NSF PR 00-77 - October 17, 2000
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A Dash of Adventure Leavens the Cutting-Edge Science
of 2000 Antarctic Research Season
Scientists supported by the National Science Foundation
(NSF) will attempt to "tag" one of the largest icebergs
ever recorded to track its movements in the Southern
Ocean while other researchers will conduct an overland
crossing to study the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet
during the 2000-2001 Antarctic research season, which
gets underway this month.
Even in Antarctica, computers and other sophisticated
instruments have become standard tools for scientific
investigation; but these two excursions echo the expeditionary
tradition of the "Heroic Age" of Antarctic exploration
of the early 20th Century. They are the most dramatic
of the wide ranging sophisticated scientific studies
NSF will support in Antarctica this austral summer.
Those studies include projects in the earth sciences,
glaciology, biology, oceanography, meteorology, astrophysics
"The first research season of the new century promises
to be both as scientifically productive and as challenging
as any in recent memory," said Karl Erb, the director
of NSF's office of polar programs, who also heads
the U.S. Antarctic Program.
Flights by the New York Air National Guard and U.S.
Air Force will deliver about 3,000 researchers and
logistics personnel into McMurdo Station, NSF's scientific
hub on the continent, between October and February.
Science conducted this season will range from examination
of the microscopic - for example, studying the ecology
of microorganisms in perpetually snow-free Dry Valleys
- to investigations on a galactic scale, as telescopes
based at the Pole piece together an image of the early
Aerial radar surveys also will begin this season to
map Lake Vostok, a suspected body of water buried
under thousands of meters of ice in the interior of
the continent. The radar surveys are a precursor to
possible exploration of the lake itself. The waters
of the lake may contain microbial life far different
from known species elsewhere on earth, while sediments
at the lake bottom may yield information about Earth's
The expedition to iceberg B-15, meanwhile, highlights
the immensity of Antarctica which awed such pioneering
explorers as Ernest Shackleton and Robert F. Scott.
When it calved from the Ross Ice Shelf earlier this
year, the berg which has since splintered into several
pieces originally was estimated to be twice the size
of the state of Delaware. Researchers from the University
of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin expect
to affix sensors on the berg to study the movements
of the ice in the Southern Ocean.
The traverse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will be
undertaken as part of the U.S. International Trans
Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE). As part of
a larger international effort, U.S. ITASE seeks to
understand what changes in the mass of the West Antarctic
Ice Sheet may be taking place, how the climate varies
on the ice sheet, and what climactic events may be
recorded in the ice.
This will also be the first season that Raytheon Polar
Services Corp. (RPSC), of Englewood, Colo., provides
the logistical support to the USAP under a 10-year
"Although Raytheon Polar Services Company assumed control
of the USAP contract on April 1st of this year, the
real test of the effectiveness of the contract transition
will be our performance in doing everything that is
required to ensure top quality mission support on
the ice," said Tom Yelvington, RPSC program manager.
"We are thrilled to have this opportunity and believe
our management and employees have the talent and commitment
to meet the challenge."
of NSF's 2000-2001 Antarctic research season
Highlights of NSF's 2000-2001 Antarctic research season
The descriptions include the name and institutional
affiliation of the project's principal investigator
and the program manager in NSF's Office of Polar Programs.
Lake Vostok aerial survey: The Support Office
for Aerogeophysical Research (SOAR), an NSF-funded
project at the University of Texas at Austin's Institute
for Geophysics, will use a specially equipped Twin
Otter aircraft to map a 330 kilometer (205 mile) by
165 (102 mile) kilometer grid over subglacial Lake
Vostok, deep in the Antarctic interior.
The lake, which is the size of Lake Ontario in North
America, has been buried beneath thousands of meters
beneath the ice sheet for millions of years and may
contain microbial life, which could be dramatically
different from known species. The radar survey would
be a necessary precursor to any international effort
to explore the subglacial lake. Careful evaluation
of clean drilling technologies would be required in
subsequent years before method can be devised to prevent
contamination of the suspected lake.
Principal investigator: Robin Bell, the Lamont-Doherty
Earth Observatory at Columbia University
NSF Program manager: Scott Borg
Degree Angular Scale Interferometer (DASI):
An iterferometric array of 13 microwave antennas has
been measuring cosmic background radiation temperature
variations in a fairly large area of the sky above
South Pole for the past several months. The results
appear to have produced some of the most sensitive
measurements that are among the most sensitive ever
made and which will help unravel the mysteries of
the early universe and the nature of the dark matter
and energy that many scientists believe constitutes
most of the universe. This austral summer, large aluminum
"ground shields" will be added to DASI that will allow
the array to cover a much bigger area of the sky with
Principal Investigator: John Carlstrom, University
NSF Program manager: John Lynch
Southern Ocean Global Ecosystems Dynamics (SO GLOBEC):
More than 15 research teams will use NSF's icebreaking
research vessel Nathaniel B Palmer and the ice-strengthened
research ship Lawrence M. Gould to conduct a two-year
study to understand how marine animals respond to
natural and human-caused climate change. The vessels
will cruise through Marguerite Bay on the Antarctic
Peninsula from mid-March to mid-August, 2001.
Principal investigator: Eileen Hofmann, Old
NSF Program managers: Polly Penhale/Bernhard
Expedition to Iceberg B-15: Researchers will
attempt to place devices on the iceberg that will
allow them to track its movements.
Principal investigator: Douglas MacAyeal, University
NSF Program manager: Julie Palais
South Pole Construction Project: Modernization
and environmental improvements at the Amundsen-Scott
South Pole Station continue this season. The existing
station is 20 years old and has exceeded its design
life. The South Pole Modernization Project (SPMP)
will replace the existing station by 2005. The project
remains on schedule and within budget. Environmental
upgrades to the station also have been or will be
completed in the 2000-2001 season.
Environmental upgrades: A new power plant is
scheduled to become operational this season, supplying
up to one megawatt of electrical energy to the station.
Also completed are a new fuel storage facility and
a new garage and shop facility.
Modernization: The modernization of the station
began last season with the construction of a vertical
link and tower between the sub-surface new power plant,
garage/shop and fuel-storage facilities. Steel construction
for housing and food-service wings of the new elevated
station is scheduled for this summer. The wings will
be completed in the austral winter.
NSF South Pole Program Contact: Jerry Marty,
South Pole construction, operations and maintenance