Avoiding the Italian Job

Geoff Evatt | 19 Dec 2018

At the end of the Italian Job, the looted gold is left at the rear of a coach that dangles dangerously over a precipice; tangentially close, yet also so far away: “Hang on boys, I’ve got an idea….”. Well, I too have had an idea. Chainsaws. OK, so that might not have helped Michael Caine in his predicament, but hopefully it’ll help us should we locate any englacial meteorites.

2018-12-04_08-57-36 chainsaw training GWE small
Essential course material: chainsaw, underlying theory, vape… [Credit: G W Evatt]

To be ready for sawing out some meteorites in a year’s time, I will give it a practise this coming January down at the BAS base, Sky-Blu. (the chainsaw bar length is 40 cm, the meteorites could be 50 cm deep: hmmm). And before I can even practise in the field, I was sent on a chainsaw course on an industrial estate in Chesterfield. Yes, it was a long long way from Antarctica, but it was freezing and the corrugated iron all around had a certain monotonous colouring, so maybe that will all come in useful. More importantly, I learned a lot about fixing basic chainsaw issues, how to sharpen chains, and how to cut logs the correct way (I’ve done a reasonable amount of chainsawing at home, but now I know sooo much more). The course instructor, James, also gave good suggestions as to how to cut ice and deal with the cold. In short, I feel much more prepared and confident about using the saw down there.

2018-12-04_10-32-06 chainsaw training GWE small
Tools of the trade. [Credit: G W Evatt]

And what if it’s a total failure (as in does not let me extract lumps of ice)? Well, I’ve also sent down a farm-shop of ironmongery, saws and ice drills. Between these, I hope that we will find an efficient method that allows us to extract any iron meteorites we detect. After all I want be prepared and confident, and we don’t wan’t to face any Italian Job conundrums….

2018-12-04_14-02-45 chainsaw training GWE small
Practising for Antarctica [Credit: G W Evatt]

PS For those of you really into their chainsaws, I’ll be using battery powered DeWalt one. Whilst it cut the Chesterfield logs very effectively, it may be a totally different matter in the cold, in which case I’ll have to opt to using a petrol one instead next season.

More preparations for the field

Katie Joy | 27 Nov 2018

We are within a month or so now of our first field season, and are wrapping up the many final preparations before we pack our bags and head down to Heathrow airport to catch our planes south. Things on the agenda before we leave include:

  • Loading up our GPS systems with maps of the regions we are visiting. We will need this information to track ground coverage in the meteorite searches and to plan for in field traverses to access the different field sites
  • Making sure we have enough batteries for our electronic equipment. Batteries really don’t hold charge well in the sorts of cold temperatures we will be working in (probably at least -20 degrees C). Therefore, we need to make sure we have enough spares of the right type all packed up and ready to hand carry. We have a lot of electronic equipment from cameras, to GPSs, to thermometers and laptops, so there is a lot of prep to do to make sure we have backups and backstops to our backups.
  • Testing a portable magnetic susceptibility field probe, built by our colleagues at Centre Européen de Recherche et d’Enseignement des Géosciences de l’Environnement (CEREGE) in Aix-en-Provence France. We will use this device in the field to assess the magnetic susceptibility and conductivity of any samples we are unsure are really meteorites or not. We have a set of test meteorites in Manchester (different types of stones, different sizes and masses) that PhD student Tom Harvey is trailing across different temperature regimes.
  • We have been teaching Geoff how to collect a meteorite following our pre-defined field procedures. Geoff and Mike’s team are heading to Sky Blu, which is a rock free ice runway site and are not really anticipating that there will be many if not any meteorites in this location as it doesn’t really conform to the types of sites we expect meteorites to be concentrated. However, in anticipation of a serendipitous discovery, Geoff will be taking a small field kit with him to collect any meteorite samples the team might come across during their equipment testing campaign.
  • Printing out copies of all our documents so we have spares in case our laptops decide not to wake up in the cold tents!
  • Meeting with students and colleagues that we won’t be seeing for a month or more to check that our research projects and students will be going on fine whilst we are away…