Yellow tented harbor
I have seen waves before, out on the Blue Ice. Translucent, topaz swells undulate and interfere generating domical forms. Tiny, superposed, ubiquitous ripples reveal the relentless ravages of wind and sun. But out here, on the divide between ice sheet snows and plateau winds monstrous forms emerge. Large blue ice waves slosh and combine into protruding whalebacks. Massive, white sastrugi are raggedly sculpted into perilously perched fins. These contorted columns and canyons confuse and conspire towards another approaching oddity – in the distance, mighty and deep blue, a giant wave appears looming and rolling towards us, dwarfing tiny skidoos. The 100-year-storm wave, capped with frothy sastrugi, threatens to break. As we draw closer, the behemoth slowly subsides allowing us to gradually crest, where we gather ocean-borne treasures. Permitting us to be surfers on the massive swell so we can survey the deep trough far below, the expansive white-capped, blue ice surface beyond, and distant, snowy mountains framing a tiny, yellow-tented harbor.
Here’s the ANSMET team atop Mt. Schutt, in search of blue ice.
A meteowrong, but a cute one
We awoke today to find our neighborhood greatly changed, namely, covered in snow! The fresh snow had sufficiently covered our snowmobile tracks and changed the landscape to remind us, yet again, how truly isolated and awe inspiring the Miller Range is. The sky was bright and clear, though with all the sun one could ever ask for, the fresh snow crystals sparkled and danced like the stars the ANSMET team dreams of seeing. While snow is a beautiful sight, we’d prefer to be seeing meteorites. Unfortunately, the half inch of snow was enough to cover much of the blue ice that had been exposed and many meteorites along with it. We spent the morning collecting specimens that we’d already found in the moraine close to home since these were marked with flags and relatively easy to dig out. We found all that had been marked plus one that hadn’t yet been found – 61 in total! There was no exposed blue ice in sight so we went exploring to determine the extent of the ice coverage and survey the local geology. To get a view of the area, we climbed to the top of Mount Schutt (Johnny made it to the top first and we don’t know anyone else who’s climbed it so that must be its name, right?). From there, we could see lots of snow but unfortunately, no blue ice. All we need is a wind storm powerful enough blow all that snow away and allow us to get back on the ice tomorrow to search for more meteorites. The wind has picked up significantly since we’ve been back in camp this evening, and, optimists that we are, we’ve got the Skidoos covered in anticipation of a night of gale force winds. In case that doesn’t work, though, if you happen to have an industrial size and strength snow blower and could deliver it to the Miller Range (83deg30′S, 157degE) just as soon as you can, we sure would appreciate it. We’ve been working on rigging one up ourselves, but we seem to be missing a few parts. Thanks!
Impending snow while refueling snowmobiles
Steve and Alex morning faces
-posted by Morgan. (Editing by rph)
note from rph, i can’t get captions to work right on my ipad, so they may look funny
Ralph (the website maintenance guy and PI of ANSMET) here-
I just want to warn our readers (particularly loved ones of the field party) that I’m stepping away from full speed internet (gasp!) until very late Monday (13 Jan). That’s probably going to mean few or no posts for a few days- software glitches mean most of the posts from the field require manual labor to make it to the internet. I will return to the civilized world very late Monday, so the next edited post will probably be Tuesday.
And for those of you wondering why we don’t just fix the glitches, ANSMET teaches you not to take apart and reassemble a working airplane in flight just because the autopilot doesn’t work quite right…….
A Christmas Reading from John and Jim
After making rather merry during our Christmas celebrations last night, our spirits were higher than the wind, so we got out and searched all day today. A storm was pushing in from the east, over the Ross Ice Shelf, and this competed with the southern katabatic winds for control of the MIller Range, sowe had alternating clouds and sunlight. This makes for interesting searching, because on one hand, rocks stand out very well against the dull ice surface. On the other hand, all rocks look dark, like meteorites, so we had to recalibrate. Some little presents from Cecilia, Linda, and other JSC folks (those who curate the meteorites, and thus open every single package we wrap up from Antarctica) even sneaked their way to the ice surface and posed as meteorites (thanks for the treats, ladies!). We ended up searching mostly on the Big Ice, where basically every rock we see is a meteorite, and we collected 45 on the day! This morning was windy and very cold, and it looked as though the katabatics were going to win. By evening, however, Johnny noted a gentle easterly wind, and soon thereafter, we had snow.
Here we are filling up our skidoos before coming in for the night. Luckily we got in a rare game of frisbee just before everything went white. Cross your fingers that the snow will fall sparsely, that the winds will blow, and that we’ll get out again tomorrow.
A morning pic of Steve and Alex and a Christmas journal reading pic of Johnny and Jim (can you tell we’re on a mountain of gifts and tasty food?) rounds out the compendium of pairs portraits for the team. We’ll continue to show our increasingly rosy cheeks as the season progresses.
(editor’s note: these pics didn’t come through, I’ll try to add them later)
Thanks to Cecilia, Linda, and Ann for the awesome Christmas prezzies and cards, and to Cammie for the text!
-posted by Jani (edited by rph)
We love pockets!
Just as Shackleton was tent bound more than 100 years ago on this day due to weather, so are we. Last night’s dreams were influenced by strong katabatic winds that find our tents minor obstacles to be trifled with and whipped about in a frenzy of creaks, slaps, and groans. The whistling gravity-driven zephyrs steadily increased through the “night” to over 8 meters per second, transporting snow and ice crystals thus making for a ground blizzard, that when mixed with a cold 32 degrees of frost causes meteorite collecting to be not only difficult but dangerous. Collection requires bare-hands to do some of the more intricate tasks and with the risk of cold-related injuries to exposed skin in these conditions it is most prudent to wait for better weather. The polar acoustics also include ice crystals colliding with the walls of one’s tent producing a sound similar to that of wind-driven rain. It is amazing how we adapt to the sounds associated with being buffeted and sleep well amidst the fury surrounding us, and are more disturbed by the quiet of calm winds and the deafening silence that will once again blanket our camp.
You may recall that our team had not yet reunited by Christmas, prompting us to forgo our celebration until we were complete. Alex suggested that we could share a meal on January 7th, the traditional Russian Christmas, but good weather found us out hunting meteorites that day. We decided to hold off on our celebration until a “tent day”, when we would have the energy to fix a collective meal and exchange presents. Tonight we will meet for that shared dinner and to open gifts under our holiday tent.
While Shackleton was worried about diminishing supplies consumed while tent-bound, that could spell disaster. We take advantage of the lull to rest and recuperate from the demands of our activities, including resting highly contagious skidoo-thumb injuries. These days are also used to read, record events and feeling in our expedition diaries and prepare more elaborate meals. Today Alex and I shared a sausage, onion, peppers, and cheese egg-scramble, and now my friend is now laboring over a hot stove to make a secret dessert.
Alex in his nest
Tent organizing and cleaning, while boring, helps us to find some of our belongings. Living in Antarctica and dealing with all the accompanying complications requires a lot of gear and clothing. It is a challenge to keep everything arranged so that you can find it when you need it, “Big Red”, our goose down coats have so many pockets that recovery of a specific item becomes a one person shell game at times, so it is the wise hunter who has a place for everything, and everything in its place. There is method to the routine of our tent lives; when returning from the cold our “bunny boots” along with other items of outer wear are hung from the top of the tent to dry, while our insulated clothing is pushed against the walls of the tent on the upwind side to create a warm sleeping nest.
It is now time for me to prepare my portion this evening’s feast, so I will I bid all farewell and good night.
The Thawing Zone
- posted by Steve (editing by rph)
Blue ice field stretching out before my skidoo.
We’ve now had three days searching, finding, and collecting meteorites. We have seven more from this afternoon, and found several others this morning in our “home” moraine. Today was windy, around 15-20 mph, which made it very cold and hard to collect the meteorites. But we persevere because we are all invested in finding as many of these little space gems as we can. Why? Because they are samples of other worlds. Most of what we find are called chondrites, named that because they contain chondrules, which are tine, millimeter-sized spheres of mineral that formed in the very very early solar system, before planets were born. Chondrites are pieces of planets that never formed, containing the stuff of our solar nebula. Some chondrites contain water and organic building blocks, others contain tiny grains left over from ancient supernovae. Chondrites now reside in our asteroid belt before they are delivered to Earth. A few of what we find are achondrites, simply meaning: not a chondrite. Achondrites are from solar system bodies that either were, or still are, planetary – and here I mean they had a crust, a mantle, and a core. Some are from large asteroids that were broken up, so we get iron meteorites from the cores of those bodies. Some are from large asteroids, like Vesta, and some are from the Moon and Mars. It requires detailed laboratory analyses, and sometimes years of research, to determine where an achondrite is from (and many we still don’t know!), so we don’t even attempt to do that in the field. We just collect them all and send them home, where the team at the Johnson Space Center and the Smithsonian institute will classify them. Since we can’t send missions to collect samples from everywhere in the solar system, we rely on meteorites to deliver to solar system to us.
Meteorite in a moraine (glacial deposit of terrestrial rocks). Can you spot it? Hint: it is to the right of the flagpole.
John on the big ice at Miller Range
-posted by Barbara (editing by rph)
p.s. To all my postcard friends, I have not forgotten you! Postcards are sitting in my tent, we haven’t had a chance to send them to McMurdo.
To Renee, Zheng-Hua, and Scott: happy holidays and thanks for the messages!
To R: R’lyeh!
John poking at something troublesome
Welcome to class, BYU geology and Mr. Rad’s Bonneville 6th grade! Can you find the crevasse in this picture? Why isn’t it a gaping hole? Why do you think we tried not to walk on it anyway? How big is it, and which direction are the stresses oriented? Why and where do crevasses form in ice? Watch for some other pictures of the beautiful hexagonal ice crystals that form inside these crevasses. This is another reason not to fall in – these crystals form at very cold temperatures…
Manavi and Morgan with hopper crystals
Much love from the Miller Range,
-posted by Jani
Out on the big ice
Greetings to all ANSMET Followers,
There are good days and then there are GREAT DAYS, this was the latter. ANSMETTeam 2013-14 spent the entire day “Hunting Meteorites” on the Big Ice today. Thereis no way to fully describe the boundless joy that surges forth as one navigates on the blue ice astride a trusty snowmachine. Unparalleled savage beauty surrounds the “hunter” as a keen eye scans the ice for signs of the quarry, all the while maintaining spacing in the search line and safely negotiating the sastrugi and snow drifts. We search the blue ice, a static crystalized ocean with infinite surface patterns and wave-like undulations.
Topography changes may provide the proper dynamics to form crevasses, These jagged tears in the ice surface usually fill with a thin, soft accumulation of snow, that conceals the depth of fracture. We took advantage of these features to practice recognition and investigate the wonders that they contain. Low vapor pressure allows for the most exquisite ice crystals to form beneath the surface.
As wondrous as the “hunting” process is it is finding that creates instant excitement. Upon finding a meteorite we all gather and set about the business of precise collection. Elation is mixed with intense analysis of the specimen, in hushed tomeswe share observations and speculations. These alien visitors are lavished with respect and the utmost care as we extract them from the icy medium of transport and prepare them to share the secrets of their voyage. 37 meteorites were collected this day, including two probable achondrites that present the hope for amazing findings.
Taking pride in the smallest find of the day
As always all our families and friends are in our thoughts.
From all of us reveling in this experience and proud of the chance to serve science here in Antarctica, Best Wishes and warm regards.
- posted by Steve 6 January 2014 (edited by rph)
John with meteorite
This is a quick note, written on a full lunch belly, prior to heading out to the moraine with ALL EIGHT of the ANSMET crew to collect our first meteorites! The rest of our group arrived yesterday in a flurry of five Twin Otter flights (those Kenn Borek pilots rock! Have I mentioned that yet? ) in brisk winds – 20 knots to start, decreasing throughout the day. We set up tents, ate some glorious freshies (fresh fruits and veggies hand carried by our teammates from McMurdo), then collapsed into bed. We are now in the middle of a sunny day with just a few knots of wind- perfect searching weather. We’re so glad to be all here, all together, and ready to get some meteorites in the bag. More from us very soon!
-posted by Jani (editing by rph)