February 15-18th

During our first three days down on the Antarctic Peninsula we helped set up two geology field camps, one on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands (west side of the Antarctic Peninsula) and the other on James Ross Island (east side of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Weddell Sea). The Livingston Island field team is mainly looking for the bones of early mammals in deposits that are as old as 120 million years. The James Ross Island group is a combination of scientists who examine the magnetism in the rocks to establish accurate ages for the geological deposits, whereas other researchers are looking for the environmental conditions that lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs, as well as evidence documenting Antarctic climate change (both past and present).

Dr. Ross McPhee of the Natural History Museum of New York is heading up the Livingston Island team.

Dr. Joe Kirschvink (California Inst. Of Technology), Dr. Peter Ward (Univ. of Washington) and Dr. Eric Steig (Univ. of Washington) are leading the efforts on James Ross Island.

We transported gear and personnel about 1.5 miles each way using rubber boats with outboard motors called zodiacs. It took about a dozen zodiac trips at each of the two bases.

The accommodations for the field scientists were tents with a central office/kitchen tent being the only heated area at the field site. The field teams have a logistics coordinator, who makes certain that they have sufficient tents, food, water, and clothing to survive for 4 weeks of field operations. The field teams do have satellite phone that keep them in touch with our ship and the local US Antarctic base (Palmer Station).

As for wildlife we have seen a number of elephant seals, Adelie and Chin-strap penguins and a pretty large assembly of cormorants, sitting on a large iceberg. The surrounding scenery is breath taking, with massive glaciers carving into the extensive rock outcrops as the ice sheets move toward the ocean.

We found out this morning (18th) that 40-50 knot winds have destroyed 2 of the field tents on Livingston Island, and that the kitchen/office tent has been nearly demolished by the strong winds as well. The field scientists were going to try and make their lunch in a nearby cave for protection from the unusually strong winds. We are heading back to Livingston Island at the moment to pick up the field camp whose field season is now over, but the winds and seas look terrible for the next day or so, which will certainly inhibit any zodiac transfer activities. Zodiacs can take on water pretty easily, especially when loaded with gear and personnel. It is certainly a huge disappointment for these geologists on Livingston Island to come half way around the world and have their field season end in a matter of a couple days. The other field camp is doing fine, but they had 3 inches of snow last night (preventing their rock hunting activities for at least the next couple of days).


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