Antarctica may be considered to have only two seasons, a winter of constant darkness during which the sun does not rise and the continent is frozen in, and glorious summer, when the sun doesn’t set and the continent comes alive in a burst of energy. However, the northerly latitudes closer to the Antarctic Circle, particularly around the coastlines of the Antarctic Peninsula and the Ross Sea area, have distinctive spring and fall seasons. Spring brings the melting of coastal ice and the return of wildlife such as penguins, seals and birds. Fall months lead to the return of wildlife to the seas for the winter and the regrowth of ice around the continent as it begins to freeze in again. Now, with increasing global warming, all the seasons may be seeing changing timelines and weather anomalies, with drastic effects.
Our polar Summer begins with a slow welcome that builds on the summery warmth and then ebbs and flows during the later season, ending in a final flurry of activity. The appearance of Fall brings a mellow, wistful mood, followed by the harsh, dark Winter. Spring promises a rebirth with new life and beginnings.
The South Pole is one of the best places on earth to observe space because of its high altitude on the globe and the clean, dry surrounding air. The main telescope at the Amundsen-Scott Station is used to measure microwave background radiation related to the Big Bang theory of cosmological expansion, to search for galaxies, and to study the physics of the universe. The East Antarctic plateau is also the location of a major automated Chinese-international telescope used to search for supernovas and to study the life cycles of stars. The book, A Brief History of Time, by the late physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, is a great introduction to the concepts of space, time and the origin of our universe. To turn the tables, what if playful, otherworldly life forms are out there looking back at us as we try to peer into their world?
Our Antarctic cosmology music is in five parts: Seeking Galaxies, Beginning of Time, Cosmic Strings, Quiet Nights, and The Unfolding Universe.
Massive sheets of ice and glaciers cover 98% of the continent, parts of which are compressed below sea level by the enormous weight of the ice. This movement contrasts two unusual Antarctic lakes, one subglacial and the other a lava lake inside a mountain.
Over the past 50 years, scientists have identified close to 400 subglacial lakes in Antarctica, lying under several miles of ice, and isolated for as long as 35 million years. Lying in bedrock hollows, many of the lakes may be interconnected. Most of the lakes are in East Antarctica, linked to the East and West Antarctic Ice sheet merge. The largest is Lake Vostok, about the size of Lake Ontario in Canada, located at the Russian Vostok Station, 800 miles from the Geographic South Pole. It is formed of two basins, separated by a ridge, about 2.5 miles below the surface of the ice with average depth of 1,400 ft. A borehole has been drilled to near the top surface though it has not yet broken through, due to fears of contamination. Samples of ice close to the lake have been identified with various microbes, including bacteria and fungi, indicating the lake may contain ecosystems similar to other marine environments. Skeptics believe this may be from contamination and not a preview of what may be in the lake.
Lake Vostok presents both the mysterious, unknown aspects of the lake, as well as a humourous consideration of the presence of Antarctic mermaids and other creatures.
There are four active volcanoes on the mainland of Antarctica, and others on neighbouring coastal islands. The best known is Mount Erebus, the earth’s southernmost active volcano, which is adjacent to the Ross Sea. In the summit caldera is a lava lake, one of only five such lakes on earth. The pool of magma inside the crater often emits lava bombs up to 10 feet wide, as far as a mile away.
Erebus Lava Lake depicts the changing dynamics of the lake with restful, sputtering and rhythmical episodes.