Antarctica’s Tallest Peak Captured, North Pole Not So Much

Antarctica

Antarctica is our planet’s southernmost continent and home to the South Pole, permanent manned research stations, penguins and an occasional adventure cruise ship expedition. This time of year, a lot of attention traditionally goes to Earth’s North Pole, home of Santa and the gang. But NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory recently passed over Antarctica’s tallest peak, Mount Vinson, as we see in this photo.

On October 22, 2012, during a flight over the continent to measure changes in the massive ice sheet and sea ice, NASA captured this image as part of its ongoing program.NASA’s Airborne Science Program at the University of North Dakota manages operations of NASA’s DC-8 Airborne Science Laboratory aircraft, which collects data for the world’s scientific community. The DC-8 flies three primary missions: sensor development, satellite sensor verification and basic research studies of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere.

Operation IceBridge is a multi-year airborne campaign to watch changes in the Earth’s polar ice caps in both the Antarctic and Arctic. Mount Vinson is located in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica.

The North and South poles are the two points where the Earth’s axis of rotation intersects with its surface. While the South pole actually exists in a physical place on Antarctica, the North Pole is really in the middle of the Arctic Ocean in waters covered with sea ice almost year-round … except for around Christmas time when Santa, Mrs. Claus, the reindeer and elves are busy with the holidays.

NASA has tried repeatedly to photograph Santa’s home but cannot come up with more than an image of ice and snow.

“NASA’s Terra satellite was able to piece together a number of images it took to give us a complete look at the North Pole, which is usually very difficult to see by satellites, so Santa can keep his exact location secret,” says NASA captioning this Flickr photo.

[Photo Credit: NASA]

Polar Explorer Plans To Ride Bike To The South Pole

Eric Larsen Will Ride His Bike To The South Pole In DecemberA journey to the South Pole is one of the more demanding and difficult endeavors on our planet and yet each year a number of adventurous souls undertake the challenge of crossing the Antarctic on foot. Most spend upwards of six weeks skiing across 700+ miles of snow and ice just so that they can get the opportunity to stand at the bottom of the world. But this year polar explorer Eric Larsen will make that journey in an entirely new fashion and as he intends to ride his bike to the Pole.

In December, Larsen will travel to the Antarctic where he’ll begin his ride at Hercules Inlet, the most popular launching point for travelers heading to 90°S. His route will cover approximately 750 miles across the coldest, highest and driest continent on Earth. Along the way, Larsen will face high winds, whiteout conditions and temperatures that routinely plummet well below zero, making this a bike ride unlike any other. When he arrives at the Pole, Eric will then turn around and ride back to where he started, crossing another 750 miles if weather and time permits.

As you can imagine, Larsen will be taking a specially designed bike on his adventure. In order to deal with the snow and ice conditions, not to mention the potential hazards of crevasse fields, his bike will need to be tough and durable. That’s why he’ll be riding a Moonlander from Surly Bikes which will be outfitted with 5-inch-wide tires that will help handle the unique surface conditions that he’ll encounter in the Antarctic. It may not be the fastest bike around, but it is built like a tank and can hold up to the challenging environment for the 1500 miles he could potentially ride.

This won’t be Eric’s first trip to frozen continent. In 2010 he became the first person to visit both the North and South Pole, as well as summit Everest, all within a 365-day period. Those individual expeditions have no doubt prepared him well for this next excursion and it seems clear that the man certainly enjoys cold weather.

Follow Eric’s progress on his website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Watch video of Larsen testing his bike in winter conditions after the jump.

[Photo credit: Eric Larsen]


Terra Nova Expedition Ship Discovered


The ship that gave the name to Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition has been found in the waters off Greenland, the Schmidt Ocean Institute reports.

The SS Terra Nova took Scott’s British team to Antarctica in 1910. They raced to be the first to the South Pole but were beaten by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team by only a matter of days. On their way back, bad weather set in and Scott and several team members died.

The SS Terra Nova continued to work in Arctic and Antarctic waters before finally getting damaged by ice and sinking off Greenland in 1943. A ship from the Schmidt Ocean Institute was testing its multibeam mapping echo sounders when it discovered the ship deep in the frigid waters.

The testing was being carried out in preparation for a undersea survey planned for next year. Who knows what else they’ll discover!

[Photo of Terra Nova expedition courtesy NOAA]

Terra Nova

Icy Antarctica: a hot spot for student travel

Antarctica whalesWatching whales leap out of the water is one of many opportunities travelers have when visiting Antarctica, as an increasing number of people worldwide are looking to explore the bottom of the earth. Student groups, individuals and families are frequently heading south on an Antarctica adventure that many only dreamed of just a few years ago.

Recently, a group of Michigan State University study abroad students on an expedition in Antarctica found their boat stuck on ice and stranded, but not for too long.

“We just enjoyed the scenery for a while,” sophomore Jennifer Campbell said. “About a half-hour later, I had taken probably 100 videos because about 100 whales were around our ship, teaching their young to hunt.”

The frozen tundra of Antarctica has become a hot spot for ecotourism, too. Thirteen MSU students participated in the expedition in Antarctica program a few months ago.

“Not any two people have the same short list of reasons for going – the love of adventure and (being) off the routine path of MSU are some reasons why,” said Michael Gottfried, an associate professor of geological sciences in a State News article.

But the increasing amount of travelers visiting the continent could have consequences. Students are told to wash their boots and not to take anything because it changes the environment.

“It is untouched; you can tell how things have changed after centuries of human progress,” sophomore Jennifer Campbell said. “If everyone wants a piece of it, it’ll be all gone.”

Although many nations conduct climate and other scientific research in Antarctica, the MSU trip isn’t based solely on science, Gottfried said. Students in dance, journalism, engineering and other majors have taken the trip not just to explore wildlife, but also to learn about the physical and biological aspects of the area.

“People underestimate the pristine quality of this beautiful place,” Campbell said.

Looking to travel to Antarctica? A number of travel companies are offering unique adventures:

  • National Geographic Expeditions does a 14- or 24-day Journey to Antarctica aboard the National Geographic Explorer that hits the Antarctic Peninsula and the surrounding islands and waterways.
  • Journeys International has a 12-day Active Antarctica Adventure that allows those along for the ride to test their endurance with an average of two, off-ship activities each day, including camping, kayaking, mountaineering and cross-country skiing while appreciating the penguins, whales and icy landscapes.
  • Abercrombie and Kent sails the whale-rich waters of the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula’s bleach-white, remote coastlines on a comprehensive expedition cruise that reveals the many faces of the world’s last frontier. This one lets us go behind the scenes of an environmental research station and chat with on-board experts nightly about the day’s discoveries.
  • Students On Ice is an award-winning organization offering expeditions to the Antarctic to provide students, educators and scientists from around the world with inspiring educational opportunities at the ends of the Earth.

This video gives us an idea of what Students On Ice is all about.




Flickr photo by Antarctica Bound

British woman completes solo traverse of Antarctica

Felicity Aston completes solo traverse of Antarctica British adventurer Felicity Aston completed her solo traverse of Antarctica yesterday, becoming the first person to accomplish that feat completely alone and under her own power. The journey took 59 days, and covered more than 1084 miles across the frozen continent.

We first told you about Felicity’s adventure back in November when she was still preparing to start the expedition, which began on the Ross Ice Shelf. Traveling on skis, and pulling a heavy sled filled with gear and supplies behind her, Aston first made her way across the Leverett Glacier and Transantarctic Mountain Range, arriving at the South Pole just a few days before Christmas. That stage of the journey covered 248 miles, and while 90ºS is traditionally the finish line for most polar explorers, for Felicity it wasn’t even the halfway point yet.

Over the course of the next few weeks, she battled a combination of high winds, bitterly cold temperatures, and blowing snow to make her way back to the coast. That leg of the journey covered another 835 miles, culminating with her arrival at Hercules Inlet yesterday. She spent one last night in Antarctica at that location before catching a ride aboard a transport plane headed back to Punta Arenas, Chile today.

Spending two months completely alone in the Antarctic, while struggling against the very harsh elements there, requires a lot of physical and mental strength. Aston has accomplished an amazing feat with this crossing of the continent and I salute her courage and sense of adventure.

[Photo credit: Associated Press]