Thursday 11th May 2006 by C. Freeman
Young scientists at Brooke Weston have made contact with one of the most inhospitable continents on earth; all through the power of modern technology. The Year 7 students were able to chat live to a worker on an Antarctic research station as part of their project on climatology.
During the half-hour-long telephone link-up the students learned about life in the land which is the coldest, windiest and driest on earth, made up of 98 per cent ice and 2 per cent barren rock.
Peter McCabe, who is at the Australian-led Casey research station, told students how scientists drill down between 120m and 160m through the ice. Gases trapped in the ice layers are analysed meaning that changes in the atmosphere can be monitored and evaluated.
Peter, who is responsible for buildings and construction on the site is one of only a handful of skeleton staff during the bitter winter months and is in Antarctica for a year-long stint. He said that when the temperature dipped to minus 20 degrees below zero he filled a cup with boiling water and then threw it out into the air where it vaporised immediately, demonstrating the extremes of temperature that the scientific crews have to deal with. 'Most of the water just disappeared and the couple of drops that were left immediately froze. It was quite a spectacle!' he said.
The native wildlife consists mainly of seabirds and penguins. Peter told how leopard seals prey on penguin chicks and tiny species, such as snow petrels and dawn petrels, fly 200 miles out to sea and yet are able to reach the land again. 'The animals around here are amazing, they live in the most extreme place possible and they manage to survive.'
Students Lauren Witt , Amy-Bea Norman, Andrew Simons Suraj Kumar, William Rodgers, Luke Barnes and Iona Smith all asked Peter questions about wildlife, climate change and life in general, while Antarctic scenes of Peter, giant icicles and spectacular sunsets were project on a whiteboard.
Luke Barnes chats with Peter McCabe
During the Antarctic winter there is very little sunshine but Peter is looking forward to the challenge of surviving out there: 'When you are here in winter there's no other options. You can't get away even if you wanted to there's nowhere to go so that can be daunting, but even so there's new activities to take on so it's really exciting being down here.'
Science teacher, Paul Mitchell arranged the session as Peter is one of his best friends from his native Australia and, despite the extreme weather conditions Paul admits that he'd love to experience life in the Antarctic too!
Special thanks go to students Ryan Feakin and Kris Simpson for their technical support as they set up the computer gadgetry which allowed the live chat over several thousands of miles and a time difference of nine hours. It was so successful with the students that it might be repeated for different classes and, who knows, in the depths of Antarctic winter the Brook Weston students may provide Peter McCabe with a bit of light relief from the penguins, the freezing temperature and the melting ice-caps!?