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Journey to the Bottom of the Earth

From left: Dick Naslund (SUNY Binghamton), Hopkins' Adam Simon and Bruce Marsh, Jon Davidson (Durham University, United Kingdom), Nick Petford (Kingston University, United Kingdom), Michael Garcia (University of Hawaii). Photo by Ron Fodor, North Carolina State University. "Most people think of Antarctica as being covered in ice," says Hopkins postdoc Adam Simon (second from left). But the Dry Valleys of the continent "have been uncovered for the last 14 million years — with no snow or water. It's like being in a Martian landscape," says Simon, who was among an international team of 27 geologists, led by Hopkins' Bruce Marsh (third from left), that spent two weeks in Antarctica in January. Their goal: to further explore Marsh's controversial theory about the evolution of the Earth's crust. The professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences has posited that our planet's internal plumbing is composed of a system of small, vertical columns of interconnected, sheet-like chambers that constantly recycle crystal-filled "magmatic mush." (Conventional theory has long held that Earth's crust formed when crystal-free molten rock oozed to the surface from giant, subterranean chambers.) The group here was on an "aerial field trip" — ferried by helicopter to spots around the Dry Valleys (including this stop at 6,000-feet elevation) in order to get a panoramic overview of the emplacement of magma in the area. Over the course of about 10 days, the geologists gathered thousands of pounds of rock samples, which they will begin to analyze this spring.

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