Antarctic Deep Field Camp - 2013 & beyond

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TAM Camp Workshop Summary, June 25-27, 2012

Scientists working through the U.S. Antarctic program have made great strides in deepening understanding of the Earth by accessing and analyzing samples collected in the Transantarctic Mountains. With the aim of building on the success of a recent deep field logistics hub in the central Transantarctic Mountains (CTAM), sixty-two bio-, cryo- and geoscientists from the U.S. and New Zealand Antarctic research communities assembled for the TAMcamp Workshop on June 25-27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana to select the next deep field logistics hub. The workshop provided a forum at which researchers identified and discussed disciplinary research priorities, as well as new opportunities for interdisciplinary research. With those priorities in mind, potential logistics hub sites were evaluated for their ability to provide samples and data needed to make significant progress in understanding the evolution of Antarctica from the scale of microbe to mountain range. The community consensus was that Shackleton Glacier should be the next deep field logistics hub in the Transantarctic Mountains. At the recommendation of the NSF, scientists are encouraged to submit proposals for the April 15 2013 OPP deadline.

Day One — Identification and discussion of research objectives

After an overview of the workshop goals was presented, the first day of the workshop was dedicated to identifying common research themes and compelling science questions for each discipline. In advance of the workshop, most participants, as well as some non-attendees, submitted summaries outlining their research objectives at potential deep field camp sites in the central Transantarctic Mountains. These summaries were the basis of poster sessions that allowed participants to learn about the research priorities of others in their discipline. During the discussions that followed, each group identified common themes and/or compelling overarching research questions and presented a summary of their discussions to all workshop participants.

Day Two — Camp site selection, timing and management

During the second day of the workshop, participants listened to talks about weather patterns in the Transantarctic Mountains and logistical considerations of potential camp sites from a scientist’s standpoint. Afterwards, the disciplinary groups then rated each potential logistics hub site for its ability to provide datasets that can most effectively be used to address the common research themes and compelling questions. The results of that effort are shown in the Table 1 below.

Deep field logistics hubs at the Scott and Shackleton Glaciers scored the highest ratings overall (Table 1). Notably, some of the most compelling research questions in the Cryosciences and Geosciences can only be or would best be addressed from a hub at the Darwin or Nimrod Glaciers. When assessing the potential of Scott vs. Shackleton Glacier logistics hubs, a key consideration was the ability of Bio scientists to write competitive proposals given the paucity of relevant published data so far south of the Dry Valleys. The Bio group viewed the mini ‘dry valley’ at the base of Mt. Heekin, along the Scott Glacier, to have key environmental parallels to the long-studied LTER site in the McMurdo Dry Valleys and thus provide a compelling case to extend research efforts into the central Transantarctic Mountains.

Table 1.  Rating of logistics hub potential relative to common research themes and compelling questions.
Discipline Theme/Research Questions Darwin Scott Shackleton Nimrod
Note: Rating of 3 = ideal for collecting datasets to address compelling research themes/questions, rating of 0 = no potential.
Biology/Ecology Biogeography/biodiversity of organisms 0 1 3  
Environmental gradients and their role in species distribution 0 1 3  
Time and time series 0 1 3  
Role of dormancy, types of dormancy 0 1 3  
Availability of liquid water 0 1 3  
Evolution of freshwater diatoms 0 1 3  
Cryoscience — Climate and Ice Sheet History; Landscape evolution; Atmospheric science Recent history of EAIS/WAIS LGM to Present 3 2 1  
Post-Sirius to pre-LGM ice sheet history 1 3 3  
Origin and age of Sirius Formation 0 2 3  
Landscape evolution/surface processes 1 3 3  
How far inland is climate warming? 1 3 2  
Mountain meteorology 1 3 3  
Cryoscience — Glaciology Ice-Ocean dynamics: How does forcing at the grounding line (tides, heat transport) affect flow dynamics? How far do changes propagate inland? 3 0 1 3
Ice Sheet Stability 3 2 0 3
Mass Balance / Accumulation: What controls spatial/temporal distribution of snow accumulation? 3 2 0 2
Process-based study on rock walled glacier 1 1 3 1
Geosciences Transistion through time and space (Icehouse–Greenhouse, PIT, geochron, paleohydrology) 1 2 3  
Deep time analogues of climate, env, and biotic change 1 2 3  
High-latitude env. and biotas over time (deep time vs modern) (organism → ecosystem, local → global) 1 2 3  
Geodynamics of EA and WA boundary 1 3 2  
Magmatic systems 3 2 1  
Uplift, erosion, and tectonics of TAM 1 3 2  
Sub-ice geology (Beacon basin evolution and sources and modern moraine systems) 1 3 3  
Potential for exploration of new sites 2 3 1  

The duration and timing of the Shackleton Camp was discussed and participants clearly expressed a scientific need for camp operations to extend longer than one season. A. Isern suggested that significant scientific gains and logistical efficiencies could be made with a ‘soft opening’ in 2014-15 and full camp operation for the following 1-2 summer field seasons. Observations by scientists at previous camps on the Shackleton Glacier revealed that by mid-season (December onward), persistent fog typically encroaches up valley to approximately the position of Mt. Heekin and the proposed logistics hub site, highlighting the need for assessment of the best camp location and awareness of work-limiting weather patterns during the early stages of the planning process.

Recommendations regarding camp operations and management included:

  • A multi-year camp, which would be essential to several of the types of projects that PIs are likely to propose.
  • Utilize day and night shifts for helicopter operations to gain significant efficiency.
  • Create a helicopter ops scheduling system with flexibility.
  • Appoint a chief scientist who is actively involved with the camp planning process, as well as the decision-making process regarding schedule deviations while the camp is operational. It is recommended that the chief scientist talk with PIs prior to field deployment to gain a clear overview of the goals and needs of funded projects

Day Two — Other key discussions

The strong interest in and potential for significant research gains at multiple field sites provided the impetus for the Workshop participant’s recommendation to proceed with planning for an annual, interdisciplinary scientific conference focused on the Transantarctic Mountains. Such a meeting is envisioned to create a synergistic environment for discussing new research results and providing a forum for the community to maintain an organized effort to propel efforts for future logistics hubs. An interdisciplinary committee with 7 members was formed to further develop the structure and plans for this meeting. Members of the committee are: Atmo: M. Nigro; Bio: M. Lau, E. Sokol; Cryo: N. Golledge, J. Putkonen; and Geo: E. Gulbranson, A. Huerta.

Workshop participants expressed strong interest in developing a collaborative outreach effort associated with the Shackleton Camp and beyond. N. Smith provided an overview of collaborative outreach approaches used by other Antarctic research groups and has agreed to begin developing a forum where Antarctic researchers and educators can collaborate, share materials & experiences, and mentor each other in order to improve visibility and efficacy of outreach efforts.

Day Three — Planning your first Antarctic field season

The final day of the workshop was dedicated to providing New Antarctic Explorers (17 graduate students, postdocs and other scientists with limited Antarctic deep field experience) with tools needed to begin thinking about Antarctic logistics planning for deep field camps. Mountaineers, OAEs and logistics professionals with Antarctic Support Contract (Lockheed Martin) provided an overview of the planning process, transport and camp options for field parties, ORWs, proposal preparation and many other topics. Links to some of the resources discussed are given below.

Related links

Other general links