Arctic Websites to Take Students, Museum Visitors, and Web Surfers to the Ends of the Earth


April 16, 2007

Beginning April 18, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), in
partnership with eight museums across the United States, will bring the
excitement of polar research and discovery to students, teachers,
museum visitors, and web viewers. Virtual explorers will be able to
join real ones on a series of four expeditions to both of Earth’s
Poles.

The first in a series of interactive sessions between researchers in
the field and museum visitors is an expedition to the North Pole, where
researchers will deploy instruments that will make year-round
observations of the layers of water beneath the Arctic ice cap. The
outreach project is funded by the National Science Foundation as part
of the International Polar Year (March 2007 to March 2009).

The “Polar Discovery” project represents an innovative approach to
science education and outreach that brings together some of the
nation’s best science centers and natural history museums, world-class
oceanographic researchers working in the Arctic and Antarctic, and
creative multimedia talent.   Interaction occurs in two ways:

• A Web site, http://polardiscovery.whoi.edu, offers photo essays,
videos, animations, audio clips, and a forum for emailing questions
directly to researchers at the Poles;

• Nine partner museums have developed interactive and media-rich
exhibits related to the polar expeditions and will host public events
centered around live satellite calls from researchers on the ice to
visitors on the museum floor.

Museum partners include the Museum of Science, Boston; Liberty Science
Center, Jersey City; Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh;
the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC; the
Houston Museum of Natural Science; The Field Museum, Chicago; Birch
Aquarium at Scripps, La Jolla, Calif.; Smithsonian Environmental
Research Center, Edgewater, MD; and Pacific Science Center, Seattle.

 “International Polar Year presents an extraordinary opportunity
to educate students and the public about science at the icy ends of the
Earth,” said Chris Linder, a research associate at WHOI and a
co-principal investigator on Polar Discovery. “Our goal is to apply
collaborative, multimedia approaches to bring the story of polar
research to the public and the classroom.”

In addition to his scientific interests, Linder is also a professional
photographer. For each expedition, he will travel with a science writer
and with WHOI researchers to their remote research sites. Together they
will share their experiences conducting scientific research from some
of the most extreme environments on the planet. 

Back at the museums, students and other visitors will have the
opportunity to interact directly with the researchers while they are
working in the field – deploying climate sensors, hunting for new
communities of life, or monitoring the pace of global change. The
interactions will take place via satellite phone, connecting
researchers on the ice or on an icebreaking ship to students immersed
in a multimedia polar experience in a museum. The live presentations
will provide an opportunity to observe how ocean and polar science is
conducted and to learn what real scientists are like – what excites
them, how they cope with their environment, and what challenges they
face as they try to gain a better understanding of our planet.

“Polar Discovery” consists of four expeditions:

North Pole,
April 18 – 28, 2007. Scientists have studied Arctic waters through
expeditions on icebreakers and ice-locked ships, or by setting
moorings. But few have tried to send Arctic Ocean data back in real
time, year-round, for multiple years. The Polar Discovery team will
camp with scientists working at the North Pole, battling temperatures
plunging to 30 below zero to deploy instruments designed to take the
pulse of the climate at the top of the world.

Gakkel Ridge, July 1 through
August 10, 2007: Researchers will journey by icebreaker to the Arctic
Ocean to investigate seafloor ridges, volcanoes, and hydrothermal vents
using underwater robotic vehicles for the first time. Researchers
suspect the Gakkel Ridge, which is the slowest spreading center on the
global Mid-Ocean Ridge, might be home to undiscovered species of life.

Greenland Ice Sheet, summer
2008: The third expedition will take glaciologists to the remote
Greenland ice sheet, where lakes of melting ice are forming, draining,
and causing glaciers to slide more rapidly into the ocean.

Antarctica, 2008: The final
expedition will explore the marine ecosystem of the Southern Ocean. The
dates of this expedition are still to be determined.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent
organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research,
engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a
recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary
mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the
Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the
ocean’s role in the changing global environment.