17 October, 1999
I expected my second day in Antarctica to be a day to look around, see where things are in "Mactown", as McMurdo Station is called to it's residents and relax a bit. After a nice nights sleep (we covered the windows because it was pretty light all night.), I got up, went to breakfast at the cafeteria then walked over to Crary Lab. Then it happened.....Science Broke Out! As I was getting settled in the Cape Roberts Section of Crary I heard some one call "We've got core!" What followed was a scurry of activity and excitement similar to kids following an ice cream truck. It turned out that some early core samples were obtained from the drilling off Cape Roberts and were flown in by helicopter. They have drilled about 120 meters into the sea floor already, but these were the first samples that have been returned. These early samples were quite unexpected and gave the scientists lot's to do. The samples were brought to a receiving area and the various scientists, including sedimentologists, palynolgists, marine biologists and various other paleontologists, had their first chance to examine the core sample. (See picture below.) The big question that needed to be answered was "What is the age of the sample?" This is critical to the whole project.
The Cape Robert's Project is a 3 year drilling project where scientists are looking at sediments and rock form the bottom of the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica. One of the purposes of this project is to reconstruct the geologic history of the area around Antarctica, parcticularly the Transantarctic Mountains. Each year of the project drilled in a different location. Each location was selected so the rock at the bottom (therefore the oldest) of the first drill hole would be about the same age as the rock at the top (therefore the youngest) of next years drill hole. In this way, the geologists can construct a continuous rock record from the age of the rock at the top of the first drill hole to the bottom of the last drill hole. In order to do this correlation there must be some overlap in the core samples. The scientists looking at the core are hoping the first samples they get this year are the same age as the last ones they got last year. One of the best ways to determine the age of rocks is by looking at the fossils the rocks contain. Plants and animals have evolved and charged over time so each aged rock has a unique collection of fossils. The most numerous fossils in the sediments on the bottom of the Ross Sea are microfossils. These types of fossils evolve relatively quickly so they can be used to date sediments fairly accurately. Dr. John Wrenn is a specialist in using a specific type of microfossils, palynomorphs, to determine ages. As the samples came in, I assisted John in processing these samples so he and other paleontologists could study them.
So, I spent most of the day in the lab. I loved it! It was really fun to see these scientists get so excited about the work and I felt good about being able to contribute to the process. And, I had a great view outside the lab window of Mt. Discovery and Mt. Morning. (See picture below.) (Note: For general background on the Cape Roberts Project, see the beginning of my homepage or http://www.antarcticanz.govt.nz/crp/CRP.html.)
It was a beautiful day at McMurdo today. It was partly cloudy with a high temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a bit windy, with wind chill as low as -35F. Today was Sunday so a lot of people whom work in McMurdo took walks, went skiing and other excursions. I will be doing the same as soon as I get the chance, but for now "We've got core!".
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