UAB in Antarctica
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Questions and Answers

TitleClick here to change to descending sortDate Posted
Question from From Will Freeman, age 83/20/2004 4:37:45 AM

How many species of penguins have you found so far? How do skua's break the penguin eggs once they have them? Which animal preys on the skua?

Answered by Maggie Amsler on 3/20/2004 4:37:46 AM

Hi Will. In Antarctica I have seen 4 different species of penguin: adelie, chinstrap, gentoo, and macaroni. I have seen a 5th species, the magellanic penguin I wrote about in an earlier journal. I saw that type of penguin in Chile, it does not come to Antarctica. The skua has very powerful jaws and a strong beak to easily break open a penguin egg. There is a hook on the beak of the skua which can be used to break holes in the shell as well. The skua is a mirgatory bird, flying to South America and even the United States when it is winter in Antarctica. The major predators of the skuas are land based northern residents likes cats or foxes.

Question from Skyler Kennamer, age 7:3/20/2004 4:49:03 AM

Have you seen any macaroni penguins? Why do they call them that?

Answered by Maggie Amsler on 3/20/2004 4:49:03 AM

Hello Skyler. Yes, I have seen macaroni penguins. These penguins look so stylish with their bright yellow head feathers. This colorful species was named by early British explorers and refers back to 18th century England. Fashionable young men of the time ("dandies") would wear crazy hats with feathers struck in the brim. It was a very "macaroni" trend. Years later, an American dandy "stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni..."

Question from Taylor Wood, age 73/20/2004 3:16:53 PM

How does the wingless fly get around? Do you ever see flowers in Antarctica in the summer?

Answered by Chuck Amsler on 3/20/2004 3:16:53 PM

Taylor, I'm not sure about all the species but the one I know the most about spends about two years in the soil in their larval form (I think calling them "maggots" is appropriate but I'm not positive). However much of that time they are dehydrated, frozen, and inactive. They emerge as adults to reproduce but lay their eggs only a few days later and are dead within a week or 10 days. As for flowers, there are only two species of flowering plants in Antarctica but we are lucky that both occur around here. One is a grass. You probably don't think of grass as making flowers but the "tassels" that you see sticking up are just that. The other species, which is less common here, makes tiny yellow flowers. They are about the same size as I imagine your 7-year old little finger nails must be. Most years there are no viable seeds produced but it is still fun to look for those little yellow flowers.

Question from Catherine Milling, age 83/20/2004 6:23:15 PM

How deep can a penguin dive? Which penguin can dive the deepest? Do penguins like to be around people?

Answered by Maggie Amsler on 3/20/2004 6:23:16 PM

Hi Catherine! I once had the company of gentoo penguins during a dive at about 20 feet deep. Most penguins can reach at least that depth. The champion diving penguin is the emperor. A recording device strapped onto an emperor penguin documented an 18 minute dive to 2000 feet! The penguins around Palmer don't seem to be bothered by people visiting. We keep our distance and try not to alter their behavior.

Question from stephi & Esther3/21/2004 8:02:23 PM

how did the gondwanaland split and how did they move

Answered by Chuck Amsler on 3/21/2004 8:02:26 PM

The so-called super-continents formed and split as the tectonic plates that form the Earth's crust drifted together and apart. My understanding is that it is heat gradients driving flow in the more liquid regions of the core beneath the crust that cause the movements.

Question from Claudi3/21/2004 8:04:31 PM

How does vegitation survive in

Answered by Chuck Amsler on 3/21/2004 8:04:31 PM

Claudi -- I'm guessing that the part of your question that got cut off was "winter." The short answer is that they store up "food" made by photosynthesis at other times of year that they can live on during winter. There is an advantage here in that it is so cold and metabolic rates are very low. And where we are here still does have some light during even the middle of the winter. So it is possible for the macroalgae and plants on land that aren't buried in snow to photosynthesize some too.

Question from Alexis Hood, age 83/22/2004 7:09:55 PM

I have seen peguins leap out of the water - it looks like they are popping up. How do they do that, and how high can they leap?

Answered by Chuck Amsler on 3/22/2004 7:09:55 PM

Alexis -- Penguins are fantastic swimmers and I think that they just get a really fast start and then aim up. That may not be right but it is what I've always assumed. I've seen them get at least 10-12 feet up onto ice bergs and they may be able to get higher than that. Thanks for writing!

Question from Emily Taylor, age 83/22/2004 7:21:24 PM

Which animal in Antarctica can dive the deepest? Are any of the animals dangerous to man?

Answered by Chuck Amsler on 3/22/2004 7:21:25 PM

Emily -- I suspect that some of the whales might be able to get deeper but I believe that the deepest diving seal is the (southern) elephant seal. They have been recorded diving to over 1600 m (5250 feet) although they usually dive to half that or less. The only animals that are *potentially* dangerous to people are orcas ("killer whales") and leopard seals. I am not aware of any attacks by orcas in Antarctica. Unfortunately, there was a marine biologist who was pulled under by a leopard seal at a British station south of here last winter. She was snorkeling and drowned before getting back to the surface. That is the only known attack by a leopard seal on a diver.

Question from Nety age 103/24/2004 4:40:30 AM

How many teeth do Adelie penguins have?

Answered by Chuck Amsler on 3/24/2004 4:40:30 AM

Nety - as usual for birds, penguins do not have teeth. Most birds swallow food whole. But, unlike many birds, penguins do have bristles on their tongues.

Question from Annie Charles, age 73/25/2004 2:46:09 PM

How many eggs does a penguin lay at a time? How long does it take for a penguin egg to hatch?

Answered by Maggie Amsler on 3/25/2004 2:46:12 PM

Hi Annie. The three types of penguins in our area (adelie, chinstrap, gentoo) nest just once a year with two eggs. The parents take turns sitting on the eggs and about a month after laying, the eggs hatch. I once watched a chick peck its way of its shell one Christmas morning. It took about 30 minutes for the chick to work all the way out of the shell. Thanks for your question and the opportunity to share words of a special present with you.

Question from Flannery Wynn, age 73/25/2004 3:01:39 PM

Have you found any fossils? Where did you find them, and what were they fossils of? What did you learn from them?

Answered by Maggie Amsler on 3/25/2004 3:01:40 PM

Hello Flannery. I regret to say that I have never found a fossil in Antarctica. The vicinity of Palmer Station must not be very interesting to geologists, the scientists who study rocks and fossils. Most of the fossil hunting or paleontological work is on the continent or on islands to the north of the tip of the Peninsula. I have however seen fossils collected in Antarctica. The fossils I saw were fern frond impressions in rocks and ancient marine sea shells casts called ammonites. I have read about dinaosaur bones being found too. Pretty exciting! Fossils help geologists and paleontologists puzzle together what the earth was like long ago.

Question from Vicki Marion3/26/2004 10:13:41 AM

Hi guys and gals,

Go Blazers!!


Question from emily barltrop3/26/2004 2:11:02 PM

where do they get electricity from in antartica? how do they get places? where do they get their clothes from?

Answered by Chuck Amsler on 3/26/2004 2:11:02 PM

Emily -- We get our electricity from diesel generators which is how most if not all stations do. How people get around varies with the station. Here people primarily walk and use zodiac outboard motor boats. All our clothes come down with us although lots of folks here knit. Some years knitting has almost been an "obsession" on station.

Question from Ijeoma Okogbue3/29/2004 1:05:33 PM

Hi Drs. Amsler and McClintock, Maggie and everyone. Could you please explain how finding out more about the biochemical defenses of Antarctic plants and animals could reveal crucial clues about curing human diseases?

Answered by Chuck Amsler on 3/29/2004 1:05:35 PM

Ijeoma -- Great question. As you know, we are looking at the ecological activity of compounds produced by these organisms. A large percentage of pharmaceuticals are derived from just such compounds. When an organism makes a compound to defend itself against an ecologically relevant threat, that compound sometimes also has activity against things that threaten humans. Jim just wrote a great account of just such a possible case (his entry and your question passed by each other "in the ether").

Question from Renee Douglas3/30/2004 10:14:15 AM

Hello from Midland, Texas! My daughter (Merritt Douglas) is in the second grade and is writing a bird report on the Macaroni Penguin. We have researched extensively, but cannot find information on two topics required to be in the report: (1) the disposition of the Macaroni Penguin or (2) any contributions of the Macaroni Penguin. Any information you have would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Answered by Maggie Amsler on 3/30/2004 10:14:17 AM

Hi Renee. What a fun topic to have to report on! I have been in several penguin colonies where macaroni penguins were in the minority amongst either chinstraps or adelie penguins. Despite their distinctive appearance with the bright yellow head feathers and beet red eyes, they behaved just like any penguin: baying, squawking, waddling about. I would love to see macaroni chicks - even Heidi, the station's penguin expert has never seen their chicks. I asked Heidi to comment on your question regarding macaroni penguin contribution and she said their claim to fame in Antarctica is their colorful and cheery appearance.

Question from Sam DeGaris age 114/5/2004 5:13:08 AM

It gives good infomation, but I'm doing a board game on Antarctica and I need heaps of questions. But I really want to now how crevasses form? there such deep holes. How did they happen? How did it get there? How deep are they?

Answered by Chuck Amsler on 4/5/2004 5:13:09 AM

Sam - Crevasse formation is complex and I don't pretend to know a great deal about it. But in general terms, remember that glaciers are rivers of ice that flow over the ground. If the terrain beneath them is uneven, that can cause the ice to bend and crack, forming crevasses. When the glaciers reach the shore, pieces break off (the "calving" mentioned in some of the journal entries). That changes the forces on the ice behind the shore, also helping to form crevasses there. The deepest crevasses can be is about 60 meters (roughly 200 feet) because of physical properties of the ice.

Question from Reese Hovater4/8/2004 10:38:42 AM

Dr. McClintock, Has any really interesting happened around Palmer Station lately? My class and I are working on a list of ways you can avoid leopard seals. Look for our list soon.

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/8/2004 10:38:43 AM

Reese, Neat! I can't wait to see you list of ways to avoid leopard seals! We are busy here doing our marine research. Cheers, Jim

Question from Yousef4/13/2004 8:01:06 AM

I know Antarctica is called a desert because it gets less than 5 inches of precipitation a year, but do you get more around Palmer Station? Does it ever rain?

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/13/2004 8:01:07 AM

Yousef - Great to hear from you! You are correct that in general Antarctica is a desert. However, we happen to be living on the wettest part of the continent here on the Antarctic Peninsula. Your question is perfectly timed because as I type this it is snowing heavily outside. And yes, it also rains here! Right now, with the fall and winter approaching us, we are going to see more snow than rain. Hope you are having a great spring! Cheers from Antarctica. Jim

Question from Victor4/15/2004 9:57:28 AM

Dr. McClintock, What is the hardest thing for you to adjust to each time you go back to Antarctica? Do the long hours of daylight keep you awake at night?

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/15/2004 9:57:29 AM

Hi Victor - I guess the hardest adjustment is being so far from my family here. Even after 11 trips to Antarctica this is still difficult. Otherwise, keeping a good eating, execise and sleep schedule is very important. Here at Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula we actually have more dark than light right now that the fall is well underway. So we don't have to worry about the light keeping us up at night. Cheers from Antarctica and thanks for sending me a question! Jim

Question from Jamie Bynes4/18/2004 3:53:31 AM

I was just wondering if you can tell me what the threats are to the Killer Whale and why, if there are any, do they occur? Thank you for your time!

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/18/2004 3:53:31 AM

Jamie, Thank you for your excellent question about Killer Whales. These beautiful whales are common in Antarctica and also occur in other regions of the world. Whale biologists believe that there are separate groups of Killer Whales, almost like different races in humans. Killer Whales are not hunted by humans in Antarctica. As they are top predators there are really no major predators that threaten them. So, perhaps the biggest threat to these whales would be the effects of global warming on their prey. If the warming of the poles causes changes in the availability of the penguins, seals, fish and krill that make up their diets, then this could have an indirect effect on the health of the Killer Whales populations. At this time I do not believe this has occurred, but it could represent a true threat in the future. Cheers from Antarctica! Jim

Question from HK Second Graders4/19/2004 11:33:17 AM

Dr. McClintock, We just read a funny book, Night Noises, by Mem Fox. It has interesting sound words like crinch, crunch, clatter, bang, and others. That got us wondering what kind of sounds you hear around Palmer Station that you might not hear in Birmingham. Are there any sounds that have awakened you at night or startled you during the day? Thank you for taking a break from your work to answer our question.

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/19/2004 11:33:17 AM

Dear Dee and students, Yes! Indeed, just yesterday I was sitting here working at my office desk overlooking the glacier and there was a loud WHACK!!! My first thought was that someone was outside my window and had tossed a snow ball my way (there has been a bit of that since the snowfall). But this turned out to be a large icicle that had broken free of the roof and fallen to smash into the window sill at the base of my window. Another Antarctic sounds is the daily CRACK of the glacier dropping tons of ice into the bay! The constant hum of the station generators that keep us warm and fed almost become routine. That is until one walks up behind the station and on to the glacier where there is not a whisper of noise, not even a smiggen of noise, unless the wind is whirling about. Yes, the wind here in Antarctica can be a WHOOOOOSH!!! And this morning when our zodiac boat was being circled by three Humpback whales there was a HISS HISS HISS as they spouted nearby and then a parting THWACK as their tails disappeared below the sea. So, the answer is yes... indeed... there are uniquely Antarctic sounds. Cheers, Jim

Question from Miss Caldwell's Third Grade Class4/22/2004 2:15:48 PM

Dear Dr. McClintock, Hello from our class! We were so excited to receive your response to our questions! Jordan, Cole, and Austin were especially proud to have their names mentioned! We all enjoyed looking at the leopard seal pictures! Wow, Dan got really close to take those pictures! We are glad to hear that all is well, and Jamie just got a big hug from Gabby. We are all loving on her all the time! Here goes our second round of questions. John wants see more pictures, but can't think of any more questions. Michael wants to know if you have seen anything that you had not seen on previous trips. Mary wants to know if the bird that threw up on you one time has done it again! She hopes not!! Jamie wants to know if any more leopard seals have been spotted since the beginning of the trip. We are excited to check again soon!! Take Care! Love, Miss Caldwell's Class

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/22/2004 2:15:48 PM

Hi Miss Caldwell and all your wonderful third grade students! I am so pleased you and the students enjoyed the answers I sent to their earlier questions. I am delighted that you have sent a second batch of questions. Here goes...first off tell John that I am going to send him some photos to enjoy along with his fellow students by way of a separate e-mail to you. You can also check our web site for new photos as well. Each time one of us posts a new journal entry (and this is about once a week for each of the five of us) there will be new pictures that accompany the entries. Michael, I have definately seen some new things on this trip! For example, two days ago when I was surrounded by three Humpback Whales swimming near our zodiac boat, I thought to myself, you know this is the first time I have ever seen Humpbacks in Antarctica! Mary, I have not run into a Sooty Albatross chick that wanted to throw up all over me. Thank goodness! And don't you worry, if I do, I will give it plenty of room! Jamie, (hi sweetie), we have seen one more leopard seal since the beginning of the trip, and this seal was not really interested in being a problem. He just cruised by and said hello! I sure do enjoy hearing from all of you and I am looking forward to hearing from the students who have yet to ask a question! Please tell Gabby that I appreciate her giving Jamie a big hug, and the same goes for all the rest of the students in the class that are doing such a great job of taking care of Jamie while her Dad is away. Cheers from Antarctica! Jim

Question from Nicole4/23/2004 1:50:47 PM

How many penguins have you seen around Palmer Station this season? Have you seen large groups anywhere? Are there still any penguin chicks?

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/23/2004 1:50:47 PM

Nicole, Nice to hear from you this windy Antarctic night! I just checked our weather room and the wind gauge says that the winds are gusting to over 50 miles per hour! But you didn't ask about was penguins... yes that was your question wasn't it! I am here this year in Antarctica a little late in the season to see lots of penguins. But this is still Antarctica, and even though the chicks have already left, there are still penguins to be seen. Why just a few days ago two Gentoo penguins waddled into the station to say hello. And the other day when we were being circled by three Humpback Whales in our little boat, I saw groups of Adelie penguins swimming by having a great time. We also saw some penguins off the bridge of the big ship that brought us here. When I return next January with my family there will be tons of penguins to be seen. January is summertime and the height of the pengin egg laying and hatching season. Islands nearby are covered with mommy and daddy penguins and their babies... making lots of noise and carrying on! It will be a penguin party! Cheers! Jim

Question from Reese4/23/2004 1:54:45 PM

Dr. McClintock, Have you ever taken your family to Antarctica? Do they want to go? What would you like to show them?

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/23/2004 1:54:45 PM

Reese, I bet Mrs. Helmers put you up to this question! The answer is that I have not yet had a chance to take my family to Antarctica... BUT... this is all about the change!!! This coming January my wife, Ferne, and my son and daughter, Luke and Jamie, will join me on a two-week cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula. I am very excited about showing them the wonderful landscapes and the wildlife that makes this place so very special. I hope we also get a chance to come here to Palmer Station so that they can see where I do my research. My guess is that Luke and Jamie will make a bit of history by being the first students from their grade school to visit Antarctica. I hope to get a photograph of them wearing their school shirts and standing amongst hundreds of penguins to present to their Principal when they return. That would be fun! Thanks for the great question. Cheers from "the ice". Jim

Question from 4/25/2004 8:01:27 AM

How do people get around where you are working in Antarctica?

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/25/2004 8:01:27 AM

Here are Palmer Station, Antarctica, there are few options when it comes to transportation. We use small rubber boats called zodiacs equipped with 40 horse power engines to access the small islands offshore for our marine biological studies. Otherwise we walk to get from building to building, or hike to the glacier for recreational purposes. There are no roads, no plane landing strip, no helicopters. It is nice in a way to be far away from the frenetic pace of freeways, planes, trains, indeed, all the different modes of transportation that we take for granted at home.

Question from Autumn4/26/2004 11:26:36 AM

Dr. McClintock, Have you ever found any injured animals in Antarctica? Would you or Doc Betty try to help an injured animal? I love animals and want to be a veterinarian when I grow up. Do you like animals?

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/26/2004 11:26:38 AM

Hi Auturm! Yes, I do share your love of animals. Perhaps that is a bit of why I am a marine biologist. We have not found any injured animals here, but you can bet that if we did Doc Betty would do all she could to ensure their recovery. I admire your goal of becoming a Veterinarian when you grow up! My daughter, Jamie, who is 10, is also an animal lover and talks about being a Veterinarian too! Cheers, Jim

Question from Rebecca Troy4/26/2004 11:45:25 AM

Where abouts in Antarctica do humans live? Where do they put waste? Does this put animals in danger?

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/26/2004 11:45:25 AM

Rebecca, Very few humans actually live in Antarctica on a long term basis. Most "visit", some for more extended periods of time than others. For example, in the US Antarctic Program those working at the stations are not allowed to stay for a period of more than about one year. Thye are then required to go home for at least six months before they can return to Antarctica. This is probably done to ensure that they get a chance to visit with family and have a healthy change of scene. Some of the other countries working in Antarctica allow their people longer stays. I believe that the British may allow their scientists and staff to remain up to two and a half years at a time. There are some Chileans and Argentineans that live on the Antarctic Peninsula in small "communities". There are children and a small school. Young married couples are encouraged to come to Antarctica to give birth to children, as this is a way of further claiming the land for their country. They believe strongly that parts of Antarctica belong to their country. Most countries working in Antarctica are very careful to recycle their waste, dispose of it effectively on site, or transport what they cannot process back to their own home countries. I cannot think of a situation where animals are put in danger by the waste generated by people in Antarctica. This is a very good thing! Thanks for asking such great questions. Cheers, Jim

Question from Rebecca Troy4/26/2004 12:30:44 PM

Are the numbers of animals decreasing- if so why?

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/26/2004 12:30:44 PM

Rebecca, If you are referring to the marine invertebrates that we are studying such as sponges, soft corals, sea stars, snails, etc., then the answer is that their numbers are not decreasing. If you meant the larger animals like whales, seals and penguins, then the answer in general is also negative. However, there are some animals whose numbers are decreasing in certain parts of Antarctica but increasing in others. For example, the numbers of Adelie Penguins here near Palmer Station are decreasing, but at the same time they are apparently increasing in the Ross Sea. The answer for this change may be related to global warming. With air temperatures warming here near Palmer Station the penguins are experiencing more and more snowfall (it snows more when the air is warmer and can hold more moisture). This in turns buries the females in snow when they are nesting and can cause mortality of the eggs. Interestingly, another sign of global warming may be increase in numbers of fur seals and elephant seals near Palmer Station, a pattern that seems to suggest they may be moving further south as the temperatures warm. Good question! Cheers from "the ice". Jim

Question from emily barltrop4/27/2004 11:26:11 AM

Where do people live in antarctica??

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/27/2004 11:26:11 AM

Emily, Thanks for the great question. People live in a variety of different locations around the Antarctic continent. In fact I believe there are about 30-40 different countries that maintain research stations here. Most of them are located on the Antarctic Peninsula below South America, but others are sprinkled around the continent, and as you know, therre are even a couple near the center of the continent or right at the south pole! Most people don't live in Antarctica for more than one or two years at a time. But live here they do! And what a marvelous way to learn all about the science of this fascinating environment. Cheers, Jim

Question from Jayde4/29/2004 11:26:46 AM

My class just read a book about dolphins. It made us wonder if there are any dolphins near Antarctica. Can they live in cold water like whales?

Answered by Jim McClintock on 4/29/2004 11:26:48 AM

Hi Jayde, Yes! There are indeed some dolphins in Antarctica. I know because on the way down here on we saw some swimming off the front of the ship one day. They were beautiful animals, colored black and white much like small killer whales. I believe there may be more species found in subantarctic waters than antarctic waters. So it looks like they can live in cold waters just like whales can. This is because they have a thick layer of fat under their skin that helps keep them warm and toasty. Cheers from "the ice"! Jim

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The researchers completed their expedition in May 2004. Feel free to search this site for their archived journals and responses to questions.

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