See Why Our Researchers Explore Earth's Extreme and Remote Environments

When we talk about exploration in far-flung places, you might think of space telescopes taking images of planets outside our solar system, or astronauts floating on the International Space Station. 

But did you know our researchers travel to some of Earth’s most inaccessible and dangerous places, too? 

Two scientists working with the ICESat-2 mission just finished a trek from the South Pole to latitude 88 south, a journey of about 450 miles. They had to travel during the Antarctic summer - the region’s warmest time, with near-constant sunshine - but the trek was still over solid ice and snow. 

The trip lasted 14 days, and was an important part of a process known as calibration and validation. ICESat-2 will launch this fall, and the team was taking extremely precise elevation measurements that will be used to validate those taken by the satellite. 

Sometimes our research in Earth’s remote regions helps us understand even farther-flung locations…like other planets. 

Geologic features on Mars look very similar to islands and landforms created by volcanoes here on our home planet. 

As hot jets of magma make their way to Earth’s surface, they create new rocks and land - a process that may have taken place on Mars and the Moon.

In 2015, our researchers walked on newly cooled lava on the Holuhraun volcano in Iceland to take measurements of the landscape, in order to understand similar processes on other rocky bodies in our solar system.

There may not be flowing lava in the mangrove forests in Gabon, but our researchers have to brave mosquitoes and tree roots that reach up to 15-foot high as they study carbon storage in the vegetation there.

The scientists take some measurements from airplanes, but they also have to gather data from the ground in one our of planet’s most pristine rainforests, climbing over and around roots that can grow taller than people. They use these measurements to create a 3-D map of the ecosystem, which helps them understand how much carbon in stored in the plants. 

You can follow our treks to Earth’s most extreme locales on our Earth Expeditions blog.

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Hikers on a nearly vertical layer of sedimentary rock in West Virginia - originally formed horizontal and tilted by the forces that made the Appalachians