Monday, October 15, 2007

A volcano in my back yard!

While we wait for the first rock core to arrive from the drill site (which is about 25 km to the northwest of McMurdo Station) we are busy getting the labs organized and the logistics sorted out. Some scientists work the night shift, and others work the day shift, so we will be 'saying goodbye' to some of our friends for a while (here is sunset and daytime).

Plans have to be made to make sure people pass on important information, and all the activities are coordinated. We also have to set up detailed plans for exactly how large the samples that each of the science groups gets will be, as well as how many samples each group will be taking in order to do what is called the ‘Core Characterization’. Simon Nielson has developed a sampling plan on his computer, based on last year's core.

In between meetings some of our team took a break and walked up Observation Hill (elevation 230 m – multiply metres by 3.281 to get feet - see also info about metric conversions at bottom of blog) which is close to McMurdo Station, while the weather was nice.

It was clear, and the temperature was as high as -21 degrees celsius, with wind speeds ranging from 15 to 35 km/h. From the top of the hill we could see Mount Erebus.

Mt. Erebus (elevation 3,700 m or 12,100 ft) is a volcano about 40 km away from McMurdo at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. Mt. Erebus is part of a group of volcanoes that make up the area of land (Ross Island) that McMurdo Station and Scott Base (the New Zealand Station) are built on.

Mount Erebus has been active since about 1.3 million years ago, and as you can see from the small plume of steam above it, Mt. Erebus is still active. If you go to The Mt. Erebus Volcano Observatory website you can learn more about Mt. Erebus. The live volcanocam is set up for this season yet – they have to wait until November or December when the weather improves and the research team gets down here.
You can watch some video of past eruptions, and you can go to the Mt. Erebus Volcano Observatory for more information - check out the page where they have a record of all recent eruptions – have there been any since I arrived?

Another day some of us also walked around the foot of Observation Hill (here you see a picture of me on that walk, with Mt. Erebus in the background). I was particularly interested in the variety of volcanic rocks that we were seeing. Today we had a short talk by one of the researchers (Dr. Kurt Panter) about the history of volcanic activity in the McMurdo region. At the start of our work down here, the researchers are giving short talks about their specialties. This was useful because there were quite a lot of volcanic-derived sediments in the core that was retrieved last year, and we expect to see some in the core this year too.

Are you surprised to find that there are active volcanoes in Antarctica? If so, why?
Send me an email ( with your questions or post a comment on this blog, and I'll answer it.
If you want to learn more about daily life on the base, do check out Joanna’s blog. Joanna works with the Anchorage School District in Alaska, and is an ecologist, and is an avid birder. This is her second trip to Antarctica. In 2000 she was at Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula, where she worked with a dive team (yes, she was diving!) that was studying marine organisms (plants and animals that live on the seafloor). What do you think she found or saw?

We should be busy working on the core by the next time I post . Do check out the Andrill ARISE blogs at to find out what our team has been up to. Bob has been posting information about the drilling process on his blog. , so check that out for technical information.

Metric Conversions
This charts below show how to convert from metric to standard US measurement.
Make sure you can do conversions by hand, then practice doing approximate and exact conversions in your head. If you need to double-check your conversion go to a website such as or . The chart is from the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory website. They also have a chart for converting temperatures.

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