Saturday, February 25, 2012

Historic Huts and the Ross Ice Shelf

Our Far South Expedition
February 25, 2012

Historic Huts
Ross Island is home to three historic huts from the Heroic Era of Antarctic exploration: Scott’s 1901 Discovery Expedition Hut at Hut Point, Shackleton’s 1907 Nimrod Expedition Hut at Cape Royds and Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova Hut Expedition Hut at Cape Evans. The Discovery Hut now lies in the shadow of McMurdo Station, but when constructed from an Australian kitset, it shared Winterquarters Bay only with the Discovery, which was moored nearby. The Hut itself proved too cold and difficult to heat for Scott’s men to live in it, so they used it mainly for stores and slept aboard the ship. 

Shackleton's Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds
In contrast, and 40 km to the north, Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds was home for 15 men. It was smaller with a large stove at one end and built in a hollow providing protection from the weather on all sides. This hut has recently been restored by the Antarctic Heritage Trust and should now withstand its next century on the flanks of Mount Erebus – sea level rise permitting. Only about 10 km to the south and across the Barne Glacier, the beach at Cape Evans is home to Scott’s Terra Nova Hut. Far larger and warmer than Discovery Hutt inside, but fairly exposed to the wind, as we discovered yesterday afternoon. Visiting the Hut is a dream for any Antarctic Geologist. To see the geologists quarters in the Hut and remember the feats of Frank Debenham, Edgeworth David, Raymond Priestley, and Griffith Taylor who all contributed to the mapping of the Dry Valleys and the Ice free areas of Victoria Land to the west of Ross Island.
Officers Table

Ross Ice Shelf
Ross Ice Shelf
Named the Ice Barrier in 1841 by Ross, when he found that he could not sail his ships Terror and Erebus further south, the leading edge of the Ross Shelf ends in a 30 m cliff. At 3.30 am, the light was not ideal, but for the first time I was able to see this great floating ice shelf in perspective. Stretching for hundreds of kilometers to the east, the ice cliff is the mere tip of the ice berg – the shelf is actually closer to 300 m thick, with much of it floating below sea level and in, on average, about 600 m of water. We saw the ice shelf from east of Cape Crozier, where the ANDRILL project are planning to use it as a floating platform to drill into the Eocene, 40 million year old, rocks on Coulman High to recover, amongst other things, a record of Antarctica in the high carbon dioxide greenhouse world. The drilling is only possible because of the ice shelf but the ice shelf also provides the biggest challenges for drilling. Ten years ago, a large ice berg broke off allowing a ship in to survey the sea floor and subsequently the ice has advanced back over the site at a kilometer a year, thereby re-establishing the platform for the drill rig over the site. But that 2.5-m a day ice advance limits the time that the drilling operation can continue before there is too much bend in the pipe. So, the technology will either have to enable us to drill faster than previous efforts or allow us to move the drill rig back along the ice shelf and then re-enter the drill hole and continue drilling deeper.
Ross Sea at midnight
Coming up….. the Antarctic Mainland

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