Today has been a training day. For the newbies (like me), a lot of the details of how we will be hunting for meteorites is new. This continent can turn nasty very quickly, so one can’t just walk around casually hoping to find some sky rocks! Imagine doing systematic searching on snowmobiles for hours in a cold non-stop wind…and suddenly realizing the person behind you is no longer there. Clearly, this would be bad. Did they fall in a crevasse or just take a bathroom break? One needs to be observant not only of the surroundings but of your colleagues; full situational awareness is needed for a successful season.
Here, things that are normally simple, minor, or unimportant can become serious nuisances or even life threatening. Exposing just a little skin to the wind, for example, could lead to frost bite in not much time at all. Or simply walking from packed snow on to blue ice, the snow crystals on the bottom of your boots can become lubricants on the ice, resulting in a nasty fall, with the nearest medical facilities hundreds of miles away.
Of course, we have as much gear and training as possible to minimize the impact of the inevitable accidents. One such training is how to climb out of a crevasse or how to rescue someone who has fallen into one. The first picture shows us learning how to climb up a rope using two other ropes (I was having flashbacks to long-ago days of learning knots).
We’ve had some breaks today though. The annual MacTown craft fair was today. There are some very creative people here! And we managed to squeeze in a quick hike to the Discovery Hut, shown in the next picture. On the left side of the building in the shadows is actually a 100 year-old seal body, perfectly preserved. And the cliffs in the background are the location of the first death in Antarctica, over 100 years ago on the Discovery expedition. After sending this, I’m off to see our own astronaut Dr. Love give a presentation on his shuttle mission.
But we must remember at all times where we are: the coldest, driest, windiest, most desolate place on earth.
Rob Coker, 2nd December, 2012, McMurdo Station
Rope Tricks with the mountaineers
Discovery Hut, built in 1902 by Robert F. Scott’s Discovery Expedition.
The ANSMET teams did their clothing distribution yesterday, and are scheduled to fly from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in just a few hours. Hopefully within a day or two we'll be hearing from them in McMurdo! A picture of their likely aircraft (a military C-17) sitting on the sea ice in McMurdo Sound, with the Royal Society Range in the background, is attached.
ANSMET’s 2012-2013 field season has begun, and is going to be busy. Two teams are on their way to McMurdo Station, Antarctica as I write this and should arrive in the next few days. Advanced personnel (two mountaineers and the science leader) are already in McMurdo and eagerly awaiting the rest of the teams.
The two teams are going to different places and have different goals; let me describe them both for you. One team is dedicated to systematic searches of icefields we’ve been to before, places where we know there are lots of meteorites to recover. We call that the “systematic” search team (their formal designation within the US Antarctic Program (USAP) is G-058-M). The systematic team will be heading to the Grosvenor Mountains region of the Transantarctic Mountains, about 650 km south of McMurdo Station (see theimage). They’ll land on an open snowfield near the Otway Massif, and then travel to icefields near Mt. Bumstead, the Larkman Nunataks, and around Mts Cecily / Emily/ Raymond (the Grosvenor Mts proper). If all goes well they’ll deploy to the region in the second week of December and return to McMurdo in the third week of January. That team consists of…..
- Jim Karner, from Case Western Reserve University (field team leader)
- Shaun Norman, from Twizel, NZ (mountaineer)
- Andrew Beck, from the Smithsonian Institution
- Tom Sharp, from Arizona State University
- Marianne Mader, from the University of Western Ontario
- Rob Coker, from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
- Mini Wadhwa, from Arizona State University
- Stan Love, from NASA Johnson Space Center.
The other team is smaller and more mobile; we call them the “reconnaissance” team, formally known as G-057-M. Their goal is to explore icefields ANSMET has not visited before (or visited only briefly) and figure out their potential for larger-scale meteorite recoveries. Like the systematic team, they expect to leave McMurdo in the 2nd week of December and return to McMurdo in the 3rd week of January. The team will be moving around a lot during that season; once a week or more (see the image) by light aircraft (Twin Otter for you airplane nerds). During the first part of their season they’ll explore several icefields in the Graves Nunatak/ Robison Glacier region of the Transantarctic Mountains; this is an area we’ve been to before and it has yielded many meteorite specimens. But there are also lots of icefields in that region we’ve not visited, so the full potential of the region is not yet known. About half-way through the season the team will shift northwards along the Transantarctics to the Amundsen Glacier region. Here too they’ll explore a number of icefields whose setting suggests the potential for meteorite recoveries. The reconnaissance team consists of:
- John Schutt from Case Western Reserve University, field team leader and mountaineer
- Joseph Boyce of the University of Hawai’i
- Katherine Joy from the University of Manchester, UK
- Tomoko Arai, from Chiba Institute of Technology, Japan
As the next 8 weeks go by we’ll fill in the details through daily (or semi-daily) website updates. I hope you enjoy the show!
-Ralph Harvey, Principal Investigator of the ANSMET.