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Hamilton students brave the Antarctic with LARISSA

By Ali Gay ’17

November 14, 2013

When people think of small, private colleges, they are often quick to claim that their size inhibits them from offering students the larger research opportunities and programs that decorate the reputations of larger institutions. Contrary to this belief, Hamilton’s opportunities for research rival that of any university, and the diverse projects that current students pursue testify to this fact.

The LARISSA Antarctica program, which was incepted following the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, is a prominent example of a large-scale project in which many Hamilton students have engaged throughout the years. An endeavor aligned with the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Integrated Systems Science department, the LARISSA project is a continuation of efforts that first began in the early 1990s to provide a clearer and more comprehensive picture of Antarctica’s geological history.

Over 100 Hamilton students have participated in the initiative since Hamilton sent its first troop to Antarctica in 2007, and the project has become a Hamilton namesake ever since. Deanna Nappi, now a junior, sought involvement in the endeavor as early as her first year after taking an introductory-level Geoscience course with J.W. Johnson Family Professor of Environmental Studies Eugene Domack. By springtime, she was working alongside Professor Domack as a research lab assistant, and in the fall of 2012, she embarked on the R/V Laurence M. Gould to Antarctica to make her own contribution to the LARISSA project, and to try her hand at the incomplete jigsaw puzzle that is our knowledge of the Antarctic Peninsula.

This year’s participants, Izzy Weisman ’15 and Alexander Hare ’14, are in the midst of their own 16-day LARISSA expedition right now, during which their team hopes to reach the glacial Holocene interface and to utilize core sample extractions from particular regions of the peninsula to help explain and determine the time of overlaying sediment deposition. The two began their journey on a nine-and-a-half-hour flight to Santiago, Chile. After a long day of travel, they arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile where they began their extensive preparation for the arctic; Weisman and Hare couldn’t depart on the Gould without packing steel-toed rubber boots, Carhartt  overalls and lined rubber gloves among all the other tools and equipment they would need for their work and voyage. While on board the boat on their way to Cape Shireff in Livingston Island, Antarctica, the team focused primarily on preparations, including the sterilization of lab spaces, installation of the Magnetic Susceptibility System, and reading and observation of maps and scholarly papers.

As soon as  they reached their destination, the real work began; the team conducted their research in regions of Antarctica including the Gerlache Strait, Boyd Strait, Palmer Deep and Huge Island Trough. They also monitored penguins and seals, and geo-tagged for the sake of analyzing their habitation and migration habits. Even underwater cameras were installed for a closer look at arctic animal interactions.

Although Weisman and Hare were no doubt kept quite busy during, their work could not keep them from appreciating the natural beauty of the mountains, icebergs and glaciers that surrounded them; reading their daily journal entries, it is obvious that both students garnered an appreciation for not only the vast, untouched wild of Antarctica, but also for the close ties and “sense of community” among the researchers and individuals who frequent the region.

Hamilton’s participation in the LARISSA project is only one instance of our school’s involvement in larger initiatives. The wide array of study-abroad programs, research opportunities, internships and more speaks to Hamilton’s desire to provide its students with diverse experiences that invite curiosity and enrich their understanding of the world.

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