Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Last Wilderness

Sir Edmund Hillary has criticized a US-British plan to build a 1600-km road through Antarctica linking McMurdo Station to the Amundsen-Scott base. He also chastised the UK for neglecting the huts used by Robert Falcon Scott and other early explorers.

He was in Antarctica for the christening of the Hillary Field Centre at Scott Base, a large warm store building. Sir Hillary had also erected the first building at Scott Base, the Trans-Antarctic Expedition hut. Apart from these ceremonies, the great explorer also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the crash of the Air New Zealand plane into the slopes of Mt Erebus in Antarctica. More than 250 people were killed in the disaster

The new road has been deemed environmentally acceptable by governments. It is in its third year of construction and has not yet advanced beyond the Ross Ice Shelf. McMurdo Sound is blocked by a giant iceberg, B15, hindering supply operations. Last week, the biggest chunk of the berg, B15A, ran aground and might make it impossible for ships to dock. It could take decades to melt and is a key impetus for the new road.
Professor MacAyeal says the iceberg has been acting like a big old surfboard in its haphazard course.

Two years ago it bashed up against Cape Crozier, blocking the resident Emperor colony's access to the open sea and not one penguin survived that year's breeding season.

B15A is also having a peculiar effect on Mt Erebus, the active volcano on Ross Island.

Eruptions have diminished markedly since the big berg began rubbing up against the island and bizarre acoustic sounds and tremors are being felt far into the Pacific.

"Mt Erebus is like a little baby that is being burped by a mother iceberg."
"B15 demonstrates the power of the Antarctic continent.

"It is the only continent Man hasn't been able to permanently inhabit.

"It is the greatest wilderness on the planet. We really are here at the whims of the weather."

The issues over the construction of the road join the growing concerns of Russian drilling into Lake Vostok and other similar activities in the last human frontier on Earth. Perhaps related, Charles Cockell, Microbiologist with the British Antarctic Survey has proposed seven conservation areas on Mars that would be protected from future explorations and debris, unlike the despoiling of the Moon and now Antarctica.

Of Note:
Gap Adventures' Classic Antarctica Tour
The Classic Antarctica voyage is the ultimate introduction to the Great White Continent. Departing from and finishing in the port of Ushuaia, Argentina, this tour includes many of the wildlife and scenic highlights of the Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage and the South Shetland Islands. Enjoy wildlife viewing, visits to scientific bases and time to take in the breathtaking scenery of icy waterways, glaciers, icebergs and rugged mountains.
- $1780 USD

Take Lonely Planet's Antarctica along,
and 81:03 by Antarctica for listening on those long nights.

Mt Erebus

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