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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

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

Thanks for your attention.

Any comments/questions?