A.3 Careers in Antarctic Science and Science Support

Teacher Background

The United States Antarctic Program (USAP) supports an extensive and diverse scientific community. More than 3,000 people work on research vessels or at the main stations and field camps as part of ongoing research projects. Just about every state in the U.S. is represented, and in the past year researchers came from 19 other countries to work with USAP. Their average age was 36; 30% were female; 5% were minorities.

Sidebar: Maria Vernet, Marine Biologist

Palmer Station itself is a small, highly interdependent research community, with a very distinct and unique character, different from McMurdo or South Pole. Its research projects focus on marine and terrestrial biology, Long-Term Ecological Research studying sea-ice variability and the marine food chain, ozone depletion, UV radiation and other important topics, for which it's one of the best sites on the planet. Palmer is normally reached only by sea, except in cases of extreme emergency, when a small ski-equipped plane may be able to land on a nearby glacier. The safety of each individual and the existence of the community as a whole depends on strict adherence to the rules which you can read in the co-packaged NSF/ASA booklet Your Stay at United States Antarctic Program Stations, pp. 29-40. You and your students can read about the 2 mile boating limit and "house-mouse" cleanup duties, check out mealtimes, laundry service, and begin to get a sense of how research is supported. Of course, the best way to appreciate this is through the LFA 2 videos and on-line resources. However, Activity A.3 may sharpen your students' eyes and ears to what they are seeing and/or reading, and help establish a productive anticipatory set.


Students will demonstrate their understanding of the roles and responsibilities of USAP participants in Antarctica.

Students will problem-solve an emergency situation specific to the operation of Palmer Station.


Share the overview of life at Palmer Station provided in the Teacher Background section and in the Your Stay...booklet.

Share a Field Journal entry from researchers currently working at Palmer. (It's OK to download an on-line journal from your home Internet account to read to your class, if school access is still limited. See sidebar for an example of how such journals convey the personal dimension of what it's like to work on this distant continent.)


What is a community? Identify several types of communities (class, school, family, sports team, Scouts, Young Astronauts, citizens of a nation.) What characteristics do they share? Remind students that Palmer Station is a highly interdependent scientific research community. Does it meet the definitions for community as discussed? How does the Palmer community govern itself and spend its spare time in such a remote and isolated outpost? What about special holidays and events? How is the need for relaxation or privacy handled?

Please note: if you use Closing Activity B.2, "New Palmer", you may find your students' "Before" and "After" responses particularly revealing.

Join the "A" Team





Note: If you have easy on-line access, check out the USAP Field Manual. It's like an Antarctic "Scouts' Handbook." It teaches you how to build igloos, operate radios, tie knots and even comments that you may need to change your underpants if you get your Skidoo stuck in a crevasse!


As your students can see on the LFA 2 poster co-packaged with this Guide, Antarctica is an extremely beautiful continent. But here, Nature rules, not humans. Even the smartest science teams are just temporary visitors and must show "the Ice" due respect. The continent is unforgiving of ignorance or breaches of safety procedures, and will punish foolhardy behavior. Every year or so, one or more USAP participants dies because they took a supposed "short cut" across unflagged snow or ice. Venturing out in the field without the proper equipment, or when the weather is turning, can be fatal.



  1. Divide the class into teams of 3-4 students. Distribute one Emergency! card and one copy of the Antarctic Safety Rules to each team.
  2. Have teams read the emergency situation described on their card, review the safety rules on the sheet provided, and come up with a plan of action to avert a tragedy.
  3. Students can share situations and solutions with the entire class. Debrief with feedback. What other possible solutions might have worked?
  4. Have students write a journal entry as if they were caught in the situation explored by their team. Share it with their team, or with the entire class, and place a copy in their Logbook.


Read/share the on-line Biographies and Field Journals. Ask students what they found most interesting about these individuals. What kind of education was required for their jobs? Were they always "good" students as children? What special, personal, non-academic interests led them to pursue their current careers?

Suggested URLs

Check out the Journals and Biographies available on-line at both our Live From Antarctica sites:

NSF's Antarctic research objectives are detailed here:

The LTER Project's work at Palmer Station: overview, history and related links:

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