Terror Rift is a real place.
The earth bears witness to a past torture by outside forces from space. It faces significant danger from beneath, as well, from volcanic activity. Most of us are familiar with the newsworthy eruptions happening around the world. Fewer imagine the witches’ brew that simmers beneath Antarctica’s frigid exterior.
Mt. Erebus is a stratovolcano with the distinction of being the southernmost active volcano in the world. It was actively erupting when it was discovered January 27, 1841, by Sir James Clark Ross, the polar explorer for whom Ross Island is also named. Ross named this volcano and Mount Terror after his two ships. In Greek mythology, Erebus is a region of Hades, personified as the deity of darkness and the son of the Greek god Chaos.
Erebus sports a deceptively placid, snowy coat.
It is one of the world’s volcanoes classified as being in a state of continuous eruption. It has been active continuously since 1972.
At 12,448 feet, Mt. Erebus is the second highest mountain in Antarctica, after Mt. Sidley. It is considered one of the Volcanic Seven Second Summits, a listing of the second highest volcanic summits on each continent by elevation above sea level. Erebus shares Ross Island with three other volcanoes: Mt. Terror, Mt. Bird, and Mt. Terra Nova. It lies in Terror Rift, where the earth’s crust has been thinned by stretching.
Erebus features a 1,700-degree Fahrenheit boiling lava lake and is one of only five such lava lakes in the world. It never lies dormant; its lake is always bubbling; it’s always belching fumes, regularly spitting up explosive volcanic bombs from its crater.
Its slopes were first ascended to the summit crater rim in 1908 by members of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s group during the Nimrod Expedition.
No deaths have been reported on the volcano, but gas geochemist Werner Giggenbach burnt his socks when they were torched in a small explosion on Erebus.
The Mt. Erebus disaster of 1979
Erebus was the site of the tragic crash of an Air New Zealand DC-10 airliner taking tourists on a sightseeing tour on November 28, 1979. All 237 passengers and twenty crew members died in the crash. The famous explorer Sir Edmund Hillary just missed becoming one more tragic statistic. He had planned to be on the flight but decided to cancel.
Investigators into the crash concluded the pilots of the New Zealand airliner were briefed on a different flight plan than the one entered into the plane’s computer. They also flew the plane at a lower-than-recommended altitude to give the passengers a better view. They apparently became disoriented by a whiteout (“flat-light” phenomenon) and flew the plane directly into the ground.
Controversy engulfed the investigation of the disaster for years and finally resulted in the admission of culpability by the airline, not for the accident itself but for its actions afterward. It would be the last Antarctic excursion for that airline. Wreckage from the crash can still be observed during the austral season.
Danger lurking beneath the ice.
It took an undergraduate geology student at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland to bring the dangers lurking beneath Antarctica’s surface into sharper focus. Max Van Wyk de Vries, curious about what lay beneath the ice, began studying the data describing the geography below Antarctica.
He discovered many cones typical of volcanoes, ninety-one of them, in fact. Because their cones are intact, they are believed to be active. Inactive or dead volcanoes feature eroded cones. The cones of active volcanoes are constantly rebuilt.
Geologists at his school affirmed his findings. Some of the volcanoes are large, up to 3,280 feet high and at least a dozen miles across. His discovery of that many new volcanoes came as a surprise to the scientific community, since most research in Antarctica is conducted on the surface of the continent.
Photo ID 95734342 | © Martyn Unsworth | Dreamstime.com
Photo ID 243267627 | © Martyn Unsworth| Dreamstime.com