Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Geology Rocks!

Though we think of Antarctica as just being cold and ice covered, there is actually a lot of interesting geology here.

First, there is an active volcano! Mount Erebus is the southern-most active volcano in the world! It sits on Ross Island not too far from McMurdo Station, and you can see it from most of the hiking trails around McMurdo. Because Mt. Erebus is so close, most of the rocks in the area are volcanic, like the basalt to the left. These rocks are erupted from the volcano and can travel very far. So, Mt. Erebus's influence is seen all the way across the sea ice in the Dry Valleys where we work. Most of the soil is made up of rocks like these that have been weathered and crushed. That is why most of the soil looks very grey and red. In this panoramic video, you can see the red soils from the volcanic rocks. You also can see Mt. Erebus in the background, puffing away! (The golf-ball looking things house satellites and other scientific equipment.)

There are other neat geological features besides the volcano. Sometimes rock formations will poke out of the ice sheet that covers part of Ross Island. Yesterday Katie and I hiked out to one of those formations called Castle Rock. I took another panoramic video along the way. Most of what you see is snow and ice, but you also see several rock outcrops and hilltops sticking out. Castle Rock is the formation just in front of Mt. Erebus at the beginning (and end) of the video. It looks very small compared to the large volcano, but that's only because we were still very far away when I took the video.

When you get closer to Castle Rock, you see that it's actually quite tall and cool looking! You can see different layers and lots of evidence of weathering. It's something you might expect to see in the western US, not Antarctica!
The hike out to Castle Rock was a nice break for Katie and I. Here we are enjoying my Uncle Ev's World Famous Buffalo Chip Cookies next to the emergency hut (nicknamed the "apple") on the hike:

Elizabeth has made it in to McMurdo! Here flight landed yesterday evening. Now she has to catch up on all of her trainings so that we can head to the field soon!

[Basalt photo from juster.]


  1. While your movies are very informative, some waving a talking would convince us that you're having fun...

  2. Here are some more great questions from my friends at Thetford Elementary:

    Q: How many people get to go to 'snow school' besides the scientists you are with?
    A: Anyone that might ever leave McMurdo Station for work on the ice or the Dry Valleys goes through Snow School. All of the scientists that work out in the field, everyone on the crew that keep the field camps and communications technology running, and the mountaineers all go to snow school. Also a lot of the staff that keep McMurdo Base running go to Snow School just in case they ever get a reason to leave the base. Snow School classes are held every time a flight lands in McMurdo bringing more people to the ice. When Katie was at Snow School last weekend, there were 8 people in her class.

    Q: About how many square feet is your laboratory?
    A: We used a tape measure to count how big our lab is for you! Our laboratory is about 23 feet long and 20 feet wide. So, it is 460 square feet.

    Q: How big is Mount Erebus?
    A: Mt. Erebus is very large! Its summit is at 12,491 feet high. It looks pretty small in the videos on my blog because it is very far away.

    Q: What is inside that red hut, the 'apple'?
    A: The red "apple" huts are emergency shelters. They are meant to provide a safe shelter in case you get stuck out in bad weather. Inside are some sleeping bags, an emergency stash of food, a phone to call back to McMurdo, and a first aid kit.

    Q: How are you going to celebrate the holidays? Will you do any singing? Are any of you musical?
    A: We will be in the field for Christmas and Chanukah. Everyone in the Dry Valleys will hike to one field camp on Christmas Eve to celebrate Christmas and eat together. Santa Clause usually makes a visit to the Dry Valleys to deliver treats, so hopefully he will visit us again this year! We will probably do some singing, because the communications headquarters at McMurdo usually does a "Christmas Broadcast" over the VHF-radios on Christmas Day where they sing Christmas carols over the walkie-talkies for an hour. It's a lot of fun to listen to! Plus, I brought a guitar with me that will go into the field. For New Years, we will be back at McMurdo Station. On New Year's Eve, there are a lot of festivities for including a concert and a chili cook-off!

    Q: Becky found 391 nemotodes on Day One. On Day Two she found some more. Then she had 536 nematodes in all. How many nematodes did she find on Day Two?
    A: We love Owen's math problems here! We all agree that I must have found 145 nematodes on Day Two.