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8 December, 2002

Goodwin Nunatak

We finally made it to our field camp! There is such a sense of relief and excitement among the team members for finally beginning our meteorite searching. An LC-130 (ski equipped cargo plane), operated by the New York Air National Guard, dropped us off at the abandoned Beardmore South Camp a couple of days ago. At first I thought I'd feel stranded when the plane left, but I actually felt relieved when it left.

The next day we took our gear and snowmobiles on a 5 1/2 hour traverse to Goodwin Nunatak (not named after my student, Mike Goodwin). This camp is on the boundary of the Polar Plateau and the Transantarctic Mountains. This makes sense because it is where the Antarctic Ice Cap backs up against the mountains. When this happens, it flows upward and is ablated by the wind. Meteorites are revealed in these "blue ice" areas.

Blue ice does not necessarily mean that meteorites are the only rocks. Some of the blue ice contains moraines with local rocks mixed in. Some of the local rock is dark and rounded making close observations necessary. On the plateau, every rock is a meteorite, making searching easier, but on the margin, its a little trickier. There are strategies to finding meteorites in the moraines. We found they collected in the wind scoops that formed around boulders. We would often find a couple of meteorites mixed among other rocks that blew into the wind scoop.

The blue ice looks like a frozen ocean. In fact, if I saw a picture of one hill without knowing it was Antarctica, I'd think I was looking at a giant swell on the ocean. The wind carves the ice into smaller waves called "Sastrugi," that almost look like whitecaps on the swell. In other areas the ice is almost flat, like a calm frozen ocean.

Our meteorite searching was extremely successful today. Although we weren't doing any systematic searching, we still found 23 meteorites to add to the 21 we found yesterday. A great deal of our success was due to one of our leaders, John Schutt. John has an amazing eye for meteorites and is a good geologist. He has been working with ANSMET for 22 years and is extremely knowledgeable about the regional geology. I find myself frequently asking him about the local formations. Today, John took us to a moraine, a deposit of assorted rocks from a variety of areas. We found petrified wood, agate geodes, zeolites (crystals that form in gas pockets in basaltic lava flows). John has donated samples from this area to the Crary Lab at McMurdo. It was an amazing lesson in Antarctic historical geology.

We had most of our success at a place unofficially named Scoraine Moraine, after Robbie Score, a former ANSMET team member. I hope we get a chance to go back. It was late in the day and I think we left a lot behind. I can't explain the thrill at finding a meteorite. Danny compares this to an Easter Egg hunt, but I see it more like fishing. Sometimes you can't catch them fast enough, and other times it goes for hours without finding any. It's great to find several, but finding a rare variety is just as rewarding. I can't wait to get out there again to find more.

Tomorrow, Carl rejoins our team and John goes to the South Pole to meet up with the Rekki (Reconnaissance) team.

ANSMET team collecting one of the first meteorites of the season

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