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21 January, 2003

Who am I and what am I doing in Antarctica?

I'm Karina Zavala and I decided to become a geologist when I was fifteen years old and spending all my spare time climbing volcanoes around Mexico City. In parcticular, I wanted to do exactly what I am doing now in Antarctica: study rocks in their natural environment.

This is my second trip to the Antarctic Dry Valleys. My first trip was in the 1999--2000 season with four other people. We camped at the same location, Bull Pass, yet this time things seem very different, in part because the group is made up of different people. This time there have been some memorable incidents--losing a helicopter and having to walk back to camp without backpacks or survival bags and emergency cold weather gear and being stranded for two days in camp because of bad weather. These incidents have certainly made things more challenging than last time and the group has worked together more cohesively as a result. All these experiences remind us how artificial our existence here is. Without support from McMurdo and from helicopters, this experience would not be possible. Despite losing workdays in the field due to bad weather, we have used our time at camp well, doing reading and writing. This is the reflective part of the trip as I like to call it. On days like this I go on walks, listen to some good music and write. In parcticular I enjoy sitting on a rock and stare at the horizon contemplating at the majestic mountains of the Wright Valley so defiant and motionless. Out here I am reminded of how small and insignificant I am, and the worries I normally have at home seem unimportant. I feel as if I am trespassing on some other planet with every step. There is no sign of life in these valleys; there are only rocks, sand, snow, mountains, a deep blue sky, and radiant sun all over the valley.

So why are we here? Well for geologists the Dry Valleys provide an excellent and unique natural laboratory. Because this is a desert environment, it is possible to trace rock contacts for miles and see intrusions that have been preserved since their injection 170 million years ago into granitic rock. I am parcticularly interested in studying silicic segregations. These rocks form when magma begins to solidify. Tears develop in the upper parts of the intrusion and these fill with highly siliceous liquid. As the tears are filled with this refined liquid they cool and pyroxene and plagioclase crystals form. The crystals can grow up to 5 cm long. These rocks can be identified easily in the field because of their distinctive coarse-grained textures and white color. They are found within finer-grained, dark gray doleritic rocks. So my project involves collecting samples of silicic segregations and making sketches and notes about them. I record how thick they are, the nature of the layers they form, and their orientation within the doleritic host rocks.

Aside from doing fieldwork, my duties involve helping out around camp and trying to be tolerable and pleasant to my colleagues. I certainly enjoy being out here and the more I do this type of work the more I like it. This is a short message for Ralf and my parents who are probably doing their own things back at home. I have been keeping a diary that I hope to share when I return. There have been some euphoric moments and other sad ones, but it is all part of the experience and I take every day as it comes. I have had plenty of time to reflect upon my life and it feels very good to be out here in the middle of nowhere.

I often think of all and miss all, but I also realize that opportunities like this don't come so easy and you have to take them as they come. I miss in parcticular not being able to take walks with Miska, I hope she is doing well.

As for Blanca I wish you all the strength and health for this very exciting moment in your life. I think of this everyday and wonder if the baby has arrived to this crazy but wonderful world yet.

Ralf I hope your trip to the Bahamas went well and that you collected all the work you needed to. At the moment the thought of the Bahamas is a little bit remote for me, since there are howling 25 knot winds outside the tent and across the valley it is all fogged up. It is not so cold; it must be around 30 F or so. I am looking forward to calling you when we get back to McMurdo sometime around the 28TH. Love you all, Karina

1. Karina Zavala

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