Andrew Beck, Otway Massif, December 12th, 2012
The final four members of the systematic team, along with about 12,000 lbs of gear, landed safely at Otway Massif at about 12:20 pm today. We were greeted with a balmy -20 C air temperature (a few degrees below 0 F) and 15-20 knot winds. The LC-130 deployed our cargo via a combat drop; the exit ramp was opened while the plane taxied and our gear slid out the back. We then spent the next 3 hours unpacking gear and setting up the remaining tents. Stan, Rob, Tom and Shaun, the four members of the team who arrived on Monday, had done a fine job getting everything ready so we were able to finish in a reasonable amount of time.
A previous ANSMET team recovered a high concentration of ordinary chondrite meteorites very near our camp at Otway Massif a few years ago. Ordinary chondrites (OC) get the first part of their name because they are by far the most common type of meteorite recovered on Earth. In fact, ~91% of all meteorites recovered by the ANSMET program have been OCs (see NASA curation home page listed in a previous blog). To give a sense of proportion, there are about 20 groups of meteorites making up the other 9% of recovered samples. The term “chondrite” refers to the family of meteorite to which the OCs belong. Chondrites are important samples because they were the very first solid materials to form in our Solar System and went on to become the building blocks for the planets. You may be wondering why, if they were the building blocks of planets, are there any still around to fall to Earth as meteorites? The asteroid belt, a ring of debris orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, represents a whole lot of building blocks that never coalesced into a single planet. Several processes can cause material in the asteroid belt to move out of orbit, some of which then intersects with the Earth’s orbit and falls to the surface as meteorites.
We hope to start collecting soon and will keep everyone updated on our progress. We also want to send positive vibes to the recon team, who are still in McMurdo. Here is hoping you all can get a flight out within the next few days!
Tomoko Arai, 10th December 2012, McMurdo Station
Today four members of the systematic team flew out from the McMurdo base by a LC-130 aircraft, heading for Ottway Massif. The reconnaissance (recon) team heading for Klein Glacier was assigned to a back-up flight, in case that the weather condition of Ottway Massif would not allow for them to land. One day from the departure, we have “Bag Drag” procedure. All the tagged baggage, including check-in bags, hand-carry bags, and all the required gears (so called Extremely Cold Weather (ECW) clothing) need to be weighed (Picture 1). Last night, both the systematic and recon team went through that procedure, and were ready for the departure, pending the final decision on which team will go. In fact, we were not sure which team would fly until late in the morning today, which made us a bit nervous. Finally at noon, the four of the systematic team were ready to go, putting on the ECW gear, while the rest of us shared the excitement with them (Picture 2). All of us warmly saluted each other, hoping to get safely back together here in McMurdo with full of meteorites and stories. Another four of the systematic team are leaving for the same site tomorrow, and the recon team hopefully leaving on Thursday or Friday. The blue ice fields are awaiting us!
Shaun bag drag
Katie ready for scale
Mini Wadhwa, 9 December 10, 2012, McMurdo Station
Imagine being stranded in a small, drafty hut in one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth, surviving from day to day for months on end on a diet of not much other than seal meat and the occasional cabin biscuit, not knowing whether there was any hope for rescue…
These are the conditions under which some surviving members of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) found themselves. The drafty hut in question is Discovery Hut at Hut Point on Ross Island, which still exists, with much of its contents, in an exquisite state of preservation. It was originally built byRobert Falcon Scott during the Discovery Expedition (1901-1904) and was subsequently used by three other British expeditions including Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. This was indeed the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, when expeditions were feats of endurance and survival was no guarantee. Comparatively speaking, modern expeditions to remote field areas in Antarctica (like ANSMET) are a cakewalk. This was vividly brought home to us today on our tour of Discovery Hut. The first two photos show typical clothing and food supplies of the Heroic Explorers of Old; for comparison, the two following photos show the cold weather gear and the food issued to us (the Not-So-Heroic but Oh-So-Thankful Explorers of Today).
As of yesterday, all our preparations for being flown out to the field are complete. So it was time to play! Besides the tour of Discovery Hut, we also had a tour of the pressure ridges near Scott Base. These are spectacular features that form when ice sheets break up and collide due to stresses that build up in the sea ice – you can think of these as resulting from “miniaturized ice plate tectonics” (see last photo). Oh yes, in case you noticed, we were quite pleased to be in the Great Antarctic Outdoors. The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration may be over, but you will find none of us complaining about it!
Katie Joy, McMurdo station, 8th December 2012
Today the ANSMET team had a full science briefing for our future mission collecting meteorites on the boundary between the Transantarctic Mountains and the south polar plateau (see photo 1). Ralph Harvey has provided a previous post (see below) about the ice regions that will be visited by the ANSMET systematic team (Mt. Bumstead, Larkman Nunatak, and the Grosvenor Mts.) and reconnaissance team (Graves Nunatak and Amundsen Glacier) over the next six weeks – there is a lot to do and lots of interesting places to visit.
the science meeting
Both new team members and veterans alike were also educated about the procedures for how the team operates in the field hunting for meteorites, and the important process of careful collection of the samples we hope to find.
We also learnt about how to recognise meteorites on the ice and distinguishing them from local terrestrial rock which will likely be found in many of our search areas, including in glacial moraines (large areas of rock that accumulate at the edges of glaciers and flowing ice). Many of us on the team work with meteorite samples in the laboratory, however, often we tend to work with small chips (~1 cm or less in size) of much larger rocks, or petrographic thin sections (very thin rock slices mounted on glass slides) taken from the interior part of the meteorite. Therefore, we need to train our eyes to recognise that meteorites can look slightly different on the outside as the colour, texture, and coverage of their surficial fusion crust varies from stone to stone. (n.b. Fusion crust is a thin exterior melted portion of the stone which forms when the meteorite passes through the Earth’s atmosphere). Different meteorite types, and where they have come from, will be discussed in future blog posts as there is a lot here to discuss, but we hope to find samples that originated from Mars, the Moon and many different types of asteroids.
I recall from taking part in ANSMET last year that you learn quickly how to spot meteorites, and that there are lots of experienced people on hand to discuss and advise about the recognition process. So we are looking forward to putting our knowledge into practice when we hopefully deploy to the field next week and collect lots of good meteorites this 2012-2013 season. In the mean time, we will be enjoying spending time in McMurdo station, visiting the neighbours (see photo 2), and meeting the McMurdo staff who have been working hard to get everything ready for us to go into the field.
There is lots of great information about the meteorite collection process on this website, so surf on over to the links, FAQ and download pages. Links include the partners in the program (NASA’s Johnson Space Center and the Smithsonian Institution). The FAQs provide more details about ANSMET itself, and the downloads are more detailed stuff you can take home and read at your leisure.
Katie Joy, 8 Dec 2012, from McMurdo
“hurry up and wait” is an expression the 2012 ANSMET team is learning the true meaning of lately.
Today we finished packing the last of our supplies; frozen food that we will consume over the next 6 weeks (picture 1). The packaged food was then marked for shipping and moved to a cargo staging area where it will remain until we deploy sometime next week. Prior to being moved to the staging area we measured both the mass and size of all of our packaged gear in order to ensure that we stay under the approved weight limit, and also to assist in proper weight distribution on the aircraft. Tomorrow we have a final meeting to discuss scientific topics, which Saturday’s blogger will discuss in more detail, but for the most part we all ready to go and now anxiously await our deployment to the field.
I think the second picture, which was taken during our shakedown a few days ago and shows a panoramic view of the McMurdo Ice Shelf with a snowy cloud-drapped Mount Erebus at back-center and a dense weather system moving in at right, personifies the mood of the team at this point. We are anxious to get to the field locations we have “seen in the distance” and are patiently waiting to see if weather will alter our deployment plans. As Marianne and Tom mentioned in previous blogs, weather did foil our plans on the day this picture was taken, but we are hoping our deployment is not disrupted by a similar system. The panoramic picture also shows New Zealand’s Antarctic Scott Base, a small group of green huts along the shore in the foreground below the left flank of Erebus and seen in one of Tom’s pictures from earlier this week. The ANSMET team visited Scott Base last night for American Night and got to learn a little bit about the history of the base, which was built in 1956.
We are scheduled to “put in” to the field almost all of next week, with flights scheduled Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Given the amount of gear we need this season (~12 tons), both the systematic and reconnaissance teams will need two flights to fully deploy to the field, hence the four days of scheduled flights. We will be using four US Air Force C130s to deploy to the field, two examples of which are shown in the third picture (cargo van included for scale). As mentioned previously, weather is the dictating factor from here on out, so we wait patiently and hope that in seven days from now the 2012 ANSMET team will be in the field collecting meteorites!
-Andrew Beck, 7 Dec 2012, in McMurdo
Quick, what are you going to eat for the next six weeks?
That's the question we spent much of today answering in Peggy Malloy's "Food Room," upstairs in the Quonset hut next to the Berg Field Center. My tentmate Rob and I has already done some homework, planning menus and estimating how much chow we could expect to eat up during our upcoming six-week deployment on the polar plateau. There was considerable incentive to get it right: although we're expecting two resupply flights during our field season, it's not like we can just pop down to the grocery store if we run out of butter. And with the cold conditions and hard work, we'll need a lot of calories to stay warm and happy. It took us about three hours of quality time with the list of available supplies to come up with our ten page, single-spaced shopping list.
So this morning at 0800 sharp we reported to the food room, said list in hand, and started pulling our supplies off the shelves. Three 24-count cases of juice boxes, assorted flavors. Two 64-count cartons of instant oatmeal. Seventy-two chocolate bars, seventy-four beef jerky sticks, seventeen packages of pasta, eight one-pound bags of powdered milk, etc., etc., etc. All together it made quite a pile. When we finished, Peggy came over with her barcode reader and inventoried the whole shebang in about three minutes.
Then it was time to put everything into our three large plastic "river boxes" for shipping. Shaun Norman, our mountaineer, recommended lining the boxes with plastic trash bags to protect the food from the inevitable "drift," tiny particles of snow that find their way through seemingly microscopic cracks and get into everything on windy days in the field. We dutifully lined our boxes, and then began to load them. The pile of food looked quite a bit bigger than the boxes, but miraculously, it all fit. Victory! But of course, when we get to the field, the first thing we'll want will be at the very bottom of the box, and we'll have to dig it out with big clumsy gloves on. But that will be a story for a future blog.
McMurdo Station, Antarctica
2012 December 6
This morning we awoke in our Scott tents. This was the first night sleeping ‘out on the ice’. We had been camp bound since the day before, when a snow storm rolled in during our Shakedown trial run (see photo of the storm in full force). Plans to summit Castle Rock and test crevasse rescue training were cancelled when dark clouds with snow precipitation were seen along the horizon, racing towards us.
Instead, for the rest of the afternoon and evening, we stayed inside our remarkable cozy Scott tents, chatting with our tent mate, cooking dinner, writing in journals, and learning new card games. It was a good opportunity to spend time figuring out how to set up our 8 x 8 floor spaces. Finding a system that works for your tent of 2 people is important, and then sticking to it. There’s not a lot of room to play with, so finding a place for each thing is not trivial! (see the picture of my tentmate Mini Wadhwa, from Arizona State University – this is as far apart as we could get from each other in our tent!!).
When we awoke this morning, the wind was silent. At 6:45 am, the green light was given for an 8:30 am start up to Castle Rock for some training and then camp takedown before heading back to McMurdo station. We quickly started getting ready – breakfast, packing lunch and snacks, warming up the skidoos…..during all of this, the silence faded and was replaced by a growing, insistent wind. By 8 am, we were back in the thick of it! The call was made to take down camp immediately and head back to McMurdo.
I kept reminding myself of John Schutt’s (Case Western Reserve University, one of our field team leaders and a mountaineer) words: “in Antarctica we take it day by day”. Good advice to live by no matter where you may be! Here, where the nature of our work is completely dependent on the elements, these words really hit home. In Antarctica the weather can change in an instant, and even the best laid plans may need altering or even scrapping altogether. Adapting and responding to the ever changing environment is not only a valuable life skill, but here, a matter of survival.
Marianne Mader, Dec. 5, 2012 McMurdo Station
Mini relaxing in Scott Tent