Ross Island, Antarctica

Photo: Tas50 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The season is changing. Ice cream shops are closing. Summer homes are being boarded up. Huge flocks of birds are starting to fly south. Plus the sun is setting earlier and earlier each night. At least in the Northern Hemisphere. The reverse is happening below the equator, where spring is about to arrive. That means travel to Antarctica is just around the corner.

Many researchers and scientists are anxious for favorable conditions, so they can safely travel to Ross Island. The island is home to two major research facilities, McMurdo Station and Scott Base, operated by the United States and New Zealand, respectively. McMurdo Station is famous for its polar diving operations. Wind energy is being studied at Scott Base. More than 1,300 experts descend on the island during the summer months.

Ross Island is one of eight islands in the Ross Archipelago, which sits off the coast of Victoria Land in McMurdo Sound. The island was formed by four volcanoes. After Sir James Clark Ross discovered it in 1840, it became a base for early Antarctic expeditions. Huts from this time period still stand on the island today. Most of the year, an ice shelf connects Ross Island—and the other islands in the archipelago—to the mainland. Only the peaks of the volcanoes are free of ice and snow. So, as the temperature inches closer to the freezing point, activity increases on the island.

In addition to the research stations, Ross Island is known for its superlatives. It’s the southernmost island and the sixth-highest island on Earth. It was formed by Mount Erebus, the second-highest volcano on Antarctica and the southernmost active volcano in the world. The volcano is no doubt smoking right now. It’s also home to Cape Royds, one of the largest colonies (about a half million) of Adélie penguins, which are about to start breeding. No wonder the excitement is building in the Southern Hemisphere.

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