From Africa to Antarctica: Adventures in Living and Working in Remote Deserts

Nelia W. Dunbar

Earth and Environmental Science Department

New Mexico Tech

Socorro, NM, 87801

The Antarctic continent, although largely covered with ice, hosts a number of volcanoes, some of which are currently active. The activity of these volcanoes, past and present, and the interaction between the volcanoes and the Antarctic ice sheets has been the focus of my Antarctic research for the past 20 years.

My first trip to Antarctica was in 1983, when I worked as a field assistant on the active Mt. Erebus volcano, as well as on sampling some older volcanoes on or near Ross Island. Although I'd never really thought much about Antarctica prior to my first trip, I was enchanted with the place from my first views of the continent, and continued to like it more and more as my field work progressed. After my first season, I've been able to return to Antarctica for field work 16 more times, as field assistant, research associate or principal investigator. Those trips included further work on Mt. Erebus, work on small volcanoes in the Dry Valleys, large volcanoes in West Antarctica, as well as volcanic-ash-bearing blue ice sites. From my first season on, I found that I was very comfortable and happy when in the mode of Antarctic field life. Some aspects that I particularly enjoy include the challenge of complex trip planning, the mobile tent-camping lifestyle, living and working for weeks with only 3-4 other people, communicating on the radio, spending long hours on the rim of an active volcano, moving around steep slopes in order to make observations and collect rock samples, and working in the windy blue ice areas. Feeling comfortable and at ease with these sometimes difficult aspects of field work has allowed me to concentrate fully on the scientific research at hand, without being distracted by the physical aspects of the field work or living conditions.