Icy Weather and Our Longest Dataset Yet from Erebus Volcano

Icy Weather and Our Longest Dataset Yet from Erebus Volcano

The southernmost active volcano in the world tends to get a bit icy over the winter. Volcanology team G-081 arrived at the observatory hut on the side of Erebus volcano one week ago, and they found that what would become their home for the next several weeks had been totally covered in ice over the Antarctic winter!

Icicles had taken over the hut while it was unoccupied over the long, dark Antarctic winter

Just getting up to the hut proved a challenge this season. Nial sent us this update when he had secured internet access:

Well we finally made it up on to Erebus after having our helicopter flight cancelled a couple of times. We flew straight in to the Lower Erebus Hut (which is our main camp on the volcano), pulled all the snowmobiles out of the garage and drove them down to Fang (which is our acclimatisation camp). Starting snowmobiles in a confined space at high altitude is not a very good idea it turns out, and we all ended up with bad headaches. Still, after two days of lying around at Fang camp (the weather was rubbish so we basically just stayed in bed for two days) everyone had acclimatised pretty well and we drove back up to the hut again. The snow conditions are awful for driving this year with huge sastrugi (hard packed snow drifts) everywhere.

The team had a brief weather window after they arrived at the hut, which was just enough to set up tents and clear all the accumulated snow out of the hut, and then the wind picked up to 40 knots and the temperature dropped to -30 and below. The weather has been pretty bad ever since, with low temperatures and very high winds.

Home sweet home for the next several weeks

What about the camera?
If you’ve been following recent posts, you may be as anxious as we were to hear about the fate of Nial’s thermal camera, which was perched atop the Erebus crater all winter long with the hopes that we would have the first ever over-winter data set from Erebus. Nial gave us the scoop.

We had a few hours of good weather the other day, so Clive and I went up to the crater rim to assess the damage. The camera was not running….which was not too much of a surprise since the power had never come back on. All the batteries at the power generation site had exploded over the winter, not quite sure why yet but hopefully we can fix the problem before we leave. Anyway, even if the power had come back on the camera would not have. It looks like there were some crazy winds at the summit this year – the tripod mount for the camera (which is a 5mm stainless steel bar) had been bent out of shape, allowing the camera to be rotated around by the wind. This broke the power cable to it and meant that it wasn’t pointing at the lake anyway! It wasn’t all bad news though, the camera had worked perfectly up until the power went off (in late April) so we have over 3 million lovely images of the lake (which is more than all the other field seasons put together), and when I restored power to it it started up fine. The lava lake looks much the same as ever, a bit bigger than last year perhaps. There are a few fresh bombs around the summit, but we haven’t witnessed any big explosions yet.

Nial’s infrared camera at the rim, not really pointed toward the lava lake…

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