Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Great Questions from Bach Elementary School

Dear Bach School Fourth Graders,

Thank you for your great questions. I have done my best to answer them! Please keep those questions coming! It’s great to hear from you!!

1. What inspired you to go to Antarctica?

I have always had a fascination for remote, polar regions. When I was younger I dreamt of going to northern Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and Spitzbergen. As I got older and I developed a greater awareness about the world, I became more and more curious about the south polar region. The remoteness of the continent, combined with the fascinating exploration history, compelled me to want to visit. When I started learning about geology, I became very interested in Antarctic geology. It is so fascinating! I had the incredible opportunity to study one interesting aspect of Antarctic geology for my Master’s Thesis, in 1985/1986. My interest in Antarctica never stopped when I became a teacher. I maintained my interest in Antarctica by sharing my knowledge and experience in Antarctica – because I wanted more people to be aware of the beauty and magic of the continent, and to understand, on some level, the importance of the science conducted there.

When I learned about the ARISE program, there was no question in my mind that it was something I wanted to do – and to bring the ANDRILL science alive to students. I hope I am successful!

2. Why is survival school called "happy camper school"?

I think a lot of people are afraid of survival school – because it can be really tough. So they renamed it so that it wouldn’t sound so scary. Don’t you think Happy Camper School sounds friendlier than Survival School?

3. Is there a native language in Antarctica?

There are no native people in Antarctica – so there is no native language. Nobody “lives” in Antarctica year round. People come to Antarctica from all over the world to do science, and to support the scientific programs. So you hear all different languages spoken. Here in the McMurdo where I am currently staying, I hear English, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, French – and some languages I don’t even recognize! But we are all visitors. There are no natives!

4. What do you eat?

I eat a LOT! The cold makes me really, really hungry. I am not in the field yet, and I know that when I am, I will be eating a lot more than I am eating now! But currently, in McMurdo, there are cooks and a great big galley (or dining hall) - and I eat whatever they prepare. I eat pancakes, waffles, or eggs for breakfast – with LOTS of hot coffee. For lunch I eat sandwiches or hot dogs or fajitas or curry and rice. And for dinner I eat a lot of meat: pork, beef, chicken or fish, and breads and vegetables. The biggest difference between my Antarctic diet and my Michigan diet is: 1) I eat WAY more food in Antarctica; 2) I eat a lot more meat, because my body craves it; 3) I have to drink all the time because my body is do dehydrated out here; 4) I snack on a lot of chocolate because it helps keep me warm. I nibble on it all day long!

5. Are you enjoying Antarctica?

Absolutely! Can you tell by my blogs?

6. Is the ice cold? Yes, the ice is very cold. It is cold to touch, and cold to travel on. The funny thing is, if you want to stay warm on a very cold day, you dig a hole in the ice (this is easier on the ice shelf than on the sea ice). It is often warmer to stay in a hole in the snow and ice than to stay in a tent. In other words, the snow can be a great insulator!

7. Have you seen any penguins? No – I haven’t. (See my explanation below.)

8. What type of wildlife have you seen?

I saw one Weddell Seal since I have been on the ice. I also saw some fish in one of the laboratories in McMurdo. Some fish have a natural anti-freeze, and researchers have been studying this for awhile. I got to go into the lab to see the aquarium with the fish in it.

9. How large is your tent? (See below.)

10. How many layers do you wear?

That depends how cold it is outside. At Happy Camper School I work at least 3 layers. As I got hot, I took layers off so I didn’t sweat. When I stopped exerting myself, I bundled the layers back on. When the wind picks up, I need to put on lots and lots of layers – especially on my face. I bundle up so much that you can’t even see any of the skin on my face! It it were exposed, it might get frostbite!

11. How cold does it feel?

It depends on the temperature and the wind. The windchill has been as cold as about -50 F. You might think you couldn’t survive in that – but if you are properly dressed and prepared, it is quite tolerable.

12. Will you always have the things that you need?

I hope so! The chief scientists have done a great job of anticipating the things we will need out in the field. It is also a very creative group of people, and I’m sure we have enough supplies that we can find solutions to problems of missing things.

13. Did you get a new sleeping bag? (See below)

14. How does the sea ice look?
In places the ice looks very white, and in other places it looks blue. It depends where you are. There are quite a few cracks on the ice, but most of them are very shallow and we don’t worry about them. In some places the ice is covered by a dusting of snow. But I heard that our field area is almost entirely blue ice (which is really slippery). We will be wearing attachments to our boots to get a better grip on the ice, called “stable icers.”

15. Are there any other animals besides penguins and seals?
Very soon I expect to see some other birds – such as the Skua, which is a type of Antarctic gull. But there are no insects or beetles. Just a LOT of people!

16. Is global warming getting worse?

We know that Carbon Dioxide is definitely building up in the atmosphere – and that will cause more heat to be trapped on the earth. There is little doubt that that will cause the global climate to warm if we don’t do anything to change that buildup. But, with students like you asking these questions and being concerned about the health of the planet, we can make a difference!

17. Can you bring us back a rock?
I hope to bring back a rock that we can study together. I will have to wait and see about that…

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