Douglas Fox

Antarctic Project 2007-2010

I traveled with a team of glaciologists to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in Nov-Dec 2007. The expedition, conducted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and led by the glaciologist Slawek Tulaczyk (University of California in Santa Cruz), investigated a newly discovered system of rivers and lakes hidden beneath half a mile of ice. Our team included four people.

map of antarctica
[MODIS Mosaic of Antarctica (satellite imagery, NASA)]

We spent six weeks in Antarctica, four of them camping in tents at a remote field site 379 miles from the South Pole. We traveled up to 10 hours per day on snowmobiles as we installed instruments to monitor the lakes, and mapped the subglacial terrain using ice-penetrating radar.

map of whillans ice stream
[Field area: subglacial lakes and campsite (MODIS satellite imagery, NASA)]

I narrate our expedition, and its relevance for predicting the future fate of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, in a major feature story which appeared in the September 2008 issue of Discover magazine.

I explore other aspects of the trip, including research projects underway at McMurdo Station (NSF’s main outpost in Antarctica) in a series of other stories which appeared in print over the course of 2008, and will continue to appear into 2009.

All of the stories which I have produced from this expedition to date are listed below.

Driller thriller: Antarctica’s tumultuous past revealed
New Scientist, 11 April 2009

In the endless daylight of the Antarctic summer, drillers in hard hats work round the clock to extract a kilometer-long column of stone from the sea floor. They must hurry to finish their job before summer warming renders the sea ice too slushy to support the 40-ton drill rig. The stone core which they extract will provide a 19 million-year record of Antarctica’s ice–and crucial insights for predicting its future.

Icemen cometh
Discover, September 2008
A profound feeling of isolation sets in as the plane departs. The twin-engine Basler bounces on skis over the wind-pocked ice, bobs into the air, and shrinks to a dot in the sky. The four of us are on our own in Antarctica for the next few weeks, in the middle of a million square miles of ice, just 380 miles from the South Pole.

Where rivers run uphill
Science News for Kids, 25 July 2008

Three scientists travel to Antarctica to explore a secret world hidden beneath a half mile of ice.

Something’s shaking in Antarctica
ScienceNOW Daily News, 4 June 2008

Magnitude-7 ice quakes twice per day in West Antarctica… glaciologists are trying to understand what it all means.

Freeze-dried findings support a tale of two ancient climates
Science, 30 May 2008

The Olympus Range of Antarctica may be the oldest landscape on Earth; its naked buttresses and stony, Martian plateaus haven’t tasted liquid water in 13 million years. So when 3 students stumbled upon the tattered stems of dried plants fluttering in the wind, they knew it would raise eyebrows.

Scientists read Antarctic mud
The Christian Science Monitor, 20 February 2008

In Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, the sun never sets and life never quite stops. Welcome to the 24-hour sedimentology lab, where two shifts of tired scientists work around the clock to tease the secrets of past climates out of a 3,600-foot cylinder of petrified mud.

Antarctica’s required course is Happy Camper School
The Christian Science Monitor, 24 January 2008

The good life in Antarctica begins with digging your first snow shelter—and spending the night in it with a guy named Ed.