MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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December 23, 2009

Antarctic Christmas Greeting from MM guide Thai Verzone

Feliz Navidades from Thai,

Well, I'm back on the ice and in yet another new and amazing place with icebergs, penguins, seals, whales, piercing mountains and yet never-ending ice. Yesterday, 5 glaciologist and I flew on a British Dash 7 (a 4 prop antarctic shuttle plane) down to the Antartic Penisula from Punta Arenas Chile. We landed on the most southerly Antarctic Research station which can land wheeled planes on a ice free runway . It is called Rothera Station, which is a British base with about 80 summer inhabitants. We'll be based here for the next few days arranging the cargo that I had sent down in 4 shipping containers from Chile about a month ago. If the weather holds, which it hasn't and is notoriously horrific where we will be putting our camp, we will start the series of flights to put in our ice core drilling camp. It will take about 12 flights in to put our camp gear, drill equipment, geodesic dome, about 8 fuel drums and 6 antarctic campers on a pear tree to place our field camp right at the source of the Larsen B iceshelf. Once we are there, we will build quite an extensive camp, then build a drill rig with a 20 foot geodesic dome, and start core sampling down to about 1500 feet one meter at a time which will take up to 45 days. Whewwww, it's going to be a lot of work for sure...

Our whole expedition is quite international. Besides being based in southern Chile and at a British research station, our pilots are Canadian, our two drillers are Russian (classic stoic Russians), we have one Italian grad student, our head glaciologist is Americano, and Felix Andean glaciologist from the Cordillera Blanca de Peru. My job is titled as the camp manager, which is essentially do what it takes to get the research team and their science equipment to Antarctica, build a solid and safe camp, support them during the drilling process, and get everyone back safely and timely. For the most part I am organizing the logistics with the direction and help of an entire logistical support staff based in our headquarters in Denver and off the research vessel, the Nathaniel B Palmer via irridium sat phones. The logistics are quite dynamic from coordinating 4 shipping containers sent via icebreaker and to the camp via 15 twin otter shuttles to making sure zippers work on all the sleeping bags and everyone has a fork to eat with. I'm also a bit of living insurance to deal with any safety and medical issues that may arise, which my hope is all preventative work.

The next good weather window, I'm hoping to coordinate a reconnaissance flight with just three of us to put in one load. We will also look for a cargo depot which was put near our camp about two weeks ago, which is likely buried in snow. This cargo depot also has a snow machine which I hope we can get running and start moving some of that cargo from that location about 4km away from where the glaciologist have decided to put the drill site. After that initial recon, we will fly back to Rothera before we get stuck out.

This location as I am learning more and more is one of the best places in the world if you want high winds, lots of snow, and significant days of white out conditions.... hooray for us. But it will also be an amazing project as the ice core samples will give us possibly ten to twenty thousand years of climate records which will help us understand more about climate change, and particularly what happened to the Larsen B Iceshelf which had a spectacular collapse in 2002. The Larsen B became a known 'hot spot' for global warming and has attracted a lot of international scientific attention. What was particularly of high interest was the rate in which the Larsen Ice shelf collapse, an area of the size of Rhode island disintegrated over only a 3 week period. Our drill team is part of a larger multi-national effort called LARISSA, organized over the last 2 years to study the Larsen B Iceshelf.

Here's a quick description of our project called LARISSA:
"The Ice Core Drilling Team will travel to Antarctica to study the Larsen Ice Shelf system as part of the Larsen Ice Shelf System, Antarctica (LARISSA) Project. LARISSA is an NSF-funded project that will examine the biology, glaciology, geology, and oceanography of the Larsen Ice Shelf system. Since the 1970s, a number of Antarctic ice shelves have broken up. In 2002, a huge section of the Larsen Ice Shelf disintegrated in the largest such event ever recorded. This had a major impact on the region, in all aspects of the Earth system. The LARISSA project researchers hope to gain insight into the factors that lead to ice shelf collapse, as well as the environmental impact of such break-up events, which may become more frequent as climate change progresses." - Press release

Here's a web site with more info:
http://www.hamilton.edu/news/exp/LARISSA/index.html

Merry Xmas and hope your winter season goes well.

Cheers from Antarctic

Thai