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Archive for antarctica

Brown Bluff

By Linda Tancs

A tuya is a flat-topped, steep-sided volcano formed when lava erupts through a thick glacier or ice sheet. A spectacular example of this rarity is 2,500-foot-high Brown Bluff on the Tabarin Peninsula in Antarctica, named for its brown/black slopes. Conditions permitting, you can venture there via many cruises in the region. The star attraction is the penguin population, particularly Adélie penguins (20,000 or so pairs) and gentoo penguins (around 550 pairs), who converge for breeding this time of year.

The Southernmost Post Office

By Linda Tancs

Move over, icebergs. The star of the show in Antarctica is…a post office? Well, not just any post office—the most southerly in the world. Located at Port Lockroy, it’s a British outpost run by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. Each letter sent from there (at least 70,000, at last count) will receive a highly-prized local stamp and postmark. The office, which also hosts a gift shop and museum, is manned for five months during high season, when, as luck would have it, a colony of gentoo penguins swarm the area to mate and raise their young.

The Last Ocean

By Linda Tancs

Named for British explorer James Ross, the Ross Sea in Antarctica has been nicknamed “the last ocean.” Located between Victoria Land and Marie Byrd Land, it’s the southernmost sea on Earth, quite literally the last sea. Perhaps not surprisingly, this remote ocean is deemed one of the most pristine environments left in the world, the perfect locale for a marine reserve (the world’s largest) twice the size of Texas. It’s also home to the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest in the world at around 193,000 square miles. And it even sings (well, sort of), making a didgeridoo-like sound as the wind blows across the landscape causing the outer snow layer to vibrate.

The Saltiest Pond on Earth

By Linda Tancs

About 18 times greater than seawater, Antarctica’s Don Juan Pond is the saltiest body on Earth. The small, shallow basin is technically a lake although popularly referred to as a pond. Its few thousand square meters can only accommodate extremophiles like bacteria and fungi thanks to its hypersalinity. Located in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys (the largest ice-free region on the continent), you’ll find many of the world’s saltiest lakes there.

The Perils of the Antarctic

By Linda Tancs

Perhaps the words of science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, “First you fall in love with Antarctica, and then it breaks your heart” should be changed to “First you fall in love with Antarctica, and then it breaks your boat.”  The perils of Antarctic expeditions were underlined with the recent sinking of the Explorer.  Thankfully, all passengers and crew survived.  There’s no doubt that the wind-driven and swiftly moving ice of the Antarctic imperils any vessel there, but with today’s post-Titanic advances in mapping and sonar technologies, how–and why–does an Explorer-type incident occur?  After all, we can trace a mad cow to its birthplace on a farm anywhere in the world.  Is an iceberg any less significant?  Maybe it just comes down to the numbers involved, but polar research will be driving climate science and experimentation in the years ahead.  That should bring the safety of polar travel to the forefront.

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