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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Geography of the Ross Dependency

The disc-shaped Antarctic continent, with the Pole as its centre, has three major features marring its symmetry–Graham Land peninsula (known to the United States as the Palmer Peninsula) facing S. America, the Weddell Sea embayment facing the South Atlantic, and the Ross Sea embayment astride the 180° meridian. During the “open” season, the Dependency is four to five days' sailing distance from New Zealand, or 10–12 hours by air. Removal of ice would reveal a Ross Sea embayment almost reaching the Pole and perhaps linking with the Weddell Sea opposite. The coasts of the Ross embayment are approximately those of the New Zealand Ross Dependency. This Antarctic sector is largely ice-encrusted sea, having to the east an indefinite, ice-concealed coast terminating northward in the King Edward VII Peninsula, and to the west marked by a long (1,000 – plus miles), narrow (50 – plus miles) coastal mountain range 5,000 – 18,000 ft in height. These mountains run the length of Victoria Land to continue along the west and south of the Ross Ice Shelf to within 200 miles from the Pole. This radially disposed range of Antarctica, traversed in polar journeys by Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, Hillary, and Fuchs, dams the great ice plateau of Antarctica (9,000-plus feet), preventing complete ice inundation of the Ross embayment. Only comparatively minor overflows like the Beardmore Glacier (probably the world's largest in volume and length) cross the range barrier to feed the Ross Ice Shelf (130,000 sq. miles) which covers the southern portion of the Ross Sea embayment.

The Ross Dependency sector, then, is largely shelf ice and sea fringed to the west and east by ice-clad coasts, just within and paralleling the 160°E and 150°w boundaries. The bulk of the continent is buried deep below the vast ice plateau broken by occasional nunataks (peaks which project above an ice sheet), whereas in the west of the Ross sector the great range is a continuously exposed line of mountains from the Admiralty Range (inland of Cape Adare) to the Queen Maud Range (100 miles from the Pole). This range contains “oases” of rock, free from ice and snow, which are veritable “windows” in the almost continuous white cover. To date, mineralogical rewards in Antarctic exploration have been negative but, as if to compensate for the paucity of terra firma in the Ross Sector, this great range which contains a number of these ice-free areas, offers the best opportunities for geological investigation in all Antarctica.