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Shackleton Glacier Project, 1995-1996

David H. Elliot, Byrd Polar Research Center and Department of Geological Sciences, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210

Geological investigations in the Shackleton Glacier region (figure) under the auspices of the U.S. Antarctic Research Program were first conducted by Texas Technological University (Wade et al. 1965; LaPrade 1969). Building on these investigations, a helicopter-supported research program was carried out by geologists from Ohio State University in the 1970-1971 season (Elliot and Coates 1971). Subsequently, surface-supported field projects investigated the vertebrate-bearing beds in the Cumulus Hills (Collinson, Stanley, and Vavra 1978; Cosgriff et al. 1978) and basement rocks along the mountain front (Stump 1975; Borg et al. 1987). Although access can be gained to rocks along the mountain front and near McGregor Glacier, crevassing can make travel dangerous.

The potential for further productive research in the region led a number of investigators to submit proposals for fieldwork to be supported for 2 months by helicopters. Proposals were funded for the 1995-1996 field season, and 8 weeks of helicopter support was approved. The camp structures were brought to the Shackleton Glacier site from the central west antarctic camp in January 1995. On 23 October 1995, a 15-member Antarctic Support Associates (ASA) construction crew arrived at the site. The camp was ready ahead of schedule, in large measure due to prestaging of the camp structures and calm, albeit cold, weather during construction. The helicopters, belonging to Helicopters New Zealand, arrived on 15 November with the first geological groups arriving on 19 November. Helicopter operations terminated on 10 January, and the last science groups returned to McMurdo on 12 January. The camp was then taken apart and transported to Siple Dome in preparation for the 1996-1997 aerogeophysical and ice-core drilling programs.

Science activities

Research was concentrated on the Gondwana sequence, the Cenozoic paleoclimate record, and the tectonic evolution of the Transantarctic Mountains. Science personnel numbered 46, representing 12 different projects. Significant paleontological discoveries were made, including abundant new Lower Triassic vertebrate material from the northern Cumulus Hills and Upper Triassic silicified plant material from near Schroeder Hill. Detailed studies were made on trace fossils in fine-grained Permian beds and on the sedimentology of the coal-bearing Buckley Formation. A systematic collection of samples from Permian and Triassic beds was made for palynostratigraphic studies. Detailed investigations were made of paleosols, which are locally abundant, and significant effort was put into locating the Permo-Triassic boundary. Systematic collections were made of the dolerite sills for geochemical analysis and age dating, and the paleovolcanology of the co-magmatic breccias of the Prebble Formation was studied in detail. Continuing studies on the Sirius Group sediments on the Dominion Range resulted in the discovery of peat horizons, and the collection of more material for microfossils and plant remains. These rocks as well as the younger moraines were sampled for exposure age dating. The Sirius deposits were further investigated on Roberts Massif and Bennett Platform. The basement rocks along the mountain front were sampled for paleomagnetic investigations and age dating and for thermochronologic studies of the denudation history. Results of fieldwork by individual projects are reported in the articles that follow.

Field operations

Two Squirrel helicopters, an A model with a payload of about 400 kilograms (kg) and a B model with a payload of about 700 kg (actual payloads depend on altitude and flying distance), operated by Helicopters New Zealand, provided 8 weeks of logistic support for science. In addition, a Twin Otter, owned and operated by Kenn Borek Air, provided 2 weeks of fixed-wing support.

In total, 682 hours of helicopter time were flown in 57 days of operations:

Helicopter operations were under the direction of Ken Tustin, who was supported by three pilots and two mechanics. The 6-hour transit from McMurdo to the Shackleton Camp and return required two refuelling stops: at Senia Point 16 kilometers south of Byrd Glacier and at Cape Maude about 56 kilometers northwest of Beardmore Glacier. Fuel caches were placed on the Mill Glacier by LC-130 aircraft and at various points along the mountain front by helicopter. Only 8 days were lost entirely to weather, including a 4-day break in mid-December and a 2-day shutdown in early January. Flying was curtailed on other days but, except for the ramp-up at the beginning of the season, was never less than 5 hours a day. Excluding nonflying days, 576 hours were flown in 44 days with an average of 13.1 hours per day and a maximum on any 1 day of just over 29 hours. Two sets of crew facilitated science support, and not uncommonly, a day shift was followed by an evening shift. The latter was often used for support in the Dominion Range, which is sufficiently far from the Shackleton Camp (about 170 kilometers to the Mill Glacier fuel depot) that, for safety, the helicopters operated as a pair. Evening operations also supported camp moves and cargo retrograde.

A Twin Otter was based at the camp for 6 days in late November and for an additional 5 days in mid- to late December although that support was somewhat curtailed by poor weather. The Twin Otter enabled visits to places beyond normal helicopter range: Mount Fiedler, Nilsen Plateau, Mount Weaver, O'Brien Peak, and the Dominion Range (figure). In addition, aerial photography of the Roberts Massif and Bennett Platform was flown during the first week and photography of the Dominion Range and The Cloudmaker, during the second period. The Twin Otter also supported the meteorite collection program conducted in the Grosvenor Mountains, near Mount Wisting and near Graves Nunatak (figure).

Camp operations

Camp staff personnel numbered seven: Kevin Killilea (camp manager), two mechanics, one weather observer and radio operator, two cooks, and a camp mountaineer who, as a registered nurse, provided local medical support. The camp mountaineer provided invaluable field support for one of the science projects. The population at Shackleton reflected the number of projects that were operating out of satellite camps and the schedule of arrival and departure from the field. The camp population attained a maximum of 38 (ASA, helicopter crew, Twin Otter crew, and 22 scientists) for a few days in late December, but for most of the time, fewer than 16 scientists were in camp.

Camp facilities consisted of eight Jamesways, including a 12-section science hut, a 16-section galley, a 10-section recreation/radio/washing facilities hut, a 12-section visitors' hut, a 10-section berthing hut for the helicopter crew, and three berthing huts for ASA personnel. All science parties used tents while at the Shackleton Camp. Two prefabricated buildings housed generators and the mechanical workshop. Two helicopter pads were installed for the Squirrels, and a 76,000-liter bladder provided fuel storage. A 2,750-meter skiway was regularly groomed, raising the cargo load of the LC-130 aircraft eventually to about 15,890 kilograms.

Support for D.H. Elliot was provided by National Science Foundation grant OPP 94-20498 to Ohio State University. The success of the camp was made possible by the invaluable and enthusiastic support of the U.S. Navy VXE-6 squadron, Helicopters New Zealand, and ASA personnel.


Borg, S.C., J.W. Goodge, V.C. Bennett, and D.J. DePaolo. 1987. Geochemistry of granites and metamorphic rocks, central Transantarctic Mountains. Antarctic Journal of the U.S., 22(5), 21-23.

Collinson, J.W., K.O. Stanley, and C.L. Vavra. 1978. Stratigraphy and sedimentary petrology of the Fremouw Formation (Lower Triassic), Cumulus Hills, central Transantarctic Mountains. Antarctic Journal of the U.S., 13(4), 21-22.

Cosgriff, J.W., W.R. Hammer, J.M. Zawiskie, and N.R. Kemp. 1978. New Triassic vertebrates from the Fremouw Formation of the Queen Maud Mountains. Antarctic Journal of the U.S., 13(4), 23-24.

Elliot, D.H., and D.A. Coates. 1971. Geological investigations in the Queen Maud Mountains. Antarctic Journal of the U.S., 6(4), 114-118.

LaPrade, K.E. 1969. Geology of the Roberts Massif, Queen Maud Range, Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica. Antarctic Journal of the U.S., 4(4), 135-136.

Stump, E. 1975. Geology of the Duncan Mountains. Antarctic Journal of the U.S., 10(4), 179-180.

Wade, F.A., V.L. Yeats, J.R. Everett, D.W. Greenlee, K.E. LaPrade, and J.C Shenk. 1965. The geology of the central Queen Maud Range, Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica (Research Report Series, Antarctic Series No. 65-1). Lubbock: Texas Technological College.