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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Stretching our legs on Hurd Peninsula

Our ship, the Lawrence M. Gould, is assisting another research project, led by Dave Barbeau, a geology professor from the University of South Carolina, which is examining the time and nature of the opening of the Drake Passage. The first stop of the LMG is Hurd Peninsula for Barbeau’s team. We decide to take advantage of the stop and get off the ship for a few hours.

The LMG is too large to dock on a beach, and we are transported to land by Zodiac-style boats. Getting in the boats from the LMG is a challenge as the Zodiac and LMG are moving up and down (from ocean waves) at different tempos. It involves timing and probably some luck. Rubbing the statue’s toe back in Punta Arena probably helped some, too.

Meeting the wildlife
On the beach, we see Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, Elephant and Weddell seals, and Antarctic tourists – a population the LMG crew says is on the rise.

A large Elephant seal awaits us, asleep on the beach next to our landing. Adult male Elephant seals can get as large as 10,000 lbs. This one is much smaller, but still large enough and intimidating to the North American landlubbers. We walk past, wary and unsure of what to expect. Are they territorial? Aggressive? Chris Denker, our camp manager and “guide,” tells us no. He was right, the seal looked at us uninterested and went back to sleep.

After some gawking and photographs, we make our way to a colony of Gentoo penguins. Some opportunistic Skuas seem interested in the nesting penguins. The penguins are successful in defending their eggs … for the moment.

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