Ob Hill

Towering over McMurdo station lies Observation Hill. Named by Scott’s party, it was the viewpoint that the members that stayed on Ross Island would scale each day to peer out into the gloom to look for the faintest black dots on the horizon that may represent their returning interped companions.
On top, lies a cross erected in Scott and his fateful 1912 party member’s memory, remembering their heroic yet doomed expoits.
Observation hill still serves as a great place to admire the views. To the east rises the smoking top of Mt Erebus, the worlds most southern active Volcano. In the foreground is Castle Rock, a popular hike to do from McMurdo. To the South lies the Ross Ice Shelf, which is the biggest in the continent. Due south points towards Black Island, near where Pegasus Runway lies. A ‘bue ice’ runway, it has been had the top layers removed so that just the hard compressed blue ice remains. It is only active in the start and normally the end (although not this year) of the season, and is capable of taking heavy wheeled aircraft such as the C-17 Globemasters. The runway was named after an aircraft that crashed there in the 1970s. However, the dust from Black Island apparently has been settling on the runway causing it to melt and make upkeep very problematic. Therefore, work is underway to make another blue ice runway at ‘alpha site’, in between Willy Field and Pegasus.
To the west of Ob Hill, lies the juntion of the ice sheet and the sea ice, and beyond that, the western border of the Ross Sea. Shrouded in the Admiralty Mountains is the worlds driest land, the Dry Valleys, including the Wright Dry Valley, which unfortunately is not named after anyone that I can trace heritage to. We had some fanstastic talks about the microoranisms that can survive the varibale conditions in these areas, and the major effect that climate change is having on the numbers. A term which I was only recently made aware of, is polar amplification, where the effects of climate change are far more pronounced in the Polar regions, than at more temperate latitude.
On the flank of Ob Hill is an intersting historical remnant. In the 1960, the US Navy built a Nuclear Reactor to power the station. ‘Nukey Poo’ (named after its initials NNPU) only remained in active duty for 10 years before being shut down, apparently due to concern of high level of radiation in McMurdo. Upon decommissioning the plant, they found that in fact, the high level of radioation was just the background radiation. Being raised in a nuclear free country, where nuclear power and weapons are portrayed as the devil incarnate, I vividly remember learning about there being a nuclear power plant in Antarctica in forth form social studies. The juxtaposition of the ability to wreck such environmental damage on such a pristine environment seemed so wrong. Initially the brainchild of Eisenhower’s 1950s ‘Atoms for Peace’ plan to use nuclear power for civilian use, it was dogged by problems its whole life. Sure enough, the power plant proved too expensive and difficult to run, and was subsequently decomissioned, taken off the continenet, and years later, 11,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil were removed also.

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