One burning concern has sustained UNLV geologist Peg Rees’s profession: Could America and Antarctica be two pieces of the same ancient supercontinent?
Research in the 1980s recommended that theory was possible, with geological findings in rocks discovered in the Western United States bearing striking similarities to rocks recuperated from icy mountaintops in Antarctica.
From 1984 to 1996, Rees finished 8 field seasons in Antarctica to test the theory. She was signed up with by a team of researchers and numerous mountaineers.
“We had an interest in collecting data that would contribute to the understanding of international restoration of the earth’s crust in between 825 million and 540 million years ago,” stated Rees, who retires this month from a 32-year career at UNLV. “The theory was that there was one supercontinent, long prior to Pangea and prior to Gondwana. It was called Rodinia, and over the many millions of years, it began to spread apart.”
On her very first trip to Antarctica, Rees and her team survived an airplane crash. On another celebration, they endured a helicopter crash.
They were undeterred.
Each season, they climbed the frozen range of mountains, chiseling samples from rocks and stones poking through the layers of ice. They would travel up and down the peaks, in some cases five times a day, each bring 45 to 90 pounds of rocks and soil samples at a time.
In total, Rees’ fieldwork brought some 4,000 pounds of rocks and soil from Antarctica to UNLV. In the labs, Rees and her group took a look at the products and compared them with samples from the United States. Their goal was to establish the geological history of the various mountains in Antarctica, from the Holyoake Variety and Starshot Glacier to the Northern Churchill Mountains and the Argentina Range.
Rees also was drawn into administrative functions at the university. She increased through the ranks to her newest posts as vice provost for Faculty Quality and head of the Public Lands Institute.
As she heads into retirement, she wanted to make sure the collection is offered to the next generation of scientists.
On June 29, the stacks that lined the lab at UNLV Paradise Campus were transferred to the Byrd Polar and Environment Proving Ground at Ohio State University, which is home to the National Science Structure’s U.S. Polar Rock Repository.
Anay Gomez, ’17 BS Earth and Environmental Science, and a research support expert at UNLV, has actually invested the past six months cataloguing the large collection. She examined, labeled, and loaded each stone by hand, filling 94 boxes and 4 pallets.
“This has actually been a really incredible job,” Gomez said. “To deal with a faculty member who has actually been to Antarctica and recovered all these rocks for us to study, for more information about how our planet, our home is moving and living– for me, it is a truly special experience. Going Through Dr. Rees’ field books, you get a sense that this was truly effort.”