Glacial History in Antarctica


Check out the archived PolarConnect events with Lesley Urasky and the Glacial History in Antarctica Team from 14 December 2010 and 6 January 2011 here!

What Are They Doing?

During this project, the team worked at various sites on the Beardmore Glacier and looked for glacially transported rocks, also known as glacial erratics. Erratics are rocks carried by the glacier as the ice moves. Erratics on the Beardmore Glacier are important because they can serve as an indicator of when and how fast the Antarctic Ice Sheet receded after the last ice age 10,000-20,000 years ago.

The research team used a method called surface exposure dating to estimate the length of time that a rock has been exposed to the Earth's atmosphere. A rock on the surface of the earth is constantly bombarded by cosmic rays, energetic particles originating in outer space. When one of these particles strikes an atom in the rock, it can dislodge one or more protons or neutrons from that atom, producing a different element or a different isotope of the original element. These new elements and isotopes are called cosmogenic nuclides, and allow scientists to estimate how long the sample has been exposed to the cosmic rays.

Determining the dates and speed of past glacial recessions in Antarctica can help scientists better understand current changes in the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Where Are They?

The team lived and worked out of several remote camps in the vicinity of the Beardmore Glacier in the Transantarctic Mountain Range of Antarctica. The Beardmore Glacier is one of the largest glaciers in the world, with a length exceeding 160 km (100 miles). Ernest Shackleton discovered the glacier in 1908, and in doing so he had discovered the first proven route to the South Pole. By climbing the Beardmore Glacier, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his team successfully reached the South Pole.

Expedition Map


Flying low over the Shackleton Glacier
Flying low over the Shackleton Glacier. The dark portions are streams of rocks being carried along by the glacier Once back at the base camp, we started to try and obtain some Twin Otter air time to take us on a reconnaissance flight over to Shackleton Glacier, John's field location for next season's work. After a day and a half of manipulating flight schedules, we were granted a few hours of air time. We flew over the neighboring mountain range and headed toward the head of the glacier where it comes off the polar plateau. From there, we flew down glacier along the mountains that...
LC-130 Hercules
LC-130 Hercules we flew on to the Central Transantarctic Mountain (CTAM) camp. Notice the skis. Finally, after eleven days in McMurdo, the weather cleared and we were off to CTAM. The flight was aboard a LC-130 Hercules which is quite a bit smaller than the C-17 we arrived on in McMurdo. It is special because it is on skis instead of wheels. After approximately a two hour flight, we landed at CTAM. The first difference I noted when disembarking the plane was that the temperature was much colder than in McMurdo because we were at a significantly higher elevation and were camped on top...
Royal Society Range as seen from McMurdo.
When I think back to my time in Antarctica with John Stone's research team, I have very fond memories. This reflection post is very late, I know. There have been many times when I sat down and tried to reflect on my experience. It's been difficult because there is simply so much to think about; how can I possibly put the sights I've seen and this incredible experience into words? Sometimes, I feel almost homesick for Antarctica and I've had to pause because it is bittersweet. I had the most amazing experience, but I know that most of those places I'll never see again. My initial thoughts...
Loading the C-17
Well, I'm back home with mixed feelings. I had an incredibly amazing experience in Antarctica and yet I am also happy to be home; it feels good to be back with my family. In the four days since I've returned, I've experienced quite a bit of culture and weather shock. It was very strange to drive myself again and to tackle the grocery store. It seems that there are people everywhere; Wyoming once seemed so quiet and often remote, but it doesn't begin to compare to the overwhelming quietness of Antarctica. The weather while I was in Antarctica was unusually nice for such an extended period...
Crevasse with radar reflection plate
When I was told to be flexible in Antarctica, they meant be FLEXIBLE! There are times when our weather delays have been an exercise in patience. That was certainly the case during our seven day wait on Mt. Hope. The day we had our reconnaissance flight to Shackleton Glacier also had an LC-130 Hercules coming into CTAM and returning the same day to McMurdo. We had been hopeful that we could do both the reconnaissance flight and return to McMurdo the same day. However, because of our delay until 2 p.m. for the Shackleton flight, we were not able to catch the Hercules back that same day (...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

29 November 2010 to 16 January 2011
Location: Beardmore Glacier Remote Camps, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: Constraints on the Last Ross Sea Ice Sheet from Glacial Deposits in the Southern Transantarctic Mountains

Meet the Team

Lesley Urasky's picture
Rawlins High School
Rawlins, WY
United States

Lesley Urasky's love of nature began when her parents took her into the mountains when she was just six days old! Since then, she has received a bachelor's and a master's degree in Geology from the University of Wyoming and has spent time working in the oil, gas, and mining industries in the Rocky Mountain region. Ms. Urasky currently teaches science at Rawlins High School, in Rawlins, Wyoming. Throughout her 12 years of teaching she has taught numerous subjects, including geology, astronomy, and AP Biology to name a few. She has also been an adjunct faculty member in Geology at both the community college and university levels.

While teaching in Texas, she and five of her students were selected to participate in NOAA's First Student Summit on Ocean Issues in Washington, D.C, presenting their plan to mitigate estuary degradation in Texas to various federal agencies and National Geographic. It was here, that she met Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic's Explorer-in-Residence, who remains a motivating figure in her desire to study our planet's natural resources. Ms. Urasky hopes that her experience with PolarTREC will help show her students that science is an adventure that can take you to new and exciting places both physically and intellectually.

In her free time, she enjoys whitewater rafting, camping & hiking, snowshoeing, and traveling to exotic places.

John Stone's picture
University of Washington
Seattle, WA
United States

Dr. John Stone is a geologist with a particular interest in cosmic-ray-produced nuclides, or very small particles which come to earth from outer space. Working with students and collaborators, he is involved in several projects in Antarctica aimed at dating and understanding the history and changes in the glacial landscape. Other projects Dr. Stone is involved in strive to understand ancient landscapes in Australian, South America, the U.S. Pacific northwest, and Britain. To learn more about Dr. Stone's scientific interests, please visit his faculty biography page (

Howard Conway's picture
University of Washington
Seattle, WA
United States

Dr. Howard Conway is a research professor in the Department of Earth & Space Sciences at the University of Washington. Hi scientific interests lie in glacier and ice sheet history, as well as snow avalanches. His research focuses on observing and modeling physical processes in snow covered regions, their impacts on society, and their response to the changing environment.

Brenda Hall's picture
University of Maine
Orono, ME
United States

Dr. Brenda Hall is an Associate Professor of Glacial and Quaternary Studies at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute. Her research interests are in understanding the stability of ice sheets and the causes of ice ages and rapid climate changes. Dr. Hall has spent several seasons in Antarctica, and at present, has research projects in the Antarctic, South America, and Greenland.