Questions from Washington State Budding Rogue Scientists

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Questions from Amboy, WA

Hello,

We are a small home schooled group in Washington State and our 4 year project is the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer and her research projects and research in Antarctica. We have been helped out recently by Alice Doyle from Raytheon who has explained some things I did not understand.

The kids are mine - Sarah and Donovan (10 and 12) - and some neighbor kids are now involved as well. We have read a lot about your research project and the kids have to research their questions before they can ask the scientists.

We will not bother you too much but they did have these questions for you. The first one is actually mine and then the kids. We KNOW you are busy so answer if and when you have time.

Thanks,

Jill and her band of budding small rogue scientists


Questions for the Scientists:

1) Do people from the different Stations (such as Palmer and McMurdo) affect the growth of phytoplankton and algae and if so how? (Jill)

2) There has been a lot on the news about whales and sea lions beaching themselves here and dying - does this happen there? (Kari Ann)

3) The depth of the water and ice conditions affect your studies. How has that changed over the time you have been researching there? (Sarah)

4) We have learned how water temperature affects the study. Have you run into any surprises from what you know already on how global warming is affecting phytoplankton and algae? (Roy)

5) Do you leave any equipment out there to measure between studies? If so what equipment and what does it do? (Donovan)

6) We are learning about how carbon is affecting global warming and things we can do to solve some of those problems. What do you think the number one thing we as kids can do to help with that issue? (Donovan)

Thank You in Advance,

Jill Cameron (Sarah 10) and (Donovan 12)
Amboy, Washington



Reply from Mak Saito to questions 1 & 2

1) Do people from the different Stations (such as Palmer and McMurdo) affect the growth of phytoplankton and algae and if so how? (Jill)

Hi Jill.  Thanks for the question.  Up until the 1970s and 1980s, most waste was dumped in McMurdo Sound.  Everything from sewage, to grease to garbage was dumped into the sound.  Although the Antartic Treaty was signed in 1956 by many countries to prevent this, it still occurred.  However in the late 1970s and early 1980s, dumping came to an end.  At McMurdo Station, sewage now goes through primary treatment, which means that all solid material is removed.  At Palmer Station, the sewage does not go through a primary treatment, but is "mashed" into smaller pieces.  Sewage can act as a nutrient source in the water.  However, in both locations, the sewage either sinks quickly to the bottom where it is broken down by benthic organisms or is swept away by currents.  In either case, the sewage would not affect the surrounding waters on a large scale.   Also, at both McMurdo and Palmer Station, all garbage is separated into glass, cardboard, etc and shipped out.  Nothing is dumped at either station.  It is also important to note that the Antarctic Treaty is one of the most successful international treaties ever drafted.

2) There has been a lot on the news about whales and sea lions beaching themselves here and dying does this happen there? (Kari Ann)

Hey Kari Ann, thanks for the question.  This is an interesting question; one that I have never thought about before.  As for sea lions, most live above 60 degrees south latitude, around the coast of South America and islands near New Zealand.  Seals, such as fur, crabeater, leopard and Weddell, live below 60 degrees south latitude.  Both types of animal spend much of there time on land, so I have never heard of sea lions beaching themselves.  Whales I have heard of beaching themsleves.  The problem in the Antarctic is that there isnt a low lying area, or beach, to land.  The coast of Antarctica consists of tall mountains (14,000 feet) or the ice shelf (100 feet).  If a whale were to die here, they would either sink to the bottom or be eaten by orcas or leopard seals.



Reply from Rob Dunbar to questions 3, 5 and 6

Hi kids-

I'm Rob Dunbar, one of the scientists on board the Nathaniel Palmer with Mak and Tyler. I work at Stanford University in California and I have two boys. One is 15 and the other is 12. I took my 15-year-old, Ian, with me to Antarctica last year and now he wants to be a penguin biologist when he grows up! This year I am lucky again. I will take my 12-year-old boy, Douglas, to Antarctica in January (I come home for Christmas and to pick him up and go again!). If you want, we could set it up so that he writes you a couple of e-mails during the cruise. It might be fun for you and for him - kids are such great observers. They all see things that we adults don't. I wish that all of you could see this place! It's really amazing.....I like it so much that this is my 27th trip to Antarctica. This time might be the best. It's really fun to travel again with Mak and Erin and to meet some new people too!

OK - Mak gave me a few of your questions to answer. I'll do my best.

3) The depth of the water and ice conditions affect your studies. How has that changed over the time you have been researching there? (Sarah)

Sarah- Your question about water depth and ice conditions is something that a lot of people are studying here now but they are kind of separate questions. The last time the  water depth changed alot here was 10,000 years when the ice sheet on Antarctica, and it's counterpart in the northern hemisphere, were both alot bigger. There was some much ice that formed from water taken from the ocean that the level of the sea was lower everywhere by about 120 meters. When the ice in Antarctica and in the north melted at the end of the last ice age the level of the ocean rose 120 meters. The overall rise took about 8,000 years but at times it was very fast...so fast that coral reefs began to drown in many parts of the tropical ocean. By studying the seafloor around Antarctica we can figure out how much ice melted in different places and how fast and why it melted. This is important because as the world warms up we do expect parts of coastal Antarctica to begin to melt and shed glacial ice into the sea. If all of the ice were to melt, the ocean would rise by about 60 meters. This would have a huge impact everywhere but don't worry - we don't think it can melt very fast......it might take several hundred years for enough ice to melt in Antarctica that the ocean level rises by 2 or 3 meters. We don't really know the answer yet but we think its important to figure it out. Our idea is that by studying what parts of Antarctica melted first 10,000 years ago we might then choose to watch those places first for signs of melting today - sort of like an early warning system on a grand scale....

The sea ice changes all the time. One of my first Ph.D. students studied the algae, diatoms, that live in the ice. Since diatoms have hard shells that sink to the seabed and are sometimes piled up in the sediments, she figured out a way to study past changes in the sea ice. Here in the Ross Sea, it looks the like the area covered by sea ice can change by as much as 50% from decade to decade or century to century......That's an area about as large as Washington state and Oregon combined! Whenever the climate changes, the amount of sea ice changes and this in turn changes the climate. That's called a feedback loop. Sometimes they get out of control and all the ice melts for a few years or centuries. The ice is pretty important for alot of animals as well as for the pants that live in the ice. This is another area that has many scientists doing some cool field work. You know on this trip, Mak and I went out on the sea ice one day to collect some samples of the ice. I am hoping he wants to work on the sea ice in the future. We have many ideas for things to do. I'll bet you do to.

5) Do you leave any equipment out there to measure between studies? If so what equipment and what does it do? (Donovan)

Donovan- We do often leave equipment out in the ocean - sometimes for years. Right now, we are only about 20 miles away from a deep ocean mooring that I have been looking after now for 16 years! A mooring is a long rope with a heavy weight on the bottom (we use wheels from old trains from the train junkyard!) and big glass balls on top that act as floats. But the floats don't come to the surface - they are 150 meters down below the surface so that sea ice and icebergs don't catch hold of our mooring and drag it away when we are away for the winter. The bottom of the mooring is on the seabed - at about 1000 meters depth. So, we have this long rope stretched between the bottom and the upper part of the ocean and on this line we put instruments that measure all kinds of things - temperature, light, and saltiness of the water. I also put out things called "sediment traps". They measure how much food is falling from the surface of the ocean, where all the food is produced by the algae, and the seafloor, where alot of animals make a living eating the food that falls from above. We come and get these instruments every 2 or 3 years, get all their data, and then put them back out. Since we've been doing this for 16
years, we now know some things about how much the ocean is warming up here in the Ross Sea (a little bit, only measurable with accurate thermometers) and how much the food supply changes (alot!).

6) We are learning about how carbon is affecting global warming and things we can do to solve some of those problems. What do you think the number one thing we as kids can do to help with that issue? (Donovan)

Donovan- Your global warming and C question is a great one. This is an area I work in at Stanford and I give talks all over the world on the science behind global warming and the possible solutions that might help make the problem less severe. Some things we need to work together with our governments to accomplish. These are big things, like changing the way we get and use power, and because they are big these changes will take time (years....). But there are things we can all do at home and with our families that can make a difference right now. We can drive less - I try to ride my bike to work as much as possible. We can remember to turn off lights and appliances whenever we aren't using them. We can use more public transportation and we can buy more fuel-efficient cars when we get new ones. We can keep things longer and not buy quite so many new things and we can recycle. Making new things out of metals, plastics, and fabrics uses energy and nearly all energy right now comes from carbon. Kids don't actually use too much energy because they aren't driving cars and flying all over the place as much as adults. One important thing you might do is talk to your parents about global warming. I know when my boys tell me about things they are worried about, I think hard about these things too - and I help them if I can......I myself am very worried about global warming - about the kind of world my kids live in when they grow up and have kids of their own.

OK, I have to go work! Thanks for reading these answers!

Your friend down south,

Rob



Note from the home office

The scientists are still contemplating Roy's question, so stay tuned!

 

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Last updated November 30, 2006
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