Exploring the Frozen Frontier

Dale Andersen's Antarctic Expedition with the Heimplanet Mavericks and Cave Tent

In October 2023, astrobiologist Dale Andersen once again set off into the icy expanse of Antarctica to conduct another research expedition on the mysterious 'undersea'. This is the 27th field season on the frozen continent for the researcher from the Carl Sagan Center, SETI Institute in Mountain, CA . A leading figure in polar exploration, Andersen's work was featured in the BBC documentary "Frozen Planet II" and promises to provide new insights into the pristine wilderness of this remote region. His explorations highlight the implications of local life forms on humanity and vice versa, emphasizing the complex relationship between the environment and our species.With him on his gear list are the HEIMPLANET Mavericks and The Cave.

About Lake Untersee

Dale's research interests lie in the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the universe, and he has been involved in NASA's exobiology and astrobiology programs since the mid-1980s. To give you an idea of how remote and exciting Lake Untersee is, Dale Andersen describes it as follows: Lake Untersee is a place few people have seen or even imagined, and it is far removed from familiar, everyday environments. The weather can be as harsh as the terrain at times, with winds and blinding snow reaching 180 km/h. For four months, darkness is a constant companion to the sound of cracking ice and the ever-present howl of the wind. The surrounding mountains rise majestically to dizzying, tapered peaks that block the passage of the continental ice that surrounds them. The gentle slope of the Anuchin Glacier flows in from the north and ends at its edge. The Lower Lake: amidst the mountains of Queen Maud Land is a world that resembles the earliest biosphere on earth. Carved into a rocky arch by the Anuchin Glacier, the Lower Lake is 6.5 km long and 2.5 km wide. Its 8.73 km2 (2157 acres) surface is densely covered by a three-meter-thick layer of ice, one dominated by microbial life that forms the same structures and tissues we find in sediments dating back 3.45 billion years. Beneath the thick, perpetual layer of ice, cyanobacterial mats grow undisturbed, as they did billions of years ago - it's like a postcard from the past; one that can help us understand how these early ecosystems thrived on a planet that was almost devoid of an oxygen atmosphere. The cyanobacteria found a way to harness the sun, using its light as energy and splitting water to combine the hydrogen with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In doing so, they began a process that, over geologic time, transformed our planet into a viable place for multicellular organisms.

Living and Working

Lake Untersee is a difficult place to live and work. But Dale and his team are seeking new knowledge. Knowledge that will inform us about Earth's past history and help us understand its future. The research also helps guide the search for evidence of life on other distant worlds such as Mars or the outer moons of Jupiter or Saturn...or beyond.

With the equipment being the lifeline of any expedition to Antarctica, demand for reliability, resilience, durability, and innovative design is high to face the harsh environment and ensure the safety of the team. “We’re excited to test the innovative Heimplanet Maverick Basecamp tent this year, featuring cutting-edge air beam technology instead of traditional poles. Its performance in extreme conditions, especially during fierce winds reaching up to 50 m/s (about 112 mph or 180 kph), will be a crucial comparison with our previous tents” said Andersen before starting his journey.

En Route to Antarctica 

After a 10-day delay in Cape Town, South Africa due to blizzard conditions, on October 26th, Dale Andersen and his team were finally en route to Antarctica. The ice runway at Schirmacher Oasis had been cleared, marking the beginning of Andersen's 27th field season in Antarctica. His destination? Lake Untersee, nestled in the mountains of Queen Maud Land. With anticipation high and discoveries on the horizon, Andersen set out for another season of exploration: “We still have a significant amount of work to complete before beginning the traverse. Today’s conditions are challenging, featuring blowing snow, low visibility, and periodic whiteouts, so outdoor activities will be limited. However, we can take advantage of this time to sort gear indoors and catch some rest.”

Setting Up Camp 

After a successful journey from the Novo ice runway to Untersee, Andersen and his team have mastered the challenges of navigating the icy plains of Antarctica. Despite poor light conditions and mechanical problems with their traverse sledges, they have set up camp and are ready to begin their research. "Building a sturdy and reliable shelter is essential, especially given the sudden, strong winds in the area. I have also included several panoramic images of our surroundings. While the mountains appear linear in these images, they actually form an almost complete circle around us, creating a stunning natural amphitheater" Andersen wrote in a letter to Keith Cowing, a fellow of the Explorers Club, former NASA space station payload manager/space biologist and journalist at astrobiology.com.

Bad Weather

As the expedition unfolds at the beginning of November, Andersen and his team face the unpredictable nature of Antarctic weather. From serene sunshine to howling winds exceeding 70 mph, each day brought new challenges and triumphs. Despite the loss of a tent in a sudden blizzard, Andersen and his team persevere, demonstrating resilience and adaptability in the face of nature's fury. “Our Heimplanet Mavericks tents proved their worth last night, standing firm against the gusty winds. We anticipate another test for them this coming Thursday, as the forecast predicts even stronger winds” resumes Andersen.

More Bad Weather

In mid-November, the Antarctic weather proves relentless as a powerful blizzard with winds reaching 105 mph tests the team's resolve. Tents are deliberately collapsed to avoid destruction, yet through teamwork and determination, the camp is resurrected, symbolizing the indomitable spirit of exploration. With skies clearing and winds subsiding, Andersen and his team forge ahead with their research: “The quick inflation time of just a few minutes for the air beams of the Heimplanet Cave tent proves to be a game changer for us, offering us rapid-deploy shelter for critical tasks like deploying the ROV for underwater surveys beneath the ice or as we carry out underwater measurements.”"

To Be Continued

As Dale Andersen and his team continue the Antarctic expedition, we are reminded of humanity's unwavering spirit of exploration. Through perseverance and scientific curiosity, Andersen and his team push the boundaries of exploration, unraveling the mysteries of one of Earth's most extreme environments while providing us with valuable feedback to further improve our tents. Dale Andersen returns to Antarctica - and the submarine - for another research field season. We'll be posting his updates here. You can read about his previous successes here .

 View Lake Untersee from above.

Click here to learn more about Mavericks or the Heimplanet Tent technology


Photo credit: Klemens Weisleitner

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