Rediscovering Ross Island: Our Arrival In Antarctica

Written by Erin Phillips Writer

Yesterday our team arrived at McMurdo station, Antarctica.  After a 24-hour weather delay Monday morning, we flew from Christchurch, New Zealand to Antarctica on a C-17 military cargo plane.  Flying in a C-17 is very different from flying in a commercial jet.  The aircraft is loud and cavernous, with the hydraulic and electronic systems in clear view on the interior and our bags wrapped on pallets in the back of the plane (Plate 1).  After a five hour flight we were all a bit nervous as the plane circled for about an hour above the airfield at McMurdo.  The bad weather conditions threatened to force our return to Christchurch on what is known as a “boomerang” flight.  Eventually, the crew from McChord Air Force base in Washington treated us to a smooth landing on the sea ice runway (Plate 2).

Plate 1: Interior of the C-17 Globemaster III Cargo Plane. These planes are an essential part of Operation Deep Freeze run by the Air Force Reserve Command out of McChord Air Force base in Washington. Photo by Paul Wallace.

As a first-time visitor to Antarctica, I was ecstatic to set foot on the ice and take in the white and the bitter cold.  This is also the first trip to Antarctica for team members Paul Wallace, Glenn Gaetani, and Dan Rasmussen.  The others are seasoned veterans; Philip Kyle is celebrating his fortieth field season and Ken Sims has spent ten seasons here.  As a neophyte to “the ice”, I had much to learn when I arrived.  It felt much like the first day of college as I searched maps for buildings, organized my dorm room, and ate in the cafeteria here at McMurdo Station.  We will now attend numerous training sessions to prepare for our fieldwork in Antarctica.  The harsh conditions in Antarctica make this training an important necessity, but I am eager to embark on our fieldwork investigating the origin of the volcanoes on Ross Island.  The work will be exciting, with helicopters and snowmobiles to transport us to our field sites, high altitude camping on Mt Erebus, and penguins to welcome us at our campsite on Mt Bird.

 

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A Professor at the University of Wyoming and a former tenured Research Scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Dr. Kenneth W.W. Sims uses isotopic and chemical tracers to study geologic processes in the earth and other planetary bodies. Ken has over fifty peer-reviewed scientific publications focusing on the study of mantle melting, oceanic and continental crustal genesis, volcanology, hydrology, planetary core-formation, climate change and oceanography. Dr. Sims earned his BA in Geology from Colorado College, his MSc from the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico; and his PhD in Geochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. Ken’s field experience ranges from ocean floor geology, using submersibles and remote sensing techniques to geological studies of active volcanoes at high altitudes in technical terrain. Academic awards include: the Estwing Outstanding Senior Award at Colorado College, an Outstanding Student Instructor Award from the UC, Berkeley, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Postdoctoral Scholar Fellowship, three Mellon Awards for innovative exploratory research and the Kincaid School 2012 Papadopoulos Fellowship. In addition to his academic career, Ken is an avid climber and has been an alpine guide for over three decades with extensive experience in technical, high altitude and cold weather mountaineering in Antarctica, the Alaska Range, and the Andes of Peru. These technical climbing skills have enabled him to collect young lavas and gather volcanic gas data inside active, remote volcanoes across the globe, including Erebus Volcano in Antarctica; Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua; and Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo Volcanoes in DR Congo. Using isotopic and geochemical data measured in these hard-to-get-samples Professor Sims’ ultimate goal is to better understand the genesis and evolution of Earth’s volcanoes, with an eye toward predicting future eruptions. Sims’ research and scientific expeditions have been featured in National Geographic Magazine; Oceanus; Popular Mechanics; New Scientist; several children’s books and magazines; NHK Japanese Public Television (Miracle Continent Antarctica- Mt Erebus), National Geographic Television (Man versus Volcano); and, the Discovery Channel (Against the Elements). Professor Sims is a featured scientist on National Geographic Explorer Site http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/kenneth-sims/ For Professor Sims’ complete Curriculum Vitae, Publication List and Mountaineering Resume see http://geology.uwyo.edu/kenwwsims.