minerals that are a sign of aqueous alteration occurring on the parent body. But unlike ordinary chondrites, they show very little signs of thermal alteration and show no signs of meteoritic metal. A very rare subgroup of carbonaceous chondrites, CI chondrites, are the most primitive meteorites and have a chemical composition very similar to that of our Sun. While all the starter materials for our solar system are dust from stars in the galactic neighbourhood, all this material has been mostly homogenized and is now unrecognizable as what it originally was – stardust. However, the least altered carbonaceous chondrites contain bonafide pieces of stars that escaped alteration, and we are now able to recognize and study these grains in our laboratories! These grains are called presolar grains because they formed before the solar system did. Presolar grains come in different varieties: silicon carbide, graphite, metals, nitrides, silicates, oxides, etc. and vary in size from 10s of microns to a few nanometers. We can identify them based on their completely anomalous isotopic compositions (isotopes are the same element with a different number of neutrons, e.g., 12C, 13C, and 14C are all isotopes of Carbon) compared to anything else in the solar system. These are compositions that can only be attained in natural nuclear reactors – stars. Some presolar grain varieties can be as rare as a few parts per billion of the meteorite! With high-end instrumentation, it is possible to scan the matrices of meteorites to identify some of these presolar grains in-situ, but some varieties need us to completely dissolve a piece of meteorite in acid to recover stardust – a method commonly called “burning the haystack to find the needle”. After the grains are identified, we set about trying to find their origins. The most common origin of presolar grains is Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) stars that produce most of the dust in the interstellar medium. This is the kind of star our Sun will evolve into at the end of its lifetime in another 5 billion years or so. We can also trace presolar grains back to massive supernova explosions where most of the heavy elements in our solar system come from. Thus, the study of presolar grains or stardust allows us to trace the origins of our solar system. It’s a truly humbling experience for me to stare at a meteorite we find in the field that might contain this stardust and wonder what new clues it might hold to our origins …

A field update: Some of us were supposed to get pulled out of the field this morning but high winds in McMurdo prevented the Basler from coming out to get us. We are now backup to a flight tomorrow. I have to say that I’m not the least bit disappointed because 2.5 weeks in the field (for us newbies) just doesn’t seem enough… I’m happy to stay as long as possible. The winds have died down and it’s just gorgeous over here. I guess it will get a little boring if we get stuck here longer because we have stopped hunting for meteorites (not much fuel left) and are pretty much camp-bound. If all goes well we should all be in Mactown by the end of the week. Stay tuned for more updates.

Hope all’s well at higher latitudes!

-posted by Manavi (edited by rph)