69 ‘surface meteorites’ but no subsurface specimens found – Panel sledge detector system has broken – UK meteorite search in Antarctica 2019/2020 – Lost meteorites of Antarctica Project

Last update: 27 June 2020

The 2019/20 main field trip of the project Lost Meteorites of Antarctica to recover subsurface iron meteorites on some blue icefields in Antarctica did not end as planned. Four members of the University of Manchester’s UK Polar Meteorite Exploration and Research Team (Geoff Evatt, Wouter Van Verre, Katherine (Katie) Joy und Romain Tartese) reached the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) base Rothera on 27 November and prepared for their six-week field search together with their guide Taff Raymond. They wanted to search and scan 15 to 20 square kilometres with two snowmobile-drawn five panel (2 × 1.1m each) pulse induction metal detector arrays and hoped to find four to five subsurface iron meteorites and maybe up to 80 stony specimens on the surface. The team searched the newly named Outer Recovery Ice Field which is about 2000 km away from Rothera Station and had already been visited by Katherine Joy and field guide Julie Baum during their reconnaissance mission in January 2019 when they searched several ice fields in the Recovery Glacier region (81°10′S, 28°00′W), on the southern side of the Shackleton Range as well as the northern areas of Argentina Range (82°18’27.2″S, 41°53’30.3″W). The reconnaissance mission resulted in about 38 surface meteorite finds which are currently in classification. The Lost Meteorites of Antarctica Project tries to confirm the theory of a hidden layer of subsurface Antarctic meteorites, published by Evatt et al in February 2016.

On 5 December Geoff Evatt, Romain Tartese and Rob Taylor left Rothera and flew to Outer Recovery Ice Field with an AZ Twin Otter. Wouter Van Verre and Katherine (Katie) Joy followed a few days later. On 17 December the first eight surface meteorites, including five ‘relatively sizeable’ ones were found within a couple of hours by Evatt, Van Verre and Taylor on the blue ice fields in the middle latitudes of the Outer Recovery area, the location where the detector arrays were deployed ( 81°29’49.0″S 17°57’08.3″W ). By 20 December all team members had reached the search site. Snow fall which covered the blue ice fields facilitated scanning for subsurface meteorites but made it temporarily more difficult to see specimens on the surface. By 8 January 2020 when the last panel sledge detector system broke and thus making the search for subsurface meteorites impossible no subsurface iron meteorites had unfortunately been found after having systematically scanned an area of about 0.74 km². 69 surface meteorites could be recovered though. On 9 January Geoff Evatt, Wouter Van Verre, and Romain Tartese left the field and flew back to Rothera, Katherine (Katie) Joy and Taff Raymond followed on 18 January 2020.

A systematic panel array search for subsurface iron meteorites was done in the yellow area around location 81°29’49.0″S 17°57’08.3″W. The skidoo search for surface meteorites was performed primarily in the red areas. 107 surface specimens have been found on four icefields during the 2018/19 and 2019/20 search campaigns.

One of the first surface meteorite finds. Photo: Geoff Evatt

One of the first found surface meteorites. Photo: Wouter van Verre

Guide Rob Taylor with a found meteorite. Photo: Geoff Evatt

Geoff Evatt next to a found specimen. Photo: Romain Tartese

The team members rejoice in a small meteorite find. Photo: Katherine Joy

A small flight orientated meteorite in situ. Photo: Katherine Joy

Katherine Joy next to a larger specimen.

A larger meteorite in situ. Photo: Katherine Joy

Another find. Photo: Geoff Evatt

A small surface find. Photo: Geoff Evatt

Geoff Evatt next to a small surface find. Photo: Katherine Joy

A larger specimen. Photo: Katherine Joy

A meteorite embedded in the blue ice, found on 16 January 2020. Photo: Katherine Joy

An oriented meteorite found on 16 January 2020. Photo: Katherine Joy

Taff Raymond next to a meteorite found on 16 January 2020. Photo: Katherine Joy

Another interesting find. Photo: Katherine Joy

See also UK meteorite search reconnaissance mission in Antarctica 2018/2019 – 36 meteorites found (19 January 2019)

A potential hidden layer of meteorites below the ice surface of Antarctica
G. W. Evatt, M. J. Coughlan, K. H. Joy, A. R. D. Smedley, P. J. Connolly, I. D. Abrahams
Nature Communications 7,
Article number: 10679, published 16 February 2016

The Lost Meteorites of Antarctica Project: A New UK-Led Antarctic Meteorite Recovery Programme

K. H. Joy, G. E. Evatt, A. R. D. Smedley, I. D. Abrahams, A. Peyton, L. A. Marsh, J. Wilson, J. Davidson, W. van Verre, M. Rose, L. Gerrish, T. Harvey

50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2019), Abstract #1018

The Lost Meteorites of Antarctica
Online talk by Dr. Katherine Joy on 19 June 2020