Project Extremes Antarctica

Scientists and teachers team up to conduct research in the most extreme environment on earth


About this blog and its authors

Project EXTREMES (EXcellence in Teaching and Research for Elementary and Middle School Engagement in Science) is an NSF GK-12 sponsored collaboration between the University of Colorado (CU) and the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD). It partners graduate students in the sciences with K-12 teachers to enhance the communication of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines through a focus on the ecology of extreme environments.

As an extension of our ongoing work in classrooms, three Project EXTREMES graduate students and one teacher will travel to Antarctica during Dec-Jan 2009/10 as part of a long-term ecological research team.  There we will work with an international team of scientists focused on understanding the ecology of one of the most extreme environments on earth, the McMurdo Dry Valleys. Continue reading



Soils 101

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


Streams 101

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


Happy Campers

We’ve just returned from an overnight field safety training course, officially called “Snowcraft I Training”, but known by all at McMurdo as “Happy Camper School”.  We have to agree, it was hard to be anything but happy on this fantastic two-day adventure.  We were a group of ten students–our GK-12 team of four, several other folks headed to the field for the first time for research, and a few McMurdo employees that elected to go on the trip as a fun and educational break from their work at the station.  Our instructor was a mountaineering guide from Alaska, well-trained and practiced in living outdoors in the extremest of conditions.  The course is required for everyone planning to work at field camps outside McMurdo Station, and with good reason.  It’s easy to forget the harshness of the environment we are in while we are warm, well-fed, and comfortable, but spending the night in the snow last night was an excellent reminder of the realities of the continent.

Kallin, Susan, Ian, and Loren on the first day of Happy Camper School.  I was too hot at first for my big red parka, but later on it got colder and I was glad I had it with me!

Kallin, Susan, Ian, and Loren on the first day of Happy Camper School. I was too hot at first for my big red parka, but later on it got colder and I was glad I had it with me!

The site for Happy Camper School is on the Ross Sea ice shelf,  several Continue reading

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We’re here!!!

Today has been one of the most fascinating and overwhelming days of my life.  It’s hard to believe that we are actually on the continent of Antarctica, a place that was only a speculation in the minds of humans for most of our history on the planet.  The first actual sighting of the continent was in the 1820s, and permanent research stations were not established until the 1950s.

We left Christchurch, NZ at 7:30 this morning, on a US Air Force operated C-17.  We are required to wear all of our extreme weather clothing on board the flight, so we got all bundled up before leaving, which felt a little funny in the New Zealand summer.

Leaving Christchurch (400 x 300)

Susan, Ian, Kallin, and Loren getting ready to board the flight to Antarctica

The C-17 is basically a cargo plane Continue reading


Getting there

Tomorrow we leave for Antarctica and it is finally starting to feel real!!  We are so excited to have this opportunity.

Right now we are in Christchurch, New Zealand, finalizing everything before we fly to the ice.  The four of us were split up onto different flights, but Kallin and I traveled together.  We flew from Denver to L.A. (3 hours), L.A. to Sydney (13 hours), and then Sydney to Christchurch (3 hours).

On the way here we had a 3-day layover in Sydney, Australia, which was fantastic!  Sydney is beautiful, built right on the water and host to one of the most multicultural populations in the world.

Sydney Harbour

Sydney Harbour

Continue reading


Some basic Antarctica info…

The continent…

Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest, and emptiest place on earth.  Over 98% of the continent is covered by ice, which is at its thickest place over 4,500 meters deep (that’s almost 3 miles!).  The Antarctic ice sheet contains over 70% of the world’s fresh water.


One of the first questions people always ask us about Antarctica is, “How cold is it there??”.    A good question!  Average annual temperatures at the south pole Continue reading