Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Photos from the 2014-15 Field Season

Greetings from McMurdo!  Fellow BU grad student, Sean Mackay, and I recently pulled out of the field following several weeks in the field.   Our research took us across all corners of McMurdo Sound and the Dry Valleys.  In this post I'm including some of my favorite pictures from the ~50 day expedition. The field season was overall a success and we were able to collect excellent data to better resolve the Quaternary glacial history of McMurdo Sound and outlet glaciers draining through the Transantarctic Mountains.  Thanks very much for reading the blog this season!
Field camp at Brown Peninsula overlooking the Royal Society Range
Turnabout Valley in the Quartermain Mountains
Flying over the Royal Society Range with Ross Island in the distance

Brahm Pass in the Quartermain Mountains
Beacon Valley
Supraglacial meltwater channels and frozen meltwater ponds on the Koettlitz Glacier
Camp in Beacon Valley

Supraglacial debris on Cassidy Glacier, a tributary to Taylor Glacier

Ferrar Dolerite intrusions into the Beacon Supergroup at Terra Cotta Mountain

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Update from Mount Discovery

If you have been following our blog, you may have noticed a delay between the date of our last post and when it was uploaded to the Internet.  The weather on Brown Peninsula and in McMurdo Sound during the end of November was marked by cloudy skies and quite a bit of snow.  The weather caused a delay in scheduled helo flights, and thus I was not able to send the last blog post as soon as I had intended – sorry for the delay!

Now to answer some questions from our readers.  I am delighted to hear from Mr. Hazlinsky’s 6th grade class at the Driscoll School in Brookline, MA!  I’ve alluded to it already, but the weather conditions for most of November were snowy and cloudy.  The air temperature was usually about -5°C, as low as -14°C, and as high as 0°C. (I’m hoping the Driscoll students will remember the metric conversion for Celsius to Fahrenheit we learned last September.)  There were a few days where snow fell in the vicinity of our camp with individual storm totals nearing 10 cm.  That may not sound like much snow, but it is enough to cover the glacial drifts we’re studying, which makes our work difficult.  On those snowy days we stayed in the tent where we caught up on notes, organized the camp, read scientific papers related to our project, and waited for the weather to clear.  Since December began, we have had sunnier skies and temperatures have warmed to just below freezing.  Summer is well under way in McMurdo Sound. 

A white snowy day on Brown Peninsula
A white snowy day on Brown Peninsula. The snow storms in November dumped enough snow to cover up the rocks around camp making our geomorphologic mapping difficult.

In the field we eat mostly dehydrated or frozen foods.  Each morning we wake up to turn on the stove, heat up water, drink coffee or hot Tang, and eat oatmeal and granola.  For lunch we have granola bars, chocolate bars, or something that is easy to carry in a pocket.  I’m particularly fond of a granola bar from New Zealand that has fruit and chocolate in it. Dinners usually consist of some sort of chili-like dish with macaroni noodles, frozen vegetables, beans, TVP (textured vegetable protein, which is essentially a vegetarian version of ground beef) , and lots of cheese and butter.  Since we are working outside in colder temperatures, our bodies need and can metabolize more food, so we eat as much as we want.

As for my beard, it has grown in well and acts as an additional neck and face warmer.  My mustache is getting almost too long as it covers my lower lip when my mouth is closed.  I promise not to shave before I return to Driscoll, but I do promise to shower!

The bearded author
The bearded author

Weather and snow delays aside, we have continued to research Late Quaternary Antarctic ice sheets in McMurdo Sound and the Dry Valleys.  When the West Antarctic Ice Sheet expanded during past glacial periods, ice not only enveloped the volcanic islands of McMurdo Sound, but also dammed outlet glaciers draining the East Antarctic Ice Sheet in the Transantarctic Mountains.  In the northern McMurdo Dry Valleys, the Mackay Glacier currently terminates as a floating ice tongue into the Ross Sea.  When the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was expanded, however, the Mackay Glacier was dammed and could not flow freely into the Ross Sea.  This ice damming caused the Mackay Glacier to thicken and subsequently deposit glacial drift nearly 500 meters above its current elevation.  In similar fashion to our work on Brown Peninsula, we collected glacial erratics for cosmogenic nuclide dating in the Mackay Glacier area to determine how the glacier responded to the retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.  This compiled terrestrial glacial geologic dataset will help to refine our understanding of the dynamics of the West and East Antarctic Ice Sheets during past glacial periods. 

Sean Mackay stands on a glacial moraine
Fellow BU and Marchant graduate student Sean Mackay stands on a glacial moraine deposited by a thicker Mackay Glacier when the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was expanded during the last glacial period.

Professor Marchant departed the field a few days ago to return to Boston, and Sean Mackay, a fellow BU graduate student advised by Professor Marchant, is now in camp.  We are currently on Mount Discovery overlooking Minna Bluff and the Ross Ice Shelf.  Time is going by quickly; there are only a few weeks left in the field season.  As always, I look forward to answering any questions about our research and life in camp.

Mt Discovery, our current camp.
Mt Discovery, an inactive stratovolcano, is the location of our current camp.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Settling in at Brown Peninsula

Greetings from the field! There has been a lull since our last blog post- that is because Dave (Professor Marchant) and I have been out at our first field camp for the past couple of weeks.  This blog can only be updated when a helicopter comes to visit our camp so that the text and pictures may be delivered via a USB flash drive to McMurdo, where it can be uploaded to the internet.  We are without internet connectivity at our camp site, but have radios and a satellite phone to communicate with McMurdo.  Without the helicopter crews and our friend Rosalind in the IT department at McMurdo Station, updating this blog would not be possible – so we are thankful for their help!

On November 13th, Dave and I left McMurdo by helicopter to fly across McMurdo Sound to our first camp location, Brown Peninsula.  Brown Peninsula is a volcanic arm connected to Mt. Discovery, an extinct volcano.  The tip of Brown Peninsula is dotted with cinder cones, each of which represents sites of former volcanic eruptions. 

Our first campsite overlooks th Royal Society Range and Koettlitz Glacier.
Our first campsite overlooks the Royal Society Range and Koettlitz Glacier.  Can you spot our tent?
Photo: Andrew Christ

While we are excited to work amongst volcanoes, Dave and I are most interested in the glacial sediments that wrap around the cinder cones and bedrock knobs on Brown Peninsula.  Most of these sediments were deposited by an expanded West Antarctic Ice Sheet(s) that nearly engulfed all of Brown Peninsula at various times in the past.  We are here to date these deposits, in particular the youngest ones - which may be synchronous with the last global glaciation (LGM) worldwide – and the oldest ones, which typically date the maximum ice advance on the islands in McMurdo Sound.   We can distinguish where  ice expanded onto Brown Peninsula by mapping moraines and glacial drift; the moraines are linear ridges that provide an upper limit to an ice advance – much as a dirty ring in a bath tub records the maximum dirty-water level (in this case, maximum ice level).    See the picture below to view what some of the glacial drift looks like from above.

Gray glacial drift is draped onto the sides of the red cinder cone volcano.
Gray glacial drift is draped onto the sides of the red cinder cone volcano.  Although  there is no longer an ice sheet on Brown Peninsula today, the moraine evidence pictured here shows that in the recent past, perhaps the LGM, a grounded ice sheet filled McMurdo Sound and advanced up to 340 m elevation on this cinder cone. 
Photo: David Marchant

As noted above, a major goal of our research project is to map past ice extent.  To accomplish part of this task we are using a high-precision GPS unit to survey the exact locations of glacial landforms and moraines on Brown Peninsula.  By collecting GPS data (latitude, longitude, and elevation) we can create accurate maps of the glacial geology and former ice limits on Brown Peninsula.  I am carrying a GPS unit mounted on a backpack.

Andrew collects GPS data on Brown Peninsula with lenticular clouds above.
Andrew collects GPS data on Brown Peninsula.  Note the lenticular clouds above – it was a windy day! Photo: David Marchant

Wish me luck as we continue our work on Brown Peninsula!  Please feel free to leave questions in the comment box below, and I will attempt to answer them as I can.  I am aware of one question from my friend Dave in Boston, MA: “What time zone are we using?” 
Answer: We are the same time zone as Auckland, New Zealand, which is 18 hours ahead of the East coast of the US.

The view of Ross Island and McMurdo Sound from near the top of a cinder cone on Brown Peninsula.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Arrival in Antarctica and Preparing for the Field

Last Friday, Professor Marchant and I boarded an Air Force C-17 cargo jet and flew south from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  Unlike commercial airliners, passengers sit along the walls of the fuselage and large cargo pallets take up most of the room in the plane.  The walls of the C-17 are not sound-proofed so once the engines are fired up, it's very noisy inside.

Most of the flight south is over the Southern Ocean meaning the views from the windows are mostly blue, but once we pass over the Antarctic continent, the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet and Transantarctic Mountains come into view.  It is quite a stunning sight as peaks are fully encased in ice and the entire landscape has no colors other than white snow and blue sky.
The glaciated Transantarctic Mountains in Northern Victoria Land, Antarctica
The flight lasted about 5 hours and before we knew it we had landed on the Ross Ice Shelf and arrived in Antarctica.  There was some special cargo on-board that was unloaded before the passengers.  The C-17 doors opened in the rear of the aircraft and forklifts came to retrieve the cargo.
Unloading cargo from the rear of the C-17

The C-17 on the ice runway.

We then boarded a large "people mover" that slowly rolls over the fragile ice road towards McMurdo Station.  At McMurdo, we have been busy preparing for camping at remote field sites in McMurdo Sound and in the Transantarctic Mountains.  This includes testing out our tents, stoves, satellite phones, and radios, picking up enough food to survive on our own (including plenty of chocolate!), setting up a communication plan with McMurdo Station for safety, and organizing helicopter flights to our field sites.  We have been busy!

Tomorrow, Professor Marchant and I will fly via helicopter out to our first field site on Brown Peninsula, an arm of Mt. Discovery, a large, extinct volcano adjacent to McMurdo Sound.  We will spend a couple of weeks camping there collecting data to determin the extent of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet during the Last Glacial Maximum (the peak of the last Ice Age).  We will keep you posted with our progress.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Traveling to Antarctica for this year's expedition

On November 3rd, Professor Marchant and I began the long journey towards McMurdo Station Antarctica.  We departed Boston in the afternoon and headed west towards Los Angeles; there, we boarded a 14-hr flight across the Pacific to Sydney, Australia.  Following a long, jet-lagged layover in Sydney we flew over the Tasman Sea to Christchurch, New Zealand, the jumping-off point for Antarctica.  After all is said and done, we will have been in transit for roughly 40 hours.

Our stay in New Zealand will be brief.  After we pick up our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear we will board military aircraft in Christchurch and fly south towards McMurdo Sound.  If all goes according to plan and there are no weather delays, we should be in McMurdo by Friday afternoon.

This season our team will consist of five people: Professor Marchant, fellow Marchant graduate student Sean Mackay, Professor Douglas Kowalewski (Worcester State University and former Marchant graduate student), Kowalewski's student Austin, and myself.  While everyone will be out in the field for weeks, I will be out the longest-  I'm sure I will have quite a beard by the end of the expedition!

This season we will be spending time on the volcanic islands of McMurdo Sound making detailed glacial geologic maps and collecting rock, sediment, and ice samples.  Below is a picture of what our work and the area looks like.
Andrew Christ collects a boulder for cosmogenic nuclide dating on Mount Discovery in January 2014

While we are working in the field, I will be updating this blog and answering questions.  To submit a question simply post a comment on a post, and I will respond as I am able to.  In order to post a comment you must have a Google account or any of the blogging profiles listed in the comment dialog box.  I'm particularly looking forward to hearing from the 6th graders at the Michael Driscoll School in Brookline, MA - go Dragons! - and students of the Coolidge Middle School in Reading, MA. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Field Preparations & News from the BU Antarctic Research Group

Field Preparations 


Preparing for an Antarctic field season begins nearly as soon as the previous one ends.  In Boston we process and analyze data collected in the field, informing us of what data or experiments need to be collected or conducted next.  A couple months after a field season, our rock samples arrive (last year we received 2000 lbs of rocks we collected!) after traveling by cargo ship and truck from Antarctica to Boston.  By the end of the end of the summer, barely 6 months after the last field season, we begin packing up equipment to ship to Antarctica by cargo ship.

This year our group sent multiple ground penetrating radar (GPR) units, rock drilling supplies, and other equipment that we will use during the upcoming field season.  The GPR is a geophysical instrument that emits and receives energy waves that allow us to map out the stratigraphy of surficial materials, including glacial drift, glacial ice, ground ice, and permafrost.  It's a useful tool that collects a great deal of data that, after many months of data processing, reveals the near-surface anatomy of the Antarctic Dry Valleys.

After carefully documenting the equipment, we packaged it and sent it to Port Hueneme, California.  Our scientific cargo along with other researchers' equipment will take the slow boat to Antarctica.  This total journey is 3,000 miles by truck across the United States and over 8,200 miles by ship across the Pacific Ocean.  When we arrive by airplane on the Ross Ice Shelf in November, our equipment will be there for us to use in the field.  Until November we will be planning out our strategy for the quickly approaching field season!
After 3,000 miles by truck (above) and and 8,200 miles and 112 degrees of latitude by boat (below), our equipment arrives at  McMurdo Station, Antarctica

BU Seminar Series on Climate Change

This fall Professor Marchant launched a new undergraduate program that brings students from the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Communication, and School of Education, to study climate change through a prestigious grant awarded to him by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  As part of the new program, BU is hosting a Seminar Series on Climate featuring prominent climate scientists, science documentary producers, and media specialists to discuss a wide range of issues related to global climate change.  These lectures are free and open to the public- if you are in the Boston area your attendance is welcome and encouraged!  Details about the seminar series are included in the image below.
Click to enlarge for details

Job Postings: Two tenure-track Assistant Professor positions in Climate Science


The Department of Earth & Environment at Boston University is undertaking a major expansion in the field of climate change and invites applications for two tenure-track Assistant Professor positions beginning July 2015. We seek scholars trained in a wide range of specializations including climate dynamics, recent climate history, hydroclimatology, and climate impacts and adaptations. We encourage applicants with interests in broader questions of the impacts of climate change on society (water resources, food, health, energy, land use), as well as those who complement existing strengths in remote sensing, coastal processes, and landscape evolution. We anticipate hiring additional scholars with expertise in climate change over the next several years. The successful applicant will be expected to supervise graduate research in Ph.D. programs, teach at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and maintain an externally funded research program. We seek applicants whose research complements strengths in the Department and around the University. For more information about the Department, see http://www.bu.edu/earth. A Ph.D. at the time of appointment is required. Please apply online at https://academicjobsonline.org/ajo/jobs/4439, including a curriculum vitae, a statement of research and teaching interests, and the names and addresses of at least three referees. Should you have questions about the position, please feel free to contact Anthony Janetos, Search Committee Chair, Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University, 685 Commonwealth Ave, Boston MA 02215; email: earth@bu.edu. Review of applications will begin on December 1, 2014. Women and underrepresented minorities are particularly encouraged to apply. We are an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law. We are a VEVRAA Federal Contractor.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Greetings from the new BU GLACIER Fellow

 Hi there!

I'm Andrew Christ, the newest PhD student in the Boston University Antarctic Research Group.  I am a glacial geologist interested in the history of Earth's climate.  This past year I've grown immensely as a young scientist through coursework, research, and field experience.  Last November through January, I embarked on a incredible expedition to Antarctica.  While I have spent a great deal of my life in the outdoors, camping for seven (7!) weeks in the Transantarctic Mountains was truly remarkable.  Below are some pictures I took during the expedition.

Our field team striking classic Antarctic hero poses like the early explorers.
While 98% of the Antarctic continent is encapsulated in glacial ice, the McMurdo Dry Valleys are largely ice free.  Even more unique, the Dry Valleys are so cold and dry that no lifeforms more complex than lichen, algae, and microbes can survive.  This strange environment felt more like an alien world than Earth.
Sampling rocks along side the Stocking Glacier in Taylor Valley
During our expedition we collected rocks, sediment, and ice in order to understand how glaciers fluctuated during the Pliocene, a time period 2.5 to 5 million years ago when the Earth's climate was warmer than it is today. 
Our campsite on Mount Discovery, an extinct stratovolcano

At the end of the expedition I traveled with my PhD advisor, Professor David Marchant, to Mount Discovery, a volcano in McMurdo Sound to decipher how large the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was during the last ice age and when it retreated.  This November I will return to McMurdo Sound with Professor Marchant to continue this work.  We will keep this blog active during our expedition giving live updates of our fieldwork.  

One of many Antarctic selfies- this was on a very windy and cold day. 
The stunning sea ice pressure ridges near McMurdo Station
This coming year I will be a BU GK12 GLACIER Fellow where I will work closely with classes from local Brookline and Reading middle schools to assist in teaching science.  I hope to integrate my own research and experiences in Antarctica, and bring the field to the classroom.  I look forward to growing my teaching skills and enriching science education at the middle school level.

In the coming weeks, look for additional posts as we prepare for our 2014 expedition, which leaves from Boston around November 1st.   I’ll upload project goals and let you know how you can reach us in Antarctica.  We will be working closely with middle schools from Brookline and Reading MA, but we welcome inquiries on how to participate in the Boston University Antarctic Research Group from other schools. 

The glaciers of Wright Valley and the Onyx River, the longest river in Antarctica
Also, I’ll post  new information about BU’s new initiative in climate science, spearheaded by our Antarctic Research Director, Professor David Marchant.  Dave has plans to integrate climate-science education in STEM sciences across three colleges in the university:  The College of Arts and Sciences, The College of Communication, and the School of Education.  18 faculty from across the colleges have already committed support to what Dave calls:

Seeding a Cultural Change in Undergraduate STEM Education: Climate Science as a tool to integrate research, science education, and outreach

Look for updates in this program over the summer! Interested middle-school and high school students who want to learn about this program should contact me directly!