This week we have a special series of guest blogs by the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, David Huebner. Recently he took an incredibly trip to Antarctica and wrote all about it, and each day we will post another exciting entry! You can see the original post here.
The past five hours have been a slice of heaven. I’ve been sitting in the cockpit of the C-17 Globemaster soaring from Christchurch to McMurdo Station through largely cloudless skies. There simply are not superlatives sufficient to describe what has been passing beneath us. Rather than babble, I thought I’d just share a few of the sights I captured with my camera en route.
I knew we were close to the continent when I began to see swirls of huge ice blocks in the ocean several thousand feet beneath us.
We first crossed over land near Cape Adare, where Norwegian explorers Henrik Bull and Carsten Borchgrevink made the first documented landing on Antarctica, in January 1895.
We passed over several mountain ranges, with glaciers working their way downward among the peaks.
Where the glaciers meet the sea, ice shelves project out over the water. Large blocks of ice eventually break off and float slowly away from the shore.
Below is a closer look at a few of the ice blocks hiving off a glacier halfway between Cape Adare and Ross Island. Our pilot estimated that these blocks were approximately 300 feet (91 meters) high.
The ice sheets covering many of the bays and inlets we flew over had fractured or receded as usual during the austral summer, creating gloriously complex seascapes. Winter will roar back to the continent in March.
Although not as dramatic as some of the other sights, the ice fissures that seemed in places to extend to the inland horizon, as well as the geometic shapes formed as ice sheets cracked, created special beauty.
Unlike jagged Northern Hemisphere icebergs (formed by the fracturing of steep mountain glaciers), Southern Hemisphere icebergs are flat on top because they form from ice shelves which project out over the water laterally before they fracture.
Below is my favorite of the hundreds of bergs that I saw during the flight.
As Australian writer-entertainer Andrew Denton once said, “If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it.”
Whether it’s art, music, literature, nature’s reminder that it really does know best, or all of the above passing beneath us, I don’t want this intoxicating flight to end. I see Mount Erebus ahead, though, with steam drifting up from its volcanic crater.
That means we’re close to McMurdo Station and only a few minutes from starting our descent to the Ice. It’s time to don my ECW gear and wrestle with those big white boots. I’ll check back in once we’re on the ground and out of the cold.