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National Science Foundation
U.S. research activities in Antarctica
Table of Contents
I. Some reasons to perform scientific research in the Antarctic
II. Season project highlights, 2008-2009
III. Construction highlights, 2008-2009
IV. Environmental protection; waste management
V. Personnel, Stations, and Camps
VI. Support Operations, 2008-2009
VII. United States Antarctic Policy and Achievements
VIII. National Science Foundation
XI. U.S. Antarctic Program aircraft and supply ship operations, 2008-2009season
U.S. Antarctic Program research project list, 2008-2009
PDF Version (242 KB)
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OPP 09-001 November 2008

Season project highlights, 2008-2009

The table shows this year’s number of U.S. Antarctic Program research projects and related activities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.1 Projects range in size from one person to tens of people, and time in the Antarctic ranges from a few days to years. Some of these 118 science and technical projects are active at more than one location. A few are described below.

Discipline

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

McMurdo and camps

10

24

21

15

5

0

4

13

3

South Pole

12

0

3

3

4

0

1

2

1

Palmer

2

8

2

2

4

0

3

1

2

Ships

0

22

3

0

16

7

0

0

0

Support by non-USAP resources

0

6

2

2

1

2

0

0

0


Programs:

1 Aeronomy, astrophysics 5 Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences
2 Organisms, ecosystems 6 Integrated System Science
3 Earth Sciences 7 Artists, writers
4 Glaciology 8 Technical Projects
9 IPY Education and Outreach
  1. 10-meter telescope. Construction of the 10-meter telescope, or South Pole Telescope (SPT), was completed as planned with the first light achieved in February 2007. The SPT Shield will be erected in the austral summer of FY10 or FY11.2 The first winter of observations has proven the operational capabilities of the telescope and first observations of early galaxy clusters with the S-Z effect were achieved. The SPT will investigate properties of the dark energy that pervades the universe and accelerates its expansion, to search for the signature of primordial gravitational waves in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, and to test cosmological models aimed at explaining the origin of the Universe.

  2. IceCube. Work continues on the world’s largest neutrino detector, which—after 6 years of work—will occupy a cubic kilometer of ice beneath the South Pole Station on Antarctica, deploying 4,800 photomultiplier tubes into holes that a hot water drill will make in the ice. Neutrinos are special but hard to detect astronomical messengers that can carry information from violent cosmological events at the edge of the universe or from the hearts of black holes. Historically, astronomical work in new energy regions has invariably discovered unexpected phenomena. By peering through a new window on the universe, IceCube could open new frontiers of understanding. Deployment of 13 new detector strings in the 2006-2007 season brought the array to 22 strings, or about 30 percent of the planned volume. Science operations to begin exploitation of the data have also commenced. During the 2007-2008 austral summer, the project expects to drill and deploy detector strings in 14-18 new ice holes, as well as install a similar number of Ice-Top Stations.3

  3. Long-term ecological research (LTER). Two sites in Antarctica — the McMurdo Dry Valleys and the marine environment on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula— are among 26 NSF-sponsored LTER sites dedicated to understanding ecological phenomena over long temporal and large spatial scales (most of the other sites are in the continental United States).4

  4. Weddell seal population dynamics. Weddell seals in McMurdo Sound have been studied since 1968 — providing one of the longest intensive field investigations of long-lived mammals in the world. More than 15,000 animals have been tagged, and 145,000 re-sightings have been recorded. The project is a resource for understanding the life history and population dynamics of not only Weddell seals, but also other species of terrestrial and marine mammals. New work this season includes assessing the role of food resources in limiting the populations. 5

  5. Adelie penguin populations and climate change. The Adelie penguin is tied to sea ice, a key environmental variable affected by rapid climate change. Researchers will investigate the populations of Adelie penguins on Ross and Beaufort Islands, where colonies have recently expanded, relative to colonies at Cape Crozier that declined during the 1960s and 1970s. The information will be related to sea ice, as quantified by satellite images. Understanding the mechanisms behind this sensitivity will contribute greatly to predicting the effects of climate change on Antarctic marine organisms.

  6. Ocean acidification and marine ecosystems. As global carbon dioxide levels rise, the acidity of the southern ocean will increase. Excessive acidity in the marine environment can negatively affect the metabolism of planktonic marine organisms, including the ability to form shells. Researchers will evaluate the impact of elevated carbon dioxide on calcification, metabolic physiology, and organismal performance in Antarctic pteropods, an abundant, butterfly-like snail that lives in the southern ocean waters. They will begin to evaluate how impacts on the pteropod population affect the function of the larger marine ecosystem.6

  7. Protein function in cold-adapted fish. Antarctic fish live in an unusually cold environment where basic processes such as protein synthesis are thermodynamically challenging. Researchers are examining whether Antarctic fish have unique adaptations for making proteins and are uncovering the genetic basis for these functions. Comparative studies with temperate fish will help to illuminate the evolutionary pathways of cold-adaptation and life in extreme environments.7

  8. Influence of light, iron and carbon dioxide on Ross Sea productivity and biogeochemical cycling. The Ross Sea is a region of intense biological productivity, where phytoplankton biomass is dominated by two main taxonomic groups: diatoms and Phaeocystis. It is well known that these two phytoplankton groups have different impacts on biogeochemical cycles in the Ross Sea, but the factors that control their relative abundance are not well understood. Researchers will investigate the effects of iron, carbon dioxide, and light levels in the Ross Sea on phytoplankton community structure. These studies will contribute to a broader understanding of carbon and sulfur cycling in the Southern Ocean.8

  9. LARISSA (Larsen Ice Shelf System Antarctica) is a multidisciplinary project to study the region of the spectacular Larsen Ice Shelf collapse in 2002. The project combines ice-core paleoclimate science, marine geology, glaciology, oceanography, and marine ecology to address the changing environment in the past and present with an eye to understanding what lies ahead in the rapidly warming Antarctic Peninsula region. The emplacement of high-precision GPS stations in the bedrock at locations on the western side of the Peninsula this year will set the stage for a major ship- and aircraft-based field effort next year. Data from the GPS stations will allow determination of the rates of rebound of the Earth’s surface since the large glacial mass believed to have been centered on the Peninsula has retreated. This, in turn, will aid in understanding the past climate of the region in addition to reducing uncertainties in GRACE satellite gravity-based measurements of current ice loss from the region that contributes to sea-level rise. This element of the LARISSA project is synergistic with the international POLENET project.9

  10. Seismograph. The world’s quietest location for an earthquake detector is 8 kilometers from the South Pole, 300 meters beneath the ice sheet surface. Completed in 2002, the station is detecting vibrations four times smaller than those recorded previously. Other seismographs have been in place since 1957, and long-term, high-latitude data have helped to prove that the Earth’s solid inner core spins faster than the rest of the planet. Also, Antarctica is the continent with the fewest earthquakes, so the new station will record small regional earthquakes, leading to new insights into the Antarctic Plate.10

  11. West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide. This project, a collaboration among several research teams, will collect a 3,400-meter-deep ice core in West Antarctica. The main objectives are to develop the most detailed record of greenhouse gases possible for the last 100,000 years; to determine if the climate changes during the last 100,000 years were initiated by changes in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere; investigate the past and future stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet; and to investigate the biology of deep ice. This is the second season of deep drilling with the DISC Drill. The project will drill 24 hours per day, 6 days per week. The project team will resume drilling 580 meters and must get through all the brittle ice by the end of the season. This requires reaching a depth of at least 1,400 meters. All ice from the brittle ice zone (580 meters to about 1,400 meters) will be stored in the arch’s core storage basement over the winter at WSD. This will allow it to relax before retrograde during the 2009-2010 austral summer. 11

  12. U.S.-Norway Scientific Traverse. In the second year of this 2-year International Polar Year project, U.S. and Norwegian investigators will make an overland traverse to the Norwegian Troll Station from the U.S. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Scientists will investigate climate variability in Queen Maude Land on time scales of years to centuries; establish spatial and temporal impact of atmospheric and oceanic variability on the chemical composition of firn and ice in this region; and revisit areas and sites first explored during 1960s-era traverses to look for changes and establish benchmark data sets. This project is a genuine collaboration between nations; the scientists involved have complementary expertise, and the logistics relies on assets unique to each nation. It is truly an endeavor that neither nation could accomplish alone.12

  13. The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) is a multi-year program designed to develop special sensors and research platforms for investigating ice thickness and to use these sensors and platforms to produce ice-thickness data. Researchers will survey along and across the Thwaites Glacier flow in three regions of interest – the transition from interior ice-sheet flow to rapid basal sliding; one or two locations in the main body of the glacier; and at the grounding line of the glacier. They also will conduct high-resolution, three-dimensional surveys above the transition and within the main body of the glacier. These surveys will be repeated within a season and, if possible, repeated after 1 year to monitor changes in bed properties. Researchers will also study the englacial, bed, and subglacial properties at the WAIS ice divide using active-source seismic techniques.13

  14. Old buried ice. Ice has covered Antarctica for 34 million years, but the ice is not that old. Most of it arrives as snow and leaves as icebergs within a few hundred thousand years. Buried in the McMurdo Dry Valleys is a rare ice that offers an archive of atmosphere and climate extending back millions of years. These records are important to understanding climate in a warming world. This season sees the testing of new drilling system to core the ice. 14

  15. AGAP (Antarctica’s Gamburtsev Province). This project explores the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains, the world’s last unknown mountain range. Buried beneath miles-thick East Antarctic Ice Sheet, the mountains will be mapped and characterized with aerogeophysical and seismic methods. The project’s goal is to understand how the mountains formed and their relationship to development of the ice sheet. The project is led by the United States and involves scientists and logistics support from the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, China, and Japan.15

  16. PoleNet (Polar Observing Network). This project measures current motion of the antarctic plate in response to tectonic forces and ice sheet loading. The project will ultimately lead to more precise measurement of the changes in the mass of the antarctic ice sheet in response to global warming. The project is led by the United States and involves scientists and logistics support from 20 other countries including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Italy, China, and Germany.16

  17. Infrared measurement of the atmosphere. Winter measurements of atmospheric chemistry are providing data for predicting ozone depletion and climate change. Since most satellites do not sample polar regions in winter, these ground-based measurements are expected to make important contributions.17

  18. Surface carbon dioxide in the Drake Passage. The Southern Ocean is an important part of the global carbon budget, and the Drake Passage is the narrowest place through which the Antarctic Circumpolar Current travels. This chokepoint is an efficient site to measure the latitudinal gradients of gas exchange, and the research icebreaker Laurence M. Gould will support a project to measure dissolved and total CO2, providing data that, with satellite images, will enable estimates of the net production and export of carbon by oceanic biota.18

  19. Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. Eight artists and writers will deploy to Antarctica this season between November and February. Four projects will based in the McMurdo area, one will travel to South Pole Station, and three will work in the Antarctic Peninsula at Palmer Station.19

  20. Ice Coring Drilling Services. This project, one of the technical services in support of Antarctic science, provides ice core drilling to the U.S. Antarctic Program and NSF’s Arctic Research Program.20


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End Notes
1 For each project with an NSF grant, a description including contact information and grant amount is in the Foundation’s grants database, http://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/a6/A6SrchAwdf.htm. U.S. Antarctic Program participants also can request access to the 2006-2007 Science Planning Summary, United States Antarctic Program, which describes all projects.
2 http://astro.uchicago.edu/scoara/may2004workshop/TALKS/spt-carlstrom/
3 http://www.icecube.wisc.edu
4 LTER network: http://lternet.edu/; McMurdo LTER: http://huey.colorado.edu/LTER/; Palmer LTER: http://iceflo.icess.ucsb.edu:8080/ice_hp.php?
5 http://www.homepage.montana.edu/~rgarrott/index.htm
6 http://www.csusm.edu/Biology/bios/fabry.htm
7 http://hofmannlab.msi.ucsb.edu/
8 http://www.whoi.edu/sites/corsacs
9 http://www.hamilton.edu/news/exp/LARISSA/index.html
10 http://www.iris.washington.edu/about/GSN/
11 http://waisdivide.unh.edu/
12 http://traverse.npolar.no/
13 https://www.cresis.ku.edu/
14 http://people.bu.edu/marchant/themesBuriedIce2.htm
15 http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/research/marine-geology-geophysics/agap-exploring-gamburtsev-subglacial-mountains-antarctica-during-
16 http://www.polenet.org/
17 https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/servlet/showaward?award=0230370
18 http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/pi/CO2/
19 http://www.nsf.gov/od/opp/antarct/artist_writer/fy07awards.jsp
20 http://www.ssec.wisc.edu/icds/

 
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