Posts in: Field Study


I would like to acknowledge the many who have contributed to this amazing time on the ice.

My experience on the ice was made possible by Christine Siddoway. A wonderful advisor and mentor, and brilliant professor, Christine has guided me throughout my studies at Colorado College and furthered interests in structural geology, geophysics, and polar science. Her commitment to research is inspiring, and her extraordinary effort and generosity to allow this experience is unparalleled. Thank you so much, Christine!

Thanks to everyone in the field with me this season, including Maya Becker, Chris Bertinato, Alex Boghosian, Beth Burton, Fabio Caratori Tontini, Isabelle Coredero, Tej Dhakal, Nick Freason, Grant O’Brien, Dave Porter, Scott Springer, Sarah Starke, and Kirsty Tinto. Each member was extremely helpful and great to work with in the field, often taking a step away from their current task to share a bit of cool science. Thank you, Kirsty, for sitting down with me to teach the ways of GeoSoft in preparation for modelling for my thesis, and for being the best field PI ever. Thanks to Fabio, Grant, Dave, and Beth, for your patience in training me on how to work with the gravimeters. A special thanks to Beth, who worked with me closely on the night shift to help overcome QC struggles and provide additional gravimeter training.

I would like to thank the Air National Guard for their hard work, lugging and loading our gear onto the plane, and for flying slow and straight for 8 hours at a time.

Thank you to all ACS contractors for operating the station, handling logistics, and for essentially keeping McMurdo running smoothly.

Thank you, Megan Anderson, for providing technical support and the equipment so that I may carry out magnetic susceptibility and density measurements, which will be used in my thesis.

Thanks to Cody Duckworth, for assisting me in the density measurement process.

And thank you, Noah Villamarin-Cutter, for your help in ArcGIS and your ability to skillfully resolve GeoSoft issues.

Without the support and funds from the Colorado College Natural Science Division, Colorado College SEGway Fund (through Tess Powers and Sandi Wong), Colorado College Geology Deptartment, and the NSF Antarctic Integrated Systems Science Award 1443497 to Christine Siddoway at Colorado College   ( ), this trip would not have ultimately been possible.

Finally, I owe huge thanks to my parents, who have supported and encouraged me in all my decisions. Thank you, Mom & Dad!


Cake made by Mom & Dad.

This concludes my field study blog.

Thanks to all for reading!

Castle Rock

On Sunday, the day after our last flight, I went on a hike to Castle Rock with a couple other ROSETTA folk.


Being the only day in the week that we are not on the schedule to fly, of course, the skies were clear and visibility as good as can be. The wind, however, was a different matter altogether. As soon as we managed to find our way out of town to the trail, we were subject to the most chilling winds.

Along the trail there are small dome structures called apples …


…that provide emergency food and shelter. We stopped inside the first apple to check out the interior and escape the unrelenting wind.

Due to time constraints (i.e., a lack of pee-bottles), we chose not to do the loop but to hike to Castle Rock and do the climb up to the summit, which just opened for the season that day.


Dave stops to enjoy the view.

The Castle Rock climb is a decent scramble…


Scott leads the climb up Castle Rock.

…and ropes are placed along the route to aid the climb.


The summit. Mt. Erebus with a well defined plume.

Last Flight of the Season

The last survey flight was completed on December 3rd. This flight concentrated on an area in the southern part of the Ross Ice Shelf. Travelling anywhere on the shelf requires some work.

Although the IcePod remains attached to the lever arm on the plane until surveying ends for the season, the gravimeters are removed from the plane after each flight and loaded back on before take-off. The gravimeters need to be properly disconnected and wrapped in blankets before a cargo takes them via tractor to the plane.


As soon as the gravimeters are on the plane, they are surveyed.


Dave surveys the gravimeters on the plane before take-off.

Once the pod is warmed up, sensors are checked, gravimeters are loaded, and a survey is completed, the team is then ready for take-off.


The ZLS, iMar, and DGS sit on the gravity rack. Dave monitors the DGS gravimeter.


Tej, pod engineer, and Grant, ZLS ‘graviteer’.

The flight included many short, critical lines that crossed the grounding line of the Ross Ice Shelf.

Each turn on the western side of the shelf provided spectacular views of the Transantarctic Mountains…tam_4 tam_10_glacier

… which divide East and West Antarctica.

The aircrew are super friendly and had no issues with me entering the cockpit several times to set up cameras, and they even let me hang out during a turn and for landing.

cockpit_tam_turn cockpit

Despite the many flight cancellations, this season’s data collection was certainly a success.


* Scott Springer of Earth and Space Research (ESR) is also blogging about his experiences with ROSETTA-Ice this season. Check it out, learn about ALAMO floats!


Our Approach to Studying the Ross Ice Shelf

The Ross Ice Shelf (RIS) is a floating extension of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that occupies the southern Ross Embayment in West Antarctica, and acts as a buttress to the flowing Antarctic ice sheets. The bathymetry beneath the RIS in West Antarctica controls the circulation of sub-shelf ocean water that may warm the ice shelf from below, with consequences for shelf stability and climate warming.

Sparse depth-sounding data from the 1970’s Ross Ice Shelf Geophysical Glaciological Survey (RIGGS) provide control points, but the map produced from this survey is at 55 km resolution. ROSETTA-Ice will improve upon this, mapping the RIS using 10 km resolution.

The sub-RIS bathymetry cannot be measured directly. Whereas marine surveys might be able to map bathymetry using echo sounding or by towing a gravimeter, we cannot do that because there is a massive ice shelf in the way. The bathymetry must be determined through the use of geophysical data— gravity and magnetic data, specifically —to determine the subsurface geology, which can then be applied to interpretations of the probable bathymetry beneath the shelf. The subsurface geology can be constrained by airborne gravity and magnetic data, that reflect the size, type, and origin of geological features, such as igneous bodies or fault zones.




Subglacial geologic map (Elkind et al., 2016) for western Marie Byrd Land and magnetic anomaly flightline data from the ROSETTA-Ice 2015 survey. Topography is vertically exaggerated.

The aim of ROSETTA-Ice (A systems approach to understanding the Ross Ocean and Ice Shelf Environment, and Tectonic setting Through Aerogeophysical surveys and modelling) is to learn more about the interactions between ice, ocean, and underlying rock.

ROSETTA-Ice uses IcePod


Nicholas Freason securing the IcePod to the LC-130 aircraft. The IcePod connects to a lever arm attached to an LC-130 aircraft. Picture taken last season.

…a suite of instruments that includes three gravimeters, a magnetometer, LiDar, visual and infrared camera, DICE (deep ice radar), SIR (shallow ice radar), and a PNT (position, navigation, and tracking) system that includes GNSS and IMU.



Our airborne survey uses not one, not two, but THREE gravimeters!

Stay tuned to see the IcePod in action!


The Office

Every morning, I take a ~20 minute shuttle to get to work.

We work in a RAC tent…


…located on Williams Field (an airfield) so that we have easier access to load and unload our equipment.


The view from the back of the tent. Two (broken) LC-130s sit on the runway.

Our RAC tent is split into two main rooms: the front room is our office space and the back room is our lab space.


Setting up the tent itself was an entire project. My intention was to upload a stimulating time-lapse of the process, but unfortunately McMurdo’s connection is quite stubborn.

The office is where all the data archiving, QC’ing and processing occurs, to ensure that each flight of data is sound and secure. The lab space contains all the hardware that will be installed in the plane.

Obtaining a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) was a hard-fought process, and given the high frequency of flight cancellations due to gnarly weather and/or mechanical issues, we use our time on the ice as efficiently as possible. Each opportunity to fly is critical, the data we collect from each flight precious. After each flight – the goal is to fly twice a day – the data is carefully archived and copied to several safe locations. The data is then QC’ed. Lines, or even segments of lines for flights are closely examined so that we can be confident that our surveys are producing good, usable data.

These processes can take many hours, since our survey collects data using a variety of instruments. For details on methods and instrumentation, check the blog soon!




Observatory Hill

After many hours in the RAC tent sitting and working with computers, preparing for and eager to begin surveying, we needed to stretch our legs.

I joined a few other ROSETTA-Ice members on a night hike to Observatory Hill, or Ob Hill, as it is commonly called.ob_hill

The trail is steep and partially covered in snow, but avoiding the loop and hiking just to the summit and back totals less than a mile. Ob Hill is accurately named, and rewards hikers with unobstructed, beautiful views.


We had warmed up quite quickly from the climb and having gained some elevation the relentless sunshine felt even stronger, so we relaxed on the summit for about a half hour. There is a cross at the summit, erected in 1913, and it is a memorial for Captain Scott and his crew who died in 1912 on their trek back from the South Pole.


We were surprised to realize it was 10:00 pm when we got to the bottom – it is easy to lose a sense of time when the sun never sets!


Scott Base and Pressure Ridges

The ROSETTA-Ice team had their first full day off on Sunday and everyone was eager to get out and explore McMurdo, after catching up on much needed sleep.

I went to Scott Base, the New Zealand station, which is about a 3.6 mile walk across the ice from McMurdo.

Scott Base.

Scott Base.

Scott Base is much smaller than McMurdo Station, home to about 100 residents as opposed to 1,000 (as of yesterday, 913). Residents from McMurdo are not allowed in Scott Base unless by invitation, though, they will let you spend money in their (arguably better) gift shop and sell you a drink; shuttles to Scott Base every Thursday night are popular for those looking for a livelier nightlife. However, Scott Base residents do have free reign in McMurdo. In my opinion, Scott Base is generally a much prettier station. It includes a breathtaking view of the Pressure Ridges, sits by the wind farm, and the buildings are all painted the same green color. I mean, whoever designed the buildings in McMurdo could have tried a little harder.

That night I took a two hour tour of the Pressure Ridges.

Pressure Ridges.

Pressure ridges form when the ice sheet and sea ice hit converge and meet land, and they fluctuate with the tides. Tours are always different as tidal forces vary, and so the structure can change quite spectacularly.

Castle Rock in the distance, with Mt. Erebus to the right.

Castle Rock (left) and Mt. Erebus (right), beyond the Pressure Ridges. 

I was utterly amazed by both the architecture of the ice and the wildlife among the ridges. By wildlife, I am really just speaking of seals and skuas…penguins do not inhabit this part of Antarctica. When penguins are seen around McMurdo they are usually lost and, sadly, probably will not make very far before dying. We saw many seals, and even witnessed a seal dive into a hole in the ice!


Mama seal and her pup.

* No three-letter acronyms were used when writing this post *

Mactown — the first few days

Although we have yet to begin our survey, these first few days in McMurdo have been quite busy. All scientists must go through a bunch of training/briefings that pretty much cover what not to do and how to survive while in McMurdo. During our (thankfully) indoor three-hour Field Safety & Training (FST) session held in the Science Support Center (SSC), we got acquainted with the contents of a survival bag, which, should our team get stranded on the barren ice, provides enough food, shelter, and some reading material until rescue.

The housing situation in McMurdo is dorm-style. I have a roommate (it happens to be his eighteenth season in Antarctica), and share a bathroom with two others who live next door. Each dorm has a resident assistant, a lounge, and if you are lucky, a library.

McMurdo, from Hut Point  Trail.

McMurdo Station, from Hut Point Trail.

Yesterday I went for a walk to Discovery Hut – a memorial for Antarctic explorer George Vince who fell into McMurdo Sound in 1904 and died was erected here – and along the ridge on a loose path of volcanic rock known as Hut Point Trail. I was practically racing up the hill as I forgot to bring my neck gator and the wind here is incredibly cutting.

Memorial for explorer George Vince, at Hut Point.

Memorial for explorer George Vince, at Hut Point.

Since Mactown is populated with many scientists working on a variety of projects across disciplines in atmospheric science, ecology and oceanography, to name a few, it is not surprising that there are talks held twice a week. Yesterday I attended a talk focusing on paleomagnetics given by professor Lisa Tauxe of Scripps, UC-San Diego. I learned why we study the earth’s magnetic field, why it is so tricky to do so, and the probability that our planet is headed for a total field reduction (!) or reversal.

Volcanic rock on Hut Point Trail. [My fingertip for scale].

Volcanic rock on Hut Point Trail. [My fingertip for scale].

I am currently writing this in our cozy RAC (Remote Access Cave?) tent on the airfield known as Williams Field. Since the ROSETTA-Ice team will be spending many hours here, we stocked up on supplies taken from the Berg Field Center (BFC), including coffee & tea, mugs, coolers, sleeping bags, and pee bottles, among other camping essentials.

Delays are simply a part of life on the ice; planes break down, storms are fierce and the weather is hard to predict. Though I have spent a decent amount of time at the airfield, I actually have not heard or seen any planes take off or land. Hopefully, we are able to install the IcePod on Saturday and begin flying sometime next week!


The Journey to 77° South

I left the States from Denver on November 3rd and arrived at McMurdo Station on the 7th, travelling through Los Angeles, Sydney, and Christchurch. We arrived in Christchurch on the 5th , and the next day we were shuttled to the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) campus where we had a series of briefings & trainings regarding life on the Ice, and were brought to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) to be issued our Extreme Cold Weather gear (ECW).

The CDC hosts a warehouse of parkas, fleece coats & pants, mittens, hats, goggles, boots, and pretty much everything else needed to keep you cozy while in the field – except for good ol’ long undies. Anyone headed to McMurdo Station is allowed up to 85 pounds of luggage, including all the issued ECW.

The CDC hosts a warehouse of parkas, fleece coats & pants, mittens, hats, goggles, boots, and pretty much everything else needed to keep you cozy while in the field – except for good ol’ long undies. Anyone headed to McMurdo Station is allowed up to 85 pounds of luggage, including all the issued ECW.

I say this now: the USAP uses a ridiculous amount of three letter acronyms.

Fortunately, these trainings ended early enough so that we had about half a day to goof around in the city; I chose to go for a run with another member of ROSETTA-Ice, exploring Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens, as well as some of the stone churches and building that were wrecked by the recent earthquake. The following morning a shuttle picked us up from the hotel at 5:45 am and brought us back to the USAP campus to check in, obtain our boarding passes – which were simple laminated cards with a number – pass security, and board the plane. We flew on a C-17 cargo plane; there was helicopter inside.

The inside of the C-17 from the deck.

The inside of the C-17 from the deck.

Although I was certain I was going to fall asleep once on the plane, this proved to be a very silly prediction. I could hardly even read I was so excited and taken by the interior. The pilots allowed us on to the deck (I think I was the only person to go twice, it was that cool) so that we could see the ice from the sky, as the plane didn’t really have any windows for passengers.

Looking out from a passenger window.

Looking out from a tiny window.


Looking out from the deck.

Looking out from the deck.

I first tried looking through the window without my sunglasses, and it seriously hurt. Antarctica during these summer months is always sunny and one must learn to adjust to twenty-four hours of daylight.

When the plane landed and I at last stepped onto Antarctica, I got goosebumps. I will always remember that ineffable feeling.

A shuttle then took everyone from the airfield to McMurdo Station. I cannot wait to fly again, with ROSETTA-Ice, in our mission to map the Ross Ice Shelf…


Here at last!

Festival Recap

It’s snowing in Park City. There’s at least a foot and a half on the ground right now. The sun peeks through a blanket of fog, but it’s not bright enough to rouse the rest of the house this morning. This is the first day in a long week that we have nothing to dash off to. With the festival over, I wonder what the town will feel like once we do meander into a few of the coffee shops. Over the last five days it has been a moving machine – with about two hour intervals between the movies we saw every day (from 2-6 of them) we only had time to send text reviews to each other and stop for coffee on the main street before sitting still for another 2 ½ hours in a dark theater. I’ve cried and laughed at the most amazing stories and spoken to some incredible filmmakers here, and barely have had time to process those feelings before I am running to the next thing. I’ll try to process them in smaller tidbits here.


Day 1 – Ticket mania, ticket “fomo,” I can’t find the right theatre, WOW I’M AT SUNDANCE, an intense historical fiction film about pregnant nuns and a French Red Cross doctor, a bad documentary about a film buff, and a new wave girlhood film about a 12 year old who turns from boxer to dancer. (Agnus Dei, Film Hawk, and The Fits.) Agnus Dei and The Fits were directed by women, and I babbled through an incomprehensive conversation (on my part) with Fits director Anna Rose Holmer to find out that most of her department heads were women as well. Encouragement!

Still from The Fits, directed by Anna Rose Holmer

Still from The Fits, directed by Anna Rose Holmer

Day 2 – I am sitting here watching a movie about a doctor from the 30s who put goat testicles into impotent human male testicles. The documentary director is a spunky, screamingly intelligent woman who grew up on a ranch in the middle of the country and is screening a film that collaborated with seven different animators at the Sundance Festival. Later in the afternoon I see a film called Cameraperson – a meditation of visuals collected from one cinematographer’s portfolio. I think about death and life and sometimes I need to remember to breathe evenly while I’m watching it. Then we see a collection of documentary shorts that none of us are very impressed with. (NUTS!, Cameraperson)


Day 3 – I am seeing 5 films today, and I can barely keep my eyes open from yesterday. The first has a strong script, but I feel more engaged in my twenty-minute conversation with a senior from USC beforehand. We talked about theory versus practice while her mom interjected every once in a while to exclaim that this movie was her pick. Next I see a Columbian film that would go on to win the Audience Award for World Dramatic Cinema. The older man beside me ended up gripping my arm halfway through as we both tried to play it cool and stop sobbing. Afterwards the filmmakers spoke beautifully about their relationship with their audience and arts for arts sake, not commercial benefit. Too soon after the film is over, we are filed back into the same theatre for the Dramatic Shorts program. A policeman who dances at his mother’s funeral in Thunder Road makes us keel over with laughter, a great cure for my blotchy face. After a quick dinner I move on to a film about prostitutes in Mexico City. I’ve fallen in love with at least four of the women by the end. Much later we go to the midnight screening of an Indian film satirizing the class system, following 4 teenagers trying to get laid. It is not one for my 11 year old brother to see. (Mi Amiga Del Parque, Between Sea and Land, Dramatic Shorts Program, Plaza de la Soledad, and Brahman Naman.)

The Director, Writer, and two lead actors of Brahman  Naman.

The Director, Writer, and two lead actors of Brahman Naman.

Day 4 – Snow is dumping today, and though I’m a Colorado native I have completely failed to prepare for this weather. Walmart shoes falling apart, I make my way to three films today. The first, a contemporary Romeo and Juliet love story between two women that makes me cry at 8:30am. The second, a hilarious, Little Miss Sunshine-esque family road trip featuring Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. The third is the Animation Spotlight collection. I am amazed at what people are able to imagine and make tangible… our technology is truly limitless. (Lovesong, Captain Fantastic, Animation Spotlight)


Day 5 – I only am able to get one ticket today because it’s the last day of the festival. I get into the World Documentary Grand Jury screening of Sonita. An Afghanistan teenage girl raps about the arranged marriage culture of Iran which she may be forced back into if she cannot escape her family. When I get out of this film, we see that there is already about six inches of snow on the ground, and a massive blizzard is predicted to blow up from Colorado Springs through Wyoming and Utah in the next two days…so we decide to stay in Park City. We all celebrate with a huge dinner in town, laughing and toasting to the amazing week we’ve had.

Bella Egizi, Emelia Whitmer, and Esther Chan

Bella Egizi, Emelia Whitmer, and Esther ChanTom Crandall

Tom Crandall

 Now there is two feet outside the window I’m sitting next to. The class is huddled around me in our cozy kitchen. Someone made tea for everyone, and our professor brought back bagels this morning after we took a class photo in front of the Sundance sign. We’ve got two snow days ahead of us, and I couldn’t ask to be surrounded by a better group of people for it.