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Science in Antarctica
"Over the past several decades, this forbidding continent has become one of the world's most important -- and improbable -- scientific centers. See what you know about the research being done FAR down under!"
15 Points Per Correct Answer - No time limit
Antarctica is a frozen, forbidding, isolated continent. Not a part of any country and permanently inhabited by no one, its inner regions are the world's largest desert. Given its barrenness, riddle me this: are there dinosaur bones in this icy wilderness?
Scientists in Antarctica have a wealth of things to study, and one of the most illuminating of these is the ice itself. You can drill hundreds - even thousands - of meters down, and the ice "core" you remove is a time capsule as eloquent as any tree rings. Which of the following can be deduced from the layers of the ice cores?
All of these can be measured from the ice cores
Average precipitation (rainfall and snowfall)
The composition of the atmosphere
Particle physicists use Antarctic ice as a literal light source. Experiments like AMANDA and IceCube look for particles that only very rarely interact with matter (in fact, they've already traveled, undisturbed, through the entire planet!) But when such a particle occasionally interacts with the vast field of pure, Antarctic ice, the reaction generates a telltale bluish light. What electrically neutral, almost massless particles are sought by AMANDA and IceCube?
You won't see Lake Vostok on a map: hidden under 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) of ice, it wasn't discovered until 1996. Yet the lake's water is liquid, and in 1998 a Russian, French and American team of scientists discovered evidence that the lake might harbor life. Strangely, this is exciting news for astronomers too: the environment of the lake is very similar to that of what moon of Jupiter?
Antarctic science has changed the way we think about the world -- and about our impact on it. In 1985, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey announced their discovery of a stunning seasonal change in the atmosphere over Antarctica. In which part of the atmosphere did they find this "hole"?
Vast regions of Antarctica are covered with ice -- in fact, more than 60% of the fresh water in the world is locked up in Antarctic ice sheets. It is not surprising, then, that fears of global warming and rising sea levels have driven scientists there to study the behavior of the ice sheets. Yet, on the other side of the world, the melting of the Arctic ice caps is not expected to have a large impact on sea levels. Why is Antarctica's ice different?
An ongoing joint effort by Canada, Russia and Denmark pumps melting Arctic ice water into reservoirs, keeping sea level down.
"Global" warming is a misnomer: temperatures are rising only in the Southern Hemisphere.
Most of Antarctica's ice is on land -- so its melting raises sea level more than floating ice sheets.
Southern oceans are more shallow than northern ones, so meltwater fills them more quickly.
Antarctica may be an icy desert, but -- odd as it seems -- it is also, literally, a hotbed of geophysical activity. Mount Erebus, located on Ross Island, is the most southerly active volcano in the world. With what other volcano does Mount Erebus share its comparatively low-level eruption type, in which clots of lava are periodically sent in a small arc through the sky?
Mount St. Helens
In the service of good science, Antarctica is home to some very good equipment. The South Pole Telescope, a 10-meter disk designed for the detection of high-energy radio waves, promises to discover thousands of galaxies and galaxy clusters -- eventually shedding light on the behavior of the mysterious dark energy. Which of these is NOT a reason for going to the trouble of building a radio telescope at the South Pole?
The South Pole's low temperature and high altitude reduce the amount of water vapor -- which absorbs that wavelength.
Radio-wave-detecting materials perform best at very low temperatures.
Infrequent sunrises and sunsets mean less atmospheric turbulence.
Isolation from major population centers reduces radio noise from human sources.
Although there are no people native to Antarctica, the continent is fertile ground for medical and psychological research. One such research program examines human body rhythms, especially sleep cycles. Why is the Antarctic environment a particularly useful one for sleep studies?
The Antarctic diet is abnormally high in fish, which have been shown to inhibit sleep.
There is no accurate timekeeping in Antarctica, due to the strength of the local magnetic field.
Standard social norms about sleep do not apply in small, isolated groups of people.
The sun does not provide a natural clock: it never sets during the summer, and never rises during the winter.
Every year, expeditions of geologists travel to Antarctica for a peek at outer space. Meteorites are relatively easy to find there, so the continent is an important source of samples. In 1996, one such meteorite -- ALH 84001 -- became world famous when NASA scientist David McKay announced that it contained evidence of what phenomenon?
Unstable elements never before found in nature
Fossils of tiny extraterrestrial life forms
Regularly patterned etchings, almost like writing
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Compiled May 23 13