- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Hunkered down and more than 100 miles apart with travel unsafe between a glacier and a dormant volcano in Antarctica, the professor and student were about to give up.

Kurt Panter, a geology professor at Bowling Green State University, was with his mountaineer expert near Mount Early, the southernmost volcano in the world, while his gear and student Jenna Reindel was stuck on Shackleton Glacier.

Connecting was impossible because of the weather; it was bad, though not scary bad, he said.

While the sun didn’t set during the two December weeks the research team idled in tents, the clock ticked. They had only planned three weeks of field time to study the volcano, and there was now only one week left.

“I was about to call it quits,” Panter said.

And then, the weather cleared, and Reindel, John Smellie of the University of Leicester, and plenty of needed gear flew south to Mount Early on Christmas Eve.

The research race was now on.

While university administrators often talk about the importance of real-life experience for students, few opportunities exist similar to a professor taking an undergraduate student to the world’s southernmost continent. Reindel technically graduated from Bowling Green with a bachelor’s in geology while on the trip, and now is a graduate student at the university.

The uncertainty is frustrating, but not surprising, when you attempt to explore areas where few have been before. The chance to do core research that can help explain mysteries of the past and the future make it worth it.

The team was suffering through the delays and the cold to study Mount Early and nearby Sheridan Bluff to try to learn why these isolated volcanic areas formed, and what was above them when they did. These volcanoes are about 800 miles from any others.

“Since these are outliers, we are not really sure why they are there,” Panter said.

The expedition, funded by the National Science Foundation, is part of research into the east Antarctica ice sheet. The scientists are hoping to learn if the volcanoes were covered in ice when they formed, as researchers believe they were, and potentially how thick the ice sheet was.

Understanding the historical natural variations of the ice sheets can help climatologists model what impact human activity has had and will have on the ice. Studying rocks and sediment from an ancient volcano in Antarctica is part of climate change research.

Dressed in extreme clothing to protect against the cold - it was about minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit without the wind chill - the researchers took snowmobiles from their tents to the volcanoes for five days, collecting samples that would be flown back to McMurdo Station, the U.S. government’s Antarctic research station.

This was the 10th trip to the continent for Panter, but the first for Reindel, 23, a Maumee native. To go on such a trip is the kind of experience that can inspire a new generation of scientists, Panter said, even if it can seem intimidating at first.

“I thought when we got there that we’d just be fending for our lives,” Reindel said.

Instead, they found hundreds of other scientists at McMurdo, which swells in population in the Antarctic summer months. There was even a music festival at the station while they were on their expedition. They left Detroit on Thanksgiving Day for Los Angeles, then Sydney, then New Zealand, before boarding a LC-130 cargo plane to the station.

Panter had been Reindel’s undergraduate adviser, and he could have found plenty of takers to sign on as a graduate researcher, but she was a known commodity.

She’d done undergraduate field work in Colorado and Nevada with the school, and done her own trip to Iceland as well. She’s also the kind of student who has a solved Rubik’s Cube on her desk.

The delays on the trip could frustrate some, Panter said. It’s not exactly comfortable to be stuck in a tent on a glacier, even if there are movies to watch on laptops and fellow researchers to keep company with.

The thought of having to wait another year for another chance can shake the nerves of some. Reindel, however, handled it well, surviving the coldest field session Panter said he’s ever experienced with an easy-going attitude.

To be surrounded by researchers doing such raw science was invigorating, Reindel said. And then, said Panter, there’s the adventure of exploring the truly unexplored.

It’s the kind of pull that brought Admiral Richard Byrd to conduct Antarctic expeditions nearly 80 years ago.

The Bowling Green duo left Antarctica on Jan. 8. But their work has only begun. The researchers are awaiting the arrival in Ohio of about 200 pounds of rock samples, which are now traveling by boat. Then the pair will head into the lab, spending the next two years analyzing what they’ve found.

And in the lab, with eyes glued to microscopes, it’s not hard to believe they will be dreaming of going back.


Information from: The Blade, https://www.toledoblade.com/

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