GOLF 4-3-9 Antarctica Expedition 2008
Report Day 38 -- Wednesday 03 December 2008 -- Exploring Ice Caves

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"Thunderclouds" in Harry's Dream

The last and a most exciting task of our field season was to explore some ice caves for our exposure experiments. Ice caves form when steam or other hydrothermal gases rise from within Erebus volcano and melt the ice or snow that lies on top. As they these warm gases "drill" through the ice cover they take up moisture that immediately freezes out when it reaches the cold surface temperatures of the ice which makes them form spectacular chimney structures that often prominently vent steam. When getting close to them, it is important to watch for collapse structures, where the melting of the snow or ice has caused some of the ice- or snow roofs to collapse. Those collapse features are recognizable by the irregular depressions in the snow near the chimneys or vents.

Entering these caves can be simple or a technical ice climbing/repelling job. In some cases you just lower the ladder in climb down and you are ready to explore. In other cases (New Year Cave), these holes open into a cavern that may up to 25 meters tall and this is not doable with a ladder, and you have to repel into them.

Ice Tower

The inside of the caves is very exciting, they can have any form, from large caverns to small tunnels. The roofs can be visually impressive or even magical: the overlying ice may be bright blue or it can have any shade of white from black or very dim light to bright white, almost like thunderclouds. When you see the bright white patches, you wonder what happens when you ride your skidoo over them.

Since we lost so much time during our Fang storm, we had relatively little time to explore, but we did find two caves that gave us the experiment conditions we wanted (dark, moist). Most of the caves have been named, and the ones we used for our experiments are "Harry’s Dream" and the "Warren Cave". Our picture gallery also includes the hut cave (near Lower Erebus Hut).

Hubert Staudigel (Hotel Sierra) and Laurie Connell (Lima Charlie a.k.a. Loco Coco) from McMurdo Station
3 December, 2008

GOLF 4-3-9 Antarctica Expedition