SMU Earth Sciences, Antarctica

Earth Sciences master’s student Chris Strganac, doctoral student Yosuke Nishida and Professor Louis Jacobs are part of a team traveling to Antarctica to discover 120 million-year-old mammal fossils from Livingston Island and other places around the Antarctic Peninsula.
They hope to link the evolutionary history of mammals across South America to Africa and Australia through ancient Antarctica when climates were warmer. So far in their journey, as chronicled by Chris, they have found ancient plants, but mammal remains have been elusive. They are still looking…

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Gearing up for the cold

In Punta Arenas, John Evans of Raytheon Polar Services, the logistics company that would aid our venture, met us. He took us to our hotel, gave us a quick tour of Punta Arenas, and led us to the docks where the Lawrence M. Gould, an Antarctic research vessel and our transportation to Antarctica, awaited.

Our good-luck toe
Punta Arenas is located on the Strait of Magellan near the southern tip of the South American continent (Tierra del Fuego is farther south but does not connect to South America). During our tour, Evans took us by the statue of Magellan. Below Magellan, there is a statue depicting a native. The native is barefoot, and his big toe is noticeably the most polished piece of the statue. Evans tells us of a local maritime superstition in which sailors would rub this toe for good fortune when traveling across the Drake Passage. We all rubbed the toe.

The next day we received our information security awareness training. It seems identity theft affects even penguins. Raytheon Polar outfits the team with clothing and gear for extreme conditions. The amount of warm clothes suggests the weather may get cold, but to us Texans, cold weather seems an intangible.

Sleeping tight
An integral pre-expedition step was to set up our tents. Scott tents would serve as our sleeping tents (the yellow tents in the photo are Scott tents), and a weatherport, resembling a miniature airplane hangar, would be our cooking tent.

A striking feature of Scott tents is the door, which does not open with flaps or zippers like basic camping tents, but as a circular tube of canvas that cinches closed. The genius in the design is that it keeps snow, rain, and wind out. We learn soon that it prevents even us from entering and leaving.

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