Antarctica Blog Connects Students With Science

WASHINGTON — Con­nect­ing sci­en­tists to ele­men­tary and high school stu­dents world­wide was one of many accom­plish­ments dur­ing last year’s Oper­a­tion Deep Freeze, the military’s sup­port of Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion research in Antarc­ti­ca.

In 2010, Air Force Lt. Col. Ed “Hertz” Vaugh­an spent 50 days as com­man­der of McMur­do Detach­ment 1 and deputy com­man­der of the 13th Air Expe­di­tionary Group, Joint Task Force Sup­port Forces Antarc­ti­ca. There, he braved tem­per­a­tures that often dipped below minus 20 degrees Fahren­heit to sup­port the U.S. Antarc­tic Pro­gram, the Nation­al Sci­ence Foundation’s sci­ence mis­sion in Antarc­ti­ca.

Dur­ing his time in Antarc­ti­ca he shared his expe­ri­ences, “Dis­patch­es from Antarc­ti­ca,” through the Defense Media Activity’s blog, “Armed with Sci­ence: Research and Appli­ca­tions for the Mod­ern Mil­i­tary,” from Sept. 27 to Nov. 1.

In Vaughan’s sec­ond blog post Oct. 15, he shared his expe­ri­ence of arriv­ing in Antarc­ti­ca by plane: “Bun­dled and stiff, lips stuck-dried to smil­ing teeth, we wad­dled from the air­plane to Ivan the Ter­ra Bus. Again we were swad­dled. Con­tact frost from air­plane breath grew ice frac­tals on the inside of frozen win­dows obscur­ing the 35 minute ride to … McMur­do Sta­tion.”

John Ohab, a new tech­nol­o­gy strate­gist who coor­di­nat­ed this series for the Defense Depart­ment, shared the posts with the Depart­ment of Defense Edu­ca­tion Activ­i­ty and an ele­men­tary school in Mary­land.

One of Ohab’s goals for this series, he said, was to pro­vide an oppor­tu­ni­ty for stu­dents and teach­ers to con­nect with Vaugh­an dur­ing his deploy­ment to Antarc­ti­ca. Through con­tacts with DoDEA and oth­er schools, he received ques­tions from sci­ence teach­ers in advance and pro­vid­ed them to Vaugh­an.

Vaughan’s respons­es will be fea­tured in three posts on Armed with Sci­ence this month. Ques­tions sub­mit­ted by Arnold Ele­men­tary School in Arnold, Md., will be fea­tured tomor­row. Ques­tions from DoDEA stu­dents will be fea­tured Jan. 11 and 14.

“Being a bit of a sci­ence fanat­ic, I love expos­ing my stu­dents to any­thing unique in sci­ence,” said Jen­nifer Watkins, fourth-grade teacher at DoDEA’s Osan Amer­i­can Ele­men­tary School in Osan, South Korea. She added that DoDEA offi­cials fre­quent­ly share such oppor­tu­ni­ties with sci­ence teach­ers with­in the Defense Depart­ment school sys­tem.

“I usu­al­ly read through them and pick activ­i­ties that are age-appro­pri­ate or ones I feel will enhance sci­ence learn­ing for my stu­dents,” Watkins said. “To me, it is just anoth­er avenue that lets oth­ers know how impor­tant sci­ence is in our every­day life. I teach my stu­dents that most of what they have now would not be pos­si­ble with­out sci­ence.”

Watkins said pri­or to “Dis­patch­es from Antarc­ti­ca,” she had nev­er heard of the Defense Media Activity’s sci­ence-relat­ed blog­ging plat­form. Her stu­dents were very excit­ed about the project, she added, and pleased to be a part of the learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty and the “big take­away” from this type of exchange.

Lau­rie Arens­dorf, who teach­es fifth graders at Kinser Ele­men­tary School in Oki­nawa, Japan, said she always is look­ing for ways to incor­po­rate the tech­nol­o­gy into the over­all DoDEA stan­dards. She added that the tim­ing of “Dis­patch­es from Antarc­ti­ca” coin­cid­ed well with exper­i­ments her stu­dents were con­duct­ing in the class­room.

“We had learned how sci­en­tists cre­ate exper­i­ments and vari­ables that might impact the results,” she said. “The activ­i­ty led quite nice­ly into the work that Oper­a­tion Deep Freeze does each day. Some of the stu­dents’ ques­tions rep­re­sent­ed the work we had done in class and their inter­est in how sci­en­tists in Antarc­ti­ca oper­ate.”

The stu­dents were sur­prised to learn that ser­vice mem­bers are sta­tioned in Antarc­ti­ca, she said. “They were amazed to learn that mil­i­tary mem­bers just like their mom and dad are sta­tioned down in Antarc­ti­ca,” she added.

Watkins said the learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty pro­vid­ed for tech­nol­o­gy exchange in the class­room. “This was the first time I have done this type of exchange with a class before,” she said. “My stu­dents [and I] learn more about mys­te­ri­ous Antarc­ti­ca,” she added. “They feel impor­tant, because their ques­tions were answered by some­one who is there doing the research, and they gen­er­ate more ques­tions and dig a bit deep­er.

“We did a class dis­cus­sion about Antarc­ti­ca, as we had been work­ing on map skills in social stud­ies and had dis­cussed Antarc­ti­ca already,” she con­tin­ued. “Then the stu­dents just called out ques­tions. I wrote their ques­tions, along with their name, on the board.”

Arens­dorf added that pro­grams like Armed with Sci­ence expand the realm of pos­si­bil­i­ty for her stu­dents.

“Pro­grams such as those avail­able through Armed with Sci­ence give our stu­dents the oppor­tu­ni­ty to real­ize there is more to the world than what resides inside the four walls of a class­room,” she said. “I con­sid­er myself so for­tu­nate to be able to teach in a time where we can offer these oppor­tu­ni­ties to our stu­dents.”

She added that “Dis­patch­es from Antarc­ti­ca” helped to share the impor­tant work car­ried out by Defense Depart­ment sci­en­tists around the world, and that shar­ing their work high­lights the career poten­tial in this demand­ing, but reward­ing career field.

“The stu­dents always enjoy doing sci­ence exper­i­ments, but in fifth grade they don’t always real­ize the career oppor­tu­ni­ties that could extend from things they enjoy in a class­room,” she explained. “This activ­i­ty opened their eyes to such things, and I think that some of their ques­tions reflect­ed an inter­est in learn­ing more about these types of careers.” For exam­ple, one of the ques­tions sub­mit­ted to Vaugh­an asked what advan­tages exist for sci­en­tists in Antarc­ti­ca.

“Aside from the cold,” Vaugh­an answered, “Antarc­ti­ca has vast areas untouched and unspoiled by human activ­i­ty. Sci­ence that requires research in large areas of pris­tine land­scape may find unique advan­tages here. The South Pole offers a unique van­tage point for space obser­va­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly with 24/7 dark­ness half the year.

“There are many species only found in Antarc­ti­ca,” he con­tin­ued. “In some cas­es, the food chains of these species have remained con­stant for many years, per­mit­ting sci­en­tists to com­pare such ecosys­tems with oth­er more dis­tressed sys­tems around the globe. There are atmos­pher­ic qual­i­ties in Antarc­ti­ca, such as the ozone hole, which make this a prime spot to research effects in the low­er and upper atmos­phere.”

“Very thick areas of ice accu­mu­lat­ed over cen­turies, such as the 10,000 feet deep ice around the South Pole, pro­vide glimpses back in time, like the rings on a tree,” Vaugh­an added. Atmos­pher­ic phe­nom­e­na from hun­dreds, even thou­sands, of years ago leave chem­i­cal traces on the sur­face of the ice. As the sea­sons and years bury old ice with new, a record remains. Sci­en­tists drill for cores of these records and can cor­re­late data with oth­er sources to gain infor­ma­tion on cli­mate change activ­i­ty over time.

“Addi­tion­al­ly,” he wrote, “the ice and snow which cov­ers most of the land area pro­vide a visu­al advan­tage for sci­en­tists search­ing for mete­orites. In some places, mete­orites are eas­i­er to find here as they tend to stand out from the sur­round­ing white ter­rain. A cur­so­ry exam­i­na­tion of the Nation­al Sci­ence Foundation’s office of polar program’s web­site gives even more exam­ples as to why this is a one of kind place yield­ing invalu­able sci­ence.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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