Written 27 Dec 2007
3672 meters above sea level
Maximum & Minimum temperatures: - 25 to -37 °C
One of the more common questions we get is if we don't get tired of looking at the same unchanging scenery day after day, the same endless and level whiteness? No, we don't.
One reason is that studying subtle differences in the snow surface is one of our reasons for being here in the first place. But there is more to the snow than just crystal size, permeability and density. The surface is carved and shaped by relentless and ever changing winds, and takes on an immense variety in its finer details. Snow dunes, drifts and sastrugi show all kinds of shapes — and though they do form in recognizable patterns, they are never the same. There are wispy drifts, hollow patterns almost like woodcarvings, sastrugi formed like swans' necks and colibris' beaks, patchworks of dunes, interlocking layers and quilts. Here's a snake weaving its way to nowhere, and there's a crocodile raising its neck in attack. On the surface there are finely carved shapes and patterns, and suddenly the side of a sastruga appears covered in the finest of lace, formed by delicate ice crystals jutting out like fantail feathers.
Even on the larger scale there is infinite variety. The Plateau itself is horizontal and white, and it is easy to believe that that's all there is to it. But subtle differences in topography and aspect create variety where none is expected. Drifting snows, changing sunlight, passing mists, reflections from diamond dust and high clouds - the boundless variety of the sky is mirrored in the snow surface, and thus landscape is created where none exists. One day we can be led to believe that we are driving along a hillside for the entire day, even though the snow sheet is completely level. Another day we pass across hills and valleys, and yet another it is an ever changing jumble of mounds and hollows, ridges and depressions, plains and moors — and even the odd swamp on a cloudy day.
Add to this the reflections and ideas provoked by a good audiobook, music, a conversation, or indeed by the scenery itself, and you have more than enough to keep the thoughts flying for small trip of 2700 km. The Antarctic Plateau may indeed appear endless - but so is the scope it offers for imagination.
Image caption: Good surf on the Plateau? Or a Komodo Dragon fleeing our camp? What forces moulded this strange shape that is heading into the wind? (Photo: Stein Tronstad)
This contribution is from the log of the Norwegian-US Scientific Traverse team, who are en route from Troll Station to South Pole Station. Much more information can be found here.
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Saturday, 29 December 2007 22:04
Norway-US Traverse FAQ: Is the Plateau boring?Written by US-Norway Traverse
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