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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Journey to Livingston Island

Our trip from Punta Arenas begins in the Strait of Magellan, then south across the Drake Passage to the South Shetland Islands. The Lawrence M. Gould has a staff that works very hard, including an excellent chef. Bobby, the chef (who turned down an offer to cook for rapper P. Diddy), serves excellent food, good enough that we hope the food we ate will wear off soon.

This voyage would take us to places we have never been, and we are excited by the prospect of seeing the wildlife. The first animals we saw were Magellanic penguins, Commerson’s dolphins and whales in the Strait. The gentle rocking of the ship was a new experience for some of us, and fortunately, most of us did not need sea sickness medication. Then we entered the Drake Passage.

Rough seas
The Drake Passage is the ocean channel between Tierra del Fuego and the Antarctic Peninsula. This ocean channel opened 33 million to 40 million years ago, and Antarctica has been covered in ice since. The ship’s crew warned of possible rough seas, but it is one thing to hear the words “rough seas,” and it is another thing to feel rough seas.

Sleeping, walking, eating … living was difficult in the Drake Passage. The ship seemed to tilt 30 degrees at times … probably an exaggeration, but it did cause the mattress to shift from one side of the bed to the other. Add a few books falling, a loose chapstick in the cabinet rolling back and forth … back and forth … back and forth … one couldn’t wait to get to land, just to sleep. Apparently this was an average Drake experience.

Land!
On the morning of November 25, icebergs were in the water, and King George Island was our first sight of land in several days. We spent the remainder of the day traveling south along the South Shetland Islands to Livingston Island. The crux of the trip will be spent on day trips to permanent ice-free locations on Livingston Island and adjacent islands, and a 14-day camp on Byers Peninsula on Livingston.

Our first stop, Point Williams on the north end of the island, was cancelled as the scouting trip reports complete snow cover. We hope this is not the trend.

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