“During the afternoon we were nearly becalmed, and witnessed some magnificent eruptions of Mount Erebus, the flame and smoke being projected to a greater height; but we could not, as on a former occasion, discover any lava issuing from the crater; although the exhibitions of to-day were upon a much grander scale…” –polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross, in A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions During the Years 1839-43
The world’s southernmost active volcano, Mount Erebus is perhaps the most alive of McMurdo’s landscape features. From a distance, it sometimes looks like an old white-haired man reclining with his head tilted back and cigar smoke puffing from his mouth. This is how I imagine it, at least, but Erebus does smoke, and he still sputters lava bombs (yes—he. Landscape features often seem to have a gender, and Erebus is most certainly male).
With gill-like crevasses opening on its sides, Erebus doesn’t simply look dangerous; the volcano has also proven to be a killer. When a 1979 New Zealand sightseeing flight carrying 257 people lost its bearings and slammed into its side, Erebus became the site of Antarctica’s most tragic plane crash.
With a summit elevation of around 12,450 feet, Erebus is the highest point on Ross Island and a topic of interest to several scientists here who keep close tabs on its rumblings. The National Science Foundation’s Antarctic publication, the Antarctic Sun, reported last week that Erebus erupted as much as six times a day in the second half of 2005. We’re not in danger of becoming the next Pompeii, however, as most of the eruptions are closer to a burp than a full-on spew.
Estimated to have been active for around 1.3 million years, Erebus doesn’t seem like the kind of volcano to cool off anytime soon. Named after one of the sons of the Greek god Chaos, Erebus will more likely keep living up to its name.