November 25, 2002


Enough people have asked me what the heck I'm doing down here that I thought it worthy to dedicate an entry to the subject. Appologies for not getting on that right at first.

I've actually had to explain myself a goodly number of times since I've been down here, both out of curiosity and envy on the askers part. Seems I've gotten onto a peach of a project, which is what I'd been told even before departing the US.

This is my speil, with a little more detail for those of you who are not familiar with volcanoes in Antarctica.

I'm working as part of a group which studies Mt. Erebus, the southernmost active volcano. It also happens to be one of the most constantly active volcanoes in the world, with an actively convecting lava lake. Yep, that means there's hot glowing lava (1200+ degrees) at the surface of the coldest continent. And yes, there are eruptions.

Erebus is located on Ross Island, an island just about due south of New Zealand which is joined to mainland Antarctica by ice. McMurdo, a major US research base, is also located on Ross Island. McMurdo is another story. We start out in McMurdo, which is where I am at the time of this writing, but will be moving up to a camp on the volcano for the majority of the field work. Scheduled departure to Erebus is this Thursday, November 28--also known as Thanksgiving. Return to McMurdo will likely be sometime in early January, which means about about a month and a half on the volcano.

The volcano rises to about 12,500 ft above sea level, from sea level, which makes it a pretty prominent feature around here. We first head up to an acclimitization camp, called Fang for short because it is located on Fang Ridge, at about 9,000 ft. Because we're so close to the Pole, the elevation is actually effectively (for physiology, anyway) up to a couple thousand feet higher, making for a pretty steep acclimitization. After at least two nights at Fang, we head up the rest of the way to the Lower Hut, at about 11,000 ft. Housing at Fang consists of several polar tents. Housing up at the hut is apparently pretty comfortable, although perhaps a bit cramped. We sleep in tents outside the hut, and do all our 'living' in the hut.

But that's all logistics. Beth, what the heck do you do? One fellow here said to me, 'I know all sorts of people who would love to get on Phil's project. How did you do it? What's your secret?'

'Well,' I said, 'I have something that Phil wants.'

It all comes down to GPS processing. Aaarg.

In a nutshell, I study volcano geodesy. Or volcano deformation. Both of which are confusing terms. Both mean that I study how the surface of a volcano moves, presumably in response to things that are happening inside. A change in pressure within the volcano, if large enough, should result in measurable deformation at the surface. Deformation means a change in shape. For example, a magmatic intrusion from deep within the Earth to a shallow magma body (i.e. chamber) should result in inflation of the volcano, like a balloon. If we can measure this deformation, we can make guesses about what's going on within the volcano. If we can measure it in enough places to get a pretty good idea of the spatial pattern of deformation, we can actually, via some mathematical magic, come up with an idea of the shape and location of the magma body. If we measure often enough, we can get an idea of how the magmatic system is changing over time. This could obviously come in handy if you, say, want to know if and when a volcano is going to erupt. It's also just good for better understanding how volcanic systems work, which ends up being good for volcano monitoring in the long run even if you're not working to immediately predict an eruption.

I use GPS (Global Positioning System) to measure said deformation. Most of you are probably familiar with GPS, and have likely used the hand-held variety. Without the government-applied Selective Availability, you can get your location to with about 6 ft, which is pretty amazing. We use some snazzy and somewhat more cumbersome equipment, pictured in the first entry of this blog, which gets us--with a goodly amount of time in front of the computer processing the data afterwards--subcentimeter precision. Yep, subcentimeter. You've got to have a method that precise, if you want to measure things like plate motion. Plates generally move pretty slowly. GPS is good for a number of studies, including fault motion (there are a bunch of GPS studies around the San Andreas, for example, and you can bet a few folks rushed out into the field in Alaska to record motions following the big 7.9 quake of early October), extension of the Earth's crust (e.g., Basin and Range, or southwestern US), mountain building (Himalaya), and, of course, volcanoes. You can also measure atmospheric stuff like water vapor gradients in the Earth's troposphere, which could come in handy for storm warnings.

One of the cool things about this niche in science is that it's still relatively new. Few volcanoes have been studied in detail. So, I could collect data and see a particular pattern of deformation and have no idea what it means. Volcanoes are complex systems, and deformation may result, like I've mentioned, from magmatic intrusions, but it may also result from changes within hydrothermal systems or something as simple as rainfall. Each volcano is different, and the behavior of a volcano may even change from one eruption to the next. So, there are still a lot of unknowns. I spent four years looking at cycles of inflation and deflation at Taal Volcano, in the Philippines, where I did my masters research, and can't even begin to answer the question of when it will next erupt.

But I get carried away talking about my science. At Erebus, we have a multidisciplinary team of scientists who look at the seismicity, geodesy (or deformation), gas chemistry, rock chemistry, and chronology of Erebus. I am here to work on the GPS part, and hopefully will learn a good deal about the rest in the process. This is my first season down, and it will be a big one: The main mission is to put in five new colocated seismic and GPS instruments on various places on the volcano. There are eleven of us total. Three, actually, are here not to install instruements but to collect rocks. For science, of course. The group is mostly from New Mexico Tech, with collaborators from Woods Hole, Mass, and France. I can't get more specific than France right now because I don't know the affiliation. My link to this project deserves a new paragraph, and then I'll be done.

Who am I. For those of you who don't know me well enough to know what the heck I've been up to. I worked for several years on a MS in Geophysics at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, which immersed me in GPS. My project, as mentioned was on a volcano in the Philippines. Almost two years ago, I moved to Boulder, where I finished up my MS at a facility called UNAVCO, which offers GPS project support to scientists wanting to use it, and offered me support in the confusing task of processing data. I mostly worked on my thesis, but put in some hours for UNAVCO, some of which were working with Dr. Phil Kyle of New Mexico Tech when he came through to discuss his data from Erebus. They had already been using GPS for several years on the volcano, but had no one to process the data. I finished my thesis sometime in April or May. In July, Phil offered me the opportunity to join their team on Erebus this season. I signed a four month contract with New Mexico Tech to process the GPS data and assist in the field. So, here I am.

And, here it is two AM. And still sunny outside. And I've got a big day ahead tomorrow. What am I doing still up???? Writing all this science gibberish that probably no one will read! If you've made it to the end of this, send me a comment, so I know it wasn't all for nothin'.

And, keep sending your comments and questions! Things are about to get busy in the next couple days, but I'll try to keep on this.

Geez, why don't they turn off that light so some of us can get motivated to get to sleep around here? I shouldn't've had that ice cream and coffee....

Posted by beth at November 25, 2002 11:57 AM | TrackBack

Well... guess I better get this in NOW.. then.... Have a good Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!!!!

Posted by: Steve on November 25, 2002 03:28 PM

Yea! Heck ya, I read all of it. So I'm assuming that once you go out for your major stint that we won't be reading much from you? Or does the hut have a 'net drop too? (smile) Good luck and have a great time!

Posted by: Michael Burton on November 25, 2002 04:55 PM

That's my friend. She's smart! :) Beth, I don't know why anyone wouldn't make it to the end of your explanation. Geology is cool! Be careful on Erebus. We will all be waiting anxiously for stories of your adventures. Here's to a holiday season you will never forget. Love, Sue

Posted by: Sue on November 25, 2002 05:47 PM

And not read every drip of detail from my friend, Beth....I think not! Of course I read it all...mesmerized...thinking to myself, 'Damn! I have smart friends!'
Happy Thanksgiving, Bez the Pez....
Y ¡Qué se vaya bien en el hielo!


Posted by: Bridget Shaughnessy on November 25, 2002 05:50 PM

I see a book in the making!

Live every moment!

Enjoy perhaps your most memorable thanks for giving.

Posted by: WW on November 25, 2002 06:03 PM

Not only did I read it, but I found it all rather fascinating. Yes, we do read these, I have actually been checking into the ice blog regularly.. i am very couriuos to find out what happens next.

Posted by: Leopoldo Marino on November 26, 2002 10:40 AM

Damn. ...Well, I'm impressed.

Posted by: Sven Bonnichsen on November 26, 2002 06:12 PM

The update and explanation is great, after all these years I now have a better understanding about what you are doing. Are the pictures with your camera? Keep the updates coming. Can't wait to hear about the next part of your adventure.
Love, Dad

Posted by: Dan Bartel on November 27, 2002 02:14 AM


You should forget about Geophysics. Apparently, Mt. Erebus is a good place to study UFOs. You can clearly see one above the summit of Erebus in this photo.

Posted by: Karl on November 27, 2002 04:16 PM

Read it all?! I want more. Damn you're good when talking science. My favorite line though is, "This is my first season down..." Already talking like you're gonna return, the most natural thing in the world.

You are so tough!!

Posted by: Michael V on November 28, 2002 04:26 AM

I always wondered what you were doing all those months at 1331 Gay St. Diagrams and charts spread out everywhere, tablets with scribbling upon them, hours at your computer. Now I know! Thanks for the explaination. I know you've told me 1,000,000X5 times all about GPS but now the picture is becoming clearer! Enjoy your experience! Great Blog by the way!
Happy Holidays, although maybe I should say Happy belated holidays. Hey, do you have the singing frog with you???
Love you!

Posted by: Andrea on November 28, 2002 07:41 AM

I'm with everyone else. I read every word - fascinated the whole time. You're a damn good writer, too! Looking forward to hearing more about your experience. You're inspiring!!! Love, Barbara

Posted by: Barbara on December 3, 2002 02:42 AM

Wow, truly amazing. Thanks for explaining your work. I work w/ a buddy of yours, Nancy Trigg, she just sent me a link and I've been reading (instead of working) about your adventure. Good luck, keep up the good work.


Posted by: Michael 'Sparky' Ayers on December 6, 2002 11:42 AM

Wonderful, I read every word. Save all this stuff, you will have a book or 3 somewhere down the line, for sure. If someone can publish a book about sub-audible communication in elephants then you can publish about subcentimeter deformations in volcanoes!

Posted by: Larry Christensen on December 22, 2002 04:01 PM

Well consider yourself bookmarked and blogrolled. This is fascinating! Stay warm and safe!!!

Posted by: Pete B on December 23, 2002 05:29 PM

Trout-dancing queen! Its the redhead from 712 and I'm catching up on your enviable life -- TanJa just gave me the address to your iceblog. Such a fabulous life you're living. Hoping our paths cross soon darlin. And the science part was fascinating -- mucho appreciated by my scientist beau, Ramunas - the Lithuanian I met on the train some years back.

Safe travels and researching and learning.

Miss you,

Posted by: Julie Lamy on December 30, 2002 01:18 PM

You're in Antarctica? What the hell? I thought I was crazy spending the winter in Michigan. 712, yeah!

Posted by: Shayne W on January 30, 2003 06:54 AM

Howdy bartelba!

Just saw Bob Carson who updated me as to your whereabouts, both geographically and on the internet. Neat stuff! You can truly say you've been to the ends of the Earth - or at least one of the ends...

Much has happened on this end. Check out the URL to see why! :)


Posted by: Mike Osterman on March 25, 2003 10:01 AM

um ji have a question for you...
how do volcanoes change and shape the Earth's crust?
can you send me an answer??
it's very important
answer me short and clear~~~
thank you and bye!!

Posted by: Angela Park on April 24, 2003 01:07 PM

Please post more comments, I will visit this site again soon.

Posted by: whois on August 23, 2003 03:25 PM

Wonderful blog & excellent biography. Thanks for being interesting :) Nick.

Posted by: Nick on December 24, 2003 11:21 AM

I came across your blog on metafilter. REAL COOL WORK. Wish you crazy fuckers a great christmas, and warm new year. Keep posting.
Toronto, Canada

Posted by: oz melo on December 24, 2003 04:23 PM

Also found this through metafilter. Sounds like some very interesting stuff going on. I've always been interested in science, since I was very little, and its VERY AWESOME to see applications of all this stuff.

I have to say that's a pretty awesome opportunity to work farther south than a very significant fraction of the population of the world. Congrats on such an interesting position, and happy new years (and whatever you happen to celebrate)!

Posted by: Ryan on December 24, 2003 04:47 PM

Happy Christmas Pudding.
Happy TImes.
Happy Memories.
Happy Holidays.
M. Haupt

Posted by: Muriel Haupt on December 25, 2003 01:40 AM

Enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks. Happy Christmas to you - from the coast of Dorset, England, UK, at 4.44 pm on Wed 24 December 2003.

Hope you'll be able to follow news of the British-built spacecraft Beagle 2 expected landing on Mars on Christmas Day.

The £35m probe is expected to touch down on the planet's surface in the early hours of Christmas Day after a 400 million kilometre voyage which has taken six months.

Beagle's plunge through the thin atmosphere of Mars, slowed by parachutes and cushioned by airbags, is easily the most dangerous part of the mission.

It is expected to touch down at 0254 GMT on Christmas morning to start a 180-day mission to search for signs of life, past or present.

Posted by: Ingrid Jones on December 25, 2003 04:44 AM

I learned of you from Great pictures and an interesting description of your work. What fun!

Posted by: Keith on December 25, 2003 04:58 AM

Great stuff! I learned more about antarctica and volcano movement reading your entry than 2 terms of junior college geology could provide. Keep safe.

Posted by: Joe on December 25, 2003 08:16 AM

I am impressed. Hope its not too cold up there. It sounds like really interesting work, and fun too. Have a happy holidays, and yes people are reading this stuff. Your link was posted on yahoo cool picks today so you may get more hits! Good luck, and God bless.

Posted by: Anthony on December 25, 2003 08:44 AM

I have just spent a few delightful and informative minutes because of your willingness to share with us. As an inveterate lurker after serendipities such as yours, I would probably never have responded. You asked, though.

Thank you, may your holidays be filled with surprising data.

Posted by: Terri on December 25, 2003 10:41 AM

hi to all and merry christmas from north carolina ,usa . it must be hard to be so far from home . good luck and happy exploring bob

Posted by: bob on December 25, 2003 12:56 PM

got to your "blog" by way of yahoo wire...very interesting work..also, read your scientific report and you have a cool (no pun intended) job....i was on a antarctic trip in 2001 on the marco polo ship..i was awestruck by the pristine beauty of the antarctic peninsula...i promised myself i would return one day..and i am returning. on jan 16 i leave chicago for a return trip on the marco polo again, but my destinations will be the south georgia islands and am very excited about this journey back...i love penguins and have an extensive collection and after seeing all those gentoos and chinstraps two years ago, am looking forward to seeing the king penguins this time...wishing you a happy holiday season and a happy healthy new year...will keep your blog amongst my favorites....peng

Posted by: peng on December 25, 2003 05:47 PM

Great stuff! What with a plug from Yahoo, you are going to be swamped with new hits. I just read your main page to see if it was something interesting before I deleted the "Daily Wire" and lost the link forever (I guess I could google "antarctica gps" or something), but anyway - I was hooked. Read Moody Nunatak and Commonwealth Glacier AND What I Do (had to know). So you're keeping people up (on Christmas eve no less) all over the world.

Now I really want to go to Antarctica! I love that you include those details (e.g. the circular ice formations) in the context of the vast landscapes and the human activity. I want to see those jumbles of rocks and emperor penguins hanging around.

BTW, no don't see much gibberish. It's all fascinating and educational and I'll be back for more.


Posted by: Richard on December 25, 2003 06:52 PM

Thanks for letting us take a look at your wonderful world. You're providing us the best and the only genuine reality show. It is indeed fascinating to read that you are studying a 12500 feet tall giant by analyzing his minute movements. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Captain S Manzur on December 28, 2003 05:31 PM

Who would have guessed, a hot volcano in the ice. It must be fascinating to be there in such an extreme environment. Thanks for the site and a chance to see what you all are doing. I enjoy following space exploration/astronomy information, and will enjoy following this site.

Posted by: Reed on December 29, 2003 05:26 AM

Wow, you have made me want to come down there. Need any one to build anything? I'm a contractor/carpenter. Would also like to hear a little more about you. Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, years. What do you miss, lattes, kittens, Victories Secret?

Posted by: kale on December 29, 2003 07:00 AM

Incredible!! Found you through yahoo daily picks. Who would have guessed a live volcano could exist in that environment? I would have guessed everything was frozen miles deep. Consider yourself bookmarked and I will be checking back to view updates. The pictures are fantastic. Stay safe and warm :-)

Posted by: Nanette on December 29, 2003 10:12 AM

I also found your blog through Yahoo's daily picks. Your work is fascinating and so is your blog. I've always been enchanted by Antarctica and frequently scour the web looking for photos of this place I hope to someday see for myself. Good luck with your project!

Posted by: Kathy on December 29, 2003 12:06 PM


Read your "What do I do" page and loved it...please keep posting! I've learned more about Antartica then I knew before through you! I am so glad Yahoo made you a pick...I will come back --- Can't wait to see what's next!

I read the whole thing - you did an awesome job explaining a subject that I am sure not to many people are familiar with.

Have a great new year exploring Antartica and the volcano!

Posted by: Karen on December 29, 2003 01:04 PM

Hi Beth,

I really enjoyed reading about you and the work that you are doing. The pictures were fantastic. I work in two part-time jobs at Univ. of South Florida and live in St. Petersburg.
For the last three years I have become interested in Geology,so I was very interested in what you are doing. I used to work as a student assistant with a professor who did some research on deep-sea fish in Antartica.
I wish you all success, good health, and happiness in the coming New Year!


Posted by: Dorothy on December 29, 2003 01:45 PM

It's great hearing from people who are still exploring our world. Kudos to Yahoo for posting a site that's not dancing badgers, etc. Stay safe and get warm when you can! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to you all.

Posted by: Deana on December 29, 2003 03:49 PM

Dear Beth,
Hello from Indiana.I just finished reading about what your doing down there at the bottom of the world and I'm looking forward to hearing more. Even though you are there to help with some very important research, I'm sure your having a adventure that will be with you for a lifetime. I love the pictures too, and thank you for sharing your experience with all of us who only can dream about such wonderful and beautiful places.
I pray that all of you there will be safe and that the volcano will behave itself while your at its doorstep.
Peggy B.

Posted by: Peggy on December 29, 2003 03:53 PM

Quite impressive, and I did read it all. The pictures impressive also. Have a great new year, and keep us up to date.

Posted by: ladeanmelby on December 29, 2003 04:51 PM


Posted by: MIRIAM on December 30, 2003 05:34 AM


Posted by: MIRIAM on December 30, 2003 05:35 AM

Hi Beth!

Okay, I read it all and found it fascinating. So even more than a year later, I guess people are still reading your description.

I got turned onto your blog because it was a Yahoo "site of the day", and I'm really glad, because I love reading all of your entries and seeing the great photos. I'm a wimp when it comes to the cold: raised in South Florida and now living in Los Angeles, so any time I think it's too cold in my freezing living room (my apartment has no insulation and is routinely about 50 degrees F inside), I'll think of you and tell my self to stop the complaining!

Happy New Year and good luck with your research!

Amy from LA

Posted by: Amy on January 7, 2004 01:46 PM

I read the whole thing . Wonderful. I am hooked . You write beautiflly and the science is fascinating.

Don't stop . Write more.


Posted by: Allans on January 16, 2004 04:38 AM

Hi, Beth,

My name is Ingrid, and I'm with National Geographic Adventure magazine. If you happen to be the Beth Bartel who sent us a letter about the June/July issue, please contact me at 212-819-2151 or by e-mail ( If you are indeed the Beth who sent us the letter, please check your Juno e-mail account and get back to me by e-mail.


Posted by: Ingrid Ahlgren on July 9, 2004 12:13 PM

ejhr tmyxiwiai.

Posted by: Blanche on August 30, 2004 01:33 PM
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