Where are we going?
The area we will be working in is located about 400 miles from the South Pole, in the Patuxent Range of the Pensacola Mountains. That’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The first humans to step foot in this area was a group of geologists who spent the austral summer of 1962-63 mapping and exploring the mountains. It has been visited by a few groups of geologists since then for more detailed study, but the only other people we will see in the month camping will be pilots from the British Antarctic Survey who will arrive for a few days to fly us to some distant sites to collect samples. The elevation of this mountain range reaches almost 7000 ft, but most of our time will be spent in lower elevation areas ~2500 ft. Some areas around the base of the mountains have ridges of glacial sediments that we will explore and collect.
Our field party
Trevor Williams – Project Leader and Marine Geologist, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University
Peter Braddock – Mountaineer
Kathy Licht – Glacial Geologist, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
Sidney Hemming – Geochemist, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University
What we are studying
Why go to such a remote place? We want to find out about how Antarctica’s glaciers changed in the geological past, particularly during times when the Earth’s climate was warmer than today. Did the glaciers retreat back and calve off many icebergs? These glaciers are great rivers of ice that flow slowly down to the ocean, where the glacier ice breaks off to become floating icebergs. We want to know how many icebergs there were in the past, and which glaciers they came from. Of course, the icebergs themselves drift, melt, and disappear. But they leave a trace: they carry rock fragments and mineral grains that the glacier plucked from Antarctic bedrock (like the hills in the picture), and when the icebergs melt, the rocks and minerals they carry fall to the sea bed. Layers containing this rock record of icebergs build up on the sea bed slowly over time. We can trace these rocks and minerals dropped by icebergs back to their origin on Antarctica, but only if we know about the kind carried by each glacier – and that’s why we are here, to collect samples of the rocks and minerals sitting on top of two of these mighty glaciers – the Foundation Ice Stream and the Recovery Glacier.