Monday, April 28, 2014

1: Big White Duck - Antarctica

Excerpts from chapter one of my memoir 

 “This turbulent silence, the sprawling ice, and the occasional sharp gusts of wind warn that eventually you will make a mistake. The threat is babbled endlessly, as if Antarctica were a lunatic.” Nicolas Johnson, Big Dead Place.

Courtesy of U.S. National Science Foundation
My sixth grade teacher stood at the blackboard, back to us, scrolled down a window shade map of the world - a geography lesson. She wore a light green sweater with short fuzz that I loved – it felt good on my skin when she patted my arm with approval. My Father had said she was pretty - blonde, younger than my parents. I could have asked him more about that but he died a few months ago. 

I was there, in the backseat of my uncle’s car, a green Plymouth sedan, in the parking lot outside his hospital room –my brothers and I were too young to be allowed in. My uncle was about to drive us home when we heard my Mother scream from the window of my Father’s room. “Eager, come back, Pete just died.” My first experience with raw terror just happened.

He stopped the car, went to my Father’s room, came back, told us our Dad was gone. Later my Mother arrived home, I met her on the front steps, hugged her. She said “You’re the man of the family now.” I was ten.

My teacher’s finger scanned various places - she named continents, countries, capitals. I knew them all. I saw a thin, ragged white strip running along the bottom of the map, had noticed that before, the coast of Antarctica. I wondered what was left off the bottom edge.

At recess I inspected the map up close. “Where’s the rest of the world down here?” I asked her. She pointed to a small circular inset map at the lower corner.

“If you could fly above the bottom of the world and look down you would see Antarctica, a land covered in ice,” she told me.

“Wow. How big is it?” I asked.

“As big as the U.S. and Mexico put together,” she said, pointed to those countries.

I thought it looked like an enormous white duck, the Antarctic Peninsula jutted out, made a duck’s bill to nibble on the tail of South America, the duck’s back the south edge of the Pacific Ocean, its belly faced the Indian Ocean. Many parts were labeled with Unexplored. On the duck’s head was printed Marie Byrd Land. This was 1953.

Monday, April 21, 2014

AAAS; What We Know – about Climate Change, Antarctica

Terra Nova Bay, Northern Victoria Land, Antarctica. Photo © B. Luyendyk
The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) recently issued a web page and a short booklet ( ) addressing issues revealed in the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes) over the past few months. One of the main goals of their statement is to address the misunderstanding among the general public that there is significant debate in the Climate Science community about the basic tenets of Climate Change. This is not true. The debate that is occurring surrounds science questions on processes and predictions among other topics, not that Climate Change is happening, is a significant threat and that humans are causing it.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

FORCE Team explores Ford Ranges, Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica

Hercules from VXE-6 unloads FORCE team, Marie Byrd Land,
Antarctica, December 1989. Photo © B. Luyendyk
Our work focused in on the Fosdick, Phillips and Chester Mountains in the northern Ford Ranges. Earlier geological parties had visited some locations we worked in before but many had not. We were the first to stand on many of the outcrops.

Our main focus of work was in the metamorphic massif of the Fosdick Mountains named after Admiral Byrd’s good friend Raymond Fosdick. Sledge parties from Byrd’s expeditions reached these mountains in 1934 and 1941. Geological parties explored the surrounding mountains in 1966 through 1969. New Zealand geologists visited various portions of western MBL in 1978-79 and 1987-88. The western regions of MBL including the Ford Ranges are vast, comparable to southern California in area but not climate! Because of the size of the region the earlier explorations were of a reconnaissance nature.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The FORCE Expeditions (Ford Ranges Crustal Exploration) 1989-90, 1990-91

Tucker, Steve, Cain, Dave, Bruce and Christine, Put-In day to Ford Ranges.
Photo © Bruce Luyendyk   
White Ocean of Ice deals with investigation of plate tectonic history in the Southwestern Pacific. Our team of geologists sought out information on the separation of the New Zealand subcontinent on the Pacific Plate from the main continent of Antarctica – the Antarctic Plate. The result of that separation created the modern South Pacific Ocean basin.

We knew from oceanographic studies that this sea floor had formed since about 80 million years ago but we did not know how and when that process started and led to the drifting of New Zealand away from West Antarctica. Research in New Zealand by members of our team and many others revealed some facts, but did they match observations is Antarctica? Those were few and difficult to make. We decided to go to Antarctica to find answers to these questions. The U.S. National Science Foundation supported our research.

Our work focused in the Ford Ranges of Marie Byrd Land in West Antarctica, a location that was believed once joined with New Zealand. We learned from several lines of evidence that the whole process of plate breakup brewed for more than twenty million years. It began close to 105 million years ago before separation took off.

We also studied a very special variety of metamorphic rocks (rocks transformed by intense heat and pressure) in the Fosdick Mountains of the Ford Ranges. We found that these rocks had been exhumed from many miles deep in the Antarctic crust as the plate breakup process got underway. This was a result of stretching between the plates. Upper levels of crust thinned and allowed the lower levels to rise up and create the mountains. Research in this mountain range continues today by geologists at Colorado College.