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!
We are making two separate trips to Antarctica for our first season on the ice. Both field campaigns have different objectives, but come together to lay the ground for our main field expedition in 2019-2020.
Katie flies out to Chile on the 20th December 2018, where after landing in Santiago, she will fly down to the southernmost tip of the South American continent to Punta Arenas, the main Antarctic gateway for the British Antarctic Survey. BAS’s DASH 7 plane will then transport her to Antarctic peninsula, and she will meet up with field guide Julie at Rothera research station. After training, packing the field equipment for transport (and Christmas!) the team of two will be flying out to the deep field via a Twin Otter prop plane for a blue icefield meteorite search reconnaissance mission. The exact field plans will be weather and surface condition dependent, but we are aiming to try and visit several icefields close to the Recovery Glacier region (south of the Shackleton Mountain region). We may get the chance to fly through BAS’s Halley VI Research Station on route to the field. Four weeks of field work will involve searching these sites and collecting any meteorite samples that are found on the ice. The samples will be returned to the UK for further study next year and will provide vital information about which ice fields are productive search areas, and what types of meteorites have emerged at the surface. We will use this knowledge to plan which field site to return to in December 2019 for the main expedition. After four weeks Katie and Julie will fly back to Rothera, and return to the UK in early February.
Geoff will be heading down to Antarctica later than Katie in early January 2019 (following the same route via Chile to the Peninsula). We are hoping to have a day or so overlap in Rothera to touch base and finalise the field equipment unpacking (see previous blog post). Geoff and BAS’s Mike Rose will be heading out to the Sky Blu ice runway, which is a blue icefield used as a transport airstrip. The guys will spend a week or so at the runway site testing the metal detector panel array that was built back in Manchester and in Cambridge. This will help tune the sensitivity of the system to detect metal objects buried at different depths in the ice, to test the electronic signal processing at appropriate skidoo speeds and the ruggedness of the detector array system. We will understand a lot more about the panel performance after these vital tests, which can feed forward to improvements for the main sub-surface meteorite trip in 2019. Geoff will get back to the UK in late January 2019.
Fieldwork in Antarctica is a massive logistical and human challenge – from getting scientists to the continent, ensuring that they are trained to go out into the middle of the continent, and actually living and working on the ice, it takes a vast number of highly trained people. Fortunately, BAS are really good at this and have an amazing bunch of people that we are working with – from their Cambridge headquarters, on the bases we will visit and into the field.
To help get us prepared for our upcoming trip Geoff and I joined the new BAS staff for pre-season training. During our four-day intensive course we met a wide range of people from vehicle mechanics, chefs, science support crews, boat swains, base managers and field guides, seal and penguin tagging and monitoring teams, doctors – many of whom have signed up for an amazing 18 month stints down on the ice. We also met some of the other science crews who in the 2018 austral season will be undertaking deep ice drilling and hot ice drilling operations to study past climate on the continent, and others who are studying seal populations on South Georgia Island to understand communities and breeding patterns.
The training was split into several sessions. First up was and introduction to BAS history, operations, science and practice: BAS operate out of five bases – Rothera, on the peninsula, Halley, on the eastern side of the Weddell Sea, Bird Island and King Edward Point on South Georgia island and Signy island. People on the bases, on the ships and in the field undertake different science projects – some (like ours) are very seasonal, some run all year round. We got a chance to hear from BAS scientists who run some of these longer term projects, looked around the Cambridge BAS building and met people who run the archive facility, ice core storage facility and the geology prep and rock stores.
We also got a chance to try on our field kit and check that it all fitted – from insulating boots (very important to get the size and fit right), through to thermal underwear, outer layers and woolly hats – everything was reviewed and items swapped out as needed.
Hardy insulated ice ready shoes
Kit bags ready for collection and checking
BAS issued polar insulating boots and field kit bags
The last couple of days focused on an intensive and rapid introduction to medical situations and protocols. The polar medical office (British Antarctic Survey Medical Unit ) is run out of Plymouth NHS Hospital and the team travelled up to Cambridge for the training event. In small groups we ran over recognition of life signs and medical problems through to how to bandage up a broken limb, deliver an injection (into an orange!), learn about pain relief options, and about mental health in remote, often stressful, environments. The course were rounded off by undertaking practicals where actors delivered a series of medical scenarios for our group to try and deal with (imagine fending off an imaginary seal whilst trying to deal with someone with a broken leg – that sort of thing…). Frankly I hope that I never have to put anything I learnt as part of the sessions into practice – but it was an incredibly useful quick fire overview of what to do and how to relay information with people back on station and back in Plymouth if needed.