Your humble science editor is living it up at the end of the Earth — Antarctica. As a part of my PhD research, I have been dispatched into the field to study the southernmost active volcano in the world, Mount Erebus. This week’s Science Friday is dedicated to Antarctic research and my experiences here in the great white south.
TrekMovie Live From Antarctica
Antarctica is a unique place in that, due to the Antarctic Treaty, it is reserved for science. No mining is allowed on the continent, no country can establish a military presence, and no country can lay claim to any part of Antarctica. This all makes Antarctica a great, pristine place to study how the world works. I am part of team G-081, a yearly expedition to Mount Erebus. Erebus is unique in that it is one of only three volcanoes in the world to host a persistently active lava lake in its crater. The other two — Nyiragongo in the Congo and Erta Ale in Ethiopia — are both in politically charged areas, making Erebus the easiest for researchers to study, despite its remote location. I will be living here on the volcano for the next month, and I am more than happy to answer all of your questions about life and science here in Antarctica! E-mail kayla[at]trekmovie[dot]com with any questions you may have!
Project IceCube: Neutrino Observatory
Project IceCube is an ambitious enterprise to put a neutrino-detecting telescope 2.4km into the ice at the South Pole. The goal is to detect high energy neutrinos – subatomic particles so tiny that they pass straight through solid matter without interacting with it — that come from supernova explosions, gamma-ray bursts, black holes, and more. The South Pole’s extremely pure and clear ice make it the prime spot for hunting for neutrinos. Air bubbles in normal ice would distort the scientists’ measurements. But, why study neutrino’s anyway? “In the end,” says John Wiley, project scientist, “our goal is to provide insights into the nature of neutrinos and the universe that might someday be used to make the science fiction of today the reality of tomorrow.”
Scientists are using hot water to drill down thousands of feet into the highly compressed ice beneath South Pole station
Tracking Seal Predation in the Antarctic Darkness
The behavior of Weddell seals during Antarctic winter, when they experience 24 hours of darkness, has been studied for almost 30 years. While observations of the seals’ movements are plentiful, there hasn’t been much hard data available. Modern scientists are using video tracking equipment attached to seals’ heads to track their movements 3-dimensionally in order to determine how they hunt for prey in the darkness. “What we’re finding is that the seals will take advantage of what light is available, but hopefully when we analyze all of the data in detail, we’ll find periods that they’re actually hunting during the dark period of the day-night cycle that exists during Winfly,” explained one of the scientists. Winfly is the time every August when the US Antarctic Program sends out extra support to augment the small crew at McMurdo station during the last part of the winter. So far, the cameras have been successful, and have given insight into seals and their prey.
Operation IceBridge: Largest Airborne Survey of Earth’s Polar Ice Ever Flown
Operation IceBridge is a six-year NASA mission to gather an unprecedented three-dimentional view of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice. Data collected during IceBridge helps scientists bridge the gap in polar observations between NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) — in orbit since 2003 — and ICESat-2, planned for late 2015. IceBridge is a multi-instrument operation entirely contained within a DC-8 aircraft. Scientists are not only mapping the surface properties of the ice, but ice penetrating radar allows for observations of the ice sheet structure and volume. The first IceBridge flights were in 2009, and the 2010 season has just ended. Take a look at the video (below) of the start to the 2010 season this last October.
If you are on Twitter, you know there are plenty of amazing people out there tweeting away. And, many of them are scientists! Every Friday I’ll be bringing you a new list of great scientists, techies, and trekkies to follow on Twitter. This week…
- @IceBridge: NASA Earth Science’s multi-year airborne campaign to track changes in Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets & sea ice.
- @ArcticMandy: On the other side of the Earth, she’s got the North Pole covered! Canadian polar bear spending the next few months living & loving Russia. Travelaholic. Trekkie. Coffee addict. Language lover. Cold weather certified.
- @kaylai: Me! I’ll be updating directly from Mount Erebus, Antarctica all season long!
Here’s a quick look at some science happening in other parts of the world…
- New lava flows from Erta Ale volcano
- In a cave, signs of a long ago visitor
- How snot can alter your sense of smell
TrekMovie’s Science Friday is an homage the the great NPR radio show Science Friday. Science Friday® is a registered service mark of ScienceFriday Inc.