Sunday, October 22, 2000

Science roundup

Published in the Antarctic Sun

As summer returns to Antarctica, scientists and science support staff around the continent gear up for the prime research season. On the U.S. research vessels Laurence M. Gould and Nathaniel B. Palmer and at McMurdo, South Pole and Palmer stations, over 600 researchers will work on over 130 separate science projects. Here are some of the highlights of the upcoming science season:

The International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition will continue its journeys in East Antarctica, looking at shallow ice cores, showing climatic data from the past 200 years or so. (Corrected: West Antarctica.) Most global climatic data shows general trends of warming and cooling through Earth’s history, according to Bernie Lettau, the NSF science representative at
McMurdo Station. But climate also includes smaller areas. Global fluctuation is punctuated by more localized changes.
“There still have to be regional differences,” Lettau said. ITASE will continue to look at the actual data for the recent history of Antarctica.

The Support Office for Aerogeophysical Research will fly over the area of Lake Vostok and Russia’s Vostok Station to study the area more closely. The information will be used in preparations for further study of Lake Vostok.
“It’s so they can make some educated decisions about what to do,” said Crary Lab supervisor Robbie Score.

The Crud
John Lyle is studying the McMurdo Crud, the illness that can strike McMurdo residents each season. The viruses survive in the air as well as in the sewage outfall into McMurdo Sound. They are not native to the area, and so they affect the water quality and the wildlife around the station.
“What they’re trying to do is see how our viruses influence the indigenous populations,” Score said.

Sea ice
John Dempsey of Clarkson University is studying the structure of sea ice, including how it forms and how it breaks up. The group is based near the edge of the fast ice of McMurdo Sound.
“They’re cutting a floe out and they’re going to start a crack and put weights on either side,” Score said.

Decoding ice cores
A team at South Pole Station is looking at how atmospheric particles end up in icecore sediments. Interpreting ice cores, Lettau said, requires an understanding of how the layers form. The team, led by Doug Davis of the Georgia Institute of Technology, is specifically targeting sulfur chemistry because of the significance of sulfur deposits in ice.
“Sulfates in ice are a primary proxy for reconstructing the climatic history from the core,” Lettau said.

The Southern Ocean Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics study group will spend their first summer looking at krill as part of a summer-winter-summer set of cruises to look at the basic element of the Antarctic food chain.
“It is intended to look at the health of these various niches in the ocean ecosystem,” Lettau said. “What do krill eat when they’re under the ice in winter? Are they happy there?”

Scott Base
Antarctica New Zealand are supporting several projects this summer season, including a study of methods of preserving the historic huts on Hut Point, Cape Evans and Cape Royds. Also this season, Scott Base will see a series of interviews designed to compare people’s expectations
about Antarctica and their actual perceptions upon arrival, several ecological and environmental studies and a study of Adélie penguin populations at capes Crozier, Royds and Bird, which is one of several collaborative efforts between U.S. and New Zealand scientists. The equipment
used in the Cape Roberts drilling project, which was stored on Cape Roberts over the winter, will be returned to Scott Base this season.