The South Pole, Mount Erebus
Weird Creatures in Sub-Zero Environments
Journeying further South the fragmenting ice is replaced by a permanent sheet that doesn't melt even at the height of summer.
It's a barrier that many creatures find impassable. It repels even powerful minke whales. They have to turn back if they can no
longer reach the air needed to breath.
Under the ice, life has to be extremely specialised to survive. Few of us will ever experience this strange world and, as yet, no one knows much
about it. The crystalline surface of the ice stalactites provides a home for ice fish who's bodies are filled with antifreeze.
The ceiling of ice shields those living below it from the violent polar weather that rages above. Little here has changed for millions of years.
The cold allows animals to grow very slowly and become giants. A relative of the wood-louse, is the size of a dinner plate. And this so-called sea spider
has legs that span half a metre.
A Relative of the Wood-Louse
On land, smoking towers are the gateway to a network of caves. Each contains an extraordinary assembly of ice crystals, unlike any other on Earth.
Like snowflakes, every crystal is unique. Some are taller than a man. Others are thought to harbour life seeded by bacteria that thrive in these extreme
conditions. The breeze that gently sways these crystals, is responsible for making them. It's steam from the molten heart of Mount Erebus, the most
southerly volcano on our planet. It's now thought that the ice caves fringing this crater could be home to, hitherto, unknown life forms.
From this oasis of warmth at the edge of the continent our journey continues inland towards the South Pole..
The first hurdle is the formidable transatlantic mountain range. We are following the route taken by Scott and Amundsen as they struggled to become
the first humans to reach the South Pole. They were travelling on foot and their first sight of these mountains must have been daunting indeed. In front
of them, stretched one of the world's longest ranges, spanning 2000 miles from one side of the continent to the other.
The winds up here, are the fastest on Earth. They reach speeds of 200 mph. An ice-capped mountain bears the scars of the gales, bizarre sculptures
carved through solid ice. It's not only the ice that yields, this sculpture expire is the remnant of a mountain, eroded from all sides by the ferocious
Beyond, is a wholly unexpected landscape, dry valleys. Only 1% of Antarctica is free of ice and most of that bare rock is here. The dry valleys are
more like the surface of Mars than is any other place on Earth. The floor is covered with extraordinary natural sculptures, created by the same winds
that helped to keep these valleys free of snow.
Over time, entire boulders are eroded, from the inside out, until just a shell remains. At the head of these valleys, ice is making a breakthrough.
Millions of tonnes are tumbling, in slow motion, into the valley. These ice-blocks are the size of skyscrapers, and this is the Beardmore Glacier which
Scott and his men somehow traversed on foot. It's over 100 miles long and one of the largest glaciers on Earth.
But, nothing could have prepared those early explorers for what they were about to encounter. The Antarctic ice cap, the largest expanse of ice on the
planet. It's 3 miles thick in places and imprisons 70% of the world's fresh water. From here to the South Pole, 700 miles away, there is nothing but ice.