As an avid outdoorsman, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been a part of several Antarctic field seasons as part of the POLENET project. Whether stationed in the stunning Ellsworth Mountains, central West Antarctica, up high at the South Pole, or working out of McMurdo, aka “town”, I enjoy many aspects of the field work from traveling to extremely remote locations all over the continent, spending hours digging snow in horrible conditions, to working with a small and dedicated team in ‘cozy’ and challenging environments.
For those less familiar with the continent, Antarctica has two main regions, East and West Antarctica. The United States Antarctic Program hosts three main U.S. bases, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Palmer Station and McMurdo Station. An international effort has been underway for decades to study the dynamics of the continent and the sensitivity of the ice to the warming world.
East Antarctica is home to the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Almost 3 miles thick, the EAIS is the largest piece of ice on the planet and sits on bedrock above sea level. This creates a high plateau (4000m or 13000 ft) roughly the size of the United States. While summer temperatures average -30C (-22F) (not too bad!) the combination of high elevation and high winds can create an extreme cold weather scenario. East Antarctica is also home to the geographic south pole and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. All directions point north!
West Antarctica is home to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and several large ice shelves. This ice sheet is roughly 2 miles thick and sits on bedrock well below sea level. In a warming planet, this makes the WAIS a highly unstable ice sheet with many regions creating a lot of concern. Working in West Antarctica is truly unique. One day might be spent at a spectacular coastal site, while the next may be spent at a windy, mountainous (or volcanic!) site. I’ve spent seasons working out of ALE camp on Union Glacier, at the WAIS Divide camp in central West Antarctica and back in “town” at McMurdo Station. This work has taken me to some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the southern continent.
Separating East and West Antarctica are the Transantarctic Mountains. Typically, this is the only place where one can see rock protruding from the ice. Flying over and working in this mountain range is always a pleasure.
Aside for my love for the field work, a lot of science has been done too. For more information on my science, and more scientific information on Antarctica and its ice, see the projects page.