LIVE FROM ANTARCTICA Challenge Questions

Welcome to Live From Antarctica's "Challenge Questions." This special area is provided for you and your students to give you the opportunity to ponder over and try to solve some of the mysteries of Antarctica. We also hope that these questions provide opportunities for stimulating discussion within your classroom, perhaps even stimulate more questions, as well as motivate students to research topics relating to Antarctica's mysteries.

These questions were collected by our Executive Producer and Creator, Geoff Haines-Stiles on his recent trip to Antarctica. Many of these puzzles were submitted to Geoff directly by the scientists and researchers featured in Live From Antarctica.

Challenge Question #1:

When our film crew overnighted with Michael Castellini, they went to sleep with seals singing underneath them. Why?

Many of the science teams in fact make camp on the thick sea-ice, which can be up to 2 meters in depth. That was the case for both Mike Castellini's site near Big Razorback, and "Rancho Penguino" -- the Kooyman's camp. So when you sleep there, you can hear this strange muffled singing of Weddell seals, as they hunt for food, deep down below you and your sleeping bag!

Challenge Question #2:

What is the primary export from Antarctica?

The primary export is knowledge which results from the research which is conducted in Antarctica.

This question and answer came from the following source: WHERE ON EARTH: A Geografunny Guide to the Globe by Paul Rosenthal (illus. by Marc Rosenthal) New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992

Challenge Question #3:
This week's Challenge Question has been posed by NOAA Lt. JG Katy McNitt (see FOLLOW THE EXPLORERS WITH JOURNAL REPORTS FROM ANTARCTICA for more biographical information on Kate and her Journals about life at the Pole):

  1. Why is some ozone "good" and some "bad"?
  2. Who should wear more sunscreen during July: a) someone working at the South Pole, b) someone hiking in the mountains of Colorado or c) someone building a sand castle in Virginia Beach?

Good luck... and be aware that some of these researchers are pretty sneaky in the way they pose these questions!"

Challenge Question #4:

This week's CHALLENGE QUESTION might be more appropriate to you high-schoolers out there, or some enterprizing middle-schoolers, and it comes in two parts:


    Take care! Antarctica has as much surface area as the Moon, and is about 1 1/2 times larger than the United States. Although many people speak about the continent as if "Antarctica" and the "South Pole" were synonymous, that's not correct and is positively misleading in some ways relevant to this question!


Thanks to John Lynch, The NSF Program Manager for Aeronomy and Astrophysics for this answer

There are really two points to be made about wind at South Pole.

Firstly, it is not a very windy place, especially as measured by maximum wind speed. The highest wind speed that I am aware of that has been measured there was 48 knots in August of (I believe) 1989. It is pretty common to go through an entire year without winds exceeding 35 Knots. That is a very much lower maximum wind than almost anyplace in the US which you can think of. On the other hand, calm weather is also fairly uncommon. The annual average wind speed is close to 15 knots, probably a bit higher than say Washington DC It would be a terrific place to sail if only there were some water! (Liquid water, that is!)

The other point is much more esoteric, and has only to do with the FORCE which the wind applies to objects, e.g., a building. The aerodynamic force, F, generated by a wind is proportional to the density of the air. Since the air at Pole is at low pressure due to altitude its density is lower than at sea level by about 30% and aerodynamic forces are therefore lower by about that same about 30%.

Challenge Question #5:

Mike Castellini's outhouse was painted black and shaped like a triangle. Why black? Why triangular?

The LFA team has a background in factual documentaries such as COSMOS and NOVA, and so wanted to be absolutely sure of their facts, especially when dealing with essential human functions.

Accordingly, they sent a request for clarification as to WHY WAS MICHAEL CASTELLINI'S OUTHOUSE BLACK AND SHAPED LIKE A TRIANGLE? through Kristin Larson to ASA Construction Supervisor, Woody Haywood. Here's Kristin's cover note, and Woody's reply.

Here is Woody Haywood's poop on the outhouse query....quite amusing to be privy to this kind of detail.... definitely have our hind ends covered here ....sorry for the humor, my brain is a bit constipated.....yours in dee-tails, kristin

******Forwarded Message Follows******
Good Morning Kristin,

What better way to start off the New Year than with a question about poopers :->

First, as was guessed, the outhouse is indeed black to take advantage of solar gain to heat the interior. And yes, the triangular shape does reduce the interior volume to be heated, but that was not the motivation for the shape. The shape was derived to reduce cargo weight, cube, and to supposedly make for an easy to assemble structure. There is a canvas "hinge" along the top where the two slanted pieces of plywood meet. The two pieces just fold together and lay flat when the building is palletized. The whole thing is made up of interlocking pieces that all store flat on the base for easy shipping to field camps. Once at camp, the two plywood sheets are unfolded and set upright on the base. The "front" and "back" vertical walls are then assembled in place. The base has metal tracks that catch the bottom edge of each piece.

Structurally, a triangle is a much stronger shape than a square and that also was a consideration in the design of the outhouse. The slanted walls shed wind very well and I have yet to see one blow down at a deep field camp when the bottom has snow piled around it. The only structure at a deep field camp that has vertical walls is a Gen Shack, but they are larger and have the weight of two generators to hold them in place.

The Rocket toilets are built as a permanent structure. The walls have insulation in them and interior space is a consideration, not weight. They are slung in one piece out to the DV's by Helo.

I hope that I have provided an adequate explanation.


Challenge Question #6:

One of the sons of penguin expert, Gerry Kooyman, is called Carsten, and his second initial is B. He's named for a famous Antarctic explorer. What is his middle name?

Carsten B. Kooyman's middle name is Bochgrevink. He named for Cartsen Bochgrevink, who lived from 1864-1934. Mr. Bichgrevink was the first man to actually set foot on the Antarctic continent.

Challenge Question #7:

When our film crew overnighted with Michael Castellini, they had to go out to dig water for breakfast.

What were they doing?