UCSB earth science professor John Cottle is part of a research team that will embark on a two-month trip to Antarctica next week to study molten igneous rocks in the TransAntarctic Mountains.
The group will maintain a blog on their transportation to, within and from the icy continent, details about daily life on the base and updates on research findings. The team includes Cottle as the principal investigator, University of Otago, New Zealand psychology professor Joanna Prince as logistics coordinator as well as earth science graduate students Bryan Norman and Graham Hagen-Peter.
Cottle said the blog will provide a window to their field research experience and describe facets of arctic life such as sleeping tents, sub-zero apparel, 24-hour daylight and dietary constraints.
“I would also like to illustrate the type of thing that scientists, and in particular, earth scientists do,” Cottle said. “Many people have only a vague impression about science and scientists. Being a scientist isn’t all about sitting in a lab; we get to go to amazing places and explore and discover new and exciting things. It’s by far the best thing to study.”
Team members will contribute to the blog posts collectively and broadcast using four types of technology: a laptop, an iPhone, a spot device or GPS and a 2005-era PDA (personal digital assistant) attached to an Iridium satellite phone that functions like a slow modem.
Hagen-Peter said the researchers hope to disseminate their stories to those who would not normally be informed about such excursions.
“The reason we’re [blogging] is to make [our research] readily accessible to other earth scientists, non-earth scientists and the general public,” Hagen-Peter said. “We’re hoping to potentially communicate with elementary and grade schools and do outreach by inspiring the interests of people who might not otherwise be interested in what geologists do in the field.”
Hagen-Peter said Antarctica’s distinctive environment has fostered one-of-kind geological specimens.
“[Antarctica] is a unique study area where the volcanic expression of rocks have all been eroded away and we’re seeing a mid-crustal snapshot of the inner workings of the sub-crustal system, frozen in time,” Hagen-Peter said. “I’m excited about everything because one, it’s my first time at Antarctica and two, I don’t know what to expect. I’m just fascinated by the continent and I’m looking forward to going to a place that not many people normally go to.”
According to Cottle, when an oceanic plate subducts beneath a continent, fluids driven from the descending plate cause the overlying mantle to melt and produce molten igneous rocks. These particular specimens, however, have a unique chemical composition that is incongruous with their location.
Cottle said the focus of his study is to determine the cause of these abnormalities. “The question is: how and why did these igneous rocks form in this subduction zone?” Cottle said. “Is it that we don’t understand subduction zones properly or that we don’t understand how these rocks were formed?”
Norman said the trip is an extraordinary opportunity to acquire first-hand knowledge of the region’s famed rugged ecosystems.
“I hope to gain more field experience and I think this will help me personally in terms of broadening my knowledge,” Norman said. “I also look forward to having great stories [to tell]. It’s Antarctica! You never know what’s going to happen out there.”
The blog can be accessed at http://www.antarctica360.net/ and already has posts with more information about the team, their preparations and plans. The research is funded by the Office of Polar Programs, Antarctic Earth Sciences Program at the National Science Foundation.