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Antarctica and the surrounding area are natural laboratories for scientific research that can not be done anywhere else on Earth. Among the unusual aspects of the continent are its harsh climate and extreme cold, frigid ice-filled oceans, vast polar ice cap and large glaciers, geologic formations and structures that are related to more northerly land masses, uniquely adapted forms of plant and animal life, and unusual meteorological phenomena. These are covered by scientific disciplines that have attracted exploration and scientific curiosity for more than a hundred years. Here is the place for the meteorologist, oceanographer, atmospheric physicist, geologist, glaciologist, seismologist, geophysicist, biologist, and zoologist, and even the people of medicine who are examining the effects of the Antarctic environment on human physiology. The research involving so many disciplines is carried out by scientists among the faculty and students of colleges and universities, government agencies and private industry.
The polar regions have been called Earth's window to outer space. With the discovery of polar stratospheric ozone depletions, a window previously thought "closed" (the ultraviolet window) is now known to "open" in certain seasons. Current research focuses on stratospheric chemistry, aerosols, and the vital role played by ozone.
Antarctica is an astronomer's dream come true. The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is arguably one of the best places on earth to study the stars. Observers there take advantage of the unique characteristics of the South Pole to study the evolution and structure of the Universe.
Conditions on the frozen Antarctic surface are so harsh that few life forms survive year-round above the ice. Of particular interest to biologists, the McMurdo Dry Valleys represent a region where life approaches its environmental limits. While below the surface and along the coast, ocean ecosystems teem with life that is rich, complex, and abundant.
Much of the story of Antarctica is written beneath the ice, in the rocks that make up about 9 percent of Earth's continental crust. Geologic evidence indicates that at one time the continent had a temperate climate and was part of an ancient, considerably larger land mass, known as
An ice sheet covers all but 2.4 per cent of Antarctica's 14 million square kilometers. This ice contains 70 percent of all the world's fresh water. In order to predict the ice sheet's future behavior and its effect on global climate, glaciologists must have a thorough understanding of its history, current state, internal dynamics.
The weather systems that constantly circle Antarctica drive storms across the Southern Ocean and beyond, while the seasonal formation and melting of sea ice has an important effect on the world's weather. Antarctic stations collect daily meteorological observations and broadcast them to surrounding countries to help in weather forecasting.
The Antarctic Convergence divides the cold southern water masses from the warmer northern waters, creating the world's largest current flowing at an average speed of half a knot eastward around the continent. In addition, sea ice forms outward up to 1500 kilometers from the continent every winter. Oceanographic studies focus on these two interrelated phenomena and their effects on both marine ecosystems and Earth's climate patterns.
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