Chapter III

Antarctica: A Unique Laboratory for Science

A. United States Investments in Scientific Research in Antarctica

Science is the principal human activity in Antarctica. The continent and the seas around it are a natural laboratory in which to investigate fundamental questions in astronomy and astrophysics, glaciology, geology, geophysics, oceanography, the atmospheric sciences, ecology, biology, and biomedical science. Insights from these disciplines provide new knowledge, with global implications. The harsh, desolate, and remote land areas provide unparalleled research analogs for other planets.

Since the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-1958, the U.S. has been the leader in scientific research in Antarctica. U.S. investment in Antarctic exploration and research over the past four decades is consistent with the region's scientific opportunities. The return for the nation's investment has been (i) a broad spectrum of results of meritorious scientific research, described below; (ii) a capacity to work at the cutting edge of science under harsh and remote conditions; and (iii) an operational infrastructure, essential to continuation of this science, that is unequaled by any other nation.

The NSF assures excellence by funding the best proposals received from scientists affiliated with universities and other research institutions (see Appendix III for a list of institutions funded in FY 95). USAP conducts competitive reviews of proposals to establish scientific quality, and the scientifically meritorious proposals receive logistical, environmental, and safety reviews.

Research and education in the USAP are driven by the desire to understand fundamental phenomena and processes and to use that understanding to serve society. The science may be viewed as having three overlapping perspectives afforded by the special conditions that exist in Antarctica. These three perspectives are described below.

1. Understanding the Earth and Its Large-Scale Systems

Antarctica and its surrounding oceans - 10% of Earth's land mass and 6% of its oceans - provide major opportunities for research to expand fundamental knowledge of the region and to help us understand global issues such as continental drift, climate change, ocean circulation, and pollution. Antarctica holds a key to understanding continental drift and plate tectonics because it has been a major component of several supercontinents. Changes in the region's oceans pivotally influence world deep ocean circulation and biotic productivity. Isolation from industrial centers has made the region ideal for measuring natural variability of the atmosphere and anthropogenic impacts on it. The continental ice sheet volume and the seasonal variation in sea ice extent beyond the continent influence atmospheric and oceanic circulation around Antarctica. Human-caused increases of greenhouse gases (e.g., CO2 , chlorofluorocarbons, and methane) may have profound effects in the region, where models predict greater change than in temperate latitudes. The southern ocean is a major sink for atmospheric gases, particularly CO2; the estimated absorption is about 30% of the CO2 discharged worldwide into the atmosphere.

This latter topic will receive attention in the next few years under the southern ocean Experiment of the international Joint Global Flux Study (JGOFS). This study traces the oceanic branch of the flow of carbon from fossil-fuel burning on land through the atmospheric carbon dioxide reservoir into the ocean to ultimate burial in the sea floor. In the ocean, carbon dioxide takes many interconnected pathways through the food chain, few of which are well known. These pathways depend on the levels of dissolved nutrients, the activity of bacteria, the amount of available sunlight, and the levels of trace metals such as iron. It is not yet known how these processes work together in the southern ocean and how they will respond to and affect global change.

Upon completion of JGOFS, the Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics (GLOBEC) will extend to the southern ocean. Organized by oceanographers and fisheries scientists, GLOBEC asks how environmental change affects the abundance and production of marine animals. The southern ocean contains huge quantities of zooplankton (which feed fish and animals at higher levels in the food web), and it drives global ocean circulation. Because of these features, the southern ocean work can combine the goals of JGOFS and GLOBEC: investigators will be able to assess the effects of climate change on the cycling of chemical constituents through both the marine food web and the inorganic environment, and they will study how these processes interact to control the productivity of marine life. Before field work begins, modeling studies will be supported to guide the design and implementation of the projects.

Fish Antifreeze Proteins

Recent research on the virtual elimination of stratospheric ozone over Antarctica each spring has aroused international attention. Data collected in Antarctica show that atmospheric chemistry processes, stimulated especially by the buildup of artificial chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), is destroying the ozone. One consequence of a decrease in ozone is an increase in the amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching Earth, which if sustained could cause skin cancer, cataracts, and immune system damage to higher animals, including humans. Research on Antarctic phytoplankton has shown that their concentration is measurably decreased by increased ultraviolet radiation.

Following are additional examples of research on the involvement of the Antarctic in global processes.

2. Antarctica as a Unique Natural Laboratory

Antarctica is the coldest, driest, highest, windiest and most isolated continent on Earth, and as a result Antarctica is an expensive and difficult place to do research. However, these unique conditions also provide the opportunity to do research that can be only or best accomplished in the Antarctic. The region, spanning a wide range of latitudes, provides an ideal platform without international boundaries. Following are some examples of USAP results in several different research areas.

3. Exploration of the Geographical Frontier

U.S. exploration in Antarctica began in the 1790s with American sealers exploring islands around the Antarctic Peninsula. The U.S. did not participate in the Heroic Era of Antarctic exploration in the early 1900s, but resumed involvement in 1928 with Richard E. Byrd's expedition. Byrd acquired more geographical, geological, and meteorological information about the Antarctic than any other expedition of the time. During the 1930s, Byrd continued exploration and mapping - including aerial surveys - and work in several scientific fields.

In the footsteps of the early explorers, U.S. investigators continue to explore the Antarctic using advanced technology. Contemporary exploratory research goes beyond mapping to address questions across many scientific disciplines. Here are some examples:

Additional examples of exploration of the Antarctic frontier:

Return to the Table of Contents

B. U.S. Antarctic Stations

The year-round stations were placed to meet research and operational needs, but their locations serve geopolitical purposes as well.

Figure III-1. Map of Antarctica showing major areas and facilities of interest to USAP

Research addressing interrelated Earth systems requires an array of research-support facilities. An example of coordinated use of U.S. Antarctic Program facilities is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet program, aimed at understanding the behavior of the world's only marine-based ice sheet left from the last ice age. This program includes aerial geophysics, oversnow geophysical and glaciological traverses, shallow and deep ice core drilling, marine geophysics and geology, and glacial geology. The aerial geophysics requires an inland camp supported through McMurdo. The glaciological and geophysical traverses depend on McMurdo's infrastructure and on temporary camps or seasonal facilities such as Byrd Surface Camp; South Pole Station also can be a hub for traverses. The snow coring and ice drilling require camps supported through McMurdo. All the camps and seasonal facilities, such as Byrd Surface Camp, depend on the heavy-lift, ski-equipped LC-130 airplanes, which in turn depend on air-support facilities at McMurdo. The marine research in the Ross Sea and coastal areas of west Antarctica requires R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer; this research would be conducted inefficiently without the ability to call at McMurdo for fuel, supplies, and scientist exchange. Without McMurdo, the ship would spend much more time in transit between the Antarctic and ports in southern hemisphere countries.

Antarctica and NASA's "Origins" Program

The table below indicates what percentage of a discipline is supported by which research platform.

Table III-1. Percentage of USAP Research Funding by Discipline and Facility

1. McMurdo Station

McMurdo Station's total cost in FY 95, including both operations ($77.55M) and science support ($32.41M), was $110M. See Table IV-1 for additional details.

The largest research station in Antarctica, McMurdo is built on the bare volcanic rock of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island, surrounded by water with semi-permanent ice cover. The station is critical as a staging facility for logistics support to field camps in the continent's interior and the U.S. station at the South Pole.

Ocean Floor Mapping

McMurdo is by far Antarctica's most valuable high-latitude location for operations and science. In addition to being on one of Antarctica's rare areas of solid ground, making permanent structures possible, it harbors no wildlife to be disturbed, and it has a deep-water harbor that is some 750 miles closer to the South Pole than any other port. Natural ice features adjacent to the station have enabled the construction of aircraft facilities on sea ice (seasonal runway for wheeled planes), on the Ross Ice Shelf (year-round for ski-equipped planes) and at a site known as Pegasus (on glacier ice) for wheeled operations in all but the warmest months. The airlift capability of this station makes the whole of the continent accessible to biologists, geologists, glaciologists, and geophysicists.

Antarctica and Remote Sensing: Understanding Earth's Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Change

McMurdo Station is the site of the Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Laboratory, a state-of-the-art research facility that supports a wide range of research projects. McMurdo Station is the hub for research in the nearby Dry Valleys, where researchers like Dr. John Priscu from Montana State University discovered cyanobacteria living in the permanent ice of the Dry Valley lakes. Remote field camps dependent on McMurdo support a wide variety of research to understand the Earth and its systems, including the response of the west Antarctic ice sheet research to climate change, long-term ecological studies, ozone research and the connection to biological productivity, and ice core drilling to provide data about paleoenvironments. It also supports the exploration of the geographical frontier, providing the logistics base for remote geological and geophysical research.

In 1993 the McMurdo Dry Valleys area was designated as an NSF Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, joining a network of 18 sites where comparative ecosystem research is conducted to determine the common mechanisms controlling change in these systems. Several institutions are involved in this research, which is led by Dr. Robert A. Wharton, Jr., Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada. Researchers study the complex dynamics of the polar desert environment, which is characterized by extremes of cold and light-dark cycles.

In addition to research to learn about Antarctica, the Dry Valleys are considered to be the terrestrial environment most similar to conditions on Mars. Ongoing research of mechanical erosion by particles driven by high winds in the dry valleys may give scientists clues to Martian surface processes. Other projects have focused on the ability of simple plant life to exist in niches never before considered to be habitable. Because of these circumstances, NASA and NSF have developed a cooperative agreement to utilize this region for planetary analog studies.

Byrd Surface Camp in central west Antarctic is an example of a remote logistics site capable of supporting many projects. Currently the most important is an aerogeophysics program that uses a specially configured twin otter aircraft to map the ice sheet and the underlying lithosphere to investigate the west Antarctic ice sheet. This involves researchers from three institutions and is headed by Dr. Donald Blankenship and others from the University of Texas at Austin. The west Antarctic ice sheet is the only remaining marine ice sheet (those that have their base below sea level and float at their margins) in the world. There is strong evidence that the disintegration or collapse of marine ice sheets is associated with periods of rapid sea-level rise. The research will help us understand how this marine ice sheet operates and determine if it is vulnerable to future disintegration or collapse. Such an event would have a significant impact on global sea level.

The logistical support capabilities of McMurdo Station allow temporary field camps to be established to focus research on remote parts of the Antarctic interior. In the 1995-96 summer season, one field camp was located at the Shackleton Glacier in the central part of the Transantarctic Mountains. This camp provided support for 12 research teams coordinated by Dr. David H. Elliot (Ohio State University). The projects focused on a range of topics from paleobotany, paleoenvironment, tectonics, sedimentology, and glaciology, with the aim of understanding the complex interactions between biology, climate, and glacial geology in this fossil rich area. The central Transantarctic Mountains, which contain rocks that were formed when Antarctica was part of Gondwana and formed a land link between Australia, South America, and Africa, have features of high scientific value. Among these are a Triassic fossil forest with tree stumps in growth position, which offers the unique chance to study tree density in a forest over 200 million years old. Vertebrate fossils, another special feature of this region, prove the existence of large carnivorous dinosaurs, along with the diverse ecosystem needed to support such large animals during the Jurassic (about 170 million years ago). Abundant fossils of small vertebrate show a wide diversity of life during the Cretaceous (about 100 million years ago).

With the present Antarctic activities, McMurdo is required to operate year-round. It is the logistics hub for all interior U.S. field camps and the lifeline for Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Consequently, shutting down McMurdo implies shutting down Amundsen-South Pole Station. Critical research on ozone depletion and UV monitoring at both McMurdo and the South Pole must be conducted during the period of ozone depletion (austral winter). Closing McMurdo in winter would reduce the amount of science, including summer science, that could be done at McMurdo, South Pole, and the camps. The time involved in shutting down the station and reactivating it in spring would shorten summer science by 1 to 2 months out of a season that weather restricts to less than 5 months.

2. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station's total cost in FY 95, including both operations ($5.54M) and science support ($10.95), was $16.60M. The amount for operations is relatively low because this station depends totally on McMurdo Station, and some costs attributed to McMurdo Station help support Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Because of its location on an ice sheet 3 km thick at Earth's axis of rotation, its cold dry atmosphere, and its remoteness from centers of human population, the U.S. station at the South Pole has unique and important advantages for conducting world-leading science in earth seismology, astronomy, astrophysics, and atmospheric chemistry

It is the best developed observatory site on Earth for infrared and submillimeter astronomy. Measurements in 1992 showed that the atmosphere over the South Pole is virtually transparent most of the time in the far infrared part of the spectrum, demonstrating that the site is excellent for millimeter- and submillimeter-wavelength radio astronomy. Subsequent measurements, especially by the Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory, showed that the site is far better than the next best established site, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, particularly at even shorter submillimeter wavelengths.

The atmosphere above South Pole also is very stable, exhibiting variations on the order of days or weeks, rather than a few hours at sites with a normal 24-hour diurnal cycle. Also, any astronomical object or patch of sky remains at the same elevation for long periods. For many science projects, these factors are even more important than the low opacity. One example is the measurement of the cosmic microwave background anisotropy, which provides insight into the early periods of the Universe. Such measurement requires detecting very small differences (about 1 part in 100,000) in the strength of the signal in different directions, a sensitivity that can be achieved only by making measurements for long periods.

Due to its location on the rotational axis of Earth and its distance from artificial and natural vibrations (Antarctica is almost aseismic), the South Pole is valuable for observation of seismic and atmospheric waves originating anywhere in the world, and it has been used for this purpose for many years. The South Pole is one of only a few high southern latitude stations to study world-wide seismicity. Records from the South Pole of large earthquakes that occur around the world are important for gaining knowledge about Earth's deep interior.

The location on an extensive, deep, and remarkably transparent ice sheet has made possible recent installation of a prototype muon and neutrino detector array that is already the largest on Earth and may prove an effective way to do high-energy neutrino astronomy when an relatively inexpensive cubic-kilometer array is completed. During the 1995-96 season, the Polar Ice Coring Office used hot-water drilling to create four more holes from 1,900 to 2,200 meters deep for the next phase of the Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector array.

The Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica (CARA), administered by Dr. Doyal Harper of the University of Chicago, continues planned operations, including cosmic microwave background, submillimeter, and near-infrared observations, and in collaboration with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, installed a new mid-infrared telescope for testing at the South Pole. CARA, one of NSF's 24 Science and Technology Centers, is headquartered at the University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory, and represents collaboration among six universities, AT&T Bell Labs, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The group works closely with other universities, Lockheed-Martin, several foreign institutions, and NASA.

The station also makes possible research that contributes to understanding Earth and its large-scale systems. For example, its remoteness from population centers makes it ideal for observing background constituents of the planet's air and for determining long-term effects of human activities on the atmosphere. Other areas of research include glaciology and atmospheric physics. As an example, light detecting and ranging (LIDAR) instruments measure such atmospheric features as polar stratospheric clouds, atmospheric temperature profiles, aerosols, and the dynamics of the atmosphere at an altitude near 90 km.

Researchers from the U.S. Army's Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory drilled a second access hole to the station's Rodriguez well - an innovative and efficient engineering solution to the station's domestic water needs - and then sent down a collector to retrieve micrometeorites that had fallen on the snow surface, been buried by later layers of snow, and then dropped to the bottom of the water column when the well was established. This unique source of large volumes of micrometeorites is being calibrated for age, changes in composition over time, and variations in the location of their source all valuable data for understanding the history of the solar system.

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is an ideal location to test the hypothesis, derived from climate models, that suggests that global warming might increase atmospheric water vapor and thus the amount of precipitation that occurs around the globe. Increased precipitation and subsequent ice sheet growth would eventually lower sea level, counterbalancing increases from other factors such as thermal expansion of sea water and melting of tropical and alpine glaciers. Recent measurements of snow accumulation at South Pole, performed by Dr. Ellen Mosley-Thompson (Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University) have demonstrated that accumulation has increased more than 20% in the last two decades. It is important to know if this increase is due to increases of atmospheric temperature or if other factors, such as changes in atmospheric circulation, have played a role.

Operating Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station year-round is necessary for both operational and scientific reasons. The period of access by air at South Pole is only 3 1/2; months long during the austral summer, and most that period is required just to install and make operational the complex equipment used there. To make significant observations requires that experiments be run in winter, which for many experiments provides the best or only viable conditions. Environmental monitoring experiments, such as air sampling, require year-round operations for their results to be credible. Some services, such as heat and power, would have to be continued in winter to maintain anything like the current level of experimental sophistication, since it would be unrealistic to expect computers and other sensitive equipment to run after cold soaking for 8 months at South Pole temperatures ranging -55° to -120° C. Annual removal and replacement of these systems for use in summer only would be impractical.

Some ionospheric and magnetospheric studies at the South Pole could be done using Automatic Geophysical Observatories (AGOs) similar to those at several remote Antarctic sites. The data could be recovered on annual servicing visits, as is done at the other AGOs. Although AGOs might be adapted for monitoring other than what they now do, most current South Pole science would be lost. Some science might be transferred to other places, e.g., the Clean Air Facility operated at South Pole by NOAA, although the onsite NOAA technicians depend on the central station for their subsistence. For astronomy and astrophysics especially, there is no ready alternative site for most of the projects.

3. Palmer Station

Palmer Station's cost in FY 95, including both operations ($6.07M) and science support ($5.95M), was $12.02M.

Much as McMurdo Station offers entry to the continent's interior for biologists, geologists, glaciologists, and geophysicists, Palmer Station offers entry to the southern ocean for marine biologists and oceanographers. Palmer's laboratories complement research conducted on R/V Polar Duke. This station is located in an area of overlapping claims of three countries: Chile, Argentina, and Great Britain. Palmer, while the smallest of the U.S. stations, offers unique opportunities for research. Its location next to the Antarctic Peninsula is significant due to the maritime climate and proximity to large concentrations of birds, mammals, sea life, and terrestrial plants. Since the 1970s, research has been conducted on the population dynamics of seabirds and other marine organisms. Additional long-term research has been instituted for UV radiation, climatology, and worldwide seismic monitoring. Research on the ecology and population biology of seabirds, on adaptations of fish to cold temperatures, and on the effects of UV radiation on marine and terrestrial plants is possible due to the accessibility of the station to these organisms. The laboratories at Palmer Station also enable joint shipboard-station research on the marine ecosystem. Instrumentation at the station provides critical satellite imaging support for research cruises in the Peninsula region and in the Weddell Sea.

Much research at Palmer Station consists of long-term data collection and monitoring. In 1992 the Palmer Station area was designated as the second of NSF's Antarctic Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites, the only marine ecosystem in the network of 18 sites. This research focuses on the effects of interannual variation in sea ice extent on the marine community, which includes phytoplankton, krill, and seabirds. Drs. Robin Ross and Langdon B. Quetin (University of California at Santa Barbara) lead this effort, which involves six U.S. institutions. Ongoing LTER studies at the station and onboard ship along the Antarctic Peninsula help in understanding the links between the terrestrial and marine environments. Studies also are performed on the role of marine bacteria in the carbon cycle, the effects of ozone-hole-enhanced UV radiation on grasses that occur only on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the molecular biology of fishes. Long-term monitoring of human impacts focuses on effects of the 1989 fuel spill by an Argentine ship (Antarctica's largest fuel spill) 1 mile from Palmer Station and on the impact of tourist visits on the population dynamics of Adélie penguins.

Palmer Station's marine location, high average cloudiness, and remoteness from anthropogenic air pollution sources made it a natural site for a recent study of what is called the cloud-climate feedback effect. Algae in surface waters produce dimethylsulfide, a gas that through chemical reactions forms minute airborne sulfur particles. These particles act as nuclei for the condensation of water droplets, which form clouds. This study for the first time identified hours-long bursts of new cloud-condensation nuclei, which contribute to climatic cooling by increasing cloud cover.

Palmer is the only U.S. Antarctic station that is accessible year-round, providing the opportunity for research on seasonal ecosystem responses to climate change, the entire reproductive cycle of seabirds, and the adaptations of organisms to a polar environment or changes in an ecosystem. Ozone depletion and UV radiation monitoring research must be conducted during the ozone hole from August through November. Long-term research for atmospheric trace gas concentration, UV-radiation measurements, seismic monitoring for earthquake research, very low frequency radio waves, and satellite remote sensing require onsite year-round operators for data collection, processing, and instrument maintenance. These data are transmitted worldwide for study by scientists who never need travel to Antarctica. To maximize berthing for scientists in summer, more of the maintenance and laboratory and stockroom preparation are now done in the austral winter.

4. Research Vessels

The cost for the Nathaniel B. Palmer and the Polar Duke in FY 95 was $21.82M.

The Antarctic ocean covers an area larger than the area of the continent. Scientific studies in this vast ocean are varied, involve many disciplines, and require research vessels with icebreaking capability. For example, global ocean circulation and thus climate are strongly affected by the formation and flow of deep bottom waters emanating from the Antarctic ocean. Global carbon balance is expected to be significantly affected by southern-ocean phytoplankton blooms. Understanding this carbon balance is important to understanding the formation of atmospheric CO2 and its contribution to "greenhouse" gases and global warming. Study of the effects of UV penetration into the Antarctic ocean and its subsequent effects on oceanic microorganisms is leading to our understanding of the potential effects of the ozone hole on marine life. Energy exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean, moderated by sea ice, affects regional and global climate; Dr. Martin Jeffries, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, is performing seminal research to better define and describe variations in sea ice types using data collected from the Nathaniel B. Palmer and by satellite. Marine geological studies are providing the understanding of the ebb and flow of Antarctica's continental ice sheets over time and are helping to unravel the little-understood tectonic history of the oceanic plates surrounding the continent.

To study this ocean and its global impacts the U.S. Antarctic Program operates two vessels. In most years more than 20 principal investigators from institutions throughout the United States head projects that utilize these research vessels. For example, Dr. John B. Anderson, Rice University, has collected an extensive series of ocean-bottom sedimentary cores to obtain a record of past southern hemisphere glaciation.

R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer and R/V Polar Duke differ in design and capability. The larger ship, the Palmer, is an icebreaking research vessel designed to work year-round throughout the Antarctic ocean. Built in 1992, it is operated for the NSF by a contractor on a long-term charter. This 309-foot research vessel is capable of breaking 3 feet of level ice at 3 knots. With over 4,000 square feet of exterior main deck working area and over 5,500 square feet of laboratory space, the vessel can accommodate 37 scientists. Its operating staff normally consists of 20-24 crew and 6-8 science support personnel. The Palmer provides singular opportunities for physical, chemical and biological oceanographers, marine geologists, and geophysicists because it is the only icebreaking vessel in the world dedicated to research in the southern ocean.

Polar Duke supports research primarily in the biologically rich Antarctic Peninsula area. The ship also provides all logistic support for Palmer Station. Polar Duke is a 219-foot ice-strengthened research vessel on long-term charter used primarily by physiologists, microbiologists, and oceanographers in the southern ocean and Antarctic regional waters.

Marine Fuel Spill Response: A Case Study in Polar Waters

5. Summary Analysis of the Stations and Ships

The three stations and two ships give the United States the capability for total coverage in Antarctica. They also enable support of year-round science that is necessary to the solution of many research questions. Where possible, the need for winter data is met using unmanned geophysical observatories and weather stations, of which there are now 54; 15 years ago there were none.

The latitudinal array of the three U.S. stations, spanning 1,800 south-to-north miles from 90°S (South Pole) to 78°S (McMurdo) to 64°S (Palmer), anchors trusted, long-term, year-round data sets in the world's most data-sparse region. It provides opportunities to continue research in complementary Antarctic settings and to correlate changes in the global environment. The critical role of work on the ground in the Antarctic in learning what caused the ozone hole is well documented; less frequently discussed is the fact that the ozone hole was a surprise, and the ability to place outstanding stratospheric chemists in Antarctica within a few months of its discovery depended on the existence of McMurdo as a wintering station.

Operationally, the seasonal cycle varies at the three stations. South Pole's summer, the only time when surface temperatures are high enough to allow airplanes to land, is an intensive period of instrument installation, repair, and replacement and of outdoor construction. In winter, activities withdraw indoors, and science - dependent mostly on instrument-based observations and data collection - is in full swing. The 8 1/2-month wintering is science payoff time at the South Pole. McMurdo is the opposite. Because it supports mostly outdoor science (geology, geophysics, glaciology, biology, the pursuit of which is impractical or impossible in winter) construction, repairs, and maintenance are deferred to winter, where possible, to enable full and efficient support of summer science while keeping the lid on summer population peaks. Palmer, though accessible year-round, also has a summer-winter cycle, timed mainly for support of marine biology focused on the summer-intensive breeding cycle of wildlife.

Nathaniel B. Palmer's winter operations are a response to research demanded for decades. Winter science now is being performed in areas where ships have gone, only briefly, even in summer and never before in winter. Polar Duke does year-round science focused on the Antarctic Peninsula area and enables year-round access to Palmer.

Return to the Table of Contents