Project EXTREMES Antarctica

Antarctica’s most famous penguin »

by Loren Sackett | posted: March 1st, 2010

A small group of emperor penguins molting; White Island in the background

Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) are the most well-known penguins living in Antarctica– they star in March of the Penguins and are one of the continent’s best examples of adaptation to its extreme environment.  They are the largest species of penguin, reaching up to 122 cm (48 inches) tall and weighing from 22-45 kg (49-99 lb), although they weigh only 11 ounces at birth.  During the rearing of their young, males and females lose weight because they are incubating eggs and caring for their offspring instead of feeding themselves– in fact, males lose an average of 15 kg (33 lb)– almost 40% of their body weight!  Males will fast for 4 months while the females are out foraging for food (Williams 1995); when females return to take over caring for the newly hatched chick, males travel up to 100 km across the ice before they reach water, where they can finally find their food.  There are many risks to a young penguin, and fewer than 20% survive their first year (Williams 1995).

When penguins molt, their new feathers coming in are not initially waterproof, so the penguins cannot swim until the feathers have gained their waterproof coating.  During this time, since they are unable to hunt for food, they must conserve energy, and they become quiescent for weeks on end.  They do not move even when people are nearby.  During our stay at McMurdo, four emperor penguins found their way to the road near Pegasus, the landing strip, and stationed themselves there during their molt.   Because they were just off the road, we could see them closely when driving by.  Of course, we are still not allowed to approach them, and must maintain a distance great enough that they hardly notice us.  Fortunately, I have a nice zoom lens!

Emperors molting (you can see white feathers coming out of their bodies as they are replaced by new ones)

Continue reading Antarctica’s most famous penguin

Did someone say penguins? »

by Loren Sackett | posted: February 6th, 2010

“Go sit down on that rock,” Jean tells Kallin, “and let them approach you.  You can’t approach them, but they are very curious, so they will come check you out.”  We are adjacent to a penguin rookery at Cape Royds, an area of scientific interest (people can enter only with a permit to do research on the penguins).  Kallin willingly obliges, and moments later, a pair of Adelie penguins waddles within 10 feet.  They stop and cock their heads, pivoting to look at Kallin from different angles.   She returns their curious stares, tilting her head in unison with the pair.

Kallin sitting patiently on the rocks as the curious Adelie penguins waddle nearby

Continue reading Did someone say penguins?

Soils 101 »

by Susan Whitehead | posted: January 19th, 2010

One of the main areas of scientific research in the McMurdo Dry Valleys focuses on soils.  Many people are surprised to find out that there are actually soils in Antarctica, since we generally think of the entire continent as being covered by ice.  And that is true for about 98% of the continent.  However the dry valleys are Continue reading Soils 101

Why is it light in all of these pictures? »

by Ian Schwartz | posted: January 18th, 2010

Here in Antarctica, it is summer, which means that the weather we are experiencing is relatively mild and calm most of the time. It also means that it is light 24 hours a day! Continue reading Why is it light in all of these pictures?

The way science really works »

by Loren Sackett | posted: January 14th, 2010

We are sitting in the F6 hut eating grilled cheese sandwiches at 5:30 in the morning.  We are exhausted, not thinking sharply, and moving slowly.  The room is quiet, we speak slowly and our usual joking interactions have mellowed.  We have just finished a 23 hour day of field work, completing the sampling we have been planning for ages.  We feel satisfied, but too tired to think.  This is the fourth day in a row we have been working past midnight. Continue reading The way science really works

Streams 101 »

by Susan Whitehead | posted: January 6th, 2010

We have spent the last couple of days helping out the “stream team”, a group of scientists working on stream ecology in Taylor Valley, Antarctica.  The stream team is headed by Dr. Diane McKnight, a limnologist at the University of Colorado, who has been working in Antarctica for over 20 years.  Stream ecology is an important topic here.  Streams flow only during the summer, when glaciers melt in the 24-hour sun and feed the lakes that are dispersed throughout the valleys.  As streams flow, they transport reactive chemical elements away from the glaciers, providing Continue reading Streams 101

Holed up in the Dry Valleys »

by Loren Sackett | posted: January 4th, 2010

This place is stunning.  It’s hard to describe the beauty, the enormity of the landscape.  Now I can understand why so many people failed to reach the South Pole, why this continent is so harsh.  Antarctica is not a flat sheet of ice; it is the highest continent on earth.  The Asgard mountains tower over the Taylor Valley, and they are but one of many mountain ranges, any of which would be treacherous to cross…treacherous, but they are beautiful indeed.

Huge glacier surrounded by mountains, adjacent to Taylor Valley

The huge Ferrar glacier surrounded by mountains, adjacent to Taylor Valley

Continue reading Holed up in the Dry Valleys

Keep Antarctica Clean! »

by Ian Schwartz | posted: January 2nd, 2010

During our first 24 hours in the field, we are learning some very important information about how waste is managed in the sensitive environment of the Dry Valleys. The ecosystems of Antarctica are protected by the Antarctic Conservation Act. Unless a group has a permit, The Law states that it is unlawful to do the following activities: Continue reading Keep Antarctica Clean!

Off to Camp! »

by Kallin Tea | posted: January 1st, 2010

On New Years Eve, we rode in a helicopter to Camp F6.  It was an adventure that I will never forget.  The views were incredible!

Escorted to the helicopter.

Escorted to the helicopter.

Continue reading Off to Camp!

Snow Survival School »

by Kallin Tea | posted: January 1st, 2010

We had a great time at snow school.  Here are just a few photos highlighting our experience. Continue reading Snow Survival School