Katie Joy, Graves Icefield, 19th December 2012
Blue skies have returned and today the recon team moved from our snowy home on the Klein Glacier surrounded by mountains to the bleakness of the Graves icefield. A Twin Otter aircraft arrived from the South Pole around 9 am this morning, and after 5 short roundtrips a mere 20 miles back and forth (which was also a huge 10 degrees longitude!) we were at our new destination on the edge of the blue icefields. We have set up our new camp much like the old one with John and Joe having the westerly tent, Tomoko and I having the easterly one, the poo tent downwind to the north, and our four snowmobiles in between. I am completely wiped out after carrying gear around, banging stake posts into the hard ice and unpacking all our gear again, and have no idea how the Twin Otter pilots do this every day moving people around in Antarctica!
We are now at more than 87 degrees south, so this is the closest to Pole I have ever been. We are in what feels like the middle of nowhere with blue and white ice horizons completely surrounding us – a slightly higher rise to the south with some cracked bumpy tops, and we can just about see the peaks of two sets of mountains to the east and north east when the cloud lifts. But that is it – without the small mountain tops we would be encompassed by the deep freeze. We can hear the ice cracking and groaning underneath us.
I haven’t been anywhere like this before with so few points of geographic reference, so it will be interesting to see how I gauge a sense of scale and direction over the next few days with just ice, the Sun and our small yellow tents to look at. This will be a new type of remote reality to adjust to.
Hopefully, after the move we will all sleep well tonight before starting work in the morning hitting the blue ice to start the search for more meteorites. As we are so far from mountains it will be likely that every rock we encounter will be a meteorite so our hopes are high we will be in for a successful few days before the next move (I can feel my back creaking at the thought already!).
PS. Ian – through some wondrous means I got your message! Thanks for the news and for going to the effort of getting in touch Hope all is well.
Katie and Twin Otter
Recon team camp at Graves
Stan Love, 2012 December 17 Mt., Bumstead Icefield Camp
Astute readers will have already figured out that this photo does not show a meteorite. Or a person looking for a meteorite. Or anything even remotely related to meteorites. Those readers will be correct on the first two points, but not the third.
The photo shows a disassembled carburetor from the engine of one of our snowmobiles. Snowmobile carburetors constituted the main part of the day for Shaun and myself.
Ever since arriving on the polar plateau, our team has been plagued with snowmobile engine problems, mostly related to too much fuel in the fuel-air mixture. The result is that the machines hesitate when accelerating, or even die unexpectedly and refuse to restart. This is not a good situation. Without the snowmobiles, we would be limited to searching on foot, which would mean a search radius of only a couple of miles, versus ten or more miles with the snowmobiles. Without snowmobiles we would have no possibility of moving ourselves and our thousands of pounds of gear to other camp locations. Without snowmobiles it would be hard to get our team out of the field at the end of the season, since the big LC-130 cargo planes can’t land where we are.
Unreliable snowmobiles are a big problem, and one that had to be fixed before we leave for Larkman Nunatak, thirty miles away to the south and our next search destination. Shaun is our snowmobile expert, but he wanted a helper, and I had volunteered early in the season to learn how to fix the machines. So while the rest of the team went to the summit of Mt. Bumstead to sample the spectacular geology up there, Shaun and I stayed in camp and worked on snowmobiles. A few phone calls to the experts in the shop at Mac Town pinpointed the problem in the carburetors. One by one, we drove the snowmobiles to our shop: a Scott tent pinned only on one side, so we could open it like a clamshell, drive the machine inside, and let it down to make a sheltered place to do engine work. We opened hoods, pulled out air boxes, unscrewed carburetor caps, and extracted from each the slender steel pin that controls the flow of fuel to its cylinder. The pin is positioned by a tiny clip ring that needed to be moved precisely one notch away from the middle of the carburetor, a job for needlenose pliers and eyes perhaps a year or two younger than Shaun’s or mine. Nevertheless, we got the first machine’s two carburetors done in an hour, and by the end of the day we could convert a machine in about 15 minutes. Skill comes from practice. I missed some great geology and wonderful views today, but now I know how to adjust a snowmobile carburetor.
Testing the adjusted machines shows them to operate much better, so we think we’re all set for tomorrow’s long drive to Larkman, and many miles of meteorite searches for the rest of the season.
Rob Coker, December 16th, Mt. Bumstead
Today we found some meteorites! So I thought I’d spell out what we do when we find one (besides the obvious jumping up and down in joy). Once we sort of agree that it is a meteorite (we don’t *have* to agree actually), we give it a number and take pictures of it with a counter and a scale-bar in the image. Then we measure the meteorite’s dimensions and estimate the amount of fusion crust coverage and maybe what type of meteorite it is. Next we bag it, being careful to avoid any contamination; so we use sterlized tongs and a teflon bag. We must even be careful to keep runny noses away from the meteorite! Finally, we get a GPS reading and mark the spot with a flag (in case the GPS fails; it is picked up later when the GPS data is uploaded). Then it is off to the next space rock! A picture of one of the ones found today is shown — I am finding it very hard to tell them apart from the local basalt (which are also black/brown with a crust) at a distance! The ‘flat’ light due to the high cloud cover of the last few days makes seeing rocks on the ice easy, but it washes out the color, so it is that much harder to pick out the meteorites from the many many terrestrial rocks (of many types) around here.
Partly as a celebration of finding our first meteorites of this trip, we followed our mountaineer and ski-dooed and hiked up an ice and snow outcrop on the side of Mt. Bumstead. The snowmobile ride was a bit steep, but quite fun. The hike, which required pick axes to avoid the occasional soft deep snow, was up to the very peak of the outcrop at nearly 8500 feet high. The panorama is from the top, showing some of us (I’m one!) down below and, off in the distance, about 5 km away, our base camp. Try finding it in the picture! No picture can possibly do this view justice. Nor can words. One must be there to grasp it’s stark beauty. There are wind-carved ice sculptures. There is blue ice in the nearby peaks visible. Patterns of layering in the snow all around can be seen. The cloud enshrouded peaks in the distance seem to watch over all we do. The wind didn’t howl too much, but it was enough to remind us we are indeed in Antarctica: full bundeling up in many layers of clothing was required. All in all, a wonderful day of views and meteorites. I look forward to many more of the same!
Pan From Mt. Bumstead
Tomoko Arai, 18th December, 2012, Klein Glacier
The reconnaissance team did a meteorite search in Scott Glacier yesterday. It took one hour commuting drive by snowmobile to get there. The weather was just beautiful without wind. We found three meteorites in the morning and two in the afternoon. One looked liked it might be chondritic with an unusual fusion crust with lots of vesicles, but beautiful mm-sized chondrules were visible in the exposed interior. In the evening we had a Mexican delicious dinner with chilli con carne and chilli rellenos, to celebrate Katie’s birthday. It is a snowy and windy today. We have not been able to continue the meteorite search and are staying in the Scott tent. Tomorrow, we are hopefully moving to the next target site, South Graves South by Twin Otter aircraft which will fly to meet us from the South Pole station.
PS – from Katie. Thanks Byes for the Birthday card, and the Coles for the sweeties. Elliott and Alexander the photo of you in the footy shirts is up in the tent. Thanks also to the main ANSMET team for the Happy Birthday sing along!
Happy Birthday Katie
Tomoko with an alien
Tomoko Arai, 16th December, 2012, Klein Glacier
Today is the first day of the meteorite search for the reconnaissance team in Gardner Ridge. The windless, relatively warm (- 21 deg C!), beautiful weather is perfect for meteorite hunting. We left our camp in Klein glacier at 9 am, and reached the blue ice fields in the Gardner Ridge after one hour and a half snowmobile driving. There were moraines nearby, and small fragments of the local rocks were scattered on some ice field. After two hours passed since we started, we found the first meteorite which is about 6 cm across, covered by a dark chocolate brown shiny fusion crust (the first picture). All of us were excited about the recovery of the first meteorite on the very first day of our mission. In the afternoon, the second meteorite, about 8 cm across with a brown fusion crust was recovered on the different blue ice field. Both of them are likely ordinary chondrites (the most common type of asteroid meteorite fragment – see Andrew’s earlier post), although detail studies back at NASA Johnson Space Center and the Smithonian will provide the official classification. The landscape here is absolutely stunning with white snow and blue sky. The speechlessly calm and peaceful atmosphere makes me feel like being forgotten from the rest of the world, and wonder as if we were in a different planet. Now we are searching for meteorites coming from different planetary bodies or asteroids, which had been buried under the ice sheet and long waiting to be recovered by us.
Katie with a find!
Katie Joy, Klein Glacier, 15th December 2012
John, Joe, Tomoko and I reached the Klein Glacier region of the Transantarctic Mountains yesterday (Friday). We took off at about 10 am from Pegasus air strip close to McMurdo on a LC-130 US air force plane, which is a Hercules equipped with skies. The aircraft was loaded with most of our kit that we would need to set up camp and we were the human cargo. After about an hour into the flight we flew over spectacular scenes of the mountain ranges – seeing huge glaciers with rocky moraine fields, wind-whipped peaks, giant crevasses ripping across the ground, and even a few blue ice fields to get us excited about the meteorite hunting ahead. After a couple of hours we touched down at Klein and went about setting up camp of two tall yellow Scott tents (pyramid shaped with four corner poles) for sleeping, organising our cargo and setting up the solar panels and small orange coloured poo tent. We waved the plane goodbye as it fired up its engines and used rocket jets to assist in take-off. Once airborne it flew back over camp and tipped its wing in farewell. We spent the rest of the day organising cargo and settled in for a first meal and sleep. We had another LC130 visit us at midday today to drop off the rest of the cargo (fuel tanks and our two remaining snowmobiles), and so we are fully equipped for the season ahead. The weather here is just stunning – no winds and blue skies – about minus 10 C outside. We are keeping our fingers crossed that it stays this way! The views are magnificent – to the south the open expanse of ice and the polar plateau. To the north the start of the Klein Glacier surrounded by nunataks (small mountain peaks poking through the ice) and what looks like sheer cliffs, and to the west we can see more mountains where we hope to go and start the meteorite hunt tomorrow (Sunday).
Mini Wadhwa, December 14, 2012, Mt. Bumstead Icefield Camp, Beardmore Region What makes one Antarctic blue icefield such a prolific source of new meteorites, while others are virtually devoid of such riches? If we are to answer this question, we need to understand why blue ice is found only in particular regions of an icesheet.
Blue ice is very hard, compacted ice lacking in air bubbles (and, of course, appears blue in color!). It is generally found in a region where a relatively old icesheet is being ablated as a result of the movement of the ice combined with action of katabatic winds. This is a place where meteorites, that have fallen on the icesheet and are entrained in it, get resurfaced. The fact remains, however, that while some blue icefields contain hundreds of meteorites, others do not seem to have any. While we don’t yet fully understand why this is so, we certainly got to explore the latter variety of blue icefield today… or perhaps our eyes are not yet attuned to picking out the few meteorites that were lurking among the sea of “Bumsteadites” that surrounded us in our searches today. The first picture shows some of our team searching in the moraine at the foot of Mt. Bumstead. As you can see, it was an overcast day and the flat lighting made it all the more difficult to differentiate potential meteorites from the dark basalts and dolerites in this region.
So, after a full day of searching, we came back to camp empty handed this evening. While a little disappointing, it was nothing that a hot meal in a warm tent could not cure. In fact, as you can see in the second picture, Marianne and I felt positively cheerful! A little perspective helps here: we are here in this amazingly beautiful place hunting for space rocks! And we have many more days of hunting ahead of us…
Marianne Mader, Dec 14, 2012 Systematic Team, Mt. Mount Bumstead Icefield Camp, Beardmore Region
Yesterday we moved from our temporary camp at the Otway landing strip to our first ‘home away from home’ near Mount Bumstead (see photo of our camp). The weather has been beautiful – blue skies, low winds (~5-6 knots) and a steady -20 deg Celsius. With our cold weather gear, it feels like a brisk fall day (in Canada, that is).
Today we finished setting up our camp in the morning – it’s now equipped with solar panels and our GPS base station – and then went hunting in the afternoon! We’re targeting the blue ice at the base of Mount Bumstead where about a dozen meteorites were found during previous seasons. Armed with all our sampling equipment, flags, differential GPS, and keen eyes we did a reconnaissance sweep of the ice near camp. We lined up horizontally, each skidoo ~ 10 m apart from each other, and slowly drove across the ice. There were a few moments when it really hit me – “I’m in Antarctica hunting meteorites! Then it was back to scouring the ice for dark rocks…
And dark rocks we found! Initial sightings led to many stops, dropping onto our knees or stomachs to get a closer look. After the first hour or so, we realized the enormity of our task. All of the black rocks we had spotted are volcanic rocks, likely from Mount Bumstead, a sequence of basaltic and doleritic rocks. The good news, is that we used this opportunity to have a tutorial on ‘meteor-wrongs’ (see the picture of a collection of volcanic rocks that had quickly become the bane of our search efforts, layered Mount Bumstead is in the background!). The notable feature of these ‘meteor-wrongs’ (as opposed to ‘meteor-rights) is that they had angular edges. Most meteorites have rounded edges caused by ablation during passage through Earth’s atmosphere. For the next 2 hours we continued our search efforts, specifically looking at the shapes of the dark rocks, unfortunately, the jagged volcanic samples are all that we found. The silver lining on our ‘dark cloud day’, is that there is a lot more blue ice near Mount Bumstead to search and we’re here for another 4 days! Our eyes are quickly adjusting to the local rock types, and we’re optimistic that our hunting will yield some ‘meteor-rights’.
Hi, Ralph here, blogging from my home in beautiful Novelty, Ohio. In about an hour I’ll go outside to look for Geminids. My wife thinks one hit the house last night, there was a big thump on the roof, but I missed it.
I wanted to let our loyal viewers know that as of right now, the recon team is supposed to be winging their way to their Klein Glacier landing site. It’ll be a very long day for them so don’t be surprised if we don’t hear much from them for a day or two. Here’s hoping they have great weather (quiet weather) so they can get acclimated to the cold and the altitude.
-rph, 13 Dec 2012
UPDATE 2 pm, east coast US time, Friday Dec 14; The recon team sent one flight to Klein Glacier yesterday as noted; and the second and final flight is scheduled for about 4 pm today. Stay tuned…..