Over the coming weeks Ms. Niccoli's first graders and Mr. Brad's preschoolers will be joining us on our science expedition in Antarctica. While we (a science team from various parts of the world) work in sub-freezing conditions and sleep on ice for several weeks on end, the students will be enjoying the adventure from their warm and cozy classrooms. Feel free to follow along on our adventure together.

Scroll down to the bottom of this page to read a little about our science team.

Satellite image of Antarctica, courtesy of NASA. The blue dot is McMurdo. The red dot is our field area on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Answers to Your Questions

Thanks for all of your great questions, kids! In fact, they are such great questions that we want to make sure everyone else hears them too.

Question: Have you seen any penguins yet?

Answer: Nope. No penguins yet. We have seen seals, skua, and krill. We'll do a blog on Antarctica wildlife later - we're still holding out hope that we'll see a penguin soon.

Question: Have you stayed warm in Antarctica?
Answer: Yes, actually. When we wear the right clothing we stay really warm. "Big Red", our coats, are very warm. However, it is much warmer here in McMurdo than where we will be later this week, so we'll have to let you know how warm we stay there.

Question: Which boots did you get?
Answer: In our earlier blog, we told you about the three boots we could choose from: white bunny boots, black moon boots, and blue smurf boots. We all chose the blue smurf boots. They are the warmest.

Question: What time is it in Antarctica?

Answer: Right now it is 11:00, Tuesday morning in Utah. It is 7:00, Wednesday morning in McMurdo, Antarctica. Antarctica is quite big, and it is the only place where all the different time zones come together. When we go out to do our science, we will be far from McMurdo. Out there, it really won't matter very much what time it actually is - it's light all day and all night. We will just work during the warmest hours and sleep during the coldest.

Question: Is it hard to sleep with all the light?

Answer: Yes! It is as bright at in the middle of the night as it is in the middle of the day. We often work until very late at night, but it feels like it is still the middle of the day. It definitely makes it hard to relax at night and go to sleep.

Question: Are you getting excited to do the science?

Answer: Yes, yes, yes!!! We are so excited. We have finally done all of our training, fixed all of the equipment, and gathered all of our gear together. It took us more than a week of working everyday all day to get ready to go. On Thursday - which will be Wednesday for you - we are scheduled to fly to the West Antarctica Ice Sheet Divide to begin the real work. Hopefully the weather will be good or we'll have to wait.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Transportation in McMurdo, Antarctica

There is a lot of snow, ice, dirt, and rock in Antarctica, so vehicles have to be able to drive on many different types of surfaces. Landon took pictures of some of the different vehicles used for transportation (the red fleet) and work (the yellow fleet) around McMurdo, Antarctica. Take a look at these awesome planes, trucks, and other forms of getting around and getting work done.

Oh, I almost forgot. Wellington, our little polar bear, went along with Landon. He tried out a few of these vehicles for himself. See if you can spot him in some of these photos. He's so small compared to these huge trucks that it might be hard to find him, so you'll have to look carefully.

The left picture shows the C-130 military planes. We will fly in one of these to our remote field area in a few days. The picture on the far right is the C-17 military plane that we flew on from New Zealand to Antarctica. Cool planes.

This is a picture of the Delta we rode in to and from our Snow School. There were 20 students and all our cold weather gear in this one truck.

Ivan the Terra Bus also takes people to and from different areas around McMurdo. It has extremely large tires, much like the Delta, which allows it to drive on the ice, snow, rock, and dirt. Can you see Wellington sitting on Ivan in the picture to the left?

We'll be using snow mobiles like this one quite a bit in the coming weeks. In fact, once we leave McMurdo and head far onto the ice sheet, we will only have snow mobiles to get around and pull all our gear. Our snow mobiles are the biggest, most powerful snow mobiles around.

Believe it or not, there are even bikes in Antarctica. You might want to clean off the icicles before riding this one.

Below are pictures of other cool vehicles. I don't know for sure what all of them do, but I do know they look like a lot of fun to drive! Wellington is in three of the pictures below. See if you can find him.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Camper School

Thursday, November 25th

Guess what! We went to school this week, just like many of you. Our school was just a bit different than what most people are used to. Our school was snow school, or snowcraft. We called ourselves "happy campers".

Clement and Landon

We rode to our school in this big, red beast. The tires were as tall as I am! It was an awesome ride. Pretty different from how you get to school, huh?

We had class in this small building and on the ice shelf. Remember that our airplane landed on sea ice, which is frozen ocean water? Well, an ice shelf is ice that flowed from off the land onto the ocean. So we had our classroom on an enormous block of ice floating on the ocean. Our class was also close to a very big volcano - Mount Erebus. No better place for a classroom if you ask me.

Picture on the left is our indoor classroom; Picture on the right is Mount Erebus

And instead of going home at the end of the school day, we built a camp and slept on the ice shelf. We cooked our food, went to the bathroom, and even slept on the ice.

Picture on the left is our camp; Picture on the right is Clement asleep in the snow trench

In our school we learned many things we need to know before heading out on our big expedition. Remember, we will not have a home to get warm in, no phones to call for help, no showers to clean off in, nothing we're used to at home ... and it's very, very cold! So, we practiced building walls to protect our camp from strong winds that could blow our tents down, building snow trenches to keep us warm, calling for help or information on a special kind of radio, and many other things.

Despite being a bit cold, our school was super fun and we learned a lot. How many of you would like to go to school with us next time?

Picture on the left is Dr. Koutnik and Mountain Mike; Picture on the right is Landon and Dr. Rupper

Monday, November 22, 2010

Landing in Antarctica

Tuesday, November 22

We made it! On Monday we flew from New Zealand to McMurdo, Antarctica. McMurdo is the United States Antarctica base. It’s really like a small town. This is where we will learn how to be safe when we are out on the ice, get all our science and camping equipment organized, and get ready for the big part of our journey.

We flew with all the equipment, food, and other gear in a C-17 military plane. We were strapped in along the inside walls of the plane. There were only a few tiny windows in the plane, but the Air Force pilots did let us sneak up to the cockpit to get a better view. That was awesome!

This is the C-17 military plane. It really is a beautiful plane. The Air Force pilots landed the C-17 on frozen ocean water, called sea ice. Once we landed, we rode in a huge bus designed to drive on ice to McMurdo.

In the pictures below, we are flying above a few clouds and sea ice. The sea ice has cracks in it, and you can see the ocean between the cracks. Sea ice cracks and melts during the summer months and new sea ice forms during the cold winter months. The sea ice is very important to a lot of the wildlife in Antarctica, including seals and penguins. It is also very beautiful, and, as it turns out, a great place to land a plane.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Polar Bears and Gear

Today we are going to introduce you to a new member of our science team, as well as show you some of the "extreme cold weather" clothing we just received.

First, meet Wellington. Now, our first-graders have informed us that there are NO polar bears in Antarctica. Turns out our kids are much smarter than most adults. They are absolutely correct. There are no polar bears in Antarctica. Wellington, however, has decided to take a journey with us and will be the first Antarctic polar bear. On occasion he may hide in some of our photos, so watch out for Wellington!

Today we went to the Clothing Distribution Center in New Zealand. This is where they give us our "extreme cold weather" clothing. They gave us two orange bags stuffed full of clothing and gear we would need for our expedition in the extreme cold of Antarctica. We spent two hours just trying on clothes - from our underwear to our ski goggles - and trying to make sure we have everything we need to be warm. My favorite items were the boots and the coats. We had the choice of three types of boots: black moon boots, white bunny boots, and blue smurf boots. The coats are bright red and soooooooo warm.

We are now all set for our big "ice flight" tomorrow. We will fly on a C17 military plane to McMurdo, Antarctica. We are all very excited and will post pictures of plane and McMurdo tomorrow.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The New Zealand Stop-Over

The entire team has made it to New Zealand. We spent today enjoying the green, warm summer of this beautiful island. No science, no work, no worries. We toured museums, ate great food, walked through gardens, and enjoyed listening to a men's chorus practice in one of the local chapels.

Tomorrow will begin the first part of the real adventure. We will meet tomorrow morning to discuss all the details of our flight to Antarctica and the science we want to learn. We will also go get our specialized, cold-weather clothing tomorrow. This is actually very important. We have to make sure every single person gets all the appropriate clothing, from underwear to hats, and that everything fits just perfectly. It will probably take all afternoon to get outfitted for our big adventure.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Headed to New Zealand

Well, it is finally time for us to leave the comfort of our homes, friends, and family and make our way to Antarctica. For the first part of our trip, our science team will all meet up in New Zealand. In New Zealand we will be given all our warm-weather clothing and gear and prepare for our long flight (the "ice flight") to Antarctica. We won't be in New Zealand long, but I plan to enjoy the warm weather and beautiful gardens while I can. Once we leave New Zealand, we will be cold for a very long time.

We all have very long flights ahead, but we are excited to start our adventure. We'll post a picture of our group and of New Zealand soon!

Monday, November 15, 2010

About Antarctica

Antarctica is the coldest, driest, highest continent on Earth, and is covered almost entirely by ice. This means we’ll be working in one of the harshest places on Earth. It will take a lot of special clothing and gear to be safe and get our work done.

So, while you’re enjoying Utah’s winter, we’ll be surviving Antarctica’s summer. Let’s see how the two compare.

1. How cold is Antarctica?

The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was in Antarctica, an incredibly cold −129°F. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Utah was -69 °F.

Even during the summer, temperatures are freezing in Antarctica. In fact, Antarctica’s summer temperatures are colder than Utah’s winter temperatures! It snows all year round in Antarctica, and the snow doesn’t melt!

2. How dry is Antarctica?

The coast of Antarctica is the wettest area, and it only gets an average of 8 inches of precipitation (snowfall) in a year. Provo, Utah gets an average of 20 inches in a year.

Antarctica, even at its wettest, is much drier than where our first grade and preschool students live. In fact, Antarctica is so dry it is actually a desert, but instead of sand dunes, it has snow dunes!

3. How high is Antarctica?

The highest point in Antarctica is 16,050 feet. The highest peak in Utah is only 13,528 feet. Mt. Timpanogos, which our students can see from their schools, is 11,749 feet.

On average, Antarctica is 7,500 feet high. Even with all its mountains, Utah’s average elevation is only 6,100 feet high. But instead of a lot of very high mountain ranges like in Utah, most of Antarctica is very thick ice.

4. How much ice is in Antarctica?

98% of Antarctica is covered by ice. The total area covered by ice is equal to the area of the United States and Europe combined. That’s a lot of ice.

The deepest ice in Antarctica is 2 and a half miles deep! If you wanted to cut a stair case from the surface of the ice to the rocks at the bottom, you would have to build more than 19,800 average-sized steps. There are usually only 11-12 steps from the first floor of a home to the second floor. That means you would have to climb to the second floor of your home and back down again 825 times if you want to climb the thickness of the ice in Antarctica. Go ahead and try it - and let us know if you are successful!

There are a lot of interesting things about Antarctica, and we'll try to share some of those with you as we begin our journey.