In a barren icy land at 50 degrees below zero with black speckles of penguins and white dots of polar bears, scientists can step away from the rush of labs and conduct their research in peace. One can hardly imagine that this land is on the same planet as the lush vegetation of the jungles in South America or the vehicle-filled roads of the urban cities in Europe.
However, Institute President G.P. “Bud” Peterson will see this flipside to the lifestyles of other continents, as he travels to Antarctica on Dec. 4 to review several research projects being conducted under the United States Antarctica Program.
As a member of the National Science Board (NSB), Peterson received a recommendation for the trip from NSB chairman Ray Bowen. Along with a limited number of government officials, Peterson will visit the McMurdo Station and the Admunsen-Scott South Pole Station to review the ongoing research endeavors in such environmental topics as earth sciences, astrophysics, ecosystems and glaciology.
“There will be discussions about the research currently going on [in Antarctica] and how the research that’s being done there is of value to the scientific community,” Peterson said.
The projects Peterson will evaluate fall under the United States Antarctica Program (USAP), which is, in turn, under the umbrella of the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Including over 3000 Americans, USAP has scientists from global universities and research institutions engaging in year-round, collaborative work in Antarctica.
These scientists focus on understanding the characteristics of Antarctica’s ecosystems and how they will affect the rest of the planet in the case of climate change.
Researchers also use the South Pole as a foundation for their studies of the upper atmosphere.
Research projects include analyses of the hole in the ozone layer, upper atmospheric conditions and stratospheric chemistry. Scientists also specifically conduct studies on the ionosphere and the magnetosphere.
In addition to tours of the science and technology facilities, Peterson will take a helicopter tour of the Dry Valleys and will also visit local field projects and historical huts.
While Peterson recognizes the importance of the projects already being conducted in earth and atmospheric sciences, he also believes studies should be carried out in other non-geographic research areas, such as supply chain and logistics.
Peterson cited medical attention and transportation as a few of the necessary research areas to allow other research to continue in Antarctica.
In discussing and evaluating the projects, Peterson must distinguish between the research goals of the U.S. and the Institute, as he is a representative of the NSF.
“I’m going down as a representative-at-large, not just a representative of Georgia Tech…[but]…a lot of the things that people do [at Tech] utilize some of the information that’s developed [in Antarctica],” Peterson said.
Beyond the man made research projects, the natural world of Antarctica includes over 9000 feet of mountainous elevation, hundreds of glaciers, thousands of creatures and subzero temperatures, even in the current summer season.
The living conditions are not ideal either.
“The McMurdo Station is not really like a hotel; it’s more like a dormitory. The living conditions are a little tough. The temperature ranges from 20 to 50 below at the South Pole, [so] when we fly into McMurdo Station, they’ll provide complete outfits,” Peterson said.
Peterson had to take a complete physical and stress test before receiving clearance to travel to the South Pole.
However, while he is analyzing the research projects in Antarctica, Peterson will continue to remember the research programs in Atlanta at Tech.
“I’m going to take a Georgia Tech flag and fly it in the South Pole,” Peterson said.