Press Release

Research season will feature use of sophisticated technologies to map Antarctica

By SpaceRef Editor
September 26, 2001
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Researchers plan to map the surface of the vast Antarctic ice sheet with airborne radar, measure the movement of the Earth’s crust beneath the ice with Global Positioning System transceivers and deploy buoys to explore the waters off the Antarctic Peninsula when the U.S. Antarctic Program’s 2001-2002 research season gets underway next month.

“For almost 50 years, the United States has been engaged with the community of
nations in scientific inquiry in Antarctica, a continent set aside for peaceful
exploration,” said Karl Erb, the director of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF)
Office of Polar Programs and the head of the U.S. Antarctic Program. “At the dawn of a
new century, that commitment to research is stronger than ever.”

The research season gets underway in October, when the New York Air National
Guard and U.S. Air Force will begin bringing about 3,000 researchers and logistics
personnel as well as materiel into McMurdo Station, NSF’s scientific hub on the
continent. The flights will continue over the course of the season, which ends in
February, the onset of fall in Antarctica.

Scientists from across the United States will travel to Antarctica in the coming months
to conduct new and ongoing and studies in the earth sciences, glaciology, biology,
oceanography, meteorology, astrophysics and aeronomy, or studies of the upper
atmosphere.

In addition to science near McMurdo Station and at the South Pole, research also is
conducted year-round at Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula and on the
research ships Nathaniel B. Palmer and Laurence M. Gould.

Among the significant research projects scheduled for the 2001-2002 season are:

  • LAKE VOSTOK: Ice that formed over the last 400,000 years and that had been
    extracted from the ice sheet above subglacial Lake Vostok in an earlier joint Russian,
    French, and U.S. project, will be retrieved and analyzed in laboratories in all three
    countries. Scientists expect to learn more about ancient microorganisms trapped in
    the ice, and whether they differ from contemporary organisms. The analyses also are
    expected to provide information about the water in this long-buried lake and the
    processes that take place on its shores and in its waters.

  • WEST ANTARCTICA GPS NETWORK (WAGN): Researchers this season will begin
    to deploy a series of Global Positioning System transceivers across the interior of the
    West Antarctic Ice Sheet — an area approximately the size of the contiguous United
    States from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast. The ability to measure the
    motions of the Earth’s crust in the bedrock surrounding and underlying the West
    Antarctic Ice Sheet is critical to understanding the past, present, and future dynamics
    of the ice sheet and its potential role in future global change scenarios, as well as
    improving the understanding of Antarctica’s role in global plate motions. WAGN will
    complement existing GPS projects by filling a major gap in coverage among several
    discrete crustal blocks that make up West Antarctica – a critical area of potential
    bedrock movements.

  • INTERNATIONAL TRANSANTARCTIC SCIENTIFIC EXPEDITION (ITASE): The U.S.
    component of the multi-year International Transantarctic Scientific Expedition (U.S.
    ITASE) will carry out, this season, the third in a series of four traverses over the West
    Antarctic ice sheet. The broad aim of US ITASE is to develop an understanding of the
    last 200 years of past West Antarctic climate and environmental change. ITASE is a
    multidisciplinary program that integrates remote sensing, meteorology, ice coring,
    surface glaciology and geophysics. This year researchers will continue to collect
    shallow ice core and snow pit samples for various ice chemical analyses, shallow
    and deep radar data to look at internal layer reflections and bedrock topography,
    atmospheric samples, and meteorological readings to understand the current climate
    of the ice sheet. These data will contribute to a better understanding of the West
    Antarctic ice sheet both today and in the recent past.

  • KILLER WHALES: Working aboard a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, scientists for the
    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will obtain tissue samples
    from live, free-swimming killer whales to determine whether a group of whales,
    discovered 20 years ago in the vicinity of McMurdo Station, constitute a new species.
    The Antarctic whales generally are smaller than other killer whales and display a
    different color pattern.

  • LASER MAPPING: As part of a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, NSF is
    collaborating with NASA during the 2001-2002 field-season to test a scanning laser
    altimeter system in the vicinity of McMurdo Station. The data collected will be used by
    NSF researchers studying biology, geology, and glaciology and by NASA’s ICESat
    team to assist in the calibration of their data.

  • SOUTHERN OCEAN GLOBAL ECOSYSTEMS DYNAMICS (SO GLOBEC): Two U.S.
    Antarctic Program research ships – the icebreaking research ship Nathaniel B. Palmer
    and the ice-strengthened research ship Laurence M. Gould -will conduct five cruises
    in Marguerite Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula region. A continuation of research
    undertaken in the 2001 research season, the new cruises will deploy a series of
    moorings, which will include current meters, sensors to measure salinity,
    temperature and zooplankton concentration, upward-looking acoustic sounders to
    track ice motion, and acoustic Doppler current profilers.

  • HISTORIC HUTS: Researchers will study the biological and non-biological agents
    responsible for causing deterioration in a series of historically significant huts built by
    Antarctic explorers in the early 20th century. Over the past 90 years, the extremes of the
    polar environment have protected some of the artifacts in the huts from rapid decay,
    but conservators have become concerned about degradation of these important
    historical, archaeological sites. They will study the mechanisms and progressive
    sequence of events taking place during decay processes, test methods to be used to
    control future deterioration, determine the extent of environmental pollutants in soils at
    the historic sites, and evaluate chemical spills within the huts.

  • SOUTH POLE ASTROPHYSICS: Several telescopes located at the South Pole will
    continue their investigations onto the origins of the universe, including the Degree
    Angular Scale Inferometer (DASI). Results from DASI last spring helped show
    scientists evidence of how the universe looked in its infancy. (See attached fact sheet
    on astrophysics at the Pole).

    In addition to scientific research, construction of a new elevated building to replace the
    existing Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station will continue. The construction of
    exteriors of wings that will house station services, medical facilities and science labs
    will begin, with the interiors being completed during the next austral winter. The
    station is scheduled for completion in 2006.

    Construction began last season with a wing that houses dormitory and galley facilities
    as well as vertical tower that will provide access to the new station, which is capable
    of being raised hydraulically over the years to keep it above accumulating snow and
    ice.

    Several environmental, safety and telecommunications upgrades at the station also
    were completed last season. Work has continued over the austral winter on the
    interior of the new wing with the goal of allowing a portion of the station’s winter
    personnel to live in the new building next season.

    Biology laboratories at Palmer Station also are slated for renovation this year. And
    construction also will begin approximately eight kilometers (4.9 miles) from the
    existing South Pole station on the South Pole Remote Earth Science Observatory
    (SPRESO). Seismic data already collected at Pole is in high demand among
    researchers; the new observatory at its more remote site, however, will improve the
    usefulness of the data by reducing the amount of background noise from the station.

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    Editors: For B-roll, please contact Dena Headlee, 703-292-8070 [[email protected]].

    Contact: Peter West

    [email protected]

    703-292-8070

    National Science Foundation

  • SpaceRef staff editor.