Antarctica Q&A

A number of people have been asking great questions about Antarctica and our work at McMurdo Station via the blog page.  To make it easier to see these questions and responses please use this discussion page.  We will of course still reply to questions posted on the blog page.  You must be logged in to ask a question or leave a comment, the link to register can be found at the bottom left of any page on this site.

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70 Responses to Antarctica Q&A

  1. Wayne Zabala says:

    As there are very few indigenous insects this must affect the variety of birds, are there any that only eat the few insects native to Antarctica?
    Thanks in advance
    Wayne

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      I’m not aware of any that live exclusively off of insects which, as you note, would be a hard way to make a living! My understanding is that with the exception of the truly marine birds (e.g. penguins, albatrosses, petrels, etc.) Antarctic birds are highly opportunistic feeders. The snowy sheathbills are a good example of this; they’ll eat virtually anything organic that they come across. For more about Antarctic birds check out the Cornell University neotropical bird atlas and search “Antarctica”.

  2. Lucy Norman says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Could you tell me if there are facilities in any of the Antarctic research stations to study the diversity of microbial ecosystems? I am interested in the differences in the cryptoendolithic communities in the polar desert regions when cultivated using a variety of growth media. If so, could you tell me who is currently working with this equipment / who to contact concerning collaborating on this research?
    Thanks for your help.
    Kind regards
    Lucy

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Lucy,
      Most, if not all, of the permanent facilities have laboratory spaces equipped with basic equipment for cultivating microbes and extracting RNA/DNA/protein. To gain access you’ll need to work with your national program to access their facility (do researchers from HKU have access to Chinese national facilities?) or arrange a contract with another country. The US program for example, often hosts international researchers at McMurdo and the field camp in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. I suggest getting in contact with John Priscu at Montana State University or Christina Vesbach at the University of New Mexico for more information on how that might work. Alternatively you could reach out directly to the appropriate program manager at the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs. They will not fund international work directly, but could tell you how to pursue work funded by Hong Kong at US facilities.

      Jeff

  3. Jaspreet says:

    Very interesting blog!
    May I know about the ethics associated in identifying novel microorganisms (especially viruses) of Antarctic. I am very interested in researching phage(s) but not aware about the sensitivity of the same.

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Because Antarctica is considered an “open” site for scientific research the ethics, I think, are fairly straightforward. Normally there are concerns about propriety if a scientific team samples bacteria/viruses/etc. from a country other than their own. This shouldn’t be the case for Antarctica although the people at the BAS could tell you for sure.

  4. Johann Potgieter says:

    Greetings!

    I am in understanding that one needs to be a US citizen in order to work at the McMurdo base. Are there no ways for citizens of other countries to apply?

    Thank you very much!

    Kind regards,
    Johann Potgieter.

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Johann,
      Scientists do not need to be US citizens. McMurdo frequently hosts scientists from other national programs and many scientists who are foreign nationals conducting PhD or postdoctoral work at US institutions. For staff you’d have to direct your query to ASC. I do not think, however, that they have any requirement for US citizenship either.

  5. jbfadely says:

    Hi Jeff,

    My name is Janey Fadely. I am one of Robin’s education students at UW Bothell – I understand we’ll be skyping with you next Wed from our math ed class…looking forward to it!

    Would you also be willing to skype with my fall placement class at Einstein Elementary School in Redmond (the students are very interested in Artarctica)? I did a Read Aloud with the class this week about Renee Douceur – reviewed basic Antarctica facts, read two articles, and then had them role play in groups that they were Raytheon Polar Services executives and needed to decide when to evacuate her based on the evidence they heard in the article. They had wonderful discussions and positions.

    I was at McMurdo in 1993 as a volunteer with a team from Univ of Alaska Fairbanks working on Weddell seals (dive physiology). We camped at Hutton Cliffs and on top of Erebus Glacier tongue. Your photos of skidoos on the sea ice bring back memories….

    Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks!

    Janey

  6. Prashanth7 says:

    what is the most common vegetation found on the top layer of ice?because herbivores which live,they would have very less to eat….

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      That’s a question with a very interesting answer. There really aren’t any herbivores on top off the ice, they’re all underneath it in the water! The herbivores are distributed that way because there really isn’t much growing in the upper ice layers. You’ll find some algae there left over from when that ice was a lower ice layer but not much else. Most of the photosynthesis is happening lower in the ice, close to the interface between the ice and seawater. The most common “vegetation” in the lower ice layers are single celled photosynthetic organisms called diatoms.

  7. Shruthi says:

    what are the most common bugs that are out there?

    • Shruthi says:

      sorry, i mean insects

      • Jeff Jeff says:

        Glad you clarified! Sometime microbiologists refer to bacteria as “bugs” in a kind of professional slang, which would have given a very different answer!

        There are very few insects in Antarctica particularly if you exclude the outlying islands. There is something called a springtail, which looks very much like an insect but strictly speaking is not. According to coolantarctica (a pretty good source for facts about the continent) the wingless insect Belgica antarctica has the distinction of being the largest land animal on the continent. It doesn’t have a lot of competition; it is the only insect found on the continent itself! It is limited to the Antarctic Peninsula, there are no insects further south (including McMurdo). That doesn’t mean there aren’t insect-like organisms around. We’ve already talked about tardigrades, there are mites and other small animals eking out a living in the ice and snow as well. You can read more about B. antarctica here.

  8. sheri42 sheri42 says:

    First of all: we are in awe of your work. The auger is huge, and its mess so difficult to clear for your work. The first frost flower is beautiful, an ice fern of the desert.

    We will be watching some National Geographic videos on Antarctic Ice and possible global warming/climate change: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/environment/global-warming-environment/antarctica-ice.html

    We read an article about King Crabs now can travel the cold water to Antarctica’s Ross Sea: http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/09/14/king-crabs-invade-antarctica/

    Only if you have time during your important work, we wonder:
    Do you see any evidence of climate change that could be more than the usual cycle of warming/cooling?
    Have you witnessed any problems the wildlife may be having due to warmer changes?
    Have you heard or seen these King Crabs that previously did not travel to the colder waters of the Antarctic?

    Thank you, and be careful on the edges of the world on which you travel…

    • sheri42 sheri42 says:

      We will read your info on “mass balance,” “biodiversity,” and “regime shifts.” Thanks.

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Sheri,
      Thanks for the great question, and for sharing those links! I tried to be concise with the answer, but as you can see I wasn’t entirely successful. The short answer is that it would take a career’s worth of repeated visits to Antarctica to discriminate between unusual weather and a true trend in the climate. It’s really easy to think that an anonymously warm year (such as this year), or an unusually thin sea ice cover (such as we currently have) is evidence of climate change. The reality is that, while these events might be connected to a changing climate, singly they are not evidence for it. Climate change is something that happens on the timescales of decades, centuries, and millennium. Anything on a shorter time scale is weather. That being said there are at least three ways to actually observe climate change. The first would be to consult the collective memory of the people inhabiting an area. Unfortunately no one has continuously inhabited the Antarctic; there are no community elders with a memory of how things were 50, 60, or 70 years ago and no knowledge of how preceding generations saw things. Of course this is in stark contrast to the Arctic where the Inuit, who have maintained an intimate daily relationship with the sea ice, provide us with a wealth of insight into how climate change has altered that environment. Natural and social scientists are working hard to document that collective history (here’s a great example).

      In the Antarctic, in the absence of a collective memory, we have to rely on the other two methods for observing climate change. One is to collect data over decades; compiling an archive and continually comparing the new data to see how it compares with the old. We are doing this now with everything from air temperature to the speed of glaciers moving out to sea to changes in the plant and animal populations. But it takes a long time to get enough data to observe meaningful trends. We’ve been observing the Antarctic in this manner for only the last 60 or so years (much less than that in most cases). Only now are we starting to observe these trends (for example in changes to the sub-Antarctic flora and fauna that we’ve discussed before). For some places, such as the Antarctic Peninsula, the changes are happening so fast that a meaningful trend can be discerned in only a couple of decades. For the field that I work in we are still trying to collect the initial baseline dataset, we won’t be able to “see” the impacts of climate change on the marine microbial community for 20 or 30 years simply because we don’t know what was there before!

      Another way to see trends in the climate which gets around the problem of our short presence in this and other parts of the globe is paleoclimatology. The climate state leaves many imprints on the environment. With patience, practice, and good data sets these imprints can be interpreted to reveal patterns of precipitation, temperature, and changes to the ecosystem hundreds, thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of years back. A lot of people are doing this kind of work in the Antarctic; the thick ice cap is an excellent recorder of past climate. These teams are observing some remarkable changes to the climate, but the resolution of those techniques isn’t good enough to see the most recent trends. I might have wandered off of your original set of questions with that answer, don’t hesitate to ask me to try again…

  9. Jeff Jeff says:

    Originally posted by Chadpayne94, moved by Jeff

    if the temp. in Antarctica were to rise by a couple degrees, what impact would that have on the ecosystem? …

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      That’s a great question. I haven’t mentioned climate change or climate change impacts in this blog very much but it’s an issue that can’t be avoided if you’re working at either pole. The Arctic and Antarctic are known to be warming at a higher rate than lower latitudes. The mechanism isn’t well understood, the best hypothesis is that changes to snow and ice cover are driving a phenomenon called polar amplification. Polar amplification means that the high latitudes are particularly sensitive to climate change. At the ecosystem level this sensitivity is perhaps most pronounced in the sub-Arctic and sub-Antarctic, where endemic (uniquely adapted) polar species are living close to the limits of life and sub-polar species need only slightly more moderate conditions to move to a higher latitude.

      Whether you consider this good or bad depends on a lot of things. I would personally consider the short term (tens to hundreds of years) effects as negative for two reasons. The first would simply be that the loss of endemic species results in a loss of biodiversity. It’s difficult to put a finger on the exact consequences of losing biodiversity, but high diversity is thought to help help maintain the functions and services that an ecosystem provides. Simply put endemic species often have very special traits and adaptations that allow them to perform a function (for example primary productivity) under conditions that no other species can. Losing those traits from an ecosystem could mean an overall loss of service to human society or the global ecosystem (for example the ability to support a fishery). The second would be that, as sub-Arctic and sub-Antarctic species move into new territory they are likely to have a dramatic, destructive impact. A great sub-Antarctic example is the southward migration of king crabs in the waters off the Antarctic Penninsula. The Antarctic Penninsula is currently the most rapidly warming place on the planet. Previously these waters were too cold to support king crabs. In the absence of these voracious feeders a rich benthic (sea floor) community has arisen. This community has helped support a marine ecosystem of seals, penguins, and other large species unparalleled elsewhere in the world. A recent expedition observed king crabs moving upwards from deep, warmer water into coastal waters now not as cold as they used to be. It is unlikely that the rich benthic community will last long under pressure from predation by king crabs, and none of the Antarctic seals or penguins are adapted to feeding on them. Such “regime shifts” as they are called in ecology can rapidly produce a virtual biological desert out of a previously rich ecosystem.

  10. Shruthi says:

    How do you store your food and for how long? do you get new shipments of supplies now and then?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Where we are, at McMurdo Station, food storage isn’t much of a problem. There is a large cafeteria that serves the station with a very large freezer capacity. Getting fresh supplies in is a problem, you aren’t likely to find anything that doesn’t freeze well or can’t be made from dry ingredients. In general the food is pretty good but there is a definite lack of fruits and vegetables. Once the summer season starts on October 3 there will be regular flights bringing in additional personnel and cargo. We’ll start seeing more fresh food then.

      In field camps things are a little different. Many research groups work in locations that are far enough from McMurdo that a daily commute isn’t an option. Groups in these remote camps eat a lot of freeze dried food, though of course the low temperatures make it easier to store wet frozen food. It’s not unheard of for groups heading to field camps to underestimate temperatures however, and lose a large amount of food to spoilage. On sunny summer days surface temperatures can get quite warm here even if the air still feels cool.

  11. aspenking says:

    What made you want a career in Oceanography?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Oceans have always fascinated me, I think it’s the enduring element of mystery. They are so large and so inaccessible, there must be many unknowns waiting to be discovered. I started studying oceanography as an undergraduate but I didn’t really know what aspect of it really appealed to me until the end of my junior year. That’s when I was introduced to the concept of marine biogeochemistry, or how biology (mainly phytoplankton, Bacteria, and Archaea) and geology interact to cycle all of the elements that power Earth’s biosphere. Since the Earth’s surface is mostly ocean a vast amount of this cycling takes place there. I study marine biogeochemistry from the biology side. I think the idea that bacteria, single cells who by power of their vast numbers created and maintain the world as we know it, is what really inspired me to pursue the work that I’m doing now.

  12. Prashanth7 says:

    Which part of antarctica you are currently in?are you still in mcmurdo?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Yep, we’re still at McMurdo. Although we will be ranging some distance from the station our whole project takes place within the McMurdo Sound region, so we will return to the base each night.

  13. Shruthi says:

    is Antartica divided into anything? (like contries, states etc..) if so, how many?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Antarctica is a pretty unique place. It is the only land on the globe that I know of that doesn’t belong to anyone. When the Antarctic Treaty was enacted in 1959 there were a number of countries with territorial claims to Antarctica. It was decided that all these claims would be put on hold for the lifetime of the treaty. In addition noneof the scientific research being done now, by any country, can be used as the basis for a territorial claim later. You can read more about it in the treaty itself, found here (it’s pretty short). Of course any international agreement isn’t really that simple. Some nations with a large presence in Antarctica do exert a little more legal authority in and around their bases. In general however, individuals in Antarctica are subject to the laws of their home country and anyone is allowed to visit any place on the continent (with the exception of areas specially protected for their environmental sensitivity).

      • Shruthi says:

        Can you call the whole place a cold ice desert?

        • Jeff Jeff says:

          Much of Antarctica, especially the polar plateau at the center of the continent and the McMurdo Dry Valleys close to here, is a desert. Other parts of the continent are quite wet however. This Wikipedia image (accuracy not verified but the pattern is correct) shows annual precipitation in mm for various parts of the continent. Notice how wet the Antarctic Penninsula is and some other coastal locations. Some places get more than 600 mm (23 inches) of precipitation a year. That’s not a whole lot by some standards, but it’s enough to keep them from being deserts.

  14. rangotti says:

    Hi Jeff. I am hoping you can help me find some data. I am looking for a data set to make a visualization of Antarctic Ice (or any ice for that matter). I have lots of individual data sets that have variables such as depth of ice, year and then one other variable, mercury for example. I am wondering if there are any that have multiple other variables and even some categorical variables as well as quantitative ones. I don’t know anything about ice, but working through and trying to create a graphical visualization helps me think mathematically through all the interacting variables involved and I would like to have more than just one variable to see the interactions. Can you point me toward some data?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      That’s a tall order, and I think you’re hitting right at the center of one of the biggest issues in science today; data organization and sharing. That might be worth a whole blog article in itself. The national snow and ice data center (NSIDC) run by NOAA has the best publicly available data for sea ice extent (and snow cover, permafrost extent, etc). The also have some data on age, depth, and other important parameters where they are known or can be estimated. They do not have data on any chemistry or biology related to sea ice cover. They get most of their data from remote sensing tools and there is simply no way to detect these parameters remotely in sea ice (unlike in seawater, where chlorophyll and other indicators can be detected by satellite). So for every data point out there someone had to slog north or south, drill a hole in the ice, and make some measurements. That would be okay if it were done broadly and in a systematic manner, with the data being compiled in some sort of temporally and spatially relevant manner. But who would pay for such an effort? Each research effort adds its little bit of knowledge to the pool but there is no mechanism in place to compile the data into a detailed coherent picture.

      The only way that I know of to get the kind of data that you want is to produce it yourself by running a model. There are several reseach groups that have coupled ecosystem models (that output primary productivity or other biological variables) with physical models of sea ice formation and condition. By running these models forward you can see how sea ice formation influences the availability of light and nutrients which then influences how much biology can happen. The output isn’t really what’s happening in the environment, but it represents our best understanding of how things work. I’ll forward you some info offline to see if that is that’s on track with what you’re looking for. Our group does have our own set of data which we’ve collected, but this data set is limited in both time and space. If you think a limited data set on ice depth, temperature, salinity, cell count, and chlorophyll could be useful let me know…

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      When I posted that reply I forgot that there is one good collection of physical data on ice cores at the website of the Barrow sea ice observatory. Unfortunately they don’t have any chemical or biological data for their collection. For anyone wanting to gain a little understanding of how sea ice evolves throught a season the site is easy to navigate and much of the data is available in a friendly format (unlike virtually all of the modeling data that’s ever been made public).

  15. ashwin says:

    Is there any weird animals there and is it sunshine in your place or darkness

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Right now we have almost 9 hours of daylight. A couple of months ago there would have been 24 hours of darkness, and by mid-October we will be up to 24 hours of daylight. As for weird animals Antarctica is full of them! Even the ones we are familiar with are pretty weird if you think about it. What could be weirder than a large bird that flies underwater, uses its belly as a sled, and spends the whole winter sitting on a lone egg on the ice as do the Emperor Penguins? One very weird animal that you might not have heard of is not unique to Antarctica, but is very important here because it is one of the few multicellular organisms that can survive in the continent’s interior. This is the tardigrade, also known as the water bear (under the microscope they look remarkably like a small bear). Tardigrades are able to survive in Antarcitca, and in very harsh places the world over, because they have a very special survival state called cryptobiosis. When these organisms enter that state they dessicate, and all their DNA becomes wound up in protective proteins. It is very difficult to kill a tardigrade in this state or to damage its DNA. Tardigrades in cryptobiosis have been successfully revived after being frozen in liquid nitrogen, boiled, dropped in acid and powerful organic solvents, blasted with radiation, and even exposed to space! In Antarctica cryptobiosis allows tardigrades to endure very dry, very cold conditions in between periodic warmings brought on by a sudden hot day in the sun.

      The survivability and small size of tardigrades has allowed them to be distributed widely on Earth. A handful of soil from anywhere nearby is likely to host them. If you want to have a look spend a few minutes online and you will find instructions for cultivating tardigrades and viewing them under a microscope.

      • Shruthi says:

        wow!I’ve read about the tardigrades once. And i thought they’d be kind of a parasites.

        • Jeff Jeff says:

          They certainly look like some kind of parasite, but in this case looks are deceiving. Many tardigrades are actually bacteriovores, that is they eat bacteria from the surfaces of soil grains, rocks, snow, and ice.

  16. Shruthi says:

    Is the ice made up of salt water or fresh water? Why do the penguins HAVE to live in antarctica? Are there any exotic type of bird there? Can you cultivate any crop there (because i thought its too cold there for plants to grow)?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      It depends on which ice you mean. The sea ice that we traveling over is salty, but the glacial ice cascading down the mountains around us is fresh. Within the sea ice there is a lot of variation in salinity. Old ice, or ice that is pushed upwards (such as at a pressure ridge) so that it can drain can be quite fresh. In the Arctic the Inuit still use such features for drinking water when they are at remote hunting camps on the ice.

      Broadly speaking penguins don’t have to live in Antarctica, and many species of penguins live in a range that covers the sub-Antarctic islands as well as New Zealand, the tip of South Africa, and South America. There is even a species of penguin that lives in the tropical Galapagos Islands! The iconic Emperor Penguins and the smaller Adelie Penguins that live around McMurdo are true Antarctic Penguins and are found no where else. The best answer for why they have to live here is that this is the environment they are adapted for. To fill a niche in another ecosystem they would need to evolve through selection. Over time (if they survived) new adaptations would enable them to avoid different predators or to catch different prey, or to deal with a different climate. The many different species of penguins around the world are a great example of this. The differences between Galapagos Penguins and Emperors for example, are a result of this kind of selection for different niches in different ecosystems.

  17. ashwin says:

    is there any volcanic activity and what is the rate of melting of ice?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      There is volcanic activity, particularly here on Ross Island. Mt. Erebus, which you can see in the background of some of our photos, is in a state of continous low-level eruption. The rate of ice melting is a tricky question, lots of scientists are trying to figure that out! The answer is simpler if you mean sea ice. We are still in the season of sea ice growth, the ice around Antarctica will not start its summer melt for another couple of months.

      The trickier answer is the situation with the Antarctic icecap. Unlike the glaciers of Greenland and other places in the Arctic which are experience catastrophic melting, the Antarctic is considered by many to be in “mass balance”. This means that for every kilogram of ice lost from the periphery of the Antarctic continent a kilogram of snow falls somewhere in the interior and is eventually coverted to glacial ice. There are concerns that both of these processes could be happening faster, that is there are a lot more icebergs being formed or “calving” from glaciers and a lot more snowfall in the interior. This has big implications for regional weather, the Antarctic marine ecosystem, the balance of nutrients in the Southern Ocean (icebergs can transport key trace nutrients like iron), and shipping.

      Such trends however are very difficult to measure however. It takes many years of careful observation to be able to know for sure, and scientists haven’t had the tools to make these observatiosn for very long. In the years to come we will know a lot more about melt in both the Antarctic and Arctic.

  18. ashwin says:

    why don’t fish freeze due to the cold temperature in ocean ?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      There are three things that help fish not freeze under temperatures that would freeze fresh water. It isn’t uncommon to get seawater temperatures of -2 C around Antarctica. Dissolved components in the blood and intracellular spaces of fish and other organisms help keep those liquids from freezing (just as adding sugar or salt to water will keep it from freezing). The ice fish, and other cold water adapted fish, aslo make use of special proteins that bind ice crystals in the early stages of formation preventing their growth. So the blood in one of these fish might start to freeze, but the freezing process will be slowed down considerably. Finally fish, like all organisms, produce heat when they use energy. This heat helps keep them a little warmer than their surroundings.

  19. ashwin says:

    what is the least temperature that you have recorded in Antarctica and is there any kind of low pressure status there?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Since we’ve been here conditions have been unusually warm, with the exception of a couple of windy days when the wind lowered the wind chill. The coldest that I’ve seen since we got here is -28 C (-19 F). Compare that to the record low for Antarctica (actually for the entire planet) recorded in 1983 at Vostok Station: -89.2 C (-128.6 F)! These warm temperatures could be due to persistent high pressure, but several of the last few days have been sunny and calm (a sign of high pressure). If I can dig up some records of air pressure we can have a look at the trend…

      • Shruthi says:

        But isn’t -89.2 C more than enough to freeze us?

        • Jeff Jeff says:

          It certainly is! Carbon dioxide freezes to form dry ice at around -80 C, so -89 C is very cold. If you touched a metal surface at that temperature you would burn yourself instantly.

          • Shruthi says:

            burn ourselves!! is it like ‘ice so cold it will burn you down’?but how can you burn your self with ice?

          • Jeff Jeff says:

            Burn is a little misleading. If you touch something very cold you can freeze a few layers of your skin, this is called contact frostbite. Contact frostbite looks and feels like a mild burn, and physiologically is very similar, so often it is referred to as a burn.

  20. ashwin says:

    Are there any interesting fish in Antarctica?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      There is some cool biology going on on the land in Antarctica, but most of the action is underwater. There are definitely some interesting fish. One of the oddest is the so-called ice fish, a group of fish specially adapted to the very cold deep waters around Antarctica. These fish produce antifreeze proteins to help prevent ice forming in their blood, and due to the high concentration of oxygen in cold water (gas solubility in water increases with decreasing temperature) many of these fish produce very little hemoglobin. As a result their blood is not red. Check out this article to learn a little more.

  21. Jeff Jeff says:

    (Posted by Shruthi, moved by Jeff)

    what is the population of antarctica?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      That depends a lot on the season. Just over 1,000 people spend the winter on the continent. During the summer that bumps up to around 4,500, not counting commercial fishermen and researchers in Antarctic waters.

  22. Prashanth7 says:

    28 nations researching on 1 piece of huge spaces of unknown land!do you have any specific clock to monitor these timings or just an ordinary clock?what are the minerals found in antarctica?is it reachable with current technology?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      That’s a great question! Here at McMurdo we are on New Zealand time. This makes sense because we are almost on the same longitude and it keeps things simple between the station and the support base in Christchurch. Other stations in Antarctica follow a similar logic, using the longitudinally determined time zones that extend to the pole. You can check out the distrubution of times here.

  23. Jeff Jeff says:

    (posted by Prashanth7, moved by Jeff)

    wow!there is so much going on there…i wish i could have been there..!!what is the average temp of water?how many research centres from all countries combined together are there in antarctica?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Well, you could get your chance! India, via the Indian Antarctic Program is actively involved in scientific research in Antarctica (and the Arctic). According to the website for the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs(COMNAP) there are 28 nations with a national Antarctic program. Of course many other countries may have individual researchers who collaborate with these programs for access to the continent.

      • Prashanth7 says:

        well i possibly couldn’t go for such trips due cost and travel health.but its great for you to impart so much knowledge into us and giving us info about unknown land.

        • Jeff Jeff says:

          Thank you for your interest and the great questions! It is very motivational for us to know that people are interested in what we are doing.

  24. Shruthi says:

    Oh and do you get to see the breath-taking auroras?

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Not yet, but I hope we will. You can get some idea of whether there will be an aurora by monitoring solar activity. Several website provide tools to do this, I like this one. Looks pretty quiet right now!

      • Shruthi says:

        do the auroras have an effect on anything? or are they just pretty lights?

        • Jeff Jeff says:

          The auroras themselves probably don’t have much of an effect on things but they are caused by processes that do. The same charged particles from the sun that cause the auroras interfere with satellites in space and radio transmissions on Earth. Of course any red or blue light given off by the aurora could potentially be used in photosynthesis (some marine phytoplankton can photosynthesize with vanishingly small quantities of light), but the effect is probably minimal. There are plenty of legends about the auroras causing madness, particularly among non-indigenous people traveling in the high latitudes, but the long dark winters spent primarily indoors are a much more likely culprit.

  25. ashwin says:

    hi, I am Ashwin from The PSBB Millennium School, India. i want to know more about Antarctica’s fruit, plant and flower adaptations to climatic changes

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      If we include the many outlying islands around Antarctica there is a diversity of exotic and native plants. On the Antarctic mainland there are only two species of what we call vascular or “higher” plants, both are found only on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Some 30 different mosses and a lone liverwort (which looks like a small vascular plant, but is not) make up all the vegetation elsewhere on the continent*. McMurdo is pretty far south for being on the coast, so the only terrestrial vegetation you are likely to find here are mosses and lichens. Phytoplankton and algae in the ocean and lakes are the real “vegetation” for the Antarctic continent and conduct the vast majority of photosynthesis. It must be quite a challenge for vegetation to survive on the Antarctic continent. In addition to the cold it is often dry, and there is the strong seasonal variation in light. Plants have evolved interesting adaptation to deal with all of these challenges. Despite these adaptations Antarctic plants are particularly vulnerable to changing climate. Not only are these plants living close to their physiological limits, but a phenomenon called polar amplification means that the high latitudes respond a little more abruptly to climate change than the lower latitudes.

      Since most vegetation in Antarctica can be found on islands north of the mainland most investigations on how these plants respond to climate change are focused here. The Australian Antarctic Program for example has a long-term research project on Heard Island (click here to read more about it). As conditions warm (and in some places like the Antarctic Penninsula the warming is very dramatic) strong shifts in the abundance and composition of vegetation are being documented. A good review of the situation can be found here . As you might be able to predict, among other changes sub-Antarctic species are moving south and displacing traditional species. In Antarctic waters the same holds true for phytoplankton, the potential implications for the marine ecosystem are quite profound.

      *Laws, Antarctic Ecology Vol. 1

  26. Jeff Jeff says:

    (Posted by Shruthi, moved by Jeff)
    Hello. I am Shruthi from The PSBB Millennium School, India. First of all, i’d like to say ‘Best of Luck!!!!’ for your entire expedition. i was wondering.. how long are the days and nights there right now?

    -Shruthi

    • Jeff Jeff says:

      Shruthi,
      Thank you! Right now the day length is 6 hours and 52 minutes, though with generally overcast skies and lots of blowing snow it seems shorter than that. One of the really fun things about being at high latitudes during the spring or fall is the speed with which the day length changes. Tomorrow we gain 18 minutes of daylight, one week from now we will be at 8 hours and 31 minutes of daylight. By October 24 the sun will be visible for 24 hours each day.

      • Shruthi says:

        Wow, fast changes! So does this mean you have to almost adapt to different a different time almost every week or so? Or do you just go along with the normal life timings? Are there any “nocturnal” animals there then? (their sleeping patterns may get wrecked right?)

        • Jeff Jeff says:

          It’s a noticeable change from one day to the next but the day to day change is something you get used to. 24 hour daylight is a little more difficult to adjust to. Two summers ago I was involved in a project in the high Arctic and we had constant sunlight for ~7 weeks. It gets very difficult for most humans to maintain a normal sleep cycle under those conditions. The indigenous people of the Arctic and the animals of the Antarctic and Arctic seem to do a better job of adjusting. Often people sleep very little during the summer, using the light for work and play. Many animals follow a similar pattern, using the increased light for foraging and at the same time remaining mobile to avoid predators. In the marine ecosystem light often drives what we call a “diurnal migration” among phytoplankton and zooplankton, a daily movement between surface and deep waters. Interestingly some Antarctic and sub-Antarctic species do conduct this migration, but presumably they stop doing so when the light level becomes more constant.

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