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"Antarctica: Who Needs It?"

A debate about the cost and value of the USAP

Teacher Background

As we've seen, Antarctica has provided key insights into the functioning of our planet and its creatures, as well as providing spiritual challenge and a new frontier to explore. But American research in Antarctica is only made possible by government funds, and-as all students know-balancing budgets and assigning priorities is a local and national concern. Some in Congress have suggested that the U.S. does not need 3 permanent Antarctic bases: most agree McMurdo has to stay, but some argue Palmer should be closed, and others that Amundsen-Scott should be cut back rather than refurbished, and/or "internationalized" to share costs.

This Activity uses the format of a debate, "Resolved: that Palmer Station should be Closed", to motivate students' research on the value of Antarctic science, its costs in comparison to other national activities, and the role of Palmer in such a context.


Students will synthesize, articulate and communicate what they've learned during LFA 2 about the unique contributions of Antarctica, and Palmer Station and its associated ship-based projects.

Students will practice and demonstrate appropriate debating skills.


  • Blackline Master #20: Excerpts from the report on the USAP by the Committee on Fundamental Science, National Science and Technology Council, April 1996, detailing Palmer Station operations among other topics.
  • Antarctic Logbooks
  • notebook paper, file cards, pens/pencils
  • on-line access if available
  • Blackline Master #21: A Guide to Debating
  • Blackline Master #22: Debate Judging Criteria


Ask students to recall the different research activities going on at Palmer Station. List them. Distribute copies of the NSTC Report (see Materials.) Note that the 1995 cost of Palmer operations-operations and science-was some $12.02 million. (This does not include the 2 ships which both support Palmer, and operate independently, which total some $21.82 million: South Pole costs were some $16.06 million, and the total USAP budget was some $195.8 million, very comparable to the cost of NASA's Mars Pathfinder spacecraft, featured in PTK's Live From Mars.) Compare this to sports star salaries, and costs of Hollywood movies, space missions, a new library in your town or region. Solicit opinions about the importance of a base such as Palmer. How important is the research? Why? What kind of research would students consider eliminating? Why? If money were no object, what research would they like to see added to the existing programs?



  1. Explain that a formal debate is a well-organized, factually-supported argument in favor or against a stated position. Presenters do not necessarily have to believe in their position, but they must be able to argue for it and/or rebut their opponents' case with evidence, sound logic, and conviction.
  2. Divide the class into debating teams of six each to brainstorm possible arguments for/against the statement, "Resolved: that Palmer Station should be Closed."
  3. Distribute Blackline Masters: "A Guide to Debating" and "Debate Judging Criteria." Read, review, discuss.
  4. Allow time for the teams to review the handouts and any relevant material in their Logbooks or to go on-line to strengthen their arguments.
  5. As students prepare their arguments, invite assistance from language arts teachers or the debate team sponsor if your school has one. Interested parent volunteers might also be called upon to work with teams, listen as they practice presentations, and help them adhere to guidelines and time limits.
  6. After adequate time to practice, present and judge the debates in each class.


books logo

If this activity interested students, contact your high school English department to see if there is any organized interest in debating there. Advise the chairperson of the interest shown by your students, so the high school departments can capitalize on it in the future.

Have students write up reports on the debate, and submit to school newspapers, and the LFA 2 Web site.

Top-scoring debate teams could be featured presenters during the "Antarctic Expo" Showcase (see Activity B.1).

Suggested URLs

Also please note the special section of the LFA 2 Web site supporting this debate

NSF's site detailing research projects and goals of the U.S. Antarctic Program.

Facilities, Logistics, and Support for NSF-supported research stations in Antarctica.

OPP's Director, Dr. Cornelius Sullivan, on "Why go to Antarctica to conduct scientific research?"

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Last Update: 1/18/97
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