In 1841 on expedition to determine the location of the South magnetic pole, James Clark Ross, leader of the Royal Navy, and his team discovered one of the largest ice shelves in the world. Ice shelves are thick plates of ice that are continually formed by glaciers.
The Ross Ice Shelf is hundreds of feet thick with nearly 400 miles of vertical ice front facing the open sea. Towering ice cliffs rise 50-150 feet above the oceans surface, allowing 90% of the ice to hide under the sea. Since it’s discovery, the ice shelf has been used as a place for exploration, science, housing field camps, and air-fields.
Without getting “all technical and sciencey and mumbo jumbo like” Dan Schefflin explains the Ramen effect and why the Antarctic glacier ice is so blue. The light from the sun contains all the colors of the spectrum, and when that light hits hydrogen molecules, the ice absorbs all the colors of light expect blue.
The glacier does not reflect the blue sky; it absorbs and washes out all the other colors of light. Glaciers appear to be more blue on a cloudy day because the hydrogen molecules in the clouds have already washed out a lot of that color. “You can only start to see that color blue after you have about a meter of ice, because in reality ice is clear- BOOM Science! The Ramen effect.” Thank you Dan.
The next time Crayola is seeking out a new crayon color I would like to suggest Antarctic Blue.
Amongst the blue of the Ross Ice Shelf, off the shore of New Zealand’s Scott base research station...
... and just down the road from America’s McMurdo Station is a pressure ridge field.
Pressure ridges are the linear build up of sea-ice fragments. They look like Mother Nature -- the sun, the tides, and the winds --- has created a living garden of ice, glowing in various shades of Antarctic blues. The pressure ridges hold shapes and colors not seen many other places on Earth.
Wandering within the pressure ridges in views of Mt. Erebus (the southern most volcano in the world, which was named after one of the ships on Ross’s Antarctic Expedition) makes me feel as if I’m in a living art museum with constantly changing ice sculptures, all created by the sea ice pressing against the Ross Ice Shelf.
Scattered within the pressure ridges lives a large colony of Weddell seals. The mammal can weigh up to 1,200 pounds and live close to 30 years in the wild. The southernmost seal in the world spends much of its time below the Antarctic ice, diving up to 2,000 feet below the surface, capable of holding its breath up to 45 minutes. The seals are commonly found within a few miles of where they were born.
Who could blame them? With few predators and the breath taking beauty of the Antarctic, why move? If you ever find yourself near the Ross Ice Shelf, I highly suggest grabbing your ice ax and warmest jacket and taking a walk through the pressure ridges on the Ross Ice Shelf and one of my favorite spots on Earth: Mother Nature's ice garden.