Joy over rocks

Text by: Karna Johansson, expedition doctor

Imagine a researcher on a mountain. They weigh a piece of stone with a hand scale and look happier than the happiest angler. Stone, you might think, how can one find joy in that?

Nunataks, the peaks of the Antarctic mountains, are affected by the amount of cosmic radiation they are exposed to. The stone samples taken can be used to calculate how thick the ice has been throughout history. More sun, less ice. Knowledge of the historical extent of the ice sheet across Antarctica can contribute, among other things, to a better understanding of future climate changes.

Research is a time-consuming process, and the one we are a part of here is no exception. In addition to all the preparations for getting here and back, analysing samples, processing data, and writing articles, the collection itself is time-consuming.

First, researchers must find a suitable location that meets criteria such as altitude, stone quality, and localisation; it may require many hours of driving and hiking to reach it. The location must then be precisely positioned with GPS, photographed, and mapped in relation to the horizon line. Only then is the sample taken, weighing more than a kilogram, using wedges, a hammer, or a percussion drill that must have warm batteries and sharp bits. Finally, the sample must be measured, placed in a specially labelled bag, weighed, and carried back to the snowmobiles. With this in mind, it is a bit easier to understand the joy of our researchers over a piece of stone.

And let me tell you, when you manage to detach that piece of stone just as you planned when drilling and driving in the wedges, a stone can be something to rejoice over!

Three people looking at a screen.
First, routes and tours must be planned. From the left, guide Andreas Bergström and the researchers Martim Mas e Braga and Jane Lund Andersen can be seen. They rely, among other things, on satellite images to avoid crevasses since detailed maps are lacking for many areas. Photo: Karna Johansson
Mountain ridge with stripes.
Here, stripes are visible from the glacier that has passed over the rock, guaranteeing that it has been glacier-covered. Perfect for sampling! Photo: Karna Johansson
Two people work at the height of a mountain ridge.
Now everything must be documented and photographed. Photo: Karna Johansson
 Technical equipment lying on stones.
An additional accurate GPS is installed to ensure the location and elevation above sea level. Photo: Karna Johansson.
A man points an instrument at the horizon.
Arjen Stroeven documents the horizon line in all directions, as it influences the amount of cosmic radiation the mountain has been exposed to. Photo: Karna Johansson.
A person is holding a hammer and a tool to remove a piece of stone from the cliff.
Martim Mas e Braga chisels away a sample from the mountain, always wearing safety glasses to protect against stone chips. Photo: Karna Johansson.
The silhouettes of some people working on a mountain ridge.
Far to the right, expedition leader Håkan Grudd is drilling a sample on a ridge in Mannefallknausane. The weather here has been harsher, but the sampling has been fantastic! Photo: Karna Johansson
A white bag with rock samples is weighed.
Now the sample will be measured and weighed, here Jane Lund Andersen rejoices over the expedition's first sample. Photo: Karna Johansson
A woman in a yellow helmet holds a stone sample.
The author, Karna Johansson, with a perfectly drilled stone sample. Photo: Andreas Bergström.

Publishing date: 15 Jan 2024