Erebus Volcano Antarctica

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.

Expedition Map


After a short stay in New Zealand, and meeting some very interesting people, I have endured the long flight back to California. It was great to come back to school to a warm welcome. I cannot thank Mrs. Waters enough for taking such good care of everything! Coming back to school was wonderful! The students learned a lot from the journal entries and the questions they asked. While in Christchurch, I had the pleasure of spending time with Mr. Art Brown, the NSF Representative, who extended an invitation for dinner along with the former president of Slovakia, Rudolf Schuster. President...
Our project is in the final stages. We have completed the seismic experiment and are now in the process of collecting and packing all of the seismometers for return to New Mexico Tech. Two of the largest factors that we were afraid may work against us this season turned out to be non-problems. The weather was the first concern. Last year the group encountered high winds and low temperatures, which made the work much harder and it took much longer. This year we have enjoyed good weather. Even though the average temperature around the hut was -20 degrees C, the winds stayed fairly calm....
Dr. Clive Oppenheimer has been sampling the gases from the volcano and among other observations, he has been using a thermalimaging camera to collect data on the surface temperatures of the lake itself. We have taken some of the images and put them together in a short movie. The movie shows images that were taken 10 seconds apart. The surface of the lake shows a constant flow of convection with the hotter, lighter colored material rising to the top. This material then cools and becomes darker in color and then sinks back down in to the lake. About half way through the movie there is a de-...
While we have been working on our seismic experiment, we have taken a few hours to explore some of the fantastic landscape and features on the volcano. Some of the more interesting and beautiful features that we see from time to time are the ice towers. Some towers get very tall! Ice towers come in all shapes and sizes. The ice towers are beautiful tall structures that are formed over fumaroles. These are vents coming from the ground in which heated gases and water vapor are released. As the gases escape from the ground and hit the cold air, the water vapor cools and freezes around...
Mt. Erebus is unique in being the world's southern most active volcano. What also makes this volcano special is the long lived lava lake that has been in the crater ever since people have been looking there, and probably much longer. The lava lake in Mt. Erebus is similar to only two other volcanoes on earth, Nyiragongo, in the Congo and Erta'Ale, in Ethiopia. But the formation of the crystals on Erebus is similar to only a couple other volcanoes, including Mt. Kenya. And to make it even more confusing, Erebus has a composition of lava that is similar to one of the deadliest volcanoes on...

Project Information

Dates: 21 November 2008 to 10 January 2009
Location: Mount Erebus, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory II (MEVO II): Surveillance, Models, Impacts and Outreach

Meet the Team

John Wood's picture
Talbert Middle School
Huntington Beach, CA
United States

John Wood teaches middle school science at Talbert Middle School in Fountain Valley, California. I am so happy and proud of our district and students. I have been given the opportunity to visit and speak at every school in our district and I continue to be amazed at the positive response from the kids! They are excited to learn about the polar regions and the science that is being conducted there. I feel it is critical to our future that these children become motivated in understanding how the world works and the challenges they will face in the near future. The students have the imaginations and the energy needed to tackle STEM issues in an ever shrinking world. My goal is to connect my district and community with the current issues in cryosphere research that already affects us all.

Being able to teach children current, real-life science and make those connections between education and research has been a wonderful experience for me. By sharing the Erebus expedition while actually living and working on an active volcano has excited my teaching and my students. And then being fortunate enough to skype with students from the IPY Oslo Conference the following year really started a continuous dialog around our community that I am working to expand.

When I'm not teaching, I enjoy competing in triathlons and marathons and spending time with my wife and two daughters.

Phillip Kyle's picture
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
Socorro, NM
United States

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.