18 December, 2002
This is Scott Messenger bringing you an ANSMET update from the field for December 18. Since this is my first journal entry I'll introduce myself and then give you the news for the day. I am a space scientist from Washington University in Saint Louis Missouri. I spend most of my time studying stardust and cosmic dust. The cosmic dust is collected by NASA with high altitude research aircraft, flying at 100,000 ft. These are tiny cousins of the meteorites we are collecting in the field, some of them are probably our only samples of comets. They are all too small to see with the naked eye. It is a refreshing change for me to work with samples (meteorites) you can actually hold in your hand and admire! If you want to read more about cosmic dust and stardust, go to: stardust.wustl.edu
The laboratory I work in at Washington University has had many people involved in ANSMET expeditions over the past 2 decades. Everyone has said that their experience in Antarctica was fantastic and even rates as one of the highlights of their lives. It has already been a remarkable and enriching experience for all of us this season. I haven't read any of the other daily updates on this web site (we don't get to surf the web down here!)) - but I will give you some of my own impressions so far of life in the field.
The landscape is remarkable from the scale of hundreds of kilometers to inches. The entire continent is obviously dominated by ice. This ice is so thick that it covers up entire mountain ranges. It is strange for me to be at an altitude of over 8000 ft, while at the same time we are living on an incredibly flat vast expanse of ice. But we are reminded of the altitude whenever we exert ourselves and start panting right away, or see the peaks of nearby mountains enshrouded in clouds that seem nearly close enough to touch. Another striking characteristic of the landscape is its obvious age. The ice surface has been sculpted by wind and occasional surface melting over thousands of years into a texture that you might expect from instantly freezing a lake, where the waves and ripples are frozen into place. The wind also scuplts striking 'wind scoops' in the ice and snow. Almost all of the rocks we see in exposed areas have their own wind scoops in the downwind direction, which must take a very long time to form. In the picture we are including with this update, you can see some of the beautiful ice formations in the background. In the right lighting, the mountains seem to be draped in white satin sheets of snow and ice.
There's no secret that it's cold here - today it hovered between 0 and 5 degrees F, with a light wind and clear skies. But, frankly I have been much colder in Saint Louis when the temperature drops to 15 or so with strong northerly winds. The difference is that we are very well equipped for the extremely cold weather we will encounter. On the other hand, any exposed skin can become chilled very quickly. The biggest problem we have is getting cold toes and fingers, but this can usually be sorted out by changing gloves, putting on dry socks, or using chemical hot pads (which are fantastic!)
Today we began systematically searching the Mac Alpine Hills region for meteorites. This is a little bit more adventurous for us because very little of it has been searched for in detail. It is even possible that we will end up in areas that nobody has ever visited before. We had good success today - all together we collected 14 meteorites. This puts our total for the season over 100 with four weeks in the field left to go. After we collected a few of them we realized that it had been quite a while since we had collected any meteorites, spending many days in tents due to weather, and then travelling to our new site. We were all very happy to get back to our main task here. We began by systematically searching a blue ice field on the north side of a moraine near our camp. After searching all morning we found zero meteorites on this field. We started searching the blue ice on the south side of the moraine in a recon mode where everybody spread out over a large area - simply to see if there were any meteorites at all there. In no time at all we had found several large meteorites, including the largest one we found so far - several pounds! We systematically searched this entire area this afternoon and recovered several large meteorites. This area had the highest relative concentration of meteorites we have seen this season. Almost every rock larger than a golf ball turned out to be a meteorite. But there were not as many small meteorites as we would expect - we think they have piled up on the south side of the moraine, where we found two small ones after a short search today. We will tackle that area another day.
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