Jul. 18, 2012

Ira on 'The Ice'

by Ira Flatow

Click to enlarge images
Antarctica changed my life. You don't just visit Antarctica, you experience it. And that experience--from the grandeur of its active volcano (Mt. Erebus) puffing steam each day, to the high desert plateau of the South Pole, to the icy blue glaciers--influences how I see and interact with the world even 33 years after having trodded "the ice" in 1979. 
Because we're featuring Antarctica on our website this week, and on Friday we'll getting an update from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) meeting, I thought I'd share with you some of the photos from my trip.
I'm kneeling by a crack in the sea ice that surrounds Ross Island, on the coast. The ice is about 10 feet thick, most of it submerged. You can see Weddell seals, which have flopped out of the watery crack to sunbathe. A small glacier is at my back. 
This shot was taken at the South Pole, the coldest spot I visted, about -40F on that day. (Otto Knauth, of the Des Moines Register who took this photo, said "This is cold? Just a typical winter day in Iowa!") As you can see, one's breath quickly freezes to the face. And I quickly learned how to be extra careful in the cold. My first lesson was when I stuck my spiral note pad in my mouth, and the metal spirals froze to my lips.  
The highlight of the trip: the South Pole. There really is a Geograhic south "pole," stuck into the ice that is 9,000 feet deep! The ice is constantly moving, heading north (everywhere is north) as it "flows" towards the seas. So the wooden pole has be continually repositioned to remain at 90 degrees South. Far in the background, you can see the old Amundsen-Scott South Pole station. It was new when I got there. It has since been replaced, now decades later. 
Despite all the snow and ice, the pole is really a desert. Snow falls, about two inches per year. Winds of up to one hundred miles per hour blow it around, piling it  up on anything in its way. As one scientist told me, "It never snows, only blows."
About Ira Flatow

Ira is the host and executive producer of Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.