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More than Science

Live from Antarctica is a multimedia and interdisciplinary project. We hope that many schools will find ways to involve math and language, social studies and art classes, along with science. To encourage that, and to provide examples of imagination and fine writing, we have selected several excerpts from the work of some of those who have traveled South as part of the National Science Foundation's Artists and Writers Program. This is what NSF says about its intent:

At mid-century half of Antarctica still had not been seen. Since then, scientists from the United States and other nations have been engaged in research aimed at knowing Antarctica and its relationship with the rest of the planet. Under the Antarctic Treaty, which reserves this large region for peaceful purposes, scientific inquiry has been the overwhelming focus of the human presence...

Among the scientists has been a tiny presence of scholars from that other great realm, the arts. What, they ask, is Antarctica like? What is Antarctica's contribution to our culture and heritage? And what is it like to be there? Science is not equipped to answer these questions completely. The National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program enables artists, writers, photographers, poets, and other scholars in the humanities to participate in the U.S. Antarctic Program. The artist, like the scientist, is selected competitively. Like the scientist, the artist is obliged to convince the Foundation not only of the value of his or her project but also that the resultant works will reach a significant audience.

Who Goes to Antarctica and Why?


Antarctica is one of the last frontiers on Earth. Your students may be interested to know that the knowledge-seekers and adventurers who set off for Antarctica are not all adults. When Admiral Byrd made his historic expedition in 1928, an 18-year-old Boy Scout, Paul Siple, was part of the group. In 1985, a group of Girl Scouts made the journey. Today there is a very competitive program that makes it possible for Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts to win a trek to Antarctica. They have helped to tag seals, observed penguins, and collected fossils that are hundreds of millions of years old. Girl Scout Julie Hagelin monitored a weather balloon that she released at McMurdo Station to measure the winds and temperature. We hope you and your students will be able to meet and interact with antarctic adventurers like these students, teachers, and professional scientists either on-line or on air in one of the Live from Antarctica programs.


One way to help your students get more involved in these programs is to challenge them to create a plan for their electronic field trip to Antarctica. Who knows, this "virtual adventure" just might take them, like Paul Siple or Julie Hagelin, on a course that leads to a real-world, flesh-and-blood excursion to Antarctica?

Activity 1: What Would I Study in Antarctica?

Objective: To help students think about the different kinds of scientific research that take place in Antarctica

A good way to begin this activity is by challenging your students to find out why anyone can't just buy a ticket to Antarctica. Ask them which country owns Antarctica. These questions will be explored more fully in the last program (January 19, 1995), but students will certainly be better prepared if they search for the answers themselves. Explain to your students that many different interests draw scientists to Antarctica and the South Pole. The brochure from The United States Antarctic Program lists the following scientific disciplines engaged in investigations at the South Pole and provides a brief description of how Antarctica is a very special kind of "global laboratory" for such investigations:

Astronomy 	Upper Atmosphere Physics 	Atmospheric Science 	
Oceanography 	Marine Geology 	 Terrestrial Biology 	
Marine Biology 	Glaciology 	 Earth Science 	Medical Research

Have your students read these paragraphs and then do some independent work to come up with their own proposal for research. Younger students can write up simple plans that could involve observing penguin behavior at the ice-edge of the Weddell Sea, searching for flowering plants on the coast of the Palmer Peninsula, or looking for dinosaur fossils. Older students might be interested in studying smaller insects like the wingless midge; comparing alternate theories about continental drift, ocean rifts, and plate tectonics; measuring the ozone hole; exploring infrared astronomy at the South Pole; or designing studies of the effects (physical and psychological) of severe isolation on humans. Each student should come up with a proposal for what he or she would study if chosen to go to the antarctic.


After your students have thought about why they might want to go to Antarctica, try a second activity. This one focuses on helping them think about the actual trip. Their electronic field trip will not require any packing, or crossing deep crevasses, or frostbite, but students might feel more involved if they had to consider what they would take with them and how they would survive if they were fortunate enough to be selected to make the journey.

Activity 2: Packing and Planning for a Trip to Antarctica

Objective: To help students visualize the climate, terrain, and living conditions of Antarctica

  1. Ask students to describe their pre-existing images of Antarctica. Prompt them to think about things that they might take for granted, like plumbing and electricity. Ask them if they think there are streets, traffic lights, trains, airports with runways, restaurants, movie theatres, and hotels in Antarctica. How do they think people travel from one part of Antarctica to another? Encourage them to consider each of the following: bikes, cars, trucks with wheels, trains, and canoes; help them understand why they might not be efficient means of transportation.
  2. Have students make a preliminary packing list. Share these lists with classmates.

Discussion 1 - Keeping Warm
What do you wear to stay warm in weather that is well below zero most of the time? Ask students about the coldest weather they have ever experienced. What did it feel like and how did they keep warm? Ask them if it is better to wear one very large and bulky item or many layers of thinner materials. Have them explain their reasons.

Explain: "Seen on the Ice"

Helicopters, cargo planes, and snowmobiles are the most common forms of transportation. It is too cold to travel very far on skis (although they are a popular form of recreation around McMurdo, America's main base). The airports have ice runways and airplane wheels are replaced by skis. Research stations at the Pole or McMurdo have a number of connected rooms or separated buildings that provide for different types of activities. They include housing in dormitories. You would likely sleep in a room with several beds and have at least one or more roommates. Of course, there are places where food is prepared and eaten. There are science laboratories and storerooms for equipment such as snowmobiles, generators, gas-powered ice augers, rock drills, chain saws, portable dive compressors, and anything else that you might need to take to your research field site.

Before you leave the research station, you must have everything you need to survive with you. There are no convenience stores from which you can pick up forgotten supplies, and the helicopters (they're called "helos" for short on the Ice) may not always be able to get to you if the weather takes a turn for the worse. On-line you will find two short Guides that welcome you to McMurdo Station and the Pole. The first provides you with information about your stay. The second, the USAP's official Field Manual, is full of tips about how to survive in the extreme cold of remote field sites. You will, of course, see nearly all of these places in the videos, and will find them described in human terms in the on-line Field Journals.

Activity 3: Insulating Materials and the Cold

Objective: To have students formulate a hypothesis and conduct an investigation to determine what material offers the best protection against the cold

Materials: (per group of four students)

  • scraps of fabric 20 cm x 20 cm (8-inch squares) including wool, cotton, down, fur, and synthetic fabrics such as nylon, Polypropylene, and fiber fills.
  • 2 baby-food jars
  • warm water
  • thermometer

Brainstorm with students to generate possible hypotheses about which materials will maintain heat most efficiently. Have each group decide which material they will test. Have students develop a controlled testing situation.


  1. Have students in each group pour the warm water into the baby-food jars, take the temperature of the water in each jar, and record their data.
  2. Have students wrap one or more layers of their chosen material around one jar and secure it with a rubber band. The other jar should be left unwrapped as a control. Students should record the starting time and temperature and a description of the insulation material.
  3. After 20 minutes, students should take the temperature of the water in each jar and record it on their data table.
  4. Make a class chart organizing the data from the investigation in order of the number of degrees of heat loss for different materials tested.
  5. Allow students to draw verbal conclusions from the class data chart. Were there any unusual results? If they repeated the investigation, what would they choose to do differently?


If you were going to Antarctica as an NSF grantee, you would be issued the following:

  • 2 sets of long underwear (different weights)
  • water bottle
  • 3 pairs of gloves (different types)
  • 6 pairs of wool socks
  • 3 outer jackets (different types)
  • hat
  • 1 fur-lined outer jacket
  • boots
  • 3 pairs of mittens (different)
  • pair of glove liners
  • 2 outer layer pants (different weights)
  • goggles
  • neck gaiter

You could supplement this with personal items that you already have for cold weather. Keeping a human being warm is complicated because of moisture created by the body when it is too warm. Materials close to the skin need to be kept dry.


Because it is likely that there will be no buildings at your research site, what type of portable housing could you construct or have moved to the field site? Where would you live in an emergency if you got trapped on the ice?

To dress for the cold, you need to think in four layers:

  1. First Layer: tight, nonabsorbent materials to keep body moisture away
  2. Mid Layers: loose fit, trap air and keep body moisture away
  3. Insulation Layer: thickness
  4. Shell Layer: windproof, waterproof, and breathable to let moisture escape

Discussion 2 - Building Shelters
What do you do when you get to a remote site? What kind of structure might you build? What can you carry with you? Have students think about the availability of natural building materials. The Field Manual (found on-line) gives detailed instructions for building snow shelters of all kinds. It describes where to find the ice and snow and how to build snow walls, snow trenches, snow mounds, snow caves, and the most difficult of all, igloos. These snow huts provide protection from the wind and cold.

Discussion 3 - Survival
What equipment would you take with you? Have students think about what they would need and see what they would put in their Survival Bag. Compare their lists (and their original packing list from Activity 2) with the following description of a Survival Bag that would be carried by helicopter:

-2 sleeping bags	1 snow shovel	      1 camp stove	1 first-aid kit
-2 ensolite pads	1 sledge hammer	      2 white gas       1 signal kit 
-1 Westwind tent 	1 overcoat	      1 box of matches  1 survival guide
-10 tent stakes		1 pair of socks	      1 cook set        1 game 
-6 ice screws		1 pair of gloves      2 spoons          parachute cord 
-2 snow flukes		1 pair of mittens     2 cups	        toilet paper

and enough food for 6 days, including 6 freeze-dried meals, 3 bags of trail mix, 6 cups of soup, 12 tea bags, 12 granola bars, and 12 packages of cocoa mix.

Are We Ready For Our Electronic Field Trip?

Now, with a little more knowledge about the location and how to survive there, and hopefully, with some excitement, your students are ready to think about the content of their adventures.

If they are looking for clues to our geological past, trapped in the ice and earth, they will want to prepare for

Program 1: The Coldest, Windiest, Iciest Place on Earth 
Dec.13,1994, 2:00 Eastern (14:00 hrs.) 

If they are interested in the life forms of the continent, they will be eager to watch

Program 2: Life in Antarctica, Then and Now 
Dec.15,1994, 2:00 Eastern (14:00 hrs.) 

The astronomers in your group will enjoy the trip to the South Pole in

Program 3: Spaceship South Pole 
Jan.10,1995, 5:30 Eastern (17:30 hrs.)

And those who are interested in the future of Antarctica and its clues to our global future should tune in to

Program 4: From Pole to Planet 
Jan.19,1995, 1:00 Eastern (13:00 hrs.) 

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