Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about our trip to the Antarctic? 

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Wildlife
Can you pet or hug a penguin?
Are there polar bears in Antarctica?

Living and Working in Antarctica
Who lives in Antarctica?
Where do you stay and what were you (an elementary school teacher) doing in Antarctica?
What was unusual or unique about Antarctica?
Can you give an example of one of the other research projects at Palmer Station?

Climate
How much rain and snow does Palmer Station receive?
What is the average temperature at Palmer Station?

 

Q. Can you pet or hug a penguin?

A. I was asked this question so many times, in so many different ways, that it deserves first place as the most frequently asked question. Everybody loves penguins. Oh, those cute, fuzzy chicks look so huggable that you might be tempted to scoop one up in your arms — but you can't. You can't even get close to penguins.

Why? You would be breaking the law! It's against an international agreement called the Antarctic Treaty, which was created over 50 years ago between 12 nations. This treaty protects all wildlife in Antarctica, stating, "...all human activities must be planned and conducted so as to minimize environmental impacts". That means that you can't pet or hug a penguin or any other Antarctic animal. For more information, go to this website about the treaty.

It's important to remember that animals in the wild are just that — wild. Their behavior can be unpredictable and they might react to our kind intentions with aggressive and protective behaviors in response. It's always a good idea to leave all wildlife alone and appreciate them from a safe distance.

- Marianne Kaput

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Q. Are there polar bears in Antarctica?

No! Polar bears have never met penguins except in TV commercials (drinking soda) or in a zoo. Polar bears live in the Arctic (the North Pole) while the penguins live in Antarctica (the South Pole).

- Marianne Kaput

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Q. Who lives in Antarctica?

No one lives in Antarctica on a permanent basis. The Antarctic Treaty guarantees that Antarctica is to be used for "peaceful purposes and for scientific research". This means that no one can have Antarctica as their permanent mailing address. Only scientists are allowed to spend any time there. There are over 5,000 scientists and support staff from 27 different countries in Antarctica during the Antarctic summer season. During the Antarctic winter season, only about 1,000 people remain because of the extreme climate.

- Marianne Kaput

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Q. Where do you stay and what were you (an elementary school teacher) doing in Antarctica?

I stayed at Palmer Station, a U.S. Antarctic research station located on the Antarctic Peninsula. During my stay at Palmer, there were exactly 45 people, the maximum number of people that Palmer Station can house. Of those 45 people, 23 were employees of The Raytheon Company, a company hired by the U.S. Antarctic Program to make sure Palmer was a safe and comfortable place to study science. Of the remaining 22 people, 20 were scientists. The last two people were a writer who was writing a book about birds of Antarctica (supported by a NSF Writer and Artists Grant) and me.

I was in Antarctica as part of a five-person research team whose purpose was to study an insect called Belgica antarctica. This mighty little insect is quite the survivor, because it can tolerate the extreme conditions of Antarctica. My research group was looking at the specific survival mechanisms of Belgica. Belgica is considered to be the largest completely terrestrial animal in Antarctica, even thought the larvae and adults are only a few millimeters long. These incredible insects can tolerate freezing, dehydration (can lose up to 65% of their body fluid) and changes in salinity and pH. I helped the research team collect and sort Belgica and provided educational outreach to students and teachers.

- Marianne Kaput

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Q. What was unusual or unique about Antarctica?

  • To me, the most unusual thing about Antarctica was the constant daylight. Back home in Ohio, I left for school at around 6:45 am in the dark and came home around 5:30 pm, also in the dark. I arrived at Palmer Station in early January and it never really got dark there. The sun set around midnight and rose again a few hours later. The time in between was dusk-like. This made it very difficult to sleep. It didn't start getting even slightly dark until the first week of February.

  • Another unusual thing was how noisy it was at night when I slept out in my tent. All night long I would be awakened by the thunderous clap of glaciers calving. There was also the intermittent belching of the seals that echoed across the harbor, and the waves crashing on the rocks below — sometimes making the pack ice and bergie bits smack against the rocks.

  • Except for the colors of the sunset and sunrise, there are basically three colors in Antarctic landscapes — blue, black and white. It is amazing how beautiful those colors can be.

  • I didn't realize how far I was from my home until my return trip. I left the ice and freezing temperatures of Antarctica and took a four-day ocean voyage across the Drake Passage. When I arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile, I enjoyed green trees and grass. The next day I boarded a plane to Santiago, Chile where it was a humid 83° F at night. The next day, I arrived in Cleveland, Ohio to snow and freezing temperatures again. I had traveled from the almost the bottom of the earth to my home in North America, a distance of about 10,000 miles!
- Marianne Kaput

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Q. Can you give an example of one of the other research projects at Palmer Station?

There were so many interesting projects going on at Palmer Station, a few of which I discussed in my journal entries. For example, Dr. Ron Kiene is a scientist who was working at Palmer on organic sulfur compounds, specifically a DMS project he jokingly referred to as "DMS, a Love Story" (because he LOVES what he does!). DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide) is a gas that is produced in the ocean. Some DMS naturally escapes into the atmosphere, which is important because the little bits of sulfur molecules affect the clouds. This in turn affects how much sun can reach the Earth’s surface and, as a result, can have a cooling effect on climate. The DMS project is studying how the sulfur compounds are changing and how they interact and impact other natural cycles. In this project, they are trying to monitor what is going on with DMS at Palmer Station on a seasonal basis. They go out into specific areas of the sea and take water samples to test for DMS levels. Water sampling like this has been done for many years at Palmer Station. Because of this, the DMS scientists have lots of data to examine for possible effects of global climate change. The data that's collected is used in computer programs by mathematical modelers to try to identify trends. Ron Kiene's website has lots more information. Cool research, eh?

- Marianne Kaput

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Q. What is the average temperature at Palmer Station?

A. Compared to other Antarctic research stations, the weather at Palmer Station is quite mild! Our researchers will be on Anvers Island during the austral summer (summer in the Southern Hemisphere), so will experience average temperatures around 35°F (+2°C).  Click here for current weather conditions at Palmer Station.

Why is Palmer Station so 'warm'? First, the station is in a protected harbor north of the Antarctic Circle. Second, Palmer Station experiences a maritime effect. In other words, mild ocean temperatures of 32 to 35.4°F (0 to +1.9°C) moderate the climate on the Antarctic Peninsula, particularly along the coastline and on small offshore islands.

Contrast temperatures at Palmer (64°46'S, 64°03'W) to those at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (90°S, 0°W), which is almost in the center of the Antarctic Continent:


Sources: British Antarctic Survey; Office of Polar Programs: Palmer Station

- Juanita Constible

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Q. How much rain and snow does Palmer Station receive?

A. You may have heard that Antarctica is the world’s 'driest desert'. Although that's true for most of the continent, maritime conditions on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula bring a significant amount of precipitation (snow or rain). Most of the precipitation in the winter occurs as snow, whereas about the same amount of rain and snow fall in the summer. Palmer Station receives an average of 29.3 inches (742 mm) of precipitation (rain and melted snow) a year.

Sources:

Domack, E., A. Leventer, A. Burnett, R. Bindschadler, P. Convey, and M. Kirby, editors. 2003. Antarctic Peninsula Climate Variability: Historical and Paleoenvironmental Perspectives. Volume 79: Antarctic Research Series. American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C.

McGonigal, D. and L. Woodworth, editors. 2003. Antarctica: The Blue Continent. Firefly Books, Toronto, Ontario.

Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research Data Repository (supported by Office of Polar Programs, NSF Grants OPP-9011927, OPP-9632763 and OPP-0217282)

- Juanita Constible

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