The Ross Sea and Victoria Land is one of the less-visited regions of Antarctica, but it is definitely one of the most fascinating. The shores along the frigid sea are scattered with historic huts left from century-old expeditions, and their windblown, lonely skeletons hold the stories of the legendary explorers that have been drawn to this frozen land for over a century.
Explorers of the Ice
The Ross Sea is one of the less-visited regions of Antarctica, but it is definitely one of the most fascinating. The shores along the frigid sea are scattered with historic huts left from century-old expeditions, and their windblown, lonely skeletons hold the stories of the legendary explorers that have been drawn to this frozen land for over a century.
In 1904, the Southern Cross expedition, headed by Captain Borchgrevnik landed at Cape Adare and constructed two wooden huts. Ten explorers spent a lonely Antarctic winter in them, accompanied by 90 dogs and with no other human habitation on the continent. The huts today reflect the difficult living situations: they are tiny, roughly constructed, and appear very chilly. A cruise stop here will reveal the ghostly huts surrounded by an Adelie penguin colony. The expedition biologist’s grave (who died during that winter) is still intact on a ridge above the huts.
The Northern Party Huts on Cape Adare are now nothing but ruins. Although they were built twelve year later, the eastern winds off the Cape have ravaged the main structure.
Cape Hallet hosted a research base later in the century; it was set up in 1957. 8,000 Adelie penguins were transported to another part of the Cape to make space for the construction, and after it fell into disuse 20 years later, the penguins have slowly made their way back.
If you’re looking for a semblance of something like civilization, the bases on Ross Island are it. New Zealand’s Scott Base is located there, as is the United States’ massive McMurdo Station, which accommodates up to 1,200 people. Aside from these industrial settlements, Ross Island is worth a visit to see the famous Robert Scott’s Discovery hut. Scott’s National Antarctic Expedition constructed the shelter in 1902. It was a pre-fabricated building built in Australia, and so it is surprisingly comfortable-looking. It was only used for supplies, however, as it was found too difficult to heat sufficiently. Scott’s hut from the Terra Nova expedition, on the other hand, is much more interesting. This was the explorer’s starting base for his famous South Pole journey, in which he was beaten to the Pole by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. There are still the white skeletons of dogs keeping watch outside the building, and the walls inside remain adorned with pony harnesses, heavy furniture, and sledging pennants.
Ross Sea and Victoria Land: Icy Geography
An expedition cruise to this region of Antarctica will reveal some incredible geographic features. For example, Victoria Land borders the Ross Ice Shelf, which is an astonishing 600 miles in length and 3,000 feet thick in places. The Ross Ice Shelf is the largest in the world.
An icebreaker cruise to Victoria Land would be incomplete without a stop to one of Antarctica’s few active volcanoes, Mount Melbourne, or to Terra Nova Bay with its beautiful ice caves.
The Dry Valleys are another spectacular stop to make on an Antarctic cruise. Incredibly, no rain has fallen in these valleys for over 2 million years, and possibly as long as 4 million years. These huge spaces are beautiful while being impossibly desolate. Because there is no precipitation, the valleys are free of ice and snow; ironically, such areas in Antarctica are known as oases. They were thought for decades to be lifeless, but scientists have recently discovered fungi, algae, and bacteria living inside the rocks.
The skyscraping Transantarctic Mountains also run through Victoria Land. This huge mountain range serves as the divider between east and west Antarctic; it is one of the longest mountain ranges on earth, running nearly 2,200 miles across the continent. It is 186 miles at its widest point, creating an awesome geological feature that can be seen from several points on the continent.
From Microflora to Megafauna
Although it qualifies as flora more than fauna, some life in Victoria Land is remarkable for its lichens and algae that actually live inside of rocks in the Dry Valley. These rocks are porous, and so these organisms can receive limited amounts of light, moisture, and carbon dioxide. The advantage is that the rock provides protection, and some of these plants are thought to be over 200,000 years old.
Ross Sea and Victoria Land are also home to the usual suspects of Antarctic wildlife. Different types of whales may be seen in the ocean, mostly farther out to see away from the pack ice that characterizes Ross Sea. Explorers will probably see seals closer to the shores, from fur seals and elephant seal to the elusive Ross seal. This solitary species has only been seen a handful of times, because it prefers to live in the heavy pack ice that it often inaccessible by humans.
If looking for penguins, travelers will most likely see Adelies on a cruise through the Ross Sea. Several colonies frequent the capes and Ross Island.