By Ted Daeschler,
Academy Paleontologist and Vice President for Collections and Library
I never imagined that I would utter the words “I’ll be camping in Antarctica for a month”, but here we go! Opportunities to visit Antarctica are scarce and the chance to spend time on the ground – sleeping, eating and working here – is too good to be true. We are here to explore for Late Devonian-age fossils from rock exposures that are rarely visited for obvious reasons.
After two days of travel to Christchurch in New Zealand, and two more days on the ground there, we climbed in a military cargo plane and settled in for a noisy eight-hour flight, landing on the Ross Ice Shelf and climbing out into the crisp, cold air of the Antarctic. After about 45 minutes on an “ice road” we arrived a McMurdo Station, a remarkable scientific support facility built on a ridge of volcanic rock beneath the 12,000 foot Mount Erebus.
The crew of myself, Neil Shubin, Adam Maloof, John Long, Tim Senden, and Sune Tamm (our “mountaineer”) are currently receiving a variety of training and information sessions that will make sure we are ready to work in the unforgiving climate and fragile environment here. Life at McMurdo Station is good. Comfortable, cozy lodging, a good variety of food, and great logistical support. We are all anxious to get into the field, however, where many of those comforts will be put on hold.
We are going to be camping and exploring near the McMurdo Dry Valleys, a very unique place, a polar desert. Along the southern margins of the Dry Valleys, where bedrock emerges from beneath the continental glaciers that cover the grand majority of Antarctica, we will be able to get a glimpse of the Aztec Siltstone, the deposits of stream systems that flowed 375-385 million years ago when the earth, and life on earth, was very different than today.
The rocks and fossils of the Aztec Siltstone may feel familiar to me because of 20+ years of work on similar rocks and fossils in Pennsylvania and the Canadian Arctic, but it will be very interesting to compare and contrast results of new explorations in Antarctica with the ongoing work in the Northern Hemisphere and elsewhere.
We are ticking-off our to-do list of things that must be done before we climb into a helicopter for the 100-mile ride out to our field sites. The excitement is building (along with a little trepidation), but there is no doubt that the discoveries that are waiting on these cold, windy mountainsides will make this all worthwhile. Stay tuned.
Update 12/12/16 Ted Has Shared Two Additional Photos via Instagram
For more on Ted’s trip to Antarctica, check out these links: