On December 23rd, Shaun and I had a great opportunity to get into the field and collect some rocks! We flew in a helicopter from Scott Base to a little rocky outcrop at the mouth of the Skelton Glacier. Our flight path took us straight over some amazing features where ice and rock mix to form a colourful mosaic of whites, blacks and blues. The surrounding rocks en route to Fishtail Point are mostly volcanic rocks which makes for a dramatic contrast to the white ice and blue sky.
Our focus for this year’s field work is to collect foreign rocks called glacial erratics, that were entrained in the glacier when it was much thicker than today. In some places around Antarctica, glaciers thickened as much as 600 metres (~1800 ft) above its modern position! The story goes that as the glacier thinned to its modern-day level, rocks melt out of the glacier and plop down along the rocky outcrops flanking the glacier. By collecting these rocks which are delicately perched on bedrock, we can use a chemical technique to extract rare elements produced by cosmic rays, allowing us to determine when and how fast the glacier thinned.
Our first priority was a site in the middle of the Skelton Fiord but upon landing, the 40-50 knot winds would have made for a terrible day! Our excellent helicopter pilot ultimately decided the winds weren’t good for the helicopter, so we safely and happily flew away. Lucky for us, our backup site was just down glacier with a bit more shelter from the blustery weather.
Upon landing at Fishtail Point, we found a comfortable place to land along the lower part of the outcrop and went rock hunting. We quickly realised that we had a mystery on our hands…zero glacial erratics in sight! No worries, we managed to put together a sampling plan to collect bedrock samples instead and got to work.
We started sampling as close to the modern ice surface as possible and progressively worked our way to the highest elevation along the outcrop. We sampled 6 locations covering about 150 vertical meters (~450 ft) and even managed to collect tiny rock cores for an experimental method that we expect will help us track the ancient glacier.
All in all, the day was a mysteriously good time and we ended with rocks in our pack. The flight home was filled with feelings of immense gratitude, a childish glee and all smiles.
We then take a couple days off to celebrate Christmas, a welcome break for folks who have been working hard since October. We had a quick visit from cheeky Anti-Claus (he can’t see good kids and he takes gifts from bad kids!) and filled our bellies with extra yummy foods prepared by our talented chefs. A few photos below to highlight some of their culinary skills. YUM! The time off allows for some rest and relaxation but for me, I’ll shift focus from field work mode to thesis mode (due Jan 15!)…a great challenge with numerous fun social opportunities here at Scott Base and McMurdo Station. For now, happiest holidays and lots of love from our team!