GEOLOGY, GLACIOLOGY AND WILDLIFE
Including the Ross Sea Dependency, the Sub-Antarctic Islands and sea, up to New Zealand from the Pole.
(This site is under development, a great deal remains to added. Contributions from any person of expertise are welcomed. It is intended to be a summary of the ornithology, geology, glaciology and geography of the subantarctic and Antarctic for the edification of high-school and university students or those "Visiting the Ice" for the first time. We have tried not to make it TOO boring. There are a great many illustrations (or will be), you really need a relatively fast connection and your PC screen should be set to the highest resolution also hit F11. This is one of several net sites aimed at making reasonably detailed and up-to-date knowledge of some aspects of the natural sciences available to the world at large. We have used other highly relavent pix from other sites and in some cases have not been able to contact the authors. If you recognise a pic of your own, please contact us.)
What we call the Antarctic continent is a circular pancake of ice more than 2000 miles across, centred directly over the South Pole and mainly resting on rock. The continental ice sheet as it is called is built up by falling snow, only a very little, about 4 inches a year in the centre but hardly any of it ever melts. Much more seems to fall near the coasts but an unknown amount is also wind-blown drift. Water vapour drifts in from the north very high up as ice crystals which shimmer in the sun and form strange green and pink "mother of pearl" clouds. Even on the calmest and sunniest of days ice crystals glitter as they softly fall, but occasionally it snows quite hard if a patch of wet air drifts in from over the sea. As compacted ice, it slowly flows outwards a few inches or feet a year until it reached the warmer sea at about latitude 75ºS where it melts.
In the middle, the ice cap is up to about 12,000ft thick, and it mainly rests on rock which may be above or below present sea level. Near the Russian Station of Vostok, deep under thousands of feet of ice, in a valley there is a large freshwater lake, where the geothermal heat-flow from below must be greater than the heat-loss through the ice-blanket above it.
Rock can only be seen around the edges or in the Victoria Mountains, a great chain of icy peaks up to 15,000 ft high that extend for 2000 miles across the continent for Cape Adare to Queen Maud Land, virtually cutting the continent in half. Even higher mountains pierce the ice cap in the Pacific ocean sector.
The Ross Sea Dependency
This is a wedged shaped sector between longitude 160E and 140W. It includes the Ross Sea and McMurdo Sound where the sea extends further south than at any other point. Most of the early exploration of the Antarctic by Sir James Clarke Ross and by Borshgrevink, Scott, Shackleton, Scott again, Amundsen, Byrd, Hillary and Fuchs took place here. It is also the site of two major bases, and an airfield on a floating ice runway. The Ross Sea has the mountains on the western side, has most of the scenery, almost all of the ice-free land and a goodly portion of the whales, seals, penguins. Apart from Graham Land, also called the Antarctic Peninsula over on the other side, the rest of Antarctica is pretty boring, OK if you like flying over a thousand miles of glaring ice with perhaps a green crevasse showing up once an hour, but nothing what you would call stirring. Below are some of the more interesting features found in the Ross Dependency. It was originally claimed by Britain, but they rather lost interest in it and New Zealand inherited it, hence our presence.
Greenland in parts has some similarities but apart from that our Antarctic sector is like no place on Earth. If you stand on the South Pole, all directions no matter which way you look, are north and there few place on Earth where you can do THAT. From 4 to 6 months of the year there is no sun and for two weeks of each month there is no moon, only star light. However if you go outside in winter you may be lucky and have some extra light from the aurora which flashes red and green patches and beams of light about in the sky. It is caused by charged particles from the sun, attracted into the ionoshere and swept tpwards the magnetic pole which lies over near Adelie Land.
In McMurdo Sound there is only one tide a day for two weeks of each month, in the summer if the sun is to the south you know it is midnight. The volcano Mt Erebus mainly steams away quietly but may send up a few puffs and bangs. Forty years ago there was a geyser on the north slopes which blew out a fifty foot high jet of boiling water every half hour but it seems to have quietened down. Some volcanoes stand up 10-13,000 feet, others are almost buried in ice.
Out in the Sound, you may see a few whales diving, while seals lie on the ice edge sunbathing, a few Adelie penguins may walk over and look you up and down, ice flows moved by the tide grind softly and make a "Shhhh" noise but otherwise it is pretty quiet. I once heard a "boom" as an avalanche fell, and apart from the odd howl or bark from a husky, it was the only sound heard in four months. Away from the bases you may go pretty much where your feet can take you, no one has ever charged us for camping and no one sent bills. The climate varies from "Unbearable", (above 32º Fahrenheit); "Warm", (down to zero) to "Cool", (zero to -40ºF below). Fifty below is getting too cool altogether but it only occurs in winter. At -70º, they tell me your words freeze into ice and they may break when they hit the ground but I have never seen it actually happen.
There is a ski-tow, and holes in the ice for scuba-diving, though you need a pretty good dry-suit. There are no mosquitoes, snakes, bears or black flies and no one has been eaten by a sea-leopard for a long time. There is no salt on the roads, it never rains, there are no trees to block the view and grass never needs mowing. Altogether an OK place.
"Oh the sea, Oh the sea, the wide bounding sea!