National Geographic : 2012 Jul
• electronic music and an interest in astrobiology, the study of what life elsewhere in the universe might be like. He's a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Waikato in New Zealand and the junior member of a team of three who have come here to look for life in the volcano's hot soils. at's right. He's come to one of the cold- est places on Earth to look for beings that thrive in heat. Mount Erebus is the most southerly active volcano on the planet. It began to form about 1.3 million years ago and now stands 12,448 feet above sea level. Its slopes are covered with snow and ice, glaciers, crevasses, and the occasional lava ow, but steam usually rises from its sum- mit, betraying the heat within. If Erebus were a dessert, it would be a reverse baked Alaska--- frozen on the outside, hot in the middle. It was discovered in 1841 during an expedi- tion led by Sir James Clark Ross, who named it a er one of his ships, the H.M.S. Erebus, which had in turn been named a er the Greek god of primeval darkness. (Ross's other ship, the H.M.S. Te r r o r, gave its name to a smaller, ex- tinct volcano that stands next to Erebus.) But no one reached the summit until 1908, when the mountain was climbed by members of Sir Ernest Shackleton's Nimrod expedition---the expedition on which Shackleton led a team to within a hun- dred nautical miles of the South Pole but turned back so as to get everyone home alive. Shackleton's party hiked up Erebus. It took them ve and a half days to get to the top, an undertaking that included a blizzard that kept them in their sleeping bags for more than 24 hours with nothing to drink, exposed them to temperatures of minus 30°F, caused one man to collapse with exhaustion, and gave another such an extreme case of frostbite that he ultimately lost a big toe. Our journey was less arduous: We went by helicopter. . There were the aforemen- tioned Herbold and the two senior members of his research team: Craig Cary, a amboyant American, and Ian McDonald, an understated The scene: a tent on Mount By Olivia Judson Photographs by Carsten Peter Erebus, an active volcano on Ross Island, Ant- arctica. e tent is a four-cornered tepee mod- eled a er those that Captain Robert Falcon Scott brought with him on his Antarctic expeditions more than a century ago. It is high enough at the center for someone ve feet ve inches tall to stand erect and has two vents at the peak that serve as chimneys. is particular tent is occupied by two people; both are in sleeping bags. Between the sleeping bags are a large box, a Primus stove, a couple of thermoses, and two pairs of heavy boots. It is too cold to read; even with gloves on, it is too cold to hold a book. us the inmates---of whom I am one---are passing the time by talking. "What are your favorite microbes?" I say, dust- ing ice o my sleeping bag. "It's got to be those funky archaea," says my companion, Craig Herbold, a large, thirty- something American with a taste for Japanese Olivia Judson is the author of Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation. is is her rst story for National Geographic. Carsten Peter's last story was on Australian slot canyons, in October 2011.