What Are They Doing?
Erebus is the southernmost active volcano on Earth and the most active in Antarctica. The team from NM Tech worked at the summit of the volcano for over four weeks during the austral summer of 2008-09. Most of the team members undertook a major seismic experiment which imaged the conduit (pipe) which feeds molten magma to the permanent lake of lava in the crater of Erebus volcano. A second seismic experiment looked at the deeper crustal structure under the volcano to understand where the magma is generated. The team installed 100 seismometers to supplement 32 already installed on the volcano. Then they set off explosion at 14 sites on and around the volcano using dynamite and other materials to create seismic waves that were recorded by the seismometers. This allowed the team to cat-scan the inside of the volcano. They continued monitoring emissions of gases and aerosols and maintained instruments to monitor the weather and deformation of the volcano.
Where Are They?
The 11-person team lived and worked at the Mt. Erebus Volcano Observatory, a research station situated 3400 meters (12,451 ft) high near the summit crater of the volcano. They slept in tents in temperatures that reached as low as -40 F (-40 C) but had a 16 by 24 foot hut to live in and shelter from the stormy weather. Even in summer winds can be over 100 mph. Mount Erebus is located on Ross Island, which is also home to three inactive volcanoes (Bird, Terror, and Terra Nova) as well as McMurdo Station, the largest research station in Antarctica and the center of operations for the US Antarctic Program. Mount Erebus has a summit elevation of 3,794 meters (12,448 ft) and the rocks resemble those at the volcanoes Kilimanjaro and Kenya in East Africa. Erebus and the East African volcanoes are situated in places where the earth’s crust and tectonic plates are being pulled apart by forces creating rift valleys. The West Antarctic rift system is one of the major rifts in the world and home to many volcanoes although only a handful are currently active.
Philip Kyle has visited or worked on the active Erebus volcano in Antarctica for 36 field seasons starting in 1969. He is the director of the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory. Dr. Kyle is a Professor of Geochemistry in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, where his research interests include volcanology and petrology. Although he has spent many seasons in Antarctica, he has traveled around the world looking at numerous other active volcanoes especially those in Kamchatka in Far Eastern Russia. He was born in New Zealand but has been at NM Tech for over 27 years and has taken dozens of graduate students as well as teachers to Antarctica to do research projects on the volcanology of Erebus.