RETURN TO ANTARCTICA

Geoff Evatt | 22 Nov 2019

Hello and welcome (back?) to our Lost Meteorites of Antarctica blog. After 7 years in the making, we are now set for the grand finale of the project! Yes, on Sunday our team departs for Antarctica in the search of subsurface iron meteorites. In theory, we reach the continent on Tuesday. We are not expected back until the end of January 2020.

The field  team is comprised of Katie and Romain (meteoriticists), Wouter (engineer), Taff (field guide) and myself (head of chainsawing?). Of course this leaves a much larger team back in the UK who will continue to support us. It is our intention to supply almost daily updates of the project and life in the Antarctic, via this blog. Please feel free to submit questions and we shall endeavour to answer and queries people might have.

As it stands, we’ll have a week in Rothera (the British Antarctic Survey’s main base) to check all of our equipment is in order, repack bags and conduct some final field training. After that we cross the continent to the “Outer Recovery Ice Fields”, where Katie and Julie (our field guide) visited last January to collect the UK’s first haul of meteorites. In so doing Katie and Julie were the first people ever to visit the spot — meaning we got to officially name the place (another first for the project). This project has been a blast all the way, with so much enjoyable help from so many people (thank you everyone). As planned, we have also unearthed some truly interesting and useful science, much of which we’ll explain in upcoming posts. In the mean-time, wish us well, and we look forward to supplying you with tales of scientific adventure from farthest South!

Overview of the Antarctic Peninsula, Queen Elizabeth Land and Coats Land. Rothera, the team’s initial destination is at the far left of the map, whilst their goal of Outer Recovery is at the far right hand side. Right click and open in new tab for a more detailed view. [Credit: Andy Smedley]

Meteorite searching in hotter deserts

18 Nov 2019

You can pop over to our sister blog site at Earth and Solar System https://earthandsolarsystem.wordpress.com/2019/11/17/atacama-meteorite-recovery-expedition-2019/ to see what two of the UK Antarctic Meteorites team (Katherine Joy and Romain Tartese) have been up to over the last couple of weeks in the Atacama desert.

Somewhat warmer meteorite hunting than our forthcoming season on the ice!

Getting ready to head to the ice

Katie Joy | 27 Sep 2019

It only seems like we just got back from Svalbard, but the next phase of the Lost Meteorites project field campaign has reached a milestone. We have packed up all of our equipment to send down to Antarctica for the upcoming field campaign.

The plan at the moment is for four team members – Geoff (project PI), Wouter (l field engineer), Katie (meteorite expert) and Romain (meteorite expert) to get to BAS’s Rothera reserach station in late November, and then travel onto the field to meet up with our field guide Taffs for the remote fieldsite campaign.

To support our final field season we have packed up and shipped all the items we are going to need for the planned season:

  • Five of our metal detector panels – we are taking two arrays with us (with five panels per array) and all the updated design of the electronic signal processing system boxes
  • the panel array towing kit (see below)
  • ice augers for extracting ice-bound meteorites
  • meteorite collection kits to recover meteorites found and within the ice
  • ancillary field gear

All this equipment is now making its way south so we look forward to seeing it in Antarctica in November!

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Welcome Jane!

25 Sep 2019

We have a new Lost Meteorites of Antarctica team member!

Welcome to Dr Jane MacArthur, who did her PhD at the Univeristy of Leicester, has started working in the Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences Isotope Group to help with the meteorite classification activities. Jane has expertise working with martian meteorites and samples collected by the Stardust comet sample return mission, and brings with her a lot of knowledge about different meteorite groups. 

We are looking forward to getting started on seeing what types of samples were recovered in the first field campaign and hope to post some exciting updates in the near future. 

Busy, Busy, Busy

Andy Smedley | 20 Aug 2019

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog over the summer, but behind the scenes preparations are well and truly underway for the upcoming field season. We’re all working towards a shipping date at the end of the August so that the equipment can be in Antarctica for November. The metal detecting electronics have been revised, curation kit assembled, risk assessments completed, packing is imminent and we’ve been going through a final couple of rounds of field testing.

The field site we use in the Peak District is close to a pleasant, but relatively unknown, town called Whaley Bridge. Unknown, that is, until the other week, when for a few days it become national headline news. As residents were evacuated due to the threat of the potential collapse of the Toddbrook Reservoir dam, the town was shut down while emergency repairs were carried out. This led to the rather surreal experience of carrying out field work as a Chinook helicopter passed back and forth dropping aggregate and sand bags to stabilise the dam.

Considering that a couple of the project team members houses are directly downstream and right next to the river, our field site provided a useful vantage point to find out whether their houses would be inundated!


Click to listen to Geoff’s thoughts


Field testing in Whaley Bridge.
Final adjustments to the electronics.
An unusual view from the field site — a Chinook approaches the damaged Toddbrook reservoir dam.
The Chinook prepares to drop sandbags to stabilise the dam.

Farewell Svalbard

Geoff Evatt | 18 Mar 2019

Hello, and hopefully soon, goodbye, from Svalbard. I say this as our return flight back to Longyearbyen has just been cancelled due to the gale-force blizzard going on outside the door… (If we fly tomorrow instead, then things should still be OK for returning to the UK — apologies if any of my lectures are missed as a consequence!).

Long evenings. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]
A view across Kongsfjorden; in the foreground the airship mast used during the 1926 Norge expedition to the North Pole. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]

Anyhow, we’ve had an excellent trip, and been looked after brilliantly by the base manager Nick (thank you!). The present weather aside, we’ve had an fantastic run of things, where we’ve been out conducting field trials for 8 days solid with our metal detector array. Only on the last afternoon did the the storm start to come in, just whilst we were clearing the test site up, which added a thrill to things. I think we’re now in agreement that the system will likely detect 100 gram iron meteorites down to 20 cm in real-time, and finding smaller and/or deeper objects will require post-processing back in the tents after a day’s searching (in so doing, we won’t be distracted by the system constantly pinging due to background noise, and we’ll only get off the skidoos to investigate the largest signals). Should we locate iron meteorites much larger than 100 grams, then we’ll also find them in real-time at much deeper depths. This is all testament to our engineers Liam, Wouter and John, who have designed, built, and tinkered with the system over the past couple of years, and who are likewise trapped with me in the Arctic base.

Manual labour to start the day. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]
The northern lights or aurora borealis. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]
Reindeer in front of the Kronebreen glacier. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]
The Svalbard 2019 team.

As you will see from the images, the bitter cold we’ve had for most of the trip has been tempered by the stunning conditions. And the northern lights we saw two nights ago really capped the trip off well. As for wildlife, then only reindeer and seals this year, with no polar bears for distraction. That said, having the BBC’s Today Programme up here acted to keep us continually interested in what was going on around us, and many thanks to them for putting together their news-piece on our project, which can be listened to here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p073j631

Liam and I were particularly pleased about this, as it’s not often two New Mills residents feature so prominently on the news! And in case you are interested, my project colleagues back in the UK, Andy and Dave, plus myself, set four of the Arctic-themed “Puzzles for Today” this week, which can be found here (puzzle numbers 434-437):

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p063yhf0

It’s strange to think that the next time the system will be used in the cold will be down in Antarctica, where discussions as to exactly where we head to, and how much area we’re likely to search, are now well underway. In the mean-time, further equipment tinkering and engineering will commence back in Manchester, where the big deadline for shipping things South is mid-August.

All-in-all, we now have the two key components of the project together: we know where on the continent to search, and we have built the equipment capable of detecting englacial iron meteorites. The proof of whether they are actually lost within the ice, will now be in the pudding!

Goodbye Svalbard. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]