Tag Archives: Antarctica

Antarctic Volcanoes: An Article in Live Science

9 Dec

It is often difficult for the non-scientist to understand why and where volcanoes are likely to erupt. An article in ‘Live Science’ by Becky Oskin (28 Oct. 2013) sheds light on an extra mystery following discussion with Reinhard Werner of GEOMAR, the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany

The classic mode for volcanic eruption is that when  tectonic plates move. magma hot spots (signaled by a mantle plume, which is a hot upwelling from below the earth’s crust), breaks through gaps between the plates, resulting in a volcano. As the tectonic plate moves, new volcanoes erupt and those no longer open to magma below the earth’s crust, become dormant.

But on the West Coast of Antarctica, no hot spots could be discovered in a group of eight large volcanoes, the Marie Byrd Seamounts. How were they formed? Isotopic dating finds that these volcanoes were formed when part of the earth’s crust poles apart 60 million years ago and the fractures allowed fossilised mantle plume material to escape to the surface. Since they formed over a long period of time and in the same area, a hotspot is not a tenable theory, though studies have shown that more than one type of magma fed the volcanoes which resemble those found in volcanic fields offshore New Zealand.

Antarctica always sets science a problem and continues to be at the cutting edge.

Antarctic exhibition in the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace

29 Nov

I love this exhibition. It shows the photographs of Frank Hurley and Herbert Ponting. The images are very different. Hurley’s were made under conditions of great stress when “Endurance” was caught in the ice and then when the crew were drifting on ice floes for well over a year. Ponting was a wonderful professional photographer; Hurley was not, but made a matchless record of the Endurance and her crew.

Both created memorable scenes. Ponting’s picture of the “Terra Nova” through the window of an iceberg imprints itself on the memory, whilst Hurley’s photograph of the brilliantly lit Endurance in the black Antarctic winter is an unforgettable image.

Ponting did a “mock-up” of the expedition members sitting round a Nansen cooker in a tent before they set off on their ill-fated journey to the South Pole. In this image “Taf” Evans, “Birdie” Bowers, Edward Wilson and Captain Scott smile optimistically at each other.

Antarctic explorers Dr Edward Wilson and Chief Petty Officer Edgar Evans

23 Sep

My interest in Antarctica started when I was a junior doctor in St George’s Hospital London, where the Antarctic explorer Dr Edward Wilson had been a student seventy years previously.

He was a wonderful artist and St George’s had many of his paintings. I became fascinated by him and wrote a biography of this remarkable man. As I wrote the book I became interested in the lives of the Ratings, the sailors, who obeyed orders, kept cheerful and kept the expeditions going.

I have now written the biography of Chief Petty Officer Edgar Evans. This is to be published by The History Press in January 2011.

Not only did Edgar go with Scott on both his Antarctic expeditions of 1901 and 1910, he was also the first to die on the ill-fated return from the Pole and was – most unfairly in my opinion – blamed by many for the demise of his four companions.