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Antarctica: An Overview. Samantha Hansen, University of Alabama PolarTREC Orientation Meeting February 2012. Antarctica Fun Facts. 5 th largest land mass; 1.5 times the size of the U.S. Coldest, windiest, driest, highest, quietest, most remote, and least understood continent on Earth

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Antarctica: An Overview

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Antarctica an overview

Antarctica: An Overview

Samantha Hansen, University of Alabama

PolarTREC Orientation Meeting

February 2012

Antarctica fun facts

Antarctica Fun Facts

  • 5th largest land mass; 1.5 times the size of the U.S.

  • Coldest, windiest, driest, highest, quietest, most remote, and least understood continent on Earth

    • World’s largest desert

    • Record cold: -129°F

  • 99.6% covered by ice, making direct observations very difficult

Who owns antarctica

Who owns Antarctica?

Technically, no one,but territory claims have been made.

Antarctic treaty

Antarctic Treaty

  • Signed by 12 nations in 1959; 42 nations included now.

    Antarctica is to be used for peaceful purposes only; no military activities of any kind are permitted. Scientific program plans, personnel, observations, and results shall be freely exchanged. All land and ice shelves south of latitude 60°S are covered.

U s antarctic program usap

U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP)

  • Supports Antarctic Treaty by fostering cooperative research; about 3,000 Americans involved each year

    Research Goals:

  • To understand the region and its ecosystem

  • To understand its effects on and responses to global processes, such as climate

  • To use the region as a platform to study the upper atmosphere and space

Disciplines: astronomy, atmospheric science, biology, earth science, environmental science, geology, glaciology, marine biology, oceanography, geophysics

Why antarctica

Why Antarctica?



  • The research being done in Antarctica cannot be done anywhere else!

    • Arguably the most undisturbed region on the planet

    • Unique environment make it the ideal location for many studies

  • A few examples…

Astrophysical observatory

Astrophysical Observatory

South Pole telescope with Milky Way behind;

Hrubes (2010)

  • Measuring radiation arriving to Earth from space; cold/dry air and clear skies are crucial

  • Infrared and millimeter wavelength telescope

  • Study how planets, stars, and galaxies are born

Aurora australis over South Pole station; Cullis (2009)

Pine island glacier pig

Pine Island Glacier (PIG)

Landsat Image (2001)

  • What is driving ice loss and causing glacier to flow rapidly into the sea?

  • Impact on sea-level rise

  • Properties of bedrock beneath ice (impact on how they move)

Bindschadler (2011)

Seal and penguin science

Seal and Penguin Science

  • Investigating the diet, behavior, breeding, etc. of Antarctic critters

  • Impacts on their ecosystem

Pictures near McMurdo; Hansen (2009)

Drilling into lake ellsworth

Drilling into Lake Ellsworth

  • British, Russian, and American scientists trying to sample lake that has been isolated for at least 125,000 years

  • Buried beneath 2 miles of ice

  • Thought to be extreme habitat for microbial life; important record of ice sheet and climate history in lake sediments

Images from the Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Consortium

Antarctica s gamburtsev province agap

Antarctica’s Gamburtsev Province (AGAP)

  • Investigating the GamburtsevMtns.

    • How did they form?

    • Role in E. Antarctic ice sheet formation?

  • GAMSEIS and GAMBIT (seismic and aerogeophysics)

Deretsky (2009)

GAMSEIS field pictures; Hansen (2010)

Collaboration with k 12 educators

Collaboration with K-12 Educators

  • As a researcher, it is fun and exciting to share your work with the education community

  • Readily lends itself to K-12 education and outreach

    • inspire the next generation of polar scientists

Australian Antarctic Division

Antarctic education and the bigger picture

Antarctic Education and the “Bigger Picture”

  • Getting students interested in math, science, and technology requires showing them things that are new, different, and exciting.

  • Basically EVERYTHING in Antarctica can be described this way!

  • Get them thinking about what they might do in the future

Antarctica an overview

Thanks for your attention.

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