The View From Mt. Erebus
For weeks I’ve been getting great views of Mt. Erebus. Whether I’ve been out to the WISSARD drill/test site, Happy Camper School, or just on a hike up Observation Hill…Mt. Erebus seems to catch my eye. It dominates the landscape here and is quite beautiful…with its plume of gas rising up and surrounding the top of the volcano with what looks like billows of soft, white clouds.
I love this view from out on the sea ice near Cape Evans, taken on my trip here in 2006.
This one’s taken near the WISSARD test site. (It’s funny to see me wearing BIG red in this photo, taken weeks ago. I’ve been wearing the light-weight parka for most of my time in McMurdo.)
But what would it be like to study Mt. Erebus and spend time on the mountain, looking back at what lies below it? Or, what about climbing up to see the lava lake in the crater at the top? Scientist Dr. Phil Kyle, began his field seasons in Antarctica in 1969. He has spent decades studying Mt. Erebus. Phil told me that he has actually spent many of his birthdays ON Mt. Erebus.
Phil started coming to the ice as a graduate student from New Zealand, and he spent his first six seasons at Scott Base. He moved from New Zealand to the U.S. to do a Post Doc at Ohio State University, but he didn’t leave Erebus behind.
Phil is currently at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, in Socorro, New Mexico. He is a professor of Geochemistry in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science. He teaches and does research in geochemistry, petrology, and volcanology. Throughout the years, Phil has taken many graduate students and teachers with him to do research projects on the volcanology of Mt. Erebus. In fact, it was through an educational outreach program that I first met Phil in 1998. He was a member of the ANDRILL science team and I talked with him in McMurdo this season. Phil directs the Mt. Erebus Volcano Observatory.
Antarctica isn’t his only repeat performance….for example he’s spent ten summers in far eastern Russia, studying active volcanoes, especially those in Kamchatka. He has also studied Mt. Etna in Italy. He says that “being an academic is freedom to pursue questions that come to mind.” He was interested in the outdoors as a high school student and found that this was a profession that allowed him to be outdoors. I’ve heard that from so many of the scientists here.
I learned that the plume rising from Mt. Erebus is made up of about 50% water and 50 % carbon dioxide…which is very unusual for a volcano. Fundamentally volcanic eruptions are driven by gases, which are between 80-95% water and 2-20% carbon dioxide. Mt. Erebus is also unique because it is one of few volcanoes in the world that’s a model volcano, not a hazard. Scientists who study volcanoes are continually making predictions and evaluating the hazard potential in studying them. Erebus does not present the same hazards as other volcanoes, and as a result it is easier to study.
Below, the Mt. Erebus crater… (photo by Phil Kyle)
With its lake of molten lava inside the crater on top, Phil says it’s like “a window into the guts of the volcano.” It is changing all the time…making it a very interesting volcano to study. However, it is not entirely free of danger…Phil was once knocked unconscious by a lava “bomb” that was ejected from the volcano.
Phil says that he always tries to give the “what, where, why, when” of Mt. Erebus. It’s the 18th largest volcano in the world. It has similarities to Mt. Kilamanjaro and Mt. Kenya, in Africa because the east Africa rift system can be compared to the rift system under the sea here in Antarctica.
In this photo they are looking down from Erebus from the GPS monument at the Nausea Knob site, with the Transantarctic Mountains in the background. (photo by Phil Kyle)
Mt. Erebus is the southernmost active volcano in the world, and Phil and his team are here to do experiments to understand the eruptive activity of the volcano. They also look at the effect Mt. Erebus has on the environment. Looking at changes in the gas is important…what does Erebus do to Antarctica’s atmosphere?
Transportation to and from Mt. Erebus is often by helicopter. This is an A-Star helicopter landing at the E-1 seismic station on the Erebus side crater.
Check out “The Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory” website: http://erebus.nmt.edu
This is a super resource because you can see webcam coverage of the volcano, look at live eruptions, get lots of information, and the site includes an image gallery. I found a quick list of facts on Mt. Erebus that I thought was worth sharing:
Mt. Erebus Synopsis
** discovered by James Ross and crew in 1841
** the first ascent (climb) up to the crater rim took place in 1908, by members of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition
** the geographic location of Mt. Erebus is on Ross Island, Antarctica
** latitude and longitude of the summit: 77 degrees south latitude and 167 degrees east longitude
** elevation is 3794 meters above sea level
** average summer temperature is about -20 degrees Celsius
** average winter temperature is about -60 degrees Celsius
** type of volcano: Stratovolcano
** notable features: has one of Earth’s few long-lived lava lakes, has persistent low-level eruptions, and is the most active volcano in Antarctica
** prehistoric eruptive style: large volume lava flows
** historic (more current time) eruptive style: frequent Strombolian eruptions, (incandescent cinder, lapilli — rock fragments or tiny ash grains stuck together, and bombs to heights of a few tens or hundreds of feet or meters), infrequent ash eruptions, and rare lava flows confined to the inner crater
Here are a few of my own favorite shots of Mt. Erebus from my 2006 trip to Antarctica, and from this season.
The view from Happy Camper School….taken from Ross Ice Shelf, 2006. This season we were in the middle of a snowstorm during Happy Camper School and couldn’t see Mt. Erebus at all.
I love the view of Mt. Erebus from atop Observation Hill. These two photos are from this season.
When I worked with the ANDRILL scientists I was able to take a helicopter trip. We traveled to several destinations around Ross Island. One stop was the Erebus “Saddle” which means the land between two mountains. Scientists were drilling for ice cores in this saddle area. Here is a shot of their field camp and the pit they were starting to dig prior to drilling for ice cores.
ANDRILL Co-Chief Scientist, Tim Naish, and I stood on the saddle for this photograph. What a great day that was flying around Ross Island and seeing our surroundings from a different perspective.
During our helicopter flight back to McMurdo, we flew over these awesome crevasses on the side of Mt. Erebus.
Every view of Mt. Erebus is a real treat….from close up or far away, this southernmost active volcano helps demonstrate just how special this place is. I’ll end with a video clip that includes Mt. Erebus. Enjoy!