jen humphrey's blog

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Getting from Here to There

McMurdo Research Station

Fieldwork takes place in what is fall in the Northern Hemisphere, but spring in the Southern. The fall in the Northern Hemisphere is spring in the Southern. In Antarctica, there are 24 hrs of light during the summer. The sun rises to only about 10 o’clock high and moves around in a circle during the 24 hrs. In the winter, it is too cold to do fieldwork and it is dark 24 hrs/day. In the summer in the Transantarctic Mountains, where we do fieldwork, it is usually around –30° F in the summer and can be –70-90° in the winter.

The U.S. has 3 permanent stations on the Ice (as it’s called): McMurdo, South Pole and Palmer (on Antarctic Peninsula). McMurdo has around 250 people that ‘winter over’ and around 1000 there in the summer.

Transportation: We fly commercial to Christchurch, NZ and then fly military cargo planes from there to Antarctica. The New York Air National Guard flies the transport planes, either jets early in the season when the runway is still frozen and hard, or ski-equipped LC-130 prop transport planes later in the season. The LC-130s also fly between McMurdo and South Pole, as well as taking field parties into field sites that are too remote for helicopters. This season, our team is relatively close to McMurdo, so they will be moved by helicopters and by Twin Otters, small planes that land on skis.

Mt. ErebusMcMurdo is built on Ross Island in the Ross Sea – a volcanic island with an active volcano, Mt. Erebus.

After arriving in McMurdo, field party members who have not been there before must go through Field Safety Training. Here you learn how to travel across glaciers and usually you have to build a snow shelter (usually a snow cave) and stay in it overnight. You also learn how to rope yourselves together if you are traveling over crevassed areas. -Co-PI and Curator, Edith Taylor

Monday, November 17, 2014

Preparing for weeks at -30F

Air Force jet on runway
Basically, there are three to four ways you can go to Antarctica: (1) as a tourist, (2) If you’re very wealthy, you can mount your own expedition!, (3) you can work for the contractor who manages the U.S. bases there for the National Science Foundation, or (4) you can go as an NSF-funded researcher. 

You don’t need permits, but you must agree to abide by the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959 during the first International Geophysical Year, and subsequently agreed to by 50 parties. Some of the provisions are that you cannot collect anything, unless you are a funded research project, and you must stay a certain distance away from the wildlife, unless again you are a researcher studying the wildlife. Another provision of the Treaty is that Antarctica cannot be claimed by any nation and that the continent is open for scientific investigation and cooperation—basically a scientific preserve. 

It takes months to prepare for an expedition. The PI must fill out about 50 pp of forms stating what gear the team will need. Each team member provides their sizes of clothing and boots, and has to get extensive medical and dental exams. The only gear that we take are some collecting tools, e.g., geologic hammers, a gasoline-powered jackhammer, and some extra clothes, e.g., extra liner gloves and extra mittens, as collecting rocks tends to tear up your gloves and mittens. - Co-PI and curator, Edith Taylor

Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting Ready

What most people don’t realize is how much work and preparation it takes to get ready for the field, particularly if that field is Antarctica. For me, getting ready to go to Antarctica is a bit different than doing fieldwork anywhere else in the world.   Like most funded projects, the scientists are assembled in advance; however, unlike other fieldwork I’ve done, the group was determined and set in stone by March, but we didn’t leave until November.

In February I was invited to join my good friend Erik Gulbranson on a project he was co-leading this November to go to New Zealand and Antarctica.  I am not one to ever say no to great scientific questions and awesome field work with friends.  Our field crew was solidified between February and March, and then the paperwork started coming in from the government.  This research (like most research down there) is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation. The U.S. government regulates everyone going to Antarctica.  

Sometime in July I went to my doctor and dentist and got poked, prodded, vaccines checked, and had to pass a battery of tests to make sure I was fit enough to go to Antarctica.  

packing gearNext, in July and August, packages of extreme cold weathering clothing and technical gear were purchased and often times mailed to me. Like other fieldwork, there is a lot of technical clothing and gear I need to do my work.  However, unlike other projects, the government can outfit me with everything I need.  Any gear that was purchased on my behalf or by me was purchased in July when it was 100 degrees out — nothing says field work like down jackets in the Dallas summer! I’m a 5’4” woman, and while the government outfits all polar scientists with clothing, most of what they make won’t really fit me.  Luckily, grant money helped outfit me to make sure I am safe and warm.  The last piece of clothing will come tomorrow here where we are in Christchurch, New Zealand, when we get big red parkas and any remaining clothing we don’t own. Then I’ll be ready (well, clothing wise) for what will be the most extreme cold I’ve ever known.  It’s crazy to me to think it takes almost a year though to prepare for 4 weeks of work.  I hope it was enough time!

Once the team was assembled, gear was purchased, dental and medical records were passed, then it was just a matter of getting there. That was a two-ish-day-long trip from wherever we started (the University of Kansas, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science) to Dallas-Fort Worth airport.  Then Rudy Serbet from KU, Erik and I traveled from Dallas Fort-Worth to Los Angeles to Sydney.  We had a long layover (9ish hours) where we left the airport and got to be tourists.  Then our final leg: Sydney to Christchurch.  That’s where we are now -- arriving from all over, getting to know each other (it’s my first time down here!) and tomorrow getting outfitted with clothing before our next leg to McMurdo Research Station, where we’ll getcloser to the deep field and fossil plants.  
- Lauren A. Michel, Ph.D., King Family Fellow with the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Antarctica Research Team Heads to the Ice

Although most people think of Antarctica as a barren, cold environment, 200 million years ago it was a lush forest – a forest that now permineralized can yield clues to the climate change of the past, and how plants today may react to current climate change as well.

An international research team headed by KU scientists will head to Antarctica this week as part of a project aimed at understanding floral changes during the Jurassic in the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica. The group, departing on Tuesday, Nov. 11, will be on the ground for about one month and plans to blog and post to social media about the experience. The public is invited to follow the team’s work through the Biodiversity Institute blog

As part of this research, the group will examine the Early Jurassic fossil flora and the corresponding paleoenvironments from southern Victoria Land using a combination of geology, geochemistry and paleobotany. Learn more about the research on our news page.