Program 3: Seeing the Future?

The ozone hole and its implications for global climate change are the science stories which have most captured the attention of students, teachers and the general public.Evidence of the ozone hole lay undiscovered despite years of collected data. But the presence of NSF's U.S. Antarctic Program stations at the Pole, McMurdo and Palmer allowed rapid follow-up to the first announcements by British researchers of the existence of the hole. Now in and around Palmer, ongoing research is attempting to trace the consequences of ozone depletion for life. Antarctica is like the canary in the mine-shaft, a living detector of potentially dangerous consequences for life all around the planet.

Researcher Tad Day works on Stepping Stones Island and other sites close to Palmer, carefully studying the small plants which grow only on the Antarctic Peninsula. The relatively milder temperatures and frequent rain allow their growth. He builds tiny greenhouses for his sample plants, using filters to control the precise amount of ultraviolet radiation (UV) that falls on them. (Tad has also cooperated with LFA 2 in the creation of Activity 3.2 which allows students back home to parallel his field research.) There's also evidence that average Antarctic temperatures have increased over the years, and Day wants to determine how these plants respond. Although much work has been done on the effects of increased UV and global climate change on animal life, this is the first high latitude study of these effects on plant life.

Languishing on some of the islands nearby Palmer are colonies of elephant seals, large lugubrious mammals whose main goal on land seems to be sunning and snoozing. These creatures are considerably more active underwater, where they feed on the penguins and fish they dwarf in size. Our video visit to the elephant seal colony will have the same kind of "You Are There" feel as did our earlier excursion to the Adelie penguin rookery.

Polly Penhale, NSF's Biology and Medicine Program Manager, who is ultimately responsible for all the science done at Palmer, will take us on a tour of the elephant seal colonies and explain how these creatures fit into the Antarctic food web. We'll see seal pups nursing and learning how to crawl and swim. We'll see how the bulls noisily mark their territory and how they conserve energy on land so they can forage more effectively at sea.

This final program weaves together the earlier videos to teach us the larger lessons aquired by looking at microscopic marine life, krill, penguins, seals and skuas. Just as with the "canary in the mine shaft," the consequences of global climate change would first be felt in the high latitudes which LFA 2 has been visiting. Scientists, many with twenty years or more experience in the Antarctic Peninsula, will reflect upon the evidence they've seen, and show how their continuing work in Antarctica can improve our understanding of the complex planetary forces that affect us. We'll see why hi-tech tools like remote sensing satellites, as well as basic field work studying penguin droppings and half-eaten fish are both required to understand our world. Students will realize that the intense work at Palmer is "just the tip of the iceberg" of careers spent wrestling with evidence, recording results, analyzing data, revising hypotheses-the same kind of hands-on, minds-on labor encouraged and modeled by Activities in this Teacher's Guide. We hope by the end of this third program, that neither the continent nor explorers will seem remote, but rather connected, relevant and meaningful.

Live sites will include Stepping Stones Island and Palmer Station. We'll take an aerial tramway ride across Arthur Harbor to Bonaparte Point, parallel Tad Day's field work with student experiments, and contrast huge seals and microscopic plants. Computer enhanced images from space interwoven with landscapes and life forms on Earth will demonstrate the connections of high-tech to biology, and inspire students to use telecommunications to keep in touch with the science and the scientists seen in all 3 programs.

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