Solid Water Liquid Rock

Ice and fire meet dramatically on the world’s southern most volcano – Antarctica’s Mount Erebus.

This film is an adventurous journey from the base of the volcano 300m below the sea ice to inside the erupting crater 3500m above sea level as explore the nature of this most extreme landscape, revealed as never before.

Produced by NHNZ

This is a profile of the world’s southern-most volcano – Antarctica’s Mount Erebus – whose volcano fire has burst into a world of ice.

As the film journeys from the volcano’s base to its summit, we will compare the formation of ice crystals from water and snow with the formation of crystalline rock for lava.

We start 1,500 feet underwater, where the previously unseen sea floor will be revealed by TVNZ’s Remote Operated Vehicle. There should be a covering of fine volcanic sediment carried off Erebus by glaciers, and there will be strange creatures, including giant sponges, giant sea-spiders, and fish which use anti-freeze to survive in the sub-zero water.

We ascend alongside the Erebus Glacier Tongue, a 12km long 300m thick mass of floating ice that spills from Ross Island.

Shallower still, anchor ice forms on the sea floor and platelet ice forms under the solid sea-ice-and Weddell seals dive amidst this surreal icescape. They are maybe the most remarkable animals living on this icy volcano, but on the surface are breeding colonies of Adelie penguins, and scavenging skuas.

We trek to the summit at 12,500 feet. Because the atmosphere is thinner near the South Pole it is like breathing the air on a 15,000 feet mountain – difficult. Anytime the temperature rises to minus 30 degrees Celsius it is a warm day.

Yet there is life. The volcanic fire has warmed and exposed some areas, and growing here is a species of mass normally found only in warm climates. Nearby, weird chimneys of ice have formed from the steam escaping from fumaroles. Lava bombs can be found – reminders of a constant hazard.

The crowning glory of Erebus is its convecting lava lake – one of only a few in the world. Erebus is also one of the few volcanoes which have broken through the middle of a continental plate. Volcanologists make regular pilgrimages to Erebus because it yields valuable knowledge about our earth’s molten centre.

However, no one can stay on the summit for long because of the difficulty of working in the cold and thin air, and because of the constant danger of eruption. We must retire a safe distance to watch the on-going process of land building by fire-rock and water-rock.

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