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Getting there and getting around in Antarctica

Traveling to Antarctica pretty much requires being part of an organized tour, something tens of thousands of people do each year. We went on a trip arranged by the Geological Society of America and Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris. If you aren’t lucky enough to take a scientific tour, there are plenty of more traditional tours that will get you there. Most depart from Argentina, but some go through the Falkland Islands as well as Australia and New Zealand.

02 Jan 2014

Ship life

Perhaps the most common question I’ve gotten after returning from my trip is, “Did you get sea sick?” The answer is yes, but I wasn’t miserable. And in truth, very few individuals missed out on any of the shore excursions because they didn’t feel well.

02 Jan 2014

Travels in geology: Antarctica: Following in the footsteps of giants

In fall 2012, when I told friends and colleagues that I was heading south for a few weeks, they assumed that I, like many other northeasterners, was going to Florida or the Bahamas for a break from winter weather. Instead, I was headed to the iciest and southernmost place on Earth: Antarctica.

02 Jan 2014

Astronomy under the ice: Scientists use Antarctic ice to study some of the tiniest particles in the cosmos

Deep below the glacial surface at the South Pole, where the Antarctic ice is crystal clear yet pitch black, a 3-D array of more than 5,000 custom-built and precisely positioned sensors, each about the size of a basketball, lies frozen in place. The sensors keep watch for thousands of momentary flashes of blue light that zip by every second, some the result of collisions between neutrinos — nearly massless subatomic particles with no electrical charge — and the relatively large atomic nuclei in the frozen water.

01 Jan 2012

Bare Earth Elements: IceCube observatory spurs "dawn of new age" in astronomy

The main purpose of the world’s largest neutrino observatory — the $270-million IceCube project — is to detect and hopefully identify the as-yet-only-theorized sources of exceptionally high-energy subatomic neutrinos that stream through space. In a new study, the members of the project, comprising about 250 scientists, laid out their case showing that the first of those goals — detection — has been accomplished. They detailed 28 detection events of neutrinos ranging in energy from about 30 tera-electronvolts (TeV) to 1.14 peta-electronvolts (PeV) — far higher than for any neutrinos previously observed — and suspected of having originated outside the solar system in violent phenomena like quasars and gamma ray bursts.

25 Nov 2013

Ancient volcanic island arc blocked Antarctic current formation

There has long been a debate in the geological community over what caused the formation of the Antarctic ice sheet during the Eocene-Oligocene period about 30 million years ago. One of the widely accepted hypotheses is that the glaciation was triggered by the commencement of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), an ocean current that circles Antarctica insulating the continent from the warm waters to the north, allowing the ice sheet to remain relatively stable.

11 Sep 2013

Bare Earth Elements: Cool time-lapse shows movement of ice and animals in Antarctica's Ross Sea

Has anyone else been obsessed with Antarctica lately? As an erstwhile scientist with a lasting interest in the life that inhabits what we think of as extreme environments (not to mention the physical environments themselves), I’ve been gleefully soaking up details from the myriad news reports, blog entries and scientific studies coming out of the icy continent of late. The latest bit of fodder for my Antarctophilia is a 5-minute time-lapse video (below) taken from the icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer during a recent two-month stint in the Ross Sea.

14 May 2013

Antarctic trees surprise scientists

Antarctic ice sheets can be unforgiving field sites for scientists looking for fossils, as the ice grinds and pulverizes signs of previous life. The adjacent ocean sediments, however, are a good hiding place for microscopic fossils from plants — pollen and leaf waxes that provide clues to ancient temperatures. Scientists have now retrieved samples of pollen and leaf wax from 15.5-million- to 20-million-year-old sediments that indicate Antarctica not only received more rain during the Middle Miocene than previously thought, but was also home to trees, albeit stubby ones.

03 Sep 2012

Five outstanding questions in earth science

Even 15 years after the release of “Good Will Hunting,” there remains something appealing about watching the title character, a mathematically inclined janitor at MIT, scribble the solution to an unsolved mathematics problem on a hallway blackboard. In reality, there are a number of unsolved problems in mathematics, seven of which were designated in 2000 by the Clay Mathematics Institute as “Millennium Prize Problems,” each with a purse of $1,000,000. To date, only one has been solved.

27 Jun 2012

CryoScoop: Two-decade Antarctic drilling effort complete

Valery Lukin, director of the Russian Antarctic program, confirmed today that a team of Russian scientists has completed an Antarctic drilling project two decades in the making, according to the Associated Press. The team finished drilling on Feb. 5 through 3.25 kilometers of ice to reach Lake Vostok, the largest subglacial lake in the world.

07 Feb 2012