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Fact Sheet

Significant U.S. Science Discoveries From Antarctica

October 5, 2016

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Numerous scientific discoveries of global significance have been made in Antarctica by scientists supported by the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), the national research effort on the southernmost continent. The National Science Foundation (NSF) administers the Antarctic Program and coordinates almost all U.S. science on the continent. For more information about the Antarctic Program, see:

Recent USAP discoveries and landmarks in reverse chronological order.


Research shows Antarctic lakes are a repository for ancient soot

Remote lakes in a perpetually ice-free area of Antarctica show not only the chemical signature of ancient wildfires, but also some much more recent evidence of fossil-fuel combustion, according to National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Virginia Tech researchers in the Antarctic discover new facets of space weather

A team of National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported researchers at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) discovered new evidence about how the Earth's magnetic field interacts with solar wind, almost as soon as they finished installing six data-collection stations across East Antarctic Plateau last January.

What lies beneath West Antarctica?

Three recent publications by early career researchers at three different institutions across the country provide the first look into the biogeochemistry, geophysics and geology of subglacial Lake Whillans, which lies 800 meters (2,600 feet) beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Flying lab to investigate Southern Ocean's appetite for carbon

January 5, 2016

A team of scientists supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) will launch a series of research flights over the remote Southern Ocean this month to better understand just how much carbon dioxide its icy waters can lock away.



Warming Antarctic waters may allow king crabs to "restructure" ecosystems

Rapid warming of the ocean west of the Antarctic Peninsula--the part of the continent that extends north toward South America--makes it possible king crab populations could return from the deep sea to the relatively shallow continental shelf, where they could become high-level predators and disrupt the ecosystem, according to National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded researchers.

Antarctic detector confirms observation of cosmic neutrinos

A group of researchers using a massive, National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded instrument buried deep in the ice at the geographic South Pole have announced a new observation of high-energy neutrinos, confirming they found particles from beyond our solar system--and beyond our galaxy.

Research spotlights a previously unknown microbial 'drama' playing in the Southern Ocean

A team of marine researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) has discovered a three-way conflict raging at the microscopic level in the frigid waters off Antarctica over natural resources such as vitamins and iron.

Surprisingly high geothermal heating revealed beneath West Antarctic Ice Sheet

The amount of heat flowing toward the base of the West Antarctic ice sheet from geothermal sources deep within the Earth is surprisingly high, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz.

Video: Research team discovers plant fossils previously unknown to Antarctica

Erik Gulbranson, a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, trudges up a steep ridge overlooking his field camp of mountain tents and pyramid-shaped Scott tents in Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valleys. A brief hike nearly to the top of a shorter ridge ends at the quarry, where picks and hammers have chopped out a ledge of sorts in the slate-grey hillside.

Antarctic ice core reveals how sudden climate changes in North Atlantic moved south

A new, highly detailed ice core retrieved by researchers with the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide project reveals a consistent pattern of climate changes that started in the Arctic and spread across the globe to the Antarctic during planet Earth's last glacial period, tens of thousands of years ago.

Discovered deep under Antarctic surface: Extensive, salty aquifer and potentially vast microbial habitat

Using a novel, helicopter-borne sensor to penetrate the surface of large swathes of terrain, a team of researchers supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) has gathered compelling evidence that beneath Antarctica's ice-free McMurdo Dry Valleys lies a salty aquifer that may support previously unknown microbial ecosystems and retain evidence of ancient climate change.

Planet-sized 'virtual telescope' expands to the South Pole to observe black holes in detail

Astronomers building a globe-spanning virtual telescope capable of photographing the "event horizon" of the black hole at the center of our Milky Way have extended their instrument to incorporate the South Pole Telescope (SPT), a 280-ton radio telescope located at the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica.

BICEP2 and Planck joint study: Gravitational waves remain elusive

A new joint analysis of data from two South Pole-based experiments--the BICEP2 telescope and the Keck Array, both supported by the National Science Foundation--and the European Space Agency's Planck satellite, has found no conclusive evidence of primordial gravitational waves, despite earlier reports of a possible detection.

NSF-funded Antarctic drilling team is first to bore through hundreds of meters of ice to where ice sheet, ocean and land converge

Using a specially designed hot-water drill to cleanly bore through a half mile of ice, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded team of researchers has become the first ever to reach and sample the "grounding zone," where Antarctic ice, land and sea all converge. Data gathered from samples of sediment taken in the grounding zone will provide clues about the mechanics of ice sheets and their potential effects on sea-level rise.



Antarctic seals may use Earth's magnetic field to navigate while hunting

Weddell seals have biological adaptations that allow them to dive deep--as much as of hundreds of meters--while hunting, but also an uncanny ability to find the breathing holes they need on the surface of the ice. Now, researchers supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) believe they have figured out how they do it--by using the Earth's magnetic field as a natural GPS.

Unmanned underwater vehicle provides first 3-D images of underside of Antarctic sea ice

A National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research team has successfully tested an autonomous underwater vehicle, AUV, that can produce high-resolution, three-dimensional maps of Antarctic sea ice. SeaBED, as the vehicle is known, measured and mapped the underside of sea-ice floes in three areas off the Antarctic Peninsula that were previously inaccessible.

Antifreeze proteins in Antarctic fish prevent both freezing and melting

Antarctic fish that manufacture their own "antifreeze" proteins to survive in the icy Southern Ocean also suffer an unfortunate side effect, researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) report: The protein-bound ice crystals that accumulate inside their bodies resist melting even when temperatures warm.

Confirmed: 800 meters beneath Antarctic ice sheet, subglacial lake holds viable microbial ecosystems

In a finding that has implications for life in other extreme environments, both on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system, researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) this week published a paper confirming that the waters and sediments of a lake that lies 800 meters (2,600 feet) beneath the surface of the West Antarctic ice sheet support "viable microbial ecosystems."

Airborne radar surveys and data-based models indicate West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse is underway

National Science Foundation- (NSF) funded researchers at the University of Washington have concluded that Antarctica's fast-moving Thwaites Glacier will likely disappear in a matter of centuries, potentially raising sea level by more than a half-a-meter (two feet).

Krypton-dating technique allows researchers to accurately date ancient Antarctic ice

A team of scientists, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has successfully used a new technique to confirm the age of a 120,000-year-old sample of Antarctic ice.

The new dating system is expected to allow scientists to identify ice that is much older, thereby reconstructing climate much farther back into Earth's history and potentially leading to an understanding of the mechanisms that cause the planet to shift into and out of ice ages.

Unmanned aircraft successfully tested as tool for measuring changes in polar ice sheets

Scientists studying the behavior of the world's ice sheets--and the future implications of ice sheet behavior for global sea-level rise--may soon have a new airborne tool that will allow radar measurements that previously would have been prohibitively expensive or difficult to carry out with manned aircraft.

In a paper published in the March/ April edition of IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Magazine, researchers at the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) at the University of Kansas noted that they have successfully tested the use of a compact radar system integrated on a small, lightweight Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to look through the ice and map the topography underlying rapidly moving glaciers.

NSF-funded researchers say Antarctic telescope may have provided the first direct evidence of cosmic inflation and the origins of the universe

Researchers with the National Science Foundation-funded BICEP2 Collaboration today announced that their telescope in Antarctica has allowed them to collect what they believe is the first direct evidence for cosmic inflation.

Inflation is the cataclysmic event in which, in a fleeting fraction of a second following the Big Bang, the infant universe expanded exponentially, stretching far beyond the view of the best telescopes.

Computer model predicts vastly different ecosystem in Antarctica's Ross Sea in the coming century

The Ross Sea, a major, biologically productive Antarctic ecosystem, "clearly will be extensively modified by future climate change" in the coming decades as rising temperatures and changing wind patterns create longer periods of ice-free open water, affecting the life cycles of both predators and prey, according to a paper published by researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Analysis indicates that North and tropical Atlantic warming affects Antarctic climate

The gradual warming of the North and tropical Atlantic Ocean is contributing to climate change in Antarctica, a team of New York University (NYU) scientists supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) has concluded.

Their work draws from more than three decades of atmospheric data and shows new ways in which distant regional conditions are contributing to Antarctic climate change.

New sea anemone species discovered in Antarctica

January 16, 2014

National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, while using a camera-equipped robot to survey the area under Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf, unexpectedly discovered a new species of small sea anemones that were burrowed into the ice, their tentacles protruding into frigid water like flowers from a ceiling.



NSF-funded IceCube Neutrino Observatory provides first indication of high-energy neutrinos from outside the solar system

Researchers with the IceCube Collaboration have announced that a National Science Foundation (NSF)-built detector at the South Pole allowed them to observe 28 very high-energy neutrinos that constitute the first solid evidence for astrophysical neutrinos from cosmic accelerators.

"This is the first indication of high-energy neutrinos coming from outside our solar system," says Francis Halzen, principal investigator of IceCube and the Hilldale and Gregory Breit Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It is gratifying to finally see what we have been looking for. This is the dawn of a new age of astronomy."

Early career investigator discovers current volcanic activity under West Antarctica

Scientists funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) have observed "swarms" of seismic activity--thousands of events in the same locations, sometimes dozens in a single day--between January 2010 and March 2011, indicating current volcanic activity under the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

Measurements of Antarctic ice-shelf melt help to greatly refine models of global climate change

In a finding that is expected to vastly improve models of the global effects of climate change on sea-level rise, a National Science Foundation- (NSF) funded research team, working in one of Antarctica's most challenging environments, has produced the first direct measurements of how relatively warm sea water undercuts a floating ice shelf that normally retards the movement of glaciers from the Antarctic continent to the sea.

Antarctic ice core sheds new light on how the last ice age ended

Analysis of an ice core taken by the National Science Foundation- (NSF) funded West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide drilling project reveals that warming in Antarctica began about 22,000 years ago, a few thousand years earlier than suggested by previous records.

NSF-funded telescopes in Antarctica and Chile discover bursts of star formation in the early universe

Distant, dust-filled galaxies were bursting with newborn stars much earlier in cosmic history than previously thought, according to newly published research.

So-called "starburst galaxies" produce stars at the equivalent of a thousand new suns per year. Now, astronomers have found starbursts that were churning out stars when the universe was just a billion years old.

Antarctic and Arctic insects use different genetic mechanisms to cope with lack of water

Although they live in similarly extreme ecosystems at opposite ends of the world, Antarctic insects appear to employ entirely different methods at the genetic level to cope with extremely dry conditions than their counterparts that live north of the Arctic Circle, according to National Science Foundation- (NSF) funded researchers.

Earth is warmer today than during 70 to 80 percent of the past 11,300 years

With data from 73 ice and sediment core monitoring sites around the world, scientists have reconstructed Earth's temperature history back to the end of the last Ice Age.

The analysis reveals that the planet today is warmer than it's been during 70 to 80 percent of the last 11,300 years.

Results of the study, by researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) and Harvard University, are published this week in a paper in the journal Science.

Antarctic ice core contains unrivaled detail of past climate

A team of U.S. ice-coring scientists and engineers in Antarctica, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has recovered from the ice sheet a record of past climate and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that extends back 68,000 years.

In a scientific and engineering breakthrough, NSF-funded team samples Antarctic lake beneath the ice sheet

In a first-of-its-kind feat of science and engineering, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research team has successfully drilled through 800 meters (2,600 feet) of Antarctic ice to reach a subglacial lake and retrieve water and sediment samples that have been isolated from direct contact with the atmosphere for many thousands of years.

Scientists and drillers with the interdisciplinary Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project (WISSARD) announced Jan. 28 local time (U.S. stations in Antarctica keep New Zealand time) that they had used a customized clean hot-water drill to directly obtain samples from the waters and sediments of subglacial Lake Whillans.



Study finds that portions of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are warming twice as fast as previously thought

A new study funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) finds that the western part of the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is experiencing nearly twice as much warming as previously thought.

The findings were published online this week in the journal Nature Geoscience. NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) and coordinates all U.S. research and associated logistics on the southernmost continent and in the surrounding Southern Ocean.

Trio of complex Antarctic science projects reaches significant technological milestones "on the Ice"

Three very large-scale, National Science Foundation-funded Antarctic science projects--investigating scientifically significant subjects as varied as life in extreme ecosystems, the fate of one of the world's largest ice sheets and the nature of abrupt global climate-change events--have recently each reached important technological milestones that will advance cutting-edge research.

Ancient microbes survive beneath the icy surface of Antarctic lake

Researchers funded by the National Science Foundation describe in a new publication a viable community of bacteria that ekes out a living in a dark, salty and subfreezing environment beneath nearly 20 meters of ice in one of Antarctica's most isolated lakes.

The finding could have implications for the discovery of life in other extreme environments, including elsewhere in the solar system.

Changing climate, not tourism, seems to be driving decline in chinstrap penguin populations

The breeding population of chinstrap penguins has declined significantly as temperatures have rapidly warmed on the Antarctic Peninsula, according to researchers funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The study indicates that changing climatic conditions, rather than the impact of tourism, have had the greatest effect on the chinstrap population.

Researchers recover recorder from Antarctic waters containing critical baseline on acidification

A research team supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) has retrieved data from a sensor in Antarctic waters that will provide critical baseline data on the changes in chemistry or acidification in those remote seas.


NSF's South Pole Telescope discovers a galaxy cluster creating stars at a record pace

A National Science Foundation-funded radio telescope in Antarctica has found an extraordinary galaxy cluster that may force astronomers to rethink how galaxy clusters and the galaxies that inhabit them evolve.

Blue ribbon panel unveils findings on logistical improvements to support Antarctic science

Today, the 12-member U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel, commissioned by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) released their report, More and Better Science in Antarctica through Increased Logistical Effectiveness. The report is a comprehensive document based on several months of research, containing numerous specific recommendations for the U.S. logistics system for improved support of scientific research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

IceCube Neutrino Observatory provides new insights into origin of cosmic rays

Analysis of data from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a massive detector deployed in deep ice at the U.S. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica at the geographic South Pole, recently provided new insight into one of the most enduring mysteries in physics, the production of cosmic rays.

Scientists determined first-ever census for emperor penguins

A new study using satellite mapping technology reveals there are twice as many emperor penguins in Antarctica than previously thought.

The results provide an important benchmark for monitoring the impact of environmental change on the population of this iconic bird, which breeds in remote areas that are very difficult to study because they often are inaccessible with temperatures as low as -58 degrees Fahrenheit.

South Pole Telescope provides new insights into dark energy and neutrinos

Analysis of data from the National Science Foundation- (NSF) funded 10-meter South Pole Telescope (SPT) in Antarctica provides new support for the most widely accepted explanation of dark energy, the source of the mysterious force that is responsible for the accelerating expansion of the universe.

The results begin to hone in on the tiny mass of the neutrinos, the most abundant particles in the universe, which until recently were thought to be without mass.

First-ever use of airborne resistivity system in Antarctica allows researchers to look beneath surface in untapped territories

National Science Foundation- (NSF) funded researchers have successfully tested equipment to map the hidden distribution of groundwater and ice in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region for the first time in Antarctica.

The mapping technique, an airborne electrical resistivity instrument, will enable researchers to study microbial ecosystems in sub-glacial environments.



NSF awards logistical support contract for U.S. Antarctic Program

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a multi-year contract to Lockheed Martin for logistical support for the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). NSF provides funding for scientific research as well as for the necessary associated infrastructure and logistics, which includes three year-round research stations in Antarctica and two science vessels in the Southern Ocean. Lockheed Martin will begin providing logistical support on April 1, 2012.

Antarctic icebergs play a previously unknown role in global carbon cycle, climate

In a finding that has global implications for climate research, scientists have discovered that when icebergs cool and dilute the seas through which they pass for days, they also raise chlorophyll levels in the water that may in turn increase carbon dioxide absorption in the Southern Ocean.

An interdisciplinary research team supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) highlighted the research this month in the journal Nature Geosciences.



NSF/NASA scientific balloon launches from Antarctica

NASA and the National Science Foundation launched a scientific balloon on Monday, December 20, Eastern Standard time, to study the effects of cosmic rays on Earth. It was the first of five scientific balloons scheduled to launch from Antarctica in December.

The Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass (CREAM VI) experiment was designed and built at the University of Maryland. CREAM is investigating high-energy cosmic-ray particles that originated from distant supernovae explosions in the Milky Way and reached Earth. Currently, CREAM VI is floating 126,000 ft above Antarctica with nominal science operations.

NSF, University of Wisconsin-Madison complete construction of the world's largest neutrino observatory

Culminating a decade of planning, innovation and testing, construction of the world's largest neutrino observatory, installed in the ice of the Antarctic plateau at the geographic South Pole, was successfully completed December 18, 2010, New Zealand time.

Dome away from home

After more than three decades of service to researchers and staff stationed at the bottom of the world, the dome at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station was deconstructed this austral summer.

Unusual Antarctic microbes live life on a previously unsuspected edge

An unmapped reservoir of briny liquid chemically similar to sea water, but buried under an inland Antarctic glacier, appears to support unusual microbial life in a place where cold, darkness and lack of oxygen would previously have led scientists to believe nothing could survive, according to newly published research.

New evidence from NSF-funded ANDRILL demonstrates climate warming affects Antarctic ice sheet stability

A five-nation scientific team has published new evidence that even a slight rise in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, one of the gases that drives global warming, affects the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). The massive WAIS covers the continent on the Pacific side of the Transantarctic Mountains. Any substantial melting of the ice sheet would cause a rise in global sea levels.



On April 6, the National Academy of Sciences and NSF jointly host a celebration of the early research accomplishments of the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008. IPY fieldwork, a two-year deployment of scientists from more than 60 nations into the polar regions, officially concluded on March 1, 2009, but science results from IPY-funded research can be expected to be published for many months and even years to come. For the full story, see:

Microbes Thrive Under Glacier--An unmapped reservoir of briny liquid chemically similar to sea water, but buried under an inland Antarctic glacier, appears to support unusual microbial life in a place where cold, darkness and lack of oxygen would previously have led scientists to believe nothing could survive. For the full story, see:

Space Weather Observatories--An international scientific consortium has successfully developed a series of autonomous observatories in Antarctica that for the first time provide critical year-round "space weather" data from the Earth's harshest environment. For the full story, see:

Carbon-Dioxide Levels and Ice-sheet Stability--A five-nation scientific team has published new evidence that even a slight rise in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, one of the gases that drives global warming, affects the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). The massive WAIS covers the continent on the Pacific side of the Transantarctic Mountains. Any substantial melting of the ice sheet would cause a rise in global sea levels. For the full story, see:

Autosub Launched--A team of British and American scientists successfully deploys an autonomous robot submarine on six missions beneath an Antarctic ice shelf using sonar scanners to map the seabed and the underside of the ice as it juts out over the sea. The research is part of a larger, NSF-funded project to study the dynamic Pine Island Glacier and to understand how increasing ocean temperatures triggered by a warming climate may affect the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and global sea-level rise. For the full story, see:

Antarctic Treaty Events--The Maryland Science Center in Baltimore is the focal point of a range of public events April 4 and 5 that highlight federally funded Arctic and Antarctic research programs. The public events are being held in conjunction with a meeting on the international treaty governing international cooperation and scientific research in Antarctica. For the full story, see:

Peninsula Warming--Scientists have long established that the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming spots on Earth. Now, new research using detailed satellite data indicates that the changing climate is affecting not just the penguins at the apex of the food chain, but simultaneously the microscopic life that is the base of the ecosystem. For the full story, see:

Mountain Range Under the Ice--Flying twin-engine light aircraft the equivalent of several trips around the globe and establishing a network of seismic instruments across an area the size of Texas, a U.S.-led, international team of scientists verified the existence of a mountain range that is suspected to have caused the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet to form and created a detailed picture of the rugged landscape buried under more than four kilometers (2.5 miles) of ice. For the full story, see:

New Balloon Flight-tested--NSF and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) successfully launch and demonstrate a newly designed super pressure balloon prototype that will one day enable a new era of high-altitude scientific research. The super-pressure balloon is expected to ultimately carry large scientific experiments to the brink of space for 100 days or more. For the full story, see:


Antarctic Fossils--NSF-funded scientists working in an ice-free region of Antarctica discover the last traces of tundra-in the form of fossilized plants and insects--on the interior of the southernmost continent before temperatures began a relentless drop millions of years ago. For the full story, see:

Continental Connection--A lone granite boulder found against all odds high atop a glacier in Antarctica may provide additional key evidence to support a theory that parts of the southernmost continent once were connected to North America hundreds of millions of years ago. For the full story, see:

Glacial Earthquakes--New research that integrates seismic recordings with Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements indicates that a 7,000-square-mile region of the Whillians Ice Stream in West Antarctica moves more than two feet twice every day in an earthquake-like pattern equivalent to a Magnitude 7 temblor. For the full story, see:

New Antarctic Ice Core--NSF-funded researchers closed out the inaugural season on an unprecedented, multi-year effort to retrieve the most detailed record of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere over the past 100,000 years. Working as part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide (WAIS Divide) Ice Core Project, the team recovered a 580-meter (1,900-foot) ice core--the first section of what is hoped to be a 3,465-meter (11,360-foot) column of ice detailing 100,000 years of Earth's climate history. For the full story, see:

New South Pole Station Dedicated--The United States dedicated a new scientific station at the geographic South Pole--the third since 1957--officially ushering in a new support system for sophisticated large-scale experiments in disciplines ranging from astrophysics to environmental chemistry and seismology. The dedication of the new Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station took place on Jan. 12.  For the full story, see:

Scientific Balloons Achieve Flight Record--NSF and NASA jointly achieve a new milestone in the almost 20-year history of scientific ballooning in Antarctica, by launching and operating three long-duration sub-orbital flights within a single Southern-Hemisphere summer. For the full story, see


New Satellite Map of Antarctica--Three federal agencies and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) unveiled a uniquely detailed and scientifically accurate satellite mosaic map of Antarctica that is expected to become a standard geographic reference and will give both scientists and the general public an unmatched tool for studying the southernmost continent. For the full story, see:

Lunar Habitat Tested--NSF and NASA used the Antarctic's frigid, harsh, isolated landscape to test a new architecture for astronaut housing on the moon. The agencies sent a prototype inflatable habitat to the southernmost continent to see how the habitat stands up to a year of use. For the full story, see:

Climatologists Honored--Two NSF-funded scientists, a U.S. Antarctic Program glaciologist and a recipient of the National Medal of Science, received the Lowell Thomas Award from the New York-based Explorers Club in recognition of their work at the frontiers of climate research. For the full story, see:

Glaciers Contribution to Sea Level Rise--Ice loss from glaciers and ice caps is expected to cause more global sea rise during this century than the massive Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder study. For the full story, see:

Antarctic Icebergs: Unlikely Oases for Ocean Life--According to a paper published in Science magazine, scientists have discovered that these floating ice islands--some as large as a dozen miles across--have a major impact on the ecology of the ocean around them, serving as "hotspots" for ocean life, with thriving communities of seabirds above and a web of phytoplankton, krill and fish below. For the full story, see:

Lakes Buried Under Antarctic Ice Sheet--NSF should work within the environmental framework of the international Antarctic Treaty system to develop a global scientific consensus on minimally disruptive ways to investigate one of the "last unexplored places on Earth"--a unique system of lakes, and the aquatic systems that may connect them, buried thousands of meters under the Antarctic ice sheet. For the full story, see:

Completion of South Pole Telescope--Just days before nations around the world were set to begin a coordinated global research campaign called the International Polar Year, scientists at the South Pole aimed a massive new telescope at Jupiter and successfully collected the instrument's first test observations. For the full story, see:


Juvenile Fossil Plesiosaur Found--Amid 70-mile-an-hour winds and freezing Antarctic conditions, an American-Argentine research team recovered the well-preserved fossil skeleton of a juvenile plesiosaur--a marine reptile that swam the waters of the Southern Ocean roughly 70 million years ago. The fossil remains represent one of the most-complete plesiosaur skeletons ever found. For the full story, see:

Antarctic Snowfall Unchanged in 50 Years--The most precise record of Antarctic snowfall ever generated shows there has been no real increase in precipitation over the southernmost continent in the past half-century, even though most computer models assessing global climate change call for an increase in Antarctic precipitation as atmospheric temperatures rise. For the full story, see:

South Pole Supply Missions-A four-year project to test the possibility of transporting scientific equipment and material by ground from a field station located on Antarctica's coastal edge to another deep in the continent's center ended in success. The NSF convoy returned to McMurdo Station on Jan. 14, after logging more than 2,056 miles (3,300-kilometers) during its round trip. For the full story, see:


Penguin Microevolution--By comparing the genetic code retrieved from 6,000-year-old remains of Adelie penguins in Antarctica with that of modern Adelies living at the same site as their ancestors, an international team of researchers has shown that microevolution, the process of evolutionary change at or below the species level, has taken place in the population. They also speculate that the remarkable lack of genetic differentiation among Adelie populations from around Antarctica may have been prompted by changes in migration patterns caused by giant icebergs. For the full story, see:


Martian Meteorite--NSF-funded researchers uncover a new Martian meteorite in Antarctica. A field party from the U.S. Antarctic Search for Meteorites program (ANSMET) found the new specimen on Dec. 15, 2003, on an icefield in the Miller Range of the Transantarctic Mountains, roughly 750 kilometers (466 miles) from the South Pole. This 715.2 gram (1.5 pound) black rock, officially designated MIL 03346, was one of 1358 meteorites collected by ANSMET during the 2003-2004 austral summer. For the full story, see:

Lake Vostok--NSF-funded scientists develop the first-ever map of water depth in Lake Vostok, which lies between 3,700 and 4,300 meters (more than 2 miles) below the continental Antarctic ice sheet. The new comprehensive measurements of the lake--roughly the size of North America's Lake Ontario--indicate it is divided into two distinct basins that may have different water chemistry and other characteristics. The findings have important implications for the diversity of microbial life in Lake Vostok and provide a strategy for how scientists study the lake’s different ecosystems should international scientific consensus approve exploration of the pristine and ancient environment. For the full story, see:

Undersea Volcano--Scientists working in the stormy and inhospitable waters off the Antarctic Peninsula find what they believe is an active and previously unknown volcano on the sea bottom. The international science team from the United States and Canada mapped and sampled the ocean floor and collected video and data that indicate a major volcano exists on the Antarctic continental shelf, they announced in a May 5 dispatch from the NSF's research vessel Laurence M. Gould. For the full story, see:

Dinosaurs--Against incredible odds, researchers working in separate sites, thousands of miles apart in Antarctica find what they believe are the fossilized remains of two species of dinosaurs previously unknown to science. One of the two finds, which were made less than a week apart, is an early carnivore that would have lived many millions of years after the other, a plant-eating beast, roamed the Earth.

Climate--Steven D. Emslie, of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, publishes results of his NSF-funded research indicating that a previously unnoticed cooling trend that persisted for a millennium caused enough ice to build up in Antarctica's Ross Sea that thousands of Adelie penguins abandoned their colonies beginning about 2,000 years ago. His techniques, he says, can also help to refine our understanding of climatic change on the southernmost continent. For the full story, see:

2003 -- Data collected by a new seismic observatory at NSF's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station indicate that it is the quietest listening post on the planet for observing shudders produced by earthquakes around the world as they vibrate through the Earth. The South Pole Remote Earth Science Observatory (SPRESO) is located eight kilometers (five miles) from the South Pole and the new seismometers were installed roughly 300 meters (1000 feet) beneath the surface of the continental East Antarctic ice sheet in specially drilled boreholes. For the full story, see:

2002 -- NSF-supported researchers drilling into Lake Vida, an Antarctic "ice-block" lake, find the lake isn't really an ice block at all. In the December issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team reveals that Lake Vida may represent a previously unknown ecosystem, a frigid, "ice-sealed," lake that contains the thickest non-glacial lake ice cover on Earth and water seven times saltier than seawater. Because of the arid, chilled environment in which it resides, scientists believe the lake may be an important template for the search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars and other icy worlds. For the full story, see:

 -- Using a powerful new instrument at the South Pole, a team of cosmologists produces the most detailed images of the early Universe ever recorded. The information was assembled from measurements of the subtle temperature differences in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. The CMB is the remnant radiation that escaped from the rapidly cooling Universe about 400,000 years after the Big Bang. The new results provided additional evidence to support the currently favored model of the universe in which 30 percent of all energy is a strange form of dark matter that doesn't interact with light and 65 percent is in an even stranger form of dark energy that appears to be causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. Only the remaining five percent of the energy in the Universe takes the form of familiar matter like that which makes up planets and stars. For the full story, see:

 -- The movements of two gigantic Antarctic icebergs appear to have dramatically reduced the number of Emperor penguins living and breeding in a colony at Cape Crozier, according to two NSF-funded researchers who visited the site. The colony is one of the first ever visited by human beings early in the 20th century. For the full story, see:

 -- In a paper published in the journal Nature, Robin E. Bell, an NSF-funded researcher at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and her colleagues argue that the hydrodynamics of Lake Vostok, a subglacial lake deep in the Antarctic interior, may make it possible to search for evidence of life in the layers of ice that accumulate on the lake's eastern shore. Scientists say such a possibility would provide another avenue for exploring the lake's potential as a harbor of microscopic life, in addition to actually exploring the waters of the lake itself. Lake Vostok is thought to be one of the world's largest, 48 kilometers (30 miles) wide by 225 kilometers (140 miles) long and 914 meters (3,000 feet) deep. Its waters have been sealed from air and light for perhaps as long as 35 million years under the tremendous pressure of the continental ice sheet. For the full story, see:

 -- Doug MacAyeal, an NSF-funded researcher at the University of Chicago, lands on iceberg B-15A, perhaps for the final time, to update weather station information that will allow scientists to track the gyrations of the berg and its microclimate. MacAyeal notes that collisions between the berg and a smaller, but still sizeable berg, dubbed C-16, will probably cause B-15A to break up. Data previously collected on the icebergs' movements have helped scientists to understand what propels icebergs as they move along the ice shelf and eventually out to sea. For the full story, see:

 2001 -- An eight-member team at NSF's McMurdo Station equipped Weddell seals with cameras and data recorders, providing a rare glimpse into the habits of two very important Southern Ocean species, the Antarctic silverfish and the Antarctic toothfish, which is prized by commercial fishing fleets. Their methods could have wider applications for studying other species that thrive at great depths. For the full news release, see

 -- Peter Doran of the University of Illinois at Chicago argues in a Nature paper on behalf of researchers with NSF's (NSF) Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) site in Antarctica's Dry Valleys that long-term data from weather stations across the continent, coupled with a separate set of measurements from the Dry Valleys, confirm that Antarctica overall has cooled measurably during the last 35 years. For the full news release, see

 -- NSF-funded scientist David Ainley finds that enormous grounded icebergs and an unprecedented amount of sea ice in Antarctica's Ross Sea combined to nearly isolate one of the continent's most populous Adelie penguin colonies. At the same time, NSF-funded researcher Gerald Kooyman discovers that the icebergs' presence also caused a small colony of Emperor penguins to fail to reproduce. For the full news release, see

 -- A team of authors, including John Priscu, an NSF-funded researcher at Montana State University, argue in a paper published in Nature that liquid lakes buried thousands of meters below the Antarctic ice sheet are likely the home to unique habitats and creatures that thrive in them. They also note that exploration of those lakes will require extreme care and international cooperative effort. For the full news release, see

 -- Two teams of cosmologists release spectacular images of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), taken with instruments operating from Antarctica, that reveal the strongest evidence to date for the theory of inflation, the leading model for the formation of the universe. For the full news release, see

 -- NSF-funded researchers install monitors on one of the largest icebergs ever to break away from the Ross Ice Shelf, to track its microclimate and movements.

2000 -- Balloon-borne instruments provide first detailed images of the early universe.

 -- Evidence is discovered of microbes that can survive the extremes of darkness, cold, and ultraviolet radiation at the South Pole.

 -- Studies show that diverse marine mammals employ the same physiological mechanism to dive to great depths.

1999 -- Four new fish species are found in Antarctic waters, giving biologists new insights into the processes of evolution in ecological niches.

 -- Research shows that microorganisms can survive in subglacial Lake Vostok, thousands of meters below the Antarctic ice cap.

1998 -- Measurements show that possible instabilities in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could increase its discharge, raising world sea level more rapidly than at present.

1996 -- A meteorite collected in Antarctica is confirmed to have come from Mars and offers possible evidence for ancient primitive Martian life.

1994 -- Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station provides images of the crash of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 into Jupiter.

1992 -- An estimated six to 12 percent reduction in Antarctic marine primary production is reported as a result of increases in ultra violet radiation from the Antarctic "ozone hole."

1991 -- Fossil of 25-ft-long dinosaur discovered 350 miles from the South Pole proves dinosaurs were on every continent.

1988 -- Sea-floor drilling shows that a much larger Antarctic ice sheet existed 35 million years ago.

1986 -- Research at McMurdo Station, the main U.S. scientific station in Antarctica, establishes chlorofluorocarbons as the probable cause of the Antarctic ozone hole.

1984 -- At the South Pole, a sensitive ground-based detector records the largest solar cosmic ray event since 1956.

1982 -- A fossil mammal discovered on Seymour Island proves Antarctica and South America were connected as recently as 40 million years ago.

Science at the South Pole.

For information on the University of Chicago's Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica, see:

For information on the University of Wisconsin's Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector (AMANDA), see:

The Search for Antarctic Meteorites.



Media Contacts
Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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