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UC Santa Barbara researcher who traveled to Antarctica nine times talks about adventures in new book

Bruce Luyendyk at the Pegasus Ice Runway, at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
Frank Rack
Bruce Luyendyk is at the Pegasus Ice Runway, at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

Bruce Luyendyk says doing research in region means being both a scientist, and explorer at the same time. His team worked 800 miles from the main base camp.

It’s one of the most hostile environments on the planet. But, a Santa Barbara’s researcher’s efforts to see if there was once an eighth continent took him to Antarctica nine times.

"It's kind of escaping to a different world," said Bruce Luyendyk, who was a geophysicist and oceanographer who was a researcher at UC Santa Barbara for decades. He's now a professor emeritus. "It was kind of like being in outer space, with air."

His theory about the eighth continent took him to the Antarctic, as well as to the depths of the southwest Pacific. The idea is that New Zealand is the top of a submerged continent which broke away from Antarctica.

To support his research, it meant going on a series of amazing journeys to one of the most remote areas of the planet.

"There were six of us (on the expeditions), but we had to function as one," said the researcher. "We were 800 miles from the base station at McMurdo, so we were way beyond helicopter rescue range...we were totally on our own."

Luyendyk admits that before he went for the first time, he was skeptical of some of the stories he heard about being there. "People would tell me stories about how hard it was before I went, and I would think there was a little bit of fudging. And then I got there, I figured out nobody is making anything up. It's all true. You don't need to make up a's so hard to work there."

Getting there was a story in itself. He would take a commercial flight from Santa Barbara to New Zealand. A military plane would take them from New Zealand to McMurdo Station. Then, a military transport plane with skis for landing gear would fly them the 800 miles to the research area, where they would work for the next six weeks.

He said they found evidence to back the theories about the land where New Zealand is located splitting away from Antarctica, to create a new continent that's virtually all underwater.

And, thanks to some of his graduate students, he even has a mountain named after him. They were camped during an unnamed peak designated as 1070 when a big blizzard hit. They were stuck there for days. The graduate students went through the process to get the mountain named after the researcher. He said it's about the size of the Santa Ynez Mountain range, above the Santa Barbara area.

He’s a part of a number of scientific papers about geological and environmental research. But, his latest writing project is decidedly unscientific. It’s a new book called Mighty Bad Land, which looks at his first expedition to Antarctica.

"The focus of the book is about the human experience of doing this first expedition. There were things that were frightening," said Luyendyk. "Living in a two person tent during a blizzard that goes on for days. That's a scary experience. You lose your tent, and you could be dead."

The Santa Barbara researcher said yes, there was also a certain amount of danger involved. But, he notes there's danger every day, like driving a car from Santa Barbara to Ventura. He said you learned to be careful, and prepared for anything.

Luyendyk aside from the science, the experience was incredible. He said the beauty, and solitude of the continent was amazing. "The place is sublime, and the beauty is untouched. It's a powerful, emotional experience,"

Bruce Luyendyk will do a book signing for his new book from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, July 8 at the Barnes and Noble store at 4820 Telephone Road in Ventura.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.