2023-2024 ANET-POLENET Field Season Comes to an End

January 31, 2024

2023-2024 ANET-POLENET Field Season Comes to an End

Several people posing next to a plane on a sunny day with blue skies in winter gear with snow covered mountains in the background and snow on the ground.

Last November, the ANET-POLENET field team, a group of dedicated scientists and researchers led by Byrd Center Principal Investigator Terry Wilson, embarked on their 2023-2024 field season in West Antarctica.

The expedition commenced with the team assembling in Chile, where they followed a time-honored tradition of visiting Ferdinand Magellan's memorial in Punta Arenas—a ritual involving 'kissing the toe' of the statue, ensuring safe passage to Antarctica.

Four people posing in front of the base of a statute.
Above from left to right: Nicolas Bayou, Mara Figueroa-Berroca, Erica Lucas, and Terry Wilson. The statue is a memorial to Magellan, but this particular person on the statue is an indigenous Patagonian. It has become tradition to kiss his toes in order to ensure safe transport across the Drake Passage. 

Union Glacier Camp, operated by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) in the scenic Ellsworth Mountains, was base camp for the expedition. 

Early on, the team successfully serviced several vital sites, including Howard Nunatak and Whitmore Mountains, overcoming harsh Antarctic conditions and equipment challenges. These sites, crucial for GNSS and seismic measurements, had desperately needed maintenance due to previous years of missed fieldwork.

As the month progressed, unflyable weather conditions at ALE Union Glacier Camp led the team to shift to the USAP Byrd Camp. In the process, they completed maintenance at three more sites in just three days, showcasing remarkable cooperation and adaptability. 

The team continued their mission, servicing sites at Mount Takahe, Bear Peninsula, and Bennett Nunatak. A notable accomplishment was successfully servicing the GNSS and seismic stations at Thurston Island, where they excavated and retrieved three years of precious seismic data.

A vast snowy field with some rocks, equipment and a plane in the foreground under blue skies with white clouds.
GNSS site at Gould Knoll with the KBA Twin Otter fixed-wing ski plane in the background. Photo taken by science team member Nicolas Bayou.

However, the expedition was not without its setbacks. Visits to Gould Knoll and Martin Peninsula were bittersweet, as the team serviced the GNSS systems but lost invaluable seismic data due to buried equipment. 

Despite weather-related challenges, limiting their ability to fly to specific sites, they managed to service additional sites, including Slater Rocks and Miller Crag, adhering to the principle of 'leave no trace' to preserve the pristine polar environment.

People sitting at two long tables in a tent with holiday decorations.
Christmas dinner begins at ALE Union Glacier Camp.
Table filled with different, breads, cheeses and spreads.
Beautiful bread and cheese board prepared by the ALE Union Glacier Camp kitchen.
A gingerbread cookie in the shape of a person with Terry written with white icing and  chocolate dipped apricot and walnut boots
Lead-PI Terry Wilson's personalized cookie.

The holiday season brought brief respite, with the team enjoying festive celebrations at ALE Union Glacier Camp. This break was followed by a remarkable effort at Lower Thwaites Glacier, where the team retrieved essential data from a deeply buried seismic station. The season's final triumph was a successful return to Backer Island, where the team overcame severely corroded components to service the system.

A collage of two images, one to the left of snowy fiend with two flags and some pipes  sticking out and on the right people digging in a trench in the snow.
The dig begins.
People below ground in a trench looking at the dig progress in the snow .
Excavation required shovels, a chainsaw, an ice auger, and a huge amount of physical effort.  Multiple ledges and ropes ensured access and egress remained safe throughout the dig.

Faced with the reality of unflyable weather conditions at the remaining sites, Wilson terminated further work, marking the end of this epic expedition. 

A map of land with marking at certain locations with a scale bar at the bottom in KM and a legend with symbols and text: Polenet/ANET: GPS Only, GPS/Seismic Co-Location, Seismic only on snow and GPS/Seismic co-located installed on snow and another box with text: parti service and full service.al
This map shows site visits completed during the ANET-POLENET 2023-2024 field season. Dates indicate the day of the site visit. The goal was to service every site marked with a 4-character ID. Thanks to the incredible efforts by all science team members, the KBA flight crew, and ALE camp staff, nearly all sites were serviced, and the field season was a huge success. A special thanks to NSF and the USAP program for making this field season possible.

Despite the field season concluding earlier than anticipated and the devastating loss of data due to unretrievable buried seismic equipment, the expedition was deemed a success overall. Now, the focus shifts back to the challenging yet crucial phase of analyzing data and attempting to complete project science goals.

To read more and see images from the field, visit the blog 2023-2024 ANT-POLENET Field Season Progress.

Image to the right: Meet the team! Pictured from left to right: KBA pilot Troy McKerral, science team members Nicolas Bayou, Terry Wilson, Mara Figueroa-Berroca, and Kirsten Arnell, mountaineer Mark Whetu, and science team member Erica Lucas.

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