Tag Archives: Antarctica

Catch-up (2): Fang camp

In order to spend time at the Erebus camp, we first need to have a couple of days of acclimatisation at a lower altitude. The usual site for this is at the Fang glacier on Erebus (about 2900 m), where we are based in tents for a couple of days as our bodies adjust to the altitude.

Helicopter landing at Fang

Helicopter landing at Fang

Those of us in the second group had fairly good weather. We spent most of our time there in Scott tents that had already been set up by the field support people at McMurdo.

Fang camp

Fang camp - look closely and you might see our tents

When acclimatising, it’s better to stick to light exercise, so we went for a short walk near camp and visited the glacial moraine, consisting of eroded volcanic rocks that were redeposited by a glacier.

Moraine at Fang

To the east, we could see Mount Terror, another of Ross Island’s volcanoes.

Mount Terror from Fang

Mount Terror from Fang

Terror and Erebus were named after two ships in Sir James Ross’ expedition in the 1840s.

Catch-up (1): pre-Erebus

Apologies for the lack of recent updates! This post will cover what we got up to during our last week at McMurdo.

Hut Point and Discovery Hut

Although Erebus is the only active volcano on Ross Island, three other volcanic centres are also located here, including Hut Point peninsula. For now, here‘s a map of Ross Island that you can zoom into to find the peninsula, McMurdo Station, and a few other key locations. One of the walks near McMurdo is along the Hut Point Ridge. I chose the clockwise direction, which passes the historic hut built at the start of Scott’s 1901-04 Discovery expedition:

Discovery Hut, Hut Point

Discovery Hut, Hut Point

There were a few seals sunning themselves on the sea ice near Vince’s Cross, which was originally erected in 1902 as a memorial to a drowned crew member on the Discovery.

Weddell seals at Hut Point

Weddell seals at Hut Point

Vince's Cross, Hut Point

Vince's Cross, Hut Point

The walk follows the ridge of the peninsula for a short way, with views of McMurdo and beyond, including Observation Hill:

Observation Hill and McMurdo viewed from Hut Point ridge

Observation Hill and McMurdo viewed from Hut Point ridge

The walk goes as far as a place called Arrival Heights, where I could finally get a good view of Erebus – although the summit was still obscured – before following the road back to McMurdo.

Erebus viewed from Arrival Heights


Barne Glacier/Cape Royds trip (aka penguins and historic huts)

The highlight of the weekend was a sampling trip on Sunday 28 November. One of the G-081 team members planned to sample some volcanic ash from the Barne Glacier, which would mean a trip by snowmobile across the sea ice.

It was a nice morning, which meant plenty of chances to enjoy the views:

Weddell seal in front of Mt Erebus

while we stopped to check that any cracks in the sea ice would be safe to cross:

Drilling through a crack in the sea ice

Drilling through a crack in the sea ice

Sea ice is an upper layer of frozen seawater that still undergoes tidal changes. Some cracks represent weak areas, so we needed to drill through them to make sure that the ice was thick enough, and remained thick enough, over a distance that was safe for snowmobiles.

Snowmobile train

We found a safe route and made it out to the Barne Glacier, which comes off the western side of Mt Erebus.

Barne Glacier

Barne Glacier

We continued on to Cape Royds, where there is a colony of Adelie penguins. These are the most common type of penguin in this part of the world.

Penguin footprints, Cape Royds

We can observe the penguins from a distance – the scientists studying them get a bit closer.

Adelie penguin rookery, Cape Royds

Although we saw some Emperor penguins in the distance, they stayed near the open sea.

Open sea to the west of Cape Royds

The next stop was Shackleton’s Hut, a short walk away. This hut was erected in 1908 during Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition, and was the base for the first ascent of Erebus just a few weeks later. We also stopped at Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans on the way back to McMurdo. This hut was built in 1911, and it was from here that Scott’s Polar party set out – just over 100 years ago.

Sleeping arrangements at Scott's Hut, Cape Evans

We looked around the hut for a while.

Kitchen at Scott's Hut, Cape Evans

Kitchen at Scott's Hut, Cape Evans

It was an opportunity to reflect on the history of Antarctic exploration and science – to appreciate both the privilege of being here and the comparative luxury in which we work.

Then it was time to head home – the wind had picked up and visibility had dropped, so we were grateful to return to the warmth and comfort of the station!

Leaving Cape Evans

More catch-up and an update schedule will follow. We’ve had a busy few days, with acclimatisation to altitude at Fang camp; moving up to the hut where we’ll be based for the next month; setting up tents and snow walls; testing equipment; and, for a few intrepid team members, trips to the caves and crater rim despite the bad weather.

Bad weather & fieldwork preparations

The reduced visibility and blowing snow continue, but today we managed to do most of our food pull – collecting all the food we are taking to Erebus, some of which we will take to Fang camp (where we spend a couple of days getting used to the altitude), and what will go up to Lower Erebus Hut (where we spend most of the field season).

One of the training sessions we had today was run by a couple of the G-081 team members, Aaron and Meghan. Aaron’s work is in the ice caves on Erebus, so they showed us some techniques for rappelling into and ascending out of the caves.

Aaron shows G-081 how to ascend a rope

After dinner, I decided to head over to Scott Base for American Night – because the NZ base is so much smaller (about 80 people at the moment, compared with about 1100 at McMurdo), there’s just one night a week where anyone from McMurdo is free to visit without an invitation. Since the conditions weren’t suited to the walk – which takes about 30 minutes – I took the shuttle. While waiting outside for the return trip, we got an amazing view out across the sea ice, including the transition from the shelf ice (which is connected to and fed by ice overlying the land) to the sea ice (which is a thinner layer of frozen seawater).

View across the sea ice transition from Scott Base

View to the west (ish) from Scott Base

Here’s hoping for more good views tonight as I head back to my dorm.

Fieldwork preparations

Over the next week or so, we at McMurdo go through training for fieldwork and get our equipment together. The four G-081 members who are new to Antarctica are away overnight on ‘Happy Camper’, learning survival skills in the field – among other things, they’ll be digging snow trenches, and finding out what white-out conditions (when there is no visibility) are like, through an advanced simulation. Since they’re sleeping out in their snow trenches or tents tonight, here are some photos from last year:

One of the Volcanofiles at Happy Camper in 2010

Fortunately, that roof isn't as precarious as it looks, so a night in the snow trench was immensely satisfying, if nerve-wracking.

Advanced snowstorm simulation

In the meantime, the rest of us have been at refresher courses and are putting together our equipment. There’s a lot to get done before the first half of G-081 leave on Monday!

Nial's research centres on thermal camera images of Erebus lava lake. He'll be telling us more about his work in the next few weeks.

It’s a warm -3C at McMurdo today, and the weather has been starting to clear – hopefully we’ll have photos of Erebus soon.

– Your Erebus correspondent

Antarctica or Bust!

Our Antarctic Volcanofiles, Nial and Tehnuka, have arrived safely at McMurdo base, Antarctica, the largest Antarctic base, via a C-17 flight from Christchurch, New Zealand.

The plane ride takes about 5 hours, but the adrenaline makes the whole thing go by all too fast. Boarding a huge military aircraft like the C-17 is a thrill, and seeing the continent out the window for the first time — unforgettable.

Cargo crate inside the C-17. Our sentiments exactly!

The view out the C-17 window. We're really in Antarctica!

Another look out the window. Nearly there!

Now that they’re there, new members of the team will go through basic survival and Antarctic skills training while the experienced members will take some refresher courses. Safety is a big deal in Antarctica, especially when you’re deployed to a remote field area like Erebus. Although Erebus is only about 37 km (23 mi) away from McMurdo, the only way to get there is via helicopter. And helicopters will only fly when the weather is right. So team members need to be trained to make sure that nothing goes wrong — and know what to do if something does.

C-17 on the ice runway at McMurdo

The weather in McMurdo is warm but snowing, and visibility is low. On a good day, you could see Erebus clear as day from the ice runway where the C-17 lands. But, today, it was too cloudy to see her. We’ll post some good pics when visibility clears up and we can get a good look at Erebus in all her glory. Here’s the view from today:

Normally you can see Erebus from the ice runway. Today it was too snowy!

Arrival in Christchurch, New Zealand

I’ve received word from our Antarctic team members that everyone made it safely to Christchurch, New Zealand yesterday. After only a few days to catch up on the jet lag, they’ll be issued their gear and put onto a C-17 aircraft that will take them to the great white south.

Here’s the view in ChCh today: