Friday, August 26, 2011

Dome A summit of the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet

Dome A or Dome Argus (80°22′S 77°21′E / 80.367°S 77.35°E / -80.367; 77.35Coordinates: 80°22′S 77°21′E / 80.367°S 77.35°E / -80.367; 77.35) is an Antarctican plateau located 1200 kilometres inland. It is thought to be one of the coldest naturally occurring places on Earth, with temperatures believed to get close to −90 °C (−130 °F). It is the highest ice feature in Antarctica, comprising a dome or eminence of 4,093 meters elevation above sea level. It is located in the Australian Antarctic Territory, near the center of East Antarctica, and approximately midway between the head of Lambert Glacier and the South Pole. As a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty, Australia does not exercise sovereignty over Dome A.


Dome Argus is the summit of the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet, and is not really a mountain in the conventional sense of the word (though it should be pointed out that there is no international consensus on the exact definition of a mountain). However, the East Antarctic Ice Cap is itself considered to be part of the East Antarctica Ranges, and therefore Dome Argus is considered to be the highest point in the East Antarctica Ranges. Dome A is a plain and the elevation visually is not noticeable. Below Dome A underneath at least 2400 meters thickness of ice sheet is the Gamburtsev Mountain Range.

The name "Dome Argus" was given by the Scott Polar Research Institute from Greek mythology; Argus built the ship in which Jason and the Argonauts traveled.

This site is one of the driest locations on Earth and receives 1 – 3 cm of snow per year. Due to this, as well as calm weather, this site is an excellent location to obtain ice core samples for the research of climates in the past. Temperatures at Dome A fall below -80°C almost every winter, while in summer it rarely exceeds -10°C.


Details of the morphology of this feature were determined by the SPRI-NSF-TUD airborne radio echo sounding program between the years 1967 and 1979.

In January 2005 a team from the Chinese National Antarctic Research Expeditions (CHINARE) traversed 1228 km from Zhongshan Station to Dome A and located the highest point of the ice sheet (4093 m above sea level) by GPS survey at 80°22’S 77°21’E on Jan 18. This point is near one end of an elongate ridge (about 60 km long and 10 km wide) which is a major ice divide and has an elevation difference along its length of only a few metres. An automatic weather station (AWS) was deployed at Dome A, and a second station was installed approximately half way between the summit and the coast at a site called Eagle (76°25'S, 77°01'E, 2830 m above sea level). These AWS are operated as part of an ongoing collaboration between China and Australia which also includes a third AWS (LGB69) at 70°50'S, 77°04'E, 1854 m above sea level which has operated since January 2002. Station at Dome A is powered by solar cells and diesel fuel and requires yearly service and refuelling.

The coldest air temperature recorded at Dome A since January 2005 thus far (28 September 2010) was in July 2005: -82.5°C. The lowest air temperature (-89.2°C) at the surface of the earth was recorded in July 1983 at Vostok, which is almost 600 m lower in elevation than Dome A. Analysis of satellite data and atmospheric models shows that the Ridge A which is located 144 km south-east from Dome A is potentially even better location to look for lowest temperatures on Earth.


The Polar Research Institute of China deployed a robotic observatory called PLATO (PLATeau Observatory) on the dome in January 2008. PLATO was designed and built by the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia to provide a platform from which astronomical observations and site-testing could be conducted. Various institutions from Australia, US, China and the UK provided instruments that were deployed with PLATO, these instruments included CSTAR, Gattini, PreHEAT, Snodar, Nigel and the PLATO web cameras.

The Institute of Remote Sensing Applications, Chinese Academy of Sciences established a wireless network technology based observation system called DomeA-WSN on the dome in January 2008.

The Kunlun Station, China's third Station in Antarctica, was set up at the dome on January 27, 2009.[6] Thus far station is suitable as summer station but it is planned to develop it further and build an airfield next to it to ease servicing of Antarctic Kunlun Station, as it is not reachable by helicopters.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ascent of Mount Sinai

There are two principal routes to the summit. The longer and shallower route, Siket El Bashait, takes about 2.5 hours on foot, though camels can be used. The steeper, more direct route (Siket Sayidna Musa) is up the 3,750 "steps of penitence" in the ravine behind the monastery.


The summit of the mountain has a mosque that is still prayed in by Muslims today, and a Greek Orthodox chapel, constructed in 1934 on the ruins of a 16th century church, that is not open to the public. The chapel supposedly encloses the rock from which God made the Tablets of the Law. At the summit also is "Moses' cave", where Moses waited to receive the Ten Commandments.

St. Catherine's Monastery in Mount Sinai

Lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of an inaccessible gorge at the foot of modern Mount Sinai in St. Catherine city in Egypt at an elevation of 1550 meters. The monastery is Greek Orthodox and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the UNESCO report (60100 ha / Ref: 954) and website hereunder, this monastery has been called the oldest working Christian monastery in the world – although the Monastery of Saint Anthony, situated across the Red Sea in the desert south of Cairo, also lays claim to that title.

Discovery of ancient unknown script – Caucasian Albanian

A devastating fire in 1971 at St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai led to the discovery of 1100 manuscripts that had been kept in a crypt below the chapel floor but which had been totally forgotten until they were accidentally discovered during reconstruction of the chapel in 1975. The most significant discovery was a palimpsest manuscript which had Georgian script on the visible layer but an unknown script, which was barely visible on the underlying layer and which turned out to be an ancient Caucasian Albanian text.

In 1990, Dr. Zaza Aleksidze, Director of the Center for Manuscripts in Tbilisi, Georgia, discovered the unknown script. In 1996, he identified it as Caucasian Albanian, a script which has 52 letters based on Georgian, Ethiopian, and Armenian alphabets. The script described a language in the Caucasus that was the ancestor to the language spoken by the present-day Udis, who live in three villages in Azerbaijan and Georgia.

In 2001, Aleksidze was able to decipher his first word – "Thesalonike," referring to passages in the New Testament that St. Paul addressed to the Thessalonians. and he later identified the text of some 300 pages as one of the earliest existing Lectionaries in the Christian religion (5th–6th centuries).

Religious significance of Mount Sinai

The biblical Mount Sinai was one of the most important sacred places in the Abrahamic religions.

According to Bedouin tradition, it was the mountain where God gave laws to the Israelites. However, the earliest Christian traditions place this event at the nearby Mount Serbal, at the foot of which a monastery was founded in the 4th century; it was only in the 6th century that the monastery moved to the foot of Mount Catherine, following the guidance of Josephus's earlier claim that Sinai was the highest mountain in the area. Jebel Musa, which is adjacent to Mount Catherine, was equated with Sinai, by Christians, only after the 15th century.

Christian orthodoxies settled upon this mountain in the third century, Georgians from the Caucasus moved to the Sinai Peninsula in the fifth century, and a Georgian colony was formed there in the ninth century. Georgians erected their own temples in the area of the modern Mount Sinai. The construction of one such temple was connected with the name of David The Builder, who contributed to the erecting of temples in Georgia and abroad as well. There were political, cultural and religious motives for locating the temple on Mount Sinai. Georgian monks living there were deeply connected with their motherland. The temple had its own plots in Kartli. Some of the Georgian manuscripts of Sinai remain there, but others are kept in Tbilisi, St. Petersburg, Prague, New York, Paris and in private collections.

Many modern biblical scholars now believe that the Israelites would have crossed the Sinai peninsula in a direct route, rather than detouring to the southern tip (assuming that they did not cross the eastern branch of the Red Sea/Reed Sea in boats or on a sandbar), and therefore look for the biblical Mount Sinai elsewhere.

The Song of Deborah, which textual scholars consider to be one of the oldest parts of the bible, suggests that Yahweh dwelt at Mount Seir, so many scholars favour a location in Nabatea (modern Arabia). Alternatively, the biblical descriptions of Sinai can be interpreted as describing a volcano, and so a small number of scholars have considered equating Sinai with locations in northwestern Saudi Arabia; there are no volcanoes in the Sinai Peninsula.

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb, Mount Musa, Gabal Musa (Egyptian Arabic), Jabal Musa (standard Arabic) meaning "Moses' Mountain", is a mountain near Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. A mountain called Mount Sinai is mentioned many times in the Book of Exodus in the Torah and the Bible as well as the Quran. According to Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition, the biblical Mount Sinai was the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments.


Mount Sinai is a 2,285-metre (7,497 ft) high mountain near Saint Catherine in the Sinai region. It is next to Mount St. Catherine (at 2,629 m/8,625 ft, the tallest peak on the Sinai peninsula). It is surrounded on all sides by higher peaks of the mountain range.


Mount Sinai's rocks were formed in the late stage of the Arabian-Nubian Shield's (ANS) evolution. Mount Sinai displays a ring complex that consists of alkaline granites intruded into diverse rock types, including volcanics. The granites range in composition from syenogranite to alkali feldspar granite. The volcanic rocks are alkaline to peralkaline and they are represented by subaerial flows and eruptions and subvolcanic porphyry. Generally, the nature of the exposed rocks in Mount Sinai indicates that they originated from different depths.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fauna of Table Mountain

Larger predators that historically roamed the area include the Cape Lion, leopard (which persisted as late as the 1920s, and tracks are claimed to still be found today), as well as spotted hyena and black-backed jackal. Large herbivores similarly disappeared at the hands of the European settlers, for example African Bush Elephant, black rhinoceros, kudu, eland, mountain zebra and bontebok, although the last three species were re-introduced to the Cape Point section of the park.

Smaller mammals are still found in the park: caracal, rock hyrax and a variety of small antelope species, such as the Cape Grysbok and notably the recently re-introduced klipspringer.

The population of the alien Himalayan Tahr originated from a pair that escaped from the now defunct Zoological Gardens on Groot Schuur Estate below Devil's Peak in 1935. As of 2006, virtually all tahrs have been culled from Table Mountain, thus clearing the way for the re-introduction of the smaller klipspringer, with which the tahr would have competed due to similar niches. However it is still highly likely that a few survived.

Chacma Baboons inhabit the southern parts of the park. They are highly visible and popular with tourists, but are capable of becoming extremely dangerous when they become accustomed to human beings and start to associate them with free food. Many residents who live in places close to the park, such as Da Gama Park, Tokai and Scarborough, often clash with baboons which have attempted, and succeeded, in raiding their houses for food and many resort to measures such as reinforcing their security by erecting electric fences, and illegal measures like shooting them with pellet guns, running them over, and setting dogs on them. This is ineffective as it can maim the baboons and simply re-inforce their penchant for gaining easy food, as it is easier for baboons to raid a dustbin for scraps rather than forage in the mountains with only one hand. Thus it is imperative that visitors to the park do not feed the baboons at all.

A rare endemic species of amphibian is only found on Table Mountain, the Table Mountain Ghost Frog.

Flora of Table Mountain

This area forms part of the Cape Floristic Region and as such supports a high diversity of flora, much of which is rare and endemic. Protea, erica, restio and Asteraceae species, as well as geophytes, are all found in abundance. The main indigenous vegetation types are Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos and Cape Granite Fynbos, both of which are endangered and endemic to Cape Town - occurring nowhere else in the world.

In addition, some sections of the park are the natural home of deep, indigenous Afro-temperate forests.

A well known local tree is the Silver Tree (Leucadendron argenteum), a popularly cultivated species which is found in the wild only on the slopes of Lion's Head and a few scattered locations elsewhere on the Cape Peninsula (a notable area is above Kirstenbosch.

The Park lies in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is a bio-diversity hot spot and seen by botanists as a botanical anomaly. In fact, there are more species of plant in Table Mountain National Park (over two thousand) than exist in the whole of the United Kingdom. Much of the unique flora in the area surrounding the park has been lost to agriculture and urban development. Indigenous plants are threatened by poaching for traditional medicines and invasive plants such as Acacia cyclops, three Hakea species, and invasive pines that were planted in commercial timber plantations on the slopes of the mountain. Today the Table Mountain range has the highest concentration of threatened species of any continental area of equivalent size in the world.

Removal of non-indigenous forests

SANParks have been criticized for their programme of removing invasive non-indigenous trees. These alien forests make up only 2% of the park, but cover areas that were previously incredibly rich in biodiversity. They were originally planted as commercial plantations, once most of the indigenous afro-montane forests had been felled. The park's current programme is to allow for the re-growth of the indigenous forests, while slowly removing the plantations of invasive trees. This removal has been controversial however, as some of the pine plantations are recreational areas for people living in the wealthy suburbs adjacent to the park.

Table Mountain National Park

Table Mountain National Park, previously known as the Cape Peninsula National Park, is a national park in Cape Town, South Africa, proclaimed on May 29, 1998, for the purpose of protecting the natural environment of the Table Mountain Chain, and in particular the rare fynbos vegetation. The park is managed by South African National Parks.

The park contains two well-known landmarks: Table Mountain, for which the park is named; and the Cape of Good Hope, the southwesternmost extremity of Africa.


The park runs approximately north-south along the range of mountains that make up the mountainous spine of the Cape Peninsula, from Signal Hill in the north, through Lion's Head, Table Mountain, Constantiaberg, Silvermine, the mountains of the southern Peninsula, terminating at Cape Point.

The park is not a single contiguous area; the undeveloped mountainous areas which make up most of the park are separated by developed urban areas on shallower terrain. Thus the park is divided into three separate sections, as listed below.

Table Mountain section

This section covers Signal Hill, Lion's Head, Table Mountain proper, including the Back Table (the rear, lower part of the mountain), Devil's Peak, the Twelve Apostles (actually a series of seventeen peaks along the Atlantic seaboard), and Orange Kloof (a specially protected area not open to the public). It borders on central Cape Town in the north, Camps Bay and the Atlantic coast in the west, the Southern Suburbs in the east, and Hout Bay in the south.

This section was formed from the Table Mountain National Monument, the Cecilia State Forest, and Newlands Forest. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is not officially part of the national park, but its higher reaches are maintained as part of the park.

Silvermine-Tokai section

This section runs northwest-southeast across the Peninsula from the Atlantic seaboard to the False Bay coast. It covers Constantiaberg, Steenberg Peak and the Kalk Bay mountains. It borders on Hout Bay in the north-west, the suburbs of Constantia and Tokai in the north-east, Kalk Bay in the south-east, and Fish Hoek and Noordhoek in the south-west.

This section was formed from the Tokai State Forest and the Silvermine Nature Reserve.

Cape Point section

View to the south over Cape Point; the lighthouse's white dome is just visible.

This section covers the southernmost area of the Cape Peninsula, stretching from Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope in the south, as far north as Scarborough on the Atlantic coast and Simon's Town on the False Bay coast. It was formed from the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cableway in Table Mountain

The Table Mountain Cableway takes passengers from the lower cable station on Tafelberg Road, about 302 m above sea level, to the plateau at the top of the mountain. The upper cable station offers views overlooking Cape Town, Table Bay and Robben Island to the north, and the Atlantic seaboard to the west and south.

Construction of the cableway was first started in 1926, and the cableway was officially opened in 1929. In 1997, the cableway was extensively upgraded, and new cars were introduced carrying 65 instead of 25 passengers. The new cars give a faster journey to the summit, and rotate through 360 degrees during the ascent or descent, giving a panoramic view over the city.

The top cable station offers viewpoints, curio shops, a restaurant and walking trails of various lengths.

Activities of Table Mountain


Hiking on Table Mountain is popular amongst locals and tourists, and a number of trails of varying difficulty are available. Because of the steep cliffs around the summit, direct ascents from the city side are limited. Platteklip Gorge, a prominent gorge up the centre of the main table, is a popular and straightforward direct ascent to the summit. Par for the course is about 2.5 hours but is done between 1–3 hours depending on one's fitness level.

Longer routes to the summit go via the Back Table, a lower area of Table Mountain to the South of the main plateau. From the Southern Suburbs side, the Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge routes start at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The route via Skeleton Gorge to Maclears Beacon is known as Smuts Track in memory of Jan Smuts, who was a keen hiker. The Bridle Path, or Jeep Track, makes a more gradual ascent from Constantia Nek along the road used to service the dams on Back Table. There are many other paths in popular walking areas on the lower slopes of the mountain accessed from Constantia Nek, Cecilia Forest, Kirstenbosch, Newlands Forest and Rhodes Memorial.

On the Atlantic side, the most popular ascent is Kasteelspoort, a gorge overlooking Camps Bay, while the Pipe Track is a level route popular with walkers.

The Hoerikwaggo Trails are four hiking trails on Table Mountain ranging from two to six days, operated by South African National Parks. The original inhabitants of the area, the Khoekhoen and San tribes called Table Mountain Hoerikwaggo – "sea mountain". The four Table Mountain hiking trails are called the People's Trail, Table Mountain Trail, Orangekloof Hiking Trail and Top to Tip Trail.

Rock climbing

Rock climbing on Table Mountain is a very popular pastime. There are well-documented climbing routes of varying degrees of difficulty up the many faces of the mountain. The main climbs are located on cliffs below the upper cable station. No bolting can be done here and only traditional climbing is allowed. Commercial groups also offer abseiling from the upper cable station.


Most of the world's important caves occur in limestone but Table Mountain is unusual in having several large cave systems that have developed in sandstone. The biggest systems are the Wynberg Caves, located on the Back Table, not far from the Jeep Track, in ridges overlooking Orange Kloof and Hout Bay.

History of Table Mountain

Prehistoric inhabitation of the district is well attested (see for example the article on Fish Hoek). About 2000 years ago the Khoikhoi migrated towards the Cape Peninsula from the north, displacing the San and bringing with them their herds of cattle and sheep. It was the Khoikhoi who were the dominant local tribe when the Europeans first sailed into Table Bay.

António de Saldanha was the first European to land in Table Bay. He climbed the mighty mountain in 1503 and named it 'Table Mountain' ('Montanha da Mesa' in Portuguese). The great cross that the Portuguese navigator carved into the rock of Lion's Head is still traceable.

In 1796, during the British occupation of the Cape, Major-General Sir James Craig ordered three blockhouses to be built on Table Mountain: the King's blockhouse, Duke of York blockhouse (later renamed Queen's blockhouse) and the Prince of Wales blockhouse. Two of these are in ruins today, but the King's blockhouse is still in good condition. and easily accessible from the Rhodes Memorial.

Between 1896 and 1907, five dams, the Woodhead, Hely-Hutchinson, De Villiers, Alexandria and Victoria reservoirs, were opened on the Back Table to supply Cape Town's water needs. A ropeway ascending from Camps Bay via Kasteelspoort ravine was used to ferry materials and manpower (the anchor points at the old top station can still be seen). There is a well-preserved steam locomotive from this period housed in the Waterworks Museum at the top of the mountain near the Hely-Hutchinson dam. It had been used to haul materials for the dam across the flat top of the mountain. Cape Town's water requirements have since far outpaced the capacity of the dams and they are no longer an important part of the water supply.

The mountain became part of the new Cape Peninsula National Park in the 1990s. The park was renamed to the Table Mountain National Park in 1998.

Fires are common on the mountain. The most recent major fire came in January 2006, destroying large amounts of vegetation and resulting in the death of a tourist. A charge of arson and culpable homicide was laid against a British man who was suspected of starting the blaze.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Flora and fauna of Table Mountain


Table Mountain has an unusually rich biodiversity. Its vegetation consists predominantly of several different types of the unique and rich Cape Fynbos. The main vegetation type is endangered Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos, but critically endangered Peninsula Granite Fynbos, Peninsula Shale Renosterveld and Afromontane forest occur in smaller portions on the mountain.

The mountain's vegetation types form part of the Cape Floral Region protected areas. These protected areas are a World Heritage Site, and an estimated 2,200 species of plants are confined to Table Mountain - more than exist in the whole of the United Kingdom. Many of these species, including a great many types of proteas, are endemic to the mountain and can be found nowhere else. In addition, the Table Mountain range has the highest concentration of threatened species of any continental area of equivalent size in the world.
Remnant patches of indigenous forest persist in the wetter ravines. However, varieties of fynbos dominate on the more exposed parts of the mountain (such as above the city) where conditions are too dry and harsh for forests. The mountain's natural wildfire cycle seasonally burns and thus rejuvenates the fynbos vegetation on these exposed slopes.

The mountain has also suffered under a massive onslaught of invasive alien plants for well over a century, with perhaps the worst invader being the cluster pine. Considerable efforts have been made to control the rapid spread of these invasive alien plants.


The most common animal on the mountain is the dassie, or rock hyrax. They especially cluster around the upper cable station, near areas where tourists may discard or (illegally) supply food. There are also porcupines, mongooses, snakes and tortoises. The last lion in the area was shot circa 1802. Leopards persisted on the mountain until perhaps the 1920s but are now extinct locally. Two smaller, secretive, nocturnal carnivores, the rooikat (caracal) and the vaalboskat (also called the vaalkat or African Wild Cat) were once common on the mountain. The rooikat continues to be seen on rare occasions by mountaineers but the status of the vaalboskat is uncertain.

Himalayan tahrs, fugitive descendants of tahrs that escaped from Groote Schuur zoo in 1936, used to be common on the less accessible upper parts of the mountain. As an exotic species, they were almost eradicated through a culling programme initiated by the South African National Parks to make way for the reintroduction of indigenous klipspringers. Until recently there were also small numbers of fallow deer of European origin and sambar deer from southeast Asia. These were mainly in the Rhodes Memorial area but during the 1960s they could be found as far afield as Signal Hill. The animals may by now have been eliminated or relocated.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa, and is featured in the flag of Cape Town and other local government insignia. It is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top. The mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park.


The main feature of Table Mountain is the level plateau approximately 3 kilometres (2 mi) from side to side, edged by impressive cliffs. The plateau, flanked by Devil's Peak to the east and by Lion's Head to the west, forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town. This broad sweep of mountainous heights, together with Signal Hill, forms the natural amphitheatre of the City Bowl and Table Bay harbour. The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end of the plateau and is marked by Maclear's Beacon, a stone cairn built in 1865 by Sir Thomas Maclear for trigonometrical survey. It is 1,086 metres (3,563 ft) above sea level, about 19 metres (62 ft) higher than the cable station at the western end of the plateau.

The cliffs of the main plateau are split by Platteklip Gorge ("Flat Stone Gorge"), which provides an easy and direct ascent to the summit and was the route taken by António de Saldanha on the first recorded ascent of the mountain in 1503.

The flat top of the mountain is often covered by orographic clouds, formed when a south-easterly wind is directed up the mountain's slopes into colder air, where the moisture condenses to form the so-called "table cloth" of cloud. Legend attributes this phenomenon to a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate called Van Hunks. When the table cloth is seen, it symbolizes the contest.

Table Mountain is at the northern end of a sandstone mountain range that forms the spine of the Cape Peninsula. To the south of the main plateau is a lower part of the range called the Back Table. On the Atlantic coast of the peninsula, the range is known as the Twelve Apostles. The range continues southwards to Cape Point.


The upper part of the mountain mesa consists of Ordovician quartzitic sandstone, commonly referred to as Table Mountain Sandstone (TMS), which is highly resistant to erosion and forms characteristic steep grey crags. Below the sandstone is a layer of micaceous basal shale, which weathers quite readily and is therefore not well exposed. The basement consists of heavily folded and altered phyllites and hornfelses known informally as the Malmesbury shale. This has been intruded by the Cape Granite. Both rocks are of late Precambrian age. The basement rocks are not nearly as resistant to weathering as the TMS but significant outcrops of the Cape Granite are visible on the western side of Lion's Head.

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