A helicopter perched upon layers of jurassic rock exposed as modern day butresses on the flank of Mt. Rosenwald. The paleobotanists landed here to search for plant fossils. 15 December 2017.
Dr. Patricia Ryberg walking on Graphite Peak (10,700 ft.) after a day collecting plant fossils. 22 December 2017. The expanse of the Transantarctics and the Falkenhof Glacier extends in the distance.
Aerial view of Shackleton Glacier, with Mt. Butters in the background. The snaking dark strip in the middle of the glacier is the Swithinbank moraine, about one thousand feet in width and running fifteen miles downglacier. Manhattan would fit entirely in the foreground of the photo, as would Paris. 3 January 2018.
Near the summit of McIntyre Promontory (9,020 ft) Dr. Erik Gulbranson surveys the landscape. Underneath him are triassic-aged sandstones, some of which contained tree and plant fossils. In the distance is Layman Peak where incredibly well-preserved peat was found, containing a multitude of ancient plant life. 12 December 2017.
A lone, unnamed nunatak on the Antarctic plateau en route between Graphite Peak and Shackleton Glacier camp. 2 January 2018.
Practicing crevasse rescue on the Ross Ice Shelf Dr. Brian Atkinson gets saved by his teammates. 26 November 2017.
Dr. Erik Gulbranson at Collingson ridge looking at some 250 million year old mud cracks. December 2017.
The two-thousand foot wall of McIntyre Promontory, where Dr. Gulbranson and others discovered numerous Permian-aged tree stumps, well preserved. 12 December 2017.
At Graphite Peak camp, seventy miles away from the nearest other humans, Dr. Brian Atkinson stands for a portrait in front of the teams Endurance cook tent. 22 December 2017.
The team doing an initial survey upon landing at Layman Peak. 15 December 2017.
Relaxing at camp after a long day in the field. Collinson Ridge. 15 December 2017.
Aerial view of unnamed glacier. December 2017.
The ski-equipped Hercules LC-130 opens is rear cargo hatch to let out cargo at speed on the Shackleton Glacier snow runway. A "hot offload" is more effecient way to get the thousands of pounds of cargo off the aircraft.
Afterwards the passengers, mainly scientists and staff at the remote camp, exit the same way for their first views of their new home. 1 December 2017.
Dr. Erik Gulbranson sampling fossilized tree wood on the 2,000 ft face of McIntyre promontory. 12 December 2017.
Aerial view of Shackleton Glacier Camp with Mt Finley of the Queen Maud Mountains in the background. Shackleton camp was established over three seasons of work by the United States Antarctic Program to serve as a hub for research in the region. For most of December of 2017 and January 2018 it housed between ten and twenty scientists, with the remaining being shuttled out to even more remote moutainsides for short expeditions to conduct research.
At any one time the camp had two helicopters, one or two ski-quipped fixed wing aircraft such as Twin Otters or Baslers, and was occasionally visitied by LC-130 of the New York Air National Guard. 30 December 2017.
Dr. Erik Gulbranson descending from the summit of McIntyre Promontory. 12 December 2017.
Dr. Rudolf Serbet and Dr. Erik Gulbranson searching for fossils on Collingson Ridge in December 2017.
Dr. Rudolf Serbet doing an initial survey of Layman Peak on 15 December of 2017. This particular day yielded no finds and the team concluded the site was barren. But later a group of Paleontologists discovered a treasure-trove of fossilized peat.
Dr. Brian Atkinson and Dr. Rudolf Serbet taking notes and samples of a large fossilized tree stump. In fact it was one of the largest samples they discovered at Collinson Ridge. December 2017.
Dr. Rudolf Serbet sampling a large intact fossilized tree stump at Graphite Peak on Christmas day 2017.
Dr. John Isbell, team leader from University of Wisconsin at Madison, a sedimentary geologist, discusses plans with the rest of the team in their science tent at Shackleton Camp. 19 December 2017.
Dr. Brian Atkinson preparing food in the kitchen tent at Graphite peak. The team was stuck here for an extra week while a storm raged between them and the main Shackleton camp. 26 December 2017.
Unearthing plant leaf fossils, Dr. Serbet uses his hammer and pick to get into a deeper layer of rock. In a place known as Alfies Elbow, at over 10,000 feet, the wind rips hard down from the Antarctic plateau. 14 December 2017.
The protruding end of a 250 million year old tree stump emerges from its sandstone coffin at Collinson Ridge. The paleobotanists can do many things with the tree stumps, including surveying their number, size, and dispersion to gain a better understanding of their previous life during the ancient Permian. 10 December 2017.
Team leader Dr. John Isbell surverying the martian-like scene at Collinson ridge, named for his pHd advisor. 5 December 2017.
The team gets left by the helicopter for a day's work at McIntyre promontory, roughly a 20 minute flight from Shackleton camp. 11 December 2017.
The Queen Maud Range visible through a "ventifacted" or wind-sculpted, sandstone on Kitching Ridge in the Shackleton Glacier region. Because of very low rates of precipitation (snowfall) exposed rocks remain exposed for vast periods of time. This sandstone, more than 200 million years old, is a relatively soft rock and is therefore susceptible to the erosional properties of wind, which allows to be found in some very Picasso-esque formations. 5 December 2017.
In November 2017 a team of paleobotanists and sedimentary geologists traveled to Antarctica in search of plant fossils and clues about the ancient landscape that would answer a fundamental question about Earth's history.
The question at hand is centered upon a singular event between Permian and Triassic time periods. Roughly 250 million years ago the Earth experienced the largest mass extinction event in its history. 95% of all species were wiped out for reasons not fully understood. Even the more famous extinction which killed the dinasaurs, paled in comparison.
In order to shed some light on this long standing problem of Earth history and geology, the team sought fossilized plants and sediments from this time period in order to reconstruct a more full picture of the ecology of this part of this world was doing then. Which kinds of plants were living, how they reproduced, and what kind of environment they lived in.
One of the wonders of that ancient time period is that the modern position of the Shackleton Glacier region, roughly 85 degrees south, is roughly the latitude that these same landscapes existed in during the Permian-Triassic extinction event. Somehow plants, trees, and animals managed to flourish in an environment with four months of darkness and four months of complete light.
Today, this kind of science project is only possible because of the massive support network of the United States Antarctic Program. The efforts of hundreds of people, both in the US and Antarctica, countless pilots, support crew, planners, and other support staff made it possible for our group of six researches to exist in this environment and conduct remote research over a five week period.
The group was part of a larger research effort based from the US Antarctic Program's McMurdo station. For one main season, the USAP built a deep field camp on the Shackleton Glacier in the heart of the transantarctic mountains. From there the team was able to establish two satellite camps high up on mountainsides where they could work closely with the fossil sites.
Also utilizing helicopters and ski-equipped airplanes for day trips, the team was able to visit many sites in the region to bring home an abunance of data which will be used to flesh out the remaining mysteries of the Permian-Triassic period of time, in terms of geology and ecology.