Friday, March 25, 2016

A Month in the Life of an Antarctic Researcher, Part 3

The Intense Life in Tents 

Although long overdue, I have finally finished my blog about my trip to Antarctica. It’s impossible to accurately describe the incredible things that I experienced and the powerful lessons that I learned in the world’s coldest, highest, driest, and windiest desert, so I have instead opted to provide a day-by-day synopsis of my expedition with Professor David Marchant and graduate student Andrew Christ.

In the future I will write more about particular experiences, but for now, here is the third entry in a 4 part “Month in the Life of an Antarctic Researcher” series.

Another day sampling rocks for cosmogenic nuclide dating. Many of the samples we took on this day were drilled from large boulders, so we only sampled 8 rocks and boulders in 8.5 to 9 hours of work.
An example of a drilled rock sample. This sample will later be analyzed for its
abundance of cosmogenic nuclides to estimate how long it has been in its current
location. Photo Credit: Andrew Christ.
It was also the first day I tried cabin bread and peanut butter (see Natalie and Emma’s cookbook for details) which became a personal Antarctic lunchtime favorite! Unfortunately, I began feeling sick later in the day, showing many of the same symptoms Professor Marchant had shown prior to falling sick for several days including a headache and sore throat.

The valley, darkened by incoming low-lying snow clouds.

This was our third snow day, but was actually something of a blessing. My headache and sore throat from the previous day were indeed the signs of an oncoming sickness. So although it was frustrating to not be able to do any work in our relatively short field season, I was glad to have some time to rest and recuperate.

Snow day number four… I was feeling better, but this extra day of rest definitely helped me return to full health. The snow day was boring, but by the end I was feeling great and looking forward to another day of work.

After consecutive snow days worsened by sickness, it was great to return to field work. We sampled 11 more rocks after a full day of work. At dinner we discussed our plans for a future camp move. While most of our work needed to be done in the valley at Mackay Glacier, Professor Marchant and Drew determined that it would be helpful to sample rocks for cosmogenic nuclide dating from a location that was known to be stable and which had already been accurately dated. Our valley’s moraines were deposited relatively recently (on geologic time scales). Measurements from older rocks would allow Professor Marchant and Drew to test the effectiveness of cosmogenic nuclide dating on different time scales.

An overlook of the valley. Note the series of ridges in the middle and lower left side of the image. These are moraines deposited by a glacier which once partially filled this valley. 

This was one of our longest days, working essentially non-stop from 9am to 7pm. We gathered several samples for cosmogenic nuclide dating and began digging pits in search of buried algae which would provide minimum dates of deposition in those regions.

The last day of work in 2015 was cut short by strong winds and heavy snowfall. We left tents after breakfast around 9am as usual and spent the morning and early afternoon drilling rock samples off of large boulders. But we were forced to return around 3:30pm because of the sudden and dramatic onset of snowfall, accompanied by low visibility.
An example of low visibility conditions outside out tent.
Drew walking between tents in the snow.

This was the most physically burdensome day of the trip, and one of the most exhausting days of my life. Nevertheless, it was one of my personal favorite days of our entire expedition. The day was spent precisely measuring the location of our 46 rock samples using high-precision GPS and then transporting all of them back to our camp (the process I described in my 12/25/2015 entry). We carried all of our samples, averaging somewhere between 7 and 10 pounds, from their original locations back to our camp. This meant that we spent the day walking several miles over rocky, bouldery terrain with backpacks full of rocks. It was very difficult and tiring, but also extremely fun and rewarding. Especially after a few recent snow days, it felt great to be able to exercise and make get work done.

-Daniel Rybarczyk

Click here for Part 1: Preparations
Click here for Part 2: Entering the Field
Click here for Part 4: Thriving, Moving, and Leaving

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