Friday, November 20, 2015

Livin da Vida Antarctica

I sit here, fingers chilly, trying to think of an accurate way to describe camp life in Antarctica. I guess I’ll just run through an average day. Today we woke up at a ripe 6:45, stumbled into the cook tent around 7:30 (it’s tough to get out of the sleeping bag) and had a yummy breakfast of oatmeal, grape nuts, and berries. After a cup of coffee (or two for Drew) we prepared ourselves for the long day ahead. Backpacks on, we finally started trudging our way along the moraines of Mt. Discovery around 9:30. With the sun hitting the peaks of the ridges, we hike up, and up, and up, until we’re finally at a good starting place for sampling. Drew arrives first, as always, Natalie and I bringing up the rear. We’ll get better at this hiking thing eventually. Although the days have been rough, in this climate it’s good to be busy. I think I’ve gotten used to the cold, or at least to always seeing my breath - but sometimes the wind can still be brutal, especially on top of ridges.

Drew and Natalie enjoying their morning coffee.

Logistics discussions on the way to the moraine.
Once we find a good place to start, we set down our packs and get out our sampling equipment. Today we collected glacial erratics for cosmogenic nuclide dating, a laboratory procedure that will be done once the rocks arrive at BU later in the spring… Let’s walk through what cosmogenic nuclides means.  “Cosmogenic” means “originating from outer space”.  A “nuclide” is an element with a specific isotopic structure, or arrangement of neutrons and protons in its nucleus.  Cosmogenic nuclide dating is a special tool geologists can use to determine how long a rock has been exposed to cosmic radiation that reaches the surface of the earth.  
Labeling the samples.
Every day the Earth is bombarded with cosmic rays originating from supernovas in space. These rays are perfectly harmless to us, however, when they hit a rock for an extended period of time they change the nuclei of atoms in certain minerals within that rock.  In rocks with quartz, such as granite, extremely rare isotopes of beryllium and aluminum accumulate over time.  In rocks with another common mineral called pyroxene, such as dolerite (a rock common to the Transantarctic Mountains), a rare isotope of helium accumulates.  If we know the amount of cosmogenic nuclides as well as the rate at which they are produced, it is possible to calculate how long a rock has been exposed to cosmic radiation. The buildup of these isotopes within crystals in the rock allow us to date the moraine and when ice retreated from the area. To accomplish this, we have to find really specific rock samples. We look for glacial erratics on top of glacial moraines. Since we are on Mount Discovery, which is made up of volcanic rock, if we find rock types that don't belong, like granite or dolerite, we know that those rocks must have been brought here by ancient glaciers that disappeared long ago.  The samples we collect have to be perfectly perched on the top of the moraine and look like they haven’t moved since the glacier was last dropping sediment off onto these moraines. Once we find a likely candidate, we stop, mark where the top is, measure the size, hardness, and location of the rock, and bag it up for sampling. This is, of course, an abridged version of this process but hopefully you get the drift… the glacial drift! Haha! 

Drew looking very explorer-esque.

Natalie drilling like a boss.

Surprise pic!
It takes a long time, especially if it looks like there’s been a lot of ground movement, or warming in the areas we might sample. Eventually, we find a good place to rest for lunch, hopefully out of the wind. This usually consists of some cabin bread – large crackers made for sailors (it NEVER goes bad), peanut butter, and jelly with perhaps a granola bar of our choosing thrown in. My favorites are the lemon Luna Bars. Then, after we’ve all gotten some energy we keep on sampling! It’s an all-day process. Finally around 6 PM we slowly trudge our way back to camp. The tents are beginning to look so homey! Then, to warm up we usually begin to make dinner. Since we have to boil all of our own water from snow, we try not to use too much for cooking. I’ve become a master at boiling pasta with no water waste! Some of the tastier meals we’ve created are vegetarian chili, Asian stir fry with egg noodles, and, of course, mac and cheese. It’s amazing what you can do with noodles, frozen veggies, and butter. Cooking the dinner meal is one of my favorite times of the day. Not only are we all together, jamming to some music and cracking up over some ridiculous nerdy joke (or Drew’s dancing skills) but you get to stand over a hot steaming stove. It’s one of the only times it’s ever really warm. I’m sure by the end of this adventure I’ll be used to the constant chill, but for now I like the extra heat. 

Lunch pit stop.


Me attempting to be cool during a "quick peek" up on top of a ridge. (The "quick peek" soon turned into a two hour hike.)

Our kitchen box.
By the time we’re done eating and cleaning, it’s usually around 9:00 which means bed time. We back up pictures on our hard drives, review our notes, perhaps even type out a blog - but after a long exhausting day, it’s a beautiful feeling to just crawl into our cots. Usually I try to read a bit to unwind, but I often fall right asleep since I’m tired from a long day’s hike. Besides, when one hasn’t showered for over a week, you need your beauty rest right? Then, once the sun circles back around to the east and always right when I slip into the loveliest part of sleep, the alarm buzzes and we start the whole process over again! 
That's all folks!

No comments:

Post a Comment