Land of Rock and Ice

Katie Joy | 17 Jan 2019

We have had some mixed weather over the last couple of days. The day before yesterday was light winds but also light flurries of snow, meaning that we lost all surface contrast making it difficult to see the size of sastrugi and to spot potential crevasses. As such we had a tent day, which was spent reading, a bit of snoozing, doing a bit of report writing, and cooking a tasty sausage and spaghetti dinner.

The wind picked up in the night and changed direction back to the prevailing wind from the east. We awoke to some blowing snow, but it cleared up into broken clouds by mid-morning meaning we could go out and put some routes in to the local icefields. We were aiming for a site about ten km to the SE of us, and spent about four hours driving around on some great looking blue ice. The light snow we had had the day before had mostly blown away, although there was still some sitting within regions of the ice suncupped surface impeding our view. We drove on and discovered and amazing wave wall of blue ice some 60 m high, when we got closer we realised that it wasn’t as steep as we thought and we could drive up onto the top of the ice crossing across the slope getting a good view of the local area. We were surfing a blue ice wave! In short, after four or so hours of driving around we saw a lot of great ice, but no meteorite discoveries.

Our blue ice wave [Credit: K H Joy]

We headed back towards camp and stopped off on route via our nunatak to see what the local geology is like. A short stop turned into a couple of hours of enjoyable bimbling over the hillside (read — being a geologist I got a bit carried away) which turned out to be a mix of different sandstone sedimentary layers (some with wave rippled surfaces) with some petrified wood deposits, cross cut by small basaltic magma dykes. I suspect that the sediments are part of the Beacon Group, which can be found to the north of here in the Shackleton mountain range, and formed in the Permian-Triassic period.

Top of nunatak showing interlocked rock surface [Credit: K H Joy]

The top surface of the nunatak is relatively snow free and desert pavement-like — where the eroded rocks work themselves through freeze thaw action or via small earthquakes into a consolidated pattern to make a hard surface. It was more like walking around in the Atacama desert or on the surface of Mars than being in Antarctica. Would you believe it there was a meteorite sitting on top nestled into the rock surface. We had spent all day on the blue ice, only to find one up here — I wasn’t sure whether to be cross or happy, but settled on the latter as it is the first for our new site. This is by no means the first time a meteorite has been found on top of a nunatak — they are often dropped on top of topographic highs when the overlying ice sheet retreats. So that takes us to 21 samples in all. We returned to the funky little shack of our pyramid tent and ate a late supper feeling pretty hungry and tired after a long day out exploring, but glad to have an unexpected meteorite discovery in the bag.

The meteorite discovery from the top of the nunatak [Credit: K H Joy]

The weather report is mixed for the next few days, with a wind and snow storm due in on Sunday. It is a bit cloudy at the moment but we aim to get out today to one of the icefields we have put a route into to see if there are any meteorites lurking there.

PS Happy Birthday Dad! Hope you have had a lovely birthday and sorry not to be with you to celebrate.

One thought on “Land of Rock and Ice

  1. I remember listening to a talk about micrometeorites that a good place to find them was in the cracks and crevices of mountains in Antarctica although why you would think you should be able to find them in any similar environment, not just Antarctic peaks, however for some reason unknown to me the Antarctic is a good place to find micrometeorites…see

    I don’t think this has got anything to do with meteorites and ‘circulating’ ice. Perhaps it is because precipitation is low? On other hand wouldn’t freeze-thaw damage them?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s