Origins ANTARCTICA, Scientific Journeys from McMurdo to the Pole
People Ideas Tools Place Live Field Notes
Going to Extremes for Science

Everything about Antarctica is extreme. South Pole winter temperatures average around minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and coastal winds can reach 200 miles an hour, powering violent blizzards that last a week at a time. Still scientists come, because the last frontier offers data they can’t get anywhere else.

Geologists mine Antarctica’s ice, created from layers of snow over millennia, for ancient clues to Earth’s evolution. Meteorologists correlate global weather patterns with the annual freezing of Antarctica’s oceans. Monitoring the effects of global warming on the six-million-square-mile yearly ice sheet, they look for signs of long-term climate change.

Astronomers and particle physicists search the six-month darkness of Antarctica’s winter skies for celestial missives from deep space. Biologists explore how living things adapt to conditions thought wildly inhospitable to life. Discoveries of algae, bacteria, and fungi in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys—cold, dark, barren expanses—challenged the conventional wisdom that life could not survive such extreme environments. These findings have bolstered searches for life on Mars.

From oceanographers to microbiologists, the world’s largest natural laboratory offers something for just about any researcher—including the physiologists and psychiatrists examining how this extreme place affects the men and women who study it.

Some ideas being studied in Antarctica:

Fish: Fresh, Not Frozen - The way that Antarctic fish have adapted to cold waters tells us how life has evolved on Earth.

The Earth Moving Under Your Feet - At Antarctica's Mt. Erebus Observatory, scientists study how the Earth has shifted, and fossil evidence shows that the continent was once alive with plants and animals in a temperate zone.

Some ideas our crew has been exploring:

Flying geologists - Paul hops a helicopter with geologists investigating rifts in the Earth's crust.

Balloon Over Antarctica - Measuring energy, looking for the origin of cosmic rays.

Shooting the Ground - Gauging the changing size of the Antarctic ice cap.

Antarctic antifreeze fish
Fish in Antarctica are protected by blood proteins that keep them from freezing.


Control the Breakup of Gondwanaland. Interactive animation (requires the Flash 5 plug-in). View the Non-Flash version

Origins Exploratorium ANTARCTICA


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