GOLF 0-5-6 Antarctica Expedition 2016/2017
Exploring the Earth’s Magnetic Field Intensity on the Southernmost Continent

Earth’s magnetic field is decreasing rapidly, leading some to propose that it will undergo collapse followed by a return to its usual strength but in the opposite direction, a phenomenon known as a "polarity reversal" which last happened approximately 800,000 years ago. Such a collapse would have a potentially devastating effect on the ability of the magnetic field to shield us from cosmic ray bombardment. We will study how Earth’s magnetic field intensity changed during the last 5 million years and hope to determine whether the current decrease in field intensity is a common occurrence that does not necessarily indicate an upcoming reversal or whether it is indeed a rare behavior that will likely lead into the reversal of the magnetic field.

Specifically, we will take samples of 132 ancient lava flows of the Mount Erebus volcanic province in the McMurdo area that recorded the magnetic field intensity during their cooling from about 1000 °C to near-freezing. The Erebus volcanic province was formed over the last 5 million years in a wide area including Ross Island, Black Island, Mount Discovery, the Royal Society Range and the Dry Valleys.

We will sample these lava flows mostly in daytrips from McMurdo by snow mobile over the sea ice to islands and shoreline outcrops and by helicopter and hiking. We will take these rock samples home for analysis in the Scripps Paleomagnetic and Rock Magnetism Laboratory.

Day 23 -- 16 November 2016 -- Maps: How to Divide the World
The Earth rotates along its spin axis which intersects the surface at the North and the South pole. Equidistant from the two poles, lies the equator. The equator, an imaginary great circle, divides the Earth into the Northern hemisphere and the Southern hemisphere. Read more

Day 15 -- 10 November 2019 -- Where is the South Pole?
Earth’s geographic poles are located where an imaginary pole aligned along the spin axis would intersect the surface. At the geographic poles the rotational speed is 0 Earth’s magnetic poles, on the other hand, are located where the inclination ... Read more

Day 7 -- 2 November 2016 -- Why doesn't the sun set at McMurdo Station?
The Earth’s axis is inclined. 23.5º relative to the ecliptic plane- the plane along which Earth travels as it orbits the sun. As the Earth revolves around the sun, the axial tilt remains the same, so in the Northern hemisphere Polaris ... Read more

Day 5 -- 27 October 2016 -- Greetings from Antarctica!
We have made it to the ice! Our trip to Christchurch was long but uneventful: 3 hours from San Diego to Dallas, 16 hours from Dallas to Sydney, Australia, and then another 3 hours to Christchurch totalling 22 hours of flight with about a five hour lay-over in Sydney and Dallas. Read more

Day 1 -- 23 October 2016 -- Getting Ready for our 2016/17 Expedition
An expedition to Antarctica takes a massive amount of preparation, that begins with writing a competitive scientific proposal and making detailed plans about the field work, and laboratory follow-up. We received the green light from the National Science Foundation earlier this year ... Read more

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23 October 2016 -- Puzzle Of The Week
Question: Our field area is located in the McMurdo Sound area which is at a latitude of about 77°S, but we will be to the South of the magnetic South Pole. What is going on? Read more

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To a first order, the Earth’s magnetic field can be seen as a giant bar magnet the size of the earth and the magnetic field lines look a lot like the well known image of iron filings spread over a white paper with a bar magnet hidden below. However, this global “bar magnet” is caused by a different process in the liquid iron outer core. The churning iron combined with the Earth’s rotation creates a magnetic field that is approximately lined up with the axis of the planet around which it rotates. This simple model explains much of what we can observe on Earth when we use a compass to find North. Yet, despite centuries of study, there are still mysteries about the field. For example, every hiker knows that the magnetic needle usually does not point to the geographic north pole, but to a magnetic north pole that actually moves over the years. Also, the magnetic field has flipped many times in the past, and, the strength of the field varies rapidly through historical and geological times. All these observations suggest that the causes of the magnetic field in the Earth’s core are quite complicated.

Key to understanding these complex processes is to understand, not only the direction of the magnetic field in the geological past, but also its intensity, which is a more difficult experiment. The Scripps Paleomagnetics Lab pioneered novel techniques that can provide reliable intensity data using volcanic rocks that froze particularly fast in the magnetic field at the time of their eruption. This offers new hope that intensity, a key aspect of the magnetic field of Earth, can be reliably determined.

Our expedition to Antarctica capitalizes on this discovery, as well our prior study of the ages and ancient magnetic field directions, for 132 different lava flows that erupted over the last 5 million years in the McMurdo region. Determining paleointensity for the last 5 million years in this volcanic province will help us understand the processes that cause the magnetic field to shift through time.

2016-2017 Expedition
Follow the GOLF-056 expedition via pictures! The expedition members are uploading stunning pictures from Antarctica on a day by day basis ...

2004/2005  |  2006/2007  |  2008  |  2010  |  2012
We are three scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego traveling to Antarctica to study the geological history of Earth’s magnetic field in particular its intensity. This scientific endeavor, project G-056 (spelled "golf-0-5-6") of the US Antarctic Program will begin on October 17, 2066 with a flight from Christchurch/New Zealand to McMurdo in Antarctica. We will provide you with regular updates of the 2016/2017 expedition, but above all, you will be able to contact us and ask questions or get more information, because McMurdo station has high-speed internet access. So, we are looking forward to share our adventures with you or to chat to you over the internet!

Hotel Alpha
Lima Tango
Hotel Sierra

~  Hannah Afesaw, the Graduate Researcher
~  Lima Tango: Lisa Tauxe, the Paleomagnetist
~  Hubert Staudigel, the Volcanologist
We are the GOLF056 Home Team and high school partners. We are maintaining this website and we are integrating the G-056 activities into our classrooms

Anthony Koppers
Rupert Minnett
Joe Krupens
Oregon State University
Oregon State University
University City High School San Diego