Antarctica uncovered - Jeremy Lee

 

My name is Jeremy and I love rocks. I am a geologist fascinated by the inner workings of our very own planet, and I use rocks to help unravel the history of Earth. My research looks at the ways in which the continents used to be put together. In particular, I am focused on the supercontinent of Gondwana, a huge land mass comprising the modern continents of Australia, Africa, South America, India and Antarctica that existed several hundred million years ago.


Last summer, I was invited down to Northern Victoria Land for a couple months of fieldwork. I stayed at the German-owned Gondwana Station, one of the smallest stations on the continent and probably the only one where the scientists sleep outside in tents. But this was actually one of the many positives about staying at Gondwana, we each got our own personal tent and with only 17 people at the base we had a very close, family-like atmosphere. In addition, without the big machinery and 24/7 generators that the bigger stations have, it is also one of the quietest stations on the continent, which meant that Adelie penguins were not shy to wander up and say hello.

Adelie Penguins visit Gondwana station on New Year’s Eve. Captured on film.

The pyramid tent was home for two months with all sorts of guests visiting.

The terrain in Northern Victoria Land is spectacular, and lucky for us, we were able to use helicopters to reach our research targets. There are several mountain ranges throughout the area, some soaring higher than 4000m, and all of them are cut by gorging glaciers that connect them to the Ross Sea. Our fieldwork generally involved flying up to mountain tops in order to retrieve rock samples which we can then bring home to analyse in a lab. Flying around this kind of landscape was truly an experience of a lifetime and not one that I will forget soon.

Sampling rocks on the Navigator Nunatak. While the weather looks pretty nice, we actually had -22°C and 25 knot winds making it extremely hard to work.

To a lot of people's surprise, it wasn't actually that cold down where we were working. As it was the summer season, the 24 hours of sunlight provided ample solar radiation to keep us warm. However, the wind chill was the main danger to look out for, as a typical 20 knots of wind could easily turn a nice balmy day into a wintery nightmare.

Midnight snowstorm batters down on the camp.

Gear wise it was all about layers - merino base layers are fantastic, as well as fleece jumpers/pants, down jackets and a hard-shell on top. I usually wore a pair of Fjällräven Barents Pro Trousers for low altitude work, which were great as the durable G-1000 fabric could stand up to endless scrambling over jagged rocks, and by impregnating them with Greenland Wax, they also kept the wind off me. Other essential field items include a geological hammer, compass, GPS, radio, Leatherman, cold chisel and a hand lens.

 

Taking notes in the field, the rocks I was standing on are more than 500 million years old. The iceberg in the background was grounded in the bay in 2016.

Overall it was an amazing experience that I would recommend to any budding scientist or keen adventurer. The landscape is unlike anything else on the planet and the continent’s natural beauty is right off the scale.

Text: Jeremy Lee

Instagram: @jkmlee

 


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