NSF PR 99-53 - September 10, 1999
This material is available primarily for archival
purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information
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Antarctic Research Season to Highlight Seal Ecology,
Microscopic Life, Cosmic Origins
In one of the world's largest annual deployments of
scientific researchers, more than 800 hundred scientists
from universities and other institutions across the
United States will travel to Antarctica in the coming
months during the U.S. Antarctic Program's 1999-2000
austral summer research season.
Once in the field, research teams will undertake a
range of projects, including: investigating the ecology
of microbes that survive at the South Pole; studying
the composition of a continental sheet of ice that
covers West Antarctica and attempting to predict its
future from its past behavior; and observing the Earth's
climate of eons ago, as reflected in materials collected
by drilling into the seabed around the continent.
The annual research season begins with a massive airlift
of the researchers and their support equipment from
Christchurch, New Zealand to Antarctica, and is designed
to make maximum use of the few months of relatively
mild weather and the perpetual daylight on the southernmost
continent during the austral summer. Geographic isolation,
pristine air and other environmental conditions make
Antarctica a unique, world-class laboratory for studying
subjects ranging from the evolution of new species
to the evolution of galaxies.
The National Science Foundation (NSF), the federal
agency that funds and manages the U.S. Antarctic Program
(USAP), will support 150 research projects involving
826 researchers in the region this field season. Research
will be conducted in the earth sciences, glaciology,
biology, medicine, oceanography, meteorology, astrophysics
and aeronomy (studies of the upper atmosphere). The
field season begins in late October and stretches
The USAP operates three year-round research stations
(McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott South Pole and Palmer on
the Antarctic continent) as well as two research vessels
(the Nathaniel B. Palmer and the Laurence M. Gould).
The USAP also conducts collaborative research with
the Antarctic programs of other nations.
of NSF's 1999-2000 Antarctic Research Season
See also: U.S. Antarctic Program Fact Sheet
Highlights of NSF's 1999-2000 Antarctic Research Season
Highlights of NSF's 1999-2000 Antarctic Research Season.
The descriptions include the projected time period
that the research will be carried out in the field
(if scheduled) and the name and institutional affiliation
of the project's principal investigator.
INTERNATIONAL TRANS-ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION (ITASE):
ITASE is a multi-disciplinary approach to global-change
research that integrates meteorology, remote sensing,
ice coring, surface glaciology, and geophysics and
is part of the overall West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS)
Program. The U.S. ITASE general objectives are to
determine the variability of West Antarctic climate
and the environmental variability in West Antarctica
over the last 200 plus years. U.S. ITASE is coordinated
through the science management office located at the
University of New Hampshire. The university coordinates
the eight funded U.S. science projects that comprise
the U.S. ITASE. Researchers from Arizona, Minnesota,
New Hampshire, and Ohio will be participating in U.S
ITASE activities this year. Experiments will include
radar studies of bedrock underlying the West Antarctic
Ice Sheet; high-resolution radar profiling of snow
and ice stratigraphy; and glaciochemistry.
Principal investigator: Paul Mayewski, University
of New Hampshire Climate Change Research Center, Durham,
NH. Field dates: October 1999 to mid-December 1999.
ANTARCTIC PACK ICE SEALS: The pack ice that
surrounds Antarctica contains at least 50 percent
of the world's seal population. As a group, these
seals are the dominant predators in Southern Ocean
ecosystems. Fluctuations in their abundance, growth
patterns, life histories, and behavior provide a potential
source of information about environmental variability
in and around Antarctica. As part of an international
project, in which USAP is participating, researchers
will count seals from the air and determine species
distribution, attach radio and satellite transmitters
to the animals to monitor their behavior, and attempt
to determine the animals' prey preferences. This will
require for the first time that the research vessel
Nathaniel B. Palmer carry helicopters to assist in
Principal investigator: John Bengtston, National
Marine Mammal Laboratory, Seattle, Wash. Field dates:
mid-December to mid-February.
CAPE ROBERTS PROJECT: Evidence that cataclysmic
volcanism rocked Antarctica some 21 million years
ago was produced last field season by the Cape Roberts
project, an international effort involving scientists
from the United States, New Zealand, Italy, the United
Kingdom, Australia and Germany. Cape Roberts drilling
will continue for the third season this year. The
team will attempt to collect cores from the Ross Sea
floor by drilling through sea ice into the underlying
sea floor. Ice at least 1.5 meters thick is needed
to serve as a drilling platform. Sediments and fossils
in the drill core should help provide information
about conditions 25-70 million years ago, and fill
in gaps missing from knowledge of the Earth's climate.
During this interval of time, the first ice sheets
in Antarctica began to form. This period is particularly
important scientifically as it covers a period in
the planet's history when Earth last experienced temperatures
as warm as those that are expected to occur over the
next few centuries as a result of greenhouse warming.
Work also will begin this season on analysis of materials
drilled in previous years of the project.
Principal Investigators: Peter Webb, Ohio State
University, Columbus, Ohio; David Harwood, University
of Nebraska-Lincoln. Field dates: October to mid-December.
MICROBES AT THE SOUTH POLE: Although associated
in the public mind with images of vast penguin colonies
which exist only on the continent's temperate
coast most of Antarctica is a frozen desert,
devoid of life except at the microscopic level. Researchers
this year will attempt to determine the species and
abundance of microscopic algae in permanent ice and
snow and will study the microbes' metabolic activity
and molecular biology to try to understand how they
live and how they got there. How life can exist in
such incredibly harsh conditions: the Pole is in total
darkness most of the year and average low temperatures
in winter routinely drop as low as minus 80 degrees
Fahrenheit. Their findings may have implications for
studies of how life may survive in extreme environments
elsewhere in the solar system.
Principal investigator: Edward Carpenter, Marine
Science Research Center, State University of New York
at Stony Brook. Field dates: January.
ASTRONOMY AND ASTROPHYSICS AT THE SOUTH POLE:
The atmospheric conditions at the South Pole make
it a world-class astronomical observatory. Several
projects will be conducted this year. They include:
- Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array
(AMANDA): Buried under the clear, deep ice
at the South Pole and using the ice as medium
for detecting subatomic particles, AMANDA represents
the first steps toward creating a neutrino telescope
that is a square-kilometer-sized. By making images
of high-energy neutrinos, AMANDA has the potential
to discover discrete sources of neutrinos, and
shed light on the "dark-matter" particles
that astronomers believe make up most of the matter
in the universe. AMANDA also can search continuously
for supernova explosions in the Milky Way galaxy
and perhaps even search for the birth of the super-massive
black holes that power quasars.
Principal investigator: Robert Morse: University
of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.
- Degree Angular Scale Interferometer (DASI):
An array of 13 telescopes, DASI will be assembled
at the Pole this year after being shipped from
Illinois. The device will assist scientists to
study the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation,
the afterglow of the Big Bang that brought the
universe into being and from which galaxies formed.
Principal Investigator: John Carlstrom,
University of Chicago.
- Origins of the universe: Using enhancements
to a telescope dubbed "VIPER," researchers
will attempt to study the condition of the universe
as it was 300,000 years after the Big Bang, when
the universe existed as a plasma, or an extremely
hot gas. The telescope will attempt to detect
the remnants of gravity waves that existed in
the plasma that would indicate whether the plasma
was uniformly distributed.
Principal Investigator: Jeffrey Peterson,
Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.
CONSTRUCTION AT AMUNDSEN-SCOTT SOUTH POLE STATION:
Modernization and upgrading of the Amundsen-Scott
South Pole Station continues this season. The existing
station is 20 years old and has exceeded its design
life. The South Pole Modernization Project (SPMP),
a $128-million initiative, will replace the existing
station by 2005. Construction crews worked over the
austral winter to complete the interior construction
of a new garage and machine shop at the station. Work
will begin this summer to prepare the foundations
for a replacement laboratory which will be
built on supports above the ice cap in the
station's "dark sector," an area that is
shielded from visible light and electromagnetic radiation
which would interfere with astronomical research conducted
at the Pole. Construction also will begin on the exterior
of a new power plant. The power plant's interior will
be completed during the upcoming austral winter. The
reconstruction project is on schedule and within budget.
NSF South Pole Program Contact: Jerry Marty,
facilities construction, operations and maintenance
manager, (703) 306-1032.
Editors: Digital images of architect's renderings
of the new station are available through the media
contact listed above. Research planned for the 1999-2000
field season runs the gamut from the physiology of
deep-diving penguins and how they survive in frigid
waters to using long-range balloons as airborne platforms
to study solar radiation. To find out if an institution
or scientist in your area is conducting research in
Antarctica this season, contact the media representative.