Ask the Team a Question

Photos from UAB in Antarctica group on Flickr, related to this post
Posted on 03/30/07

Have just a question in general? Ask it here and get an answer from the team.


  1. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Steven on 03/30/07

    What types of new species of life have you found while exploring the waters off of Antarctica?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 04/02/07
      One of the fascinating things about being here is that we are continue year after year to find species we have not seen before. Most are known to science, but not species we had seen ourselves. We have found a number of probable new species, including amphipods and some seaweeds. There are taxonomic experts working on those collections, and we continue to collect for their work on a time-available basis. They assist us by identifying the organisms we find, and we assist them by providing new material from this very remote region that so few scientists have the opportunity to work in. It is synergistic. And, intellectually, it is quite exciting.
  2. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Jim Blanton, MD on 04/03/07

    Dear Team, I am greatly enjoying your pictures and reports fron Punta Arenas and Antartica. I am an MD, UAB Med Center graduate '61, and went to Chile in '58 on a nutrition study with the US Government under the ICNND(International Committee of Nutrition for National Defence).

    I also touched the Toe of the Indigenous Indian at Punta Arenas and drank Pisco Sours playing "Yo Duddo" after the nutition survey of the locals. We traveled up to Northern Chile thru the Atacam Desert to the city of Arica and reported of the nutrition of the country.

    Your adventures bring back all of the memories of my trip.

    I am now practicing medicine in B'ham at Brookwood Hospital.

    Good luck and I admire your work! JIM Blanton, MD

    1. Posted by Chuck on 04/03/07
      Jim -- Thanks for your comments. We are glad that we have reminded you of your own adventure!
  3. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Cary on 04/04/07

    I'm a third grader doing a power point about Antarctica and I wanted to ask a few questions.What is a Tunicate and why do they look like sweet potatos?
    How cold does the water get in Antarctica?
    What kinds of the few plants in Antarctica are the same in America?
    What exactly do you want the teachers to know and why?
    I also like the website and its become very helpful.
    I have to finish my power point soon! Because school is almost out and I have to do another power point with my friend Emma. She has just finished a power point about Galapagos Islands. Our next power point is about Great Women of America. Send me back an e-mail as soon as you get this.

    1. Posted by Chuck on 04/04/07
      <i>What is a Tunicate and why do they look like sweet potatoes? </i><P> Tunicates are a group of invertebrate animals (i.e., animals without backbones). They are actually very distant “cousins” of ours because their larvae, which swim and look a bit like very tiny tadpoles, have a structure like our spinal cord nerve. That is lost when they metamorphose (turn into) an adult. Jim referred to them as looking like sweet potatoes I think because they are similar in color and when you see a colony, it looks something like a small pile of small sweet potatoes (when you look closer or start pulling the colony apart, they don’t look quite so much like potatoes.<P> <i>How cold does the water get in Antarctica?</i><P> The coldest surface waters get is about -1.8 degrees Celsius. That is a little under 29 degrees Fahrenheit. Seawater freezes at -1.9 or -2 degrees Celsius, so it literally can’t get any colder than that. Right now, the water is a little warmer, probably close to zero Celsius. By the time we leave in May and June it will probably be around -1 or a little lower.<P> <i>What kinds of the few plants in Antarctica are the same in America?</i><P> If you mean the two vascular plant species that live on land, then none of them are. There are other members of the same family in other parts of the world, but not these two species.<P> <i>What exactly do you want the teachers to know and why?</i> <P> We hope they learn things that will excite them and you, their students, about science in general and Antarctic science in particular.<P> <i>I also like the website and its become very helpful.</i><P> Thanks!
  4. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by devontey on 04/04/07

    can i have a penguin

    1. Posted by Chuck on 04/04/07
      They are beautiful animals. So long as you recognize that, you can always keep them in a special place in your heart.
  5. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Maureena Renner on 04/12/07

    I am part of an internet Debate Team that discusses the issues of the day. Global Warming is one of them. I had agreed with Rivkin of the NYTimes that the Third World will bear the brunt of global warming because they are less able to adapt to the changes. A colleague has said the following:
    "I read recently where a plant or animal culture was discovered in the sea surrounding Antarctica that generates the gas required in the upper atmosphere needed to reduce global warming. Its similar to the anti noise headsets that cancels the frequency of incoming sound waves." As a caveat, he is a District Manager for the EPA. Can you tell me about the organism(s) to which he alludes?
    Thank you for your fine work.


    1. Posted by Chuck on 04/12/07
      Reena -- Thank you for your interest and question. I'm afraid, though, that I do not know what your colleague is referring to specifically. I do know that the atmospheric chemistry that affects our climate is relatively complex. And certainly many marine algae produce volatile compounds that influence it.
  6. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Meg Merritt on 05/01/07

    What are some of the obstacles that you run into when studying Antarctica? How do these obstacles help make up the environment and what do you learn form them?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      The major things that limit us are the weather and sea ice. Because we rely so much on diving from small boats, we need reasonably calm weather to be able to go out safely. And if there is a lot of sea ice, our small Zodiac boats cannot get through. But harsh weather and ice are part of what makes Antarctica unique. We've learned to love this wonderful place and all that makes it unique.
  7. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Ricardo Munoz on 05/01/07

    Hey, I heard about this theory that says Antarctica use to be a tropical paradise and the ansestor of penguins had the ability to fly. Have you heard of this and do you think it's true?
    Can you answer this in the teleconfrence tomorrow as well?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      There is no doubt whatsoever that Antarctica was once much warmer than it is now. The fossil record reveals that it was once the home to terrestrial forests and a wide variety of warmer-weather plants and animals. Realize too, that the continents have not always been in their present forms (at one time, they were all one large mass and then for a long time, two main land masses) nor have they always been in their present locations. As for penguins, I do not know any details of their phylogeny (evolutionary history) but I am sure that they must have evolved from birds that could fly. We are very much looking forward to the teleconference tomorrow and hope that you enjoy it. We will get to as many questions as we possibly can. But we have many, many more than we will have time for.
  8. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Rebecca on 05/01/07

    What is the frightening thing that has every happened to you in Antarctica?

    What is the most fascinating thing that has happened?

    What do you hope to learn in Antarctica?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      I have had one or two encounters with leopard seals that were a bit unnerving. Mostly these large animals just seem curious about us, but being close to a such a predator is something we try hard to avoid. As for the most fascinating thing, that is a really hard question and it is hard to pick just one. From diving with penguins to the beautiful underwater vistas to the beautiful above-water vistas to the fascinating science, there is just too much to have to choose from. And for what we hope to learn, keep reading our entries (and look at the "About" page linked from the top of this one). We have been putting up lots about that. In fact, I'm working on another one which will go up later today.
  9. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by conman on 05/01/07

    Is Antartica cold?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Yes. But we wear plenty of warm clothes and keep very comfortable.
  10. Penguins
    Posted by Thomas Cook on 05/01/07

    I was surfing YouTube one day when I say a video. The video featured a penguin. The penguin lived with a Japanese family. The penguin would walk ALL the way to the market every day, to buy the family fish. He wore a cute little backpack. Is this a strange occurance, or are penguins really that intelligent? If so, where can I get one? The local pet store only sells cats and dogs, as well as a pig every now and then. Thank you, and good luck with your researching!

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Hi Thomas. I am sure that the video you were watching is fictional and that no penguin would be doing that. Sounds like a fun video though! Thanks for looking in on us and for your good wishes.
  11. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Ethan Tibbs and Haley Hensley on 05/01/07

    What is your favorite marine animal you have encountered in Antarctica?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      That is tough. But I would have to say that the ones I find most striking are the Chinstrap Penguins. They are so named because they have a thin band of black feathers going across the white feathers below their heads. It seems quite "stately" to me. They are also relatively uncommon here at Palmer, particularly this time of year. So it is a treat when I do get to see one.
  12. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Chelsea on 05/01/07

    Have you seen any effects of global warming in Antarctica?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Yes. Climate change is not occurring at the same rate everywhere and this part of Antarctica is one of the parts of the world that is warming the fastest. We have seen major changes, for example, in the relative proportions of the penguin species around Palmer Station. One species that used to be rare here but more common to the north is now very common while the one that was far and away the most common when I first came here in the 1980s is relatively uncommon.
  13. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Erin Schoeneman on 05/01/07

    Has the decreased global biodiversity of recent years had a visible effect on the environment around Palmer Station?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      In terms of the species here, there has not been a change in presence or absence. But there has been a noticeable change in how common or uncommon some marine animals are.
  14. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Melanie Harris on 05/01/07

    What is the hottest it has ever been (temperature wise) while you were there?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Here at Palmer Station it gets much warmer than the other US stations. I have seen it in the 40s on the Fahrenheit scale. However, because of the low humidity, if it is sunny and there is no wind, if you are moving around you can be comfortable in short sleeves then (particularly if you have been here a while and gotten adjusted to the cold).
  15. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Rob Riedler & Hunter Garnett on 05/01/07

    My partner and i were researching the sponges, and we were wondering if some of the sponges could grow on the ice, underwater?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Sponges are too long-lived and slow growing to live on the sea ice since that does not last long. But they are very abundant attached to the bottom. Below the depths where there is enough light for macroalgae to grow well, sponges dominate the hard bottom areas all around Antarctica.
  16. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Zhiqian Li on 05/01/07

    So, how close have you been to a penguin?
    Do they bite? If so, with how much pressure?
    Have you ever tried to wear and tuxedo and see if they would follow you?

    Would you ever consider permantely moving to Antarctica to live?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Except for scientists who need to handle penguins to study them, we do not touch them or let them touch us. With all the wildlife, the rule is that you do not get so close to an animal to change its behavior. But if you are sitting in one place and an animal comes to you, that is OK since it is obviously not bothered by you being there. I have had penguins come to within a foot or two of me if I am sitting down on the ground or ice.
  17. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by John Morgan Davenport on 05/01/07

    Over the time period you have been in Antarctica has been noticeable change in the geographically features like the glaciers due to the climate issue of today?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Yes. See Maggie's recent post on the Ice Bridge for more info.
  18. Desert
    Posted by Gunter Hairnette on 05/01/07

    I was talking to my friend about Antarctica, who says that Antarctica is a desert.
    aren't desert's hot?
    I personally think Antarctica's a Tundra.
    Who's right?

    one more thing: have you met any other research teams on your quest (exhibition, excursion, mission, whatever you call it)?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Antarctica is a desert because on average, there is very little precipitation. A lot of the snow simply blows around from one place to another. The part of Antarctica (the Antarctic Peninsula) where Palmer Station is located is unusual because we do get more rain and snow than most places. And certainly there are a number of other research teams here. See Maggie's last post on One Fish, Two Fish, Ice Fish and Craig's "Hey..." post early in the season.
  19. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Myly Nguyen on 05/01/07

    Has the interaction with the animals there made any difference in their patterns of eating or where they usually come together and socialize or their feeding grounds? and do they enjoy your observing them as much as you observe them?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      The rule for interactions with the larger animals is that if you are changing their behavior, you are too close and need to back away. Only scientists with special training and permits are able to do more, and only when necessary. Not impacting this wonderful place is a major concern to us all. And as for enjoying what I do: You bet I do!
  20. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Napoleon Bonaparte on 05/01/07

    So, how close have you been to a penguin? Also, would you like to move to anartica permantly?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Look at the answer a couple questions above (yours came in while I was answering it). I love it here but no one lives here permanently. I love my "real" home in Alabama too.
  21. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Haley Hensley and Ethan Tibbs on 05/01/07

    What was the most dangerous incident that has occured while you were in Antarctica.

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      We all work very hard not to do dangerous things. The US Antarctic Program takes safety very seriously.
  22. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Shaniqua Bagley on 05/01/07

    If the opportunity presents itself again, would you repeat the expedition?

    I've read about the fire safety. Is there a real threat of fires in the Antarctic?

    Does the crew get along without discension?

    How long are you required to live there before being shipped home?

    Are the native animals domesticated?

    Is there a problem getting acclimated to the the climactic change?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Wow. That is six different questions. The answer to number 3 is yes and to numbers 5 and 6 is no. As for number 1, it is a resounding yes! This is my 11th season in Antarctica and I am looking forward to another great one here at Palmer Station next year. For number 2, because it is so dry here fire is indeed a big concern. We are very careful and the fire team practices regularly. As for number 4, no one in the US Antarctic Program is allowed to stay much over a year before they have to go north. The British, by contrast, have many people deployed for two and a half years at a time. As scientists, the minimum amount of time we can usually spend is a month or so at Palmer Station. The maximum is usually around 4 or 5 months. Maggie and Craig will have been on station over 4 months and away from home about 4.5 months when they get home in late June.
  23. Posted by keara on 05/01/07

    What does palmer station do for the IPY?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/01/07
      Hi Keara. Have a look at Jim's post called "Its the International Polar Year!" earlier in the season. The IPY as it is called is a very special time for polar research and we are lucky to be here at the very beginning.
  24. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by A Hopeful Canadian American on 05/03/07

    Now that you've been to Antarctica, do you have any interest in starting a hockey team at UAB? What do you do for fun in Antarctica? And one more thing, can you ice skate there?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/03/07
      I suspect that we'll let our friends at UAH represent the system in hockey. Ice skating isn't really practical here but cross country skiing on the glacier is certainly one of my favorite things to do for fun.
  25. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Dr. Oxymous Grey on 05/03/07

    are there any dangerous diseases growing in Antarctica?
    what type of protection do you use against such threats?
    good luck,
    Dr. Oxymous Grey

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/03/07
      There are no issues specific to Antarctica. I suspect that having no natural populations of people here along with the harsh climate helps that. In past years common colds and forms of the flu have been common, particularly right after a new group of people arrive on a ship. We are exceptionally rigorous now about hand washing and sterilizing and about washing and sterilizing things that are touched or used for eating. This season, the incidence of this kind of illness has been exceptionally low. So maybe all the precautions are helping.
  26. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by chloe on 05/10/07

    were did the aurora australis gets its name?
    from chloe

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/10/07
      According to Wikipedia, the beautiful glowing effect was named for Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn. "Australis" (and "austral") refers to things of the southern hemisphere. Australis is the Latin word for "of the South."
  27. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by Cary Elizabeth K. on 05/16/07

    I would like to send you my power point about Antarctica. I have already e-mailed you about some of the questions I had and you will be seeing them in my power point. Please send your e-mail adress to us.
    Cary Elizabeth K.
    Melinda Storey - Gifted Specialist
    Mountain Brook Elementary

  28. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by derek munro on 05/18/07

    what plants are in antartica

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/18/07
      Good question. Assuming that you mean "higher" (or vascular) plants on land, there are two, Deschampsia antarctica and Collobanthus quitensis. Scroll down and click on Maggie's journal entry called "Green Palmer" for photos and more information on them.
  29. how do ice fish sirvive in antarctica?
    Posted by vicky on 05/23/07

    hi there! my nameis vicky and i am i year 7. i would like to ask you one question.

    how do ice fish survive in Antarctica. can yu give me dot points?

    thank you very much!

  30. how do ice fish survive in antarctica?
    Posted by Tori on 05/23/07

    Hello! my name is Tori and i am very interested in ice fishes. i always wonder how do ice fishes survive in the cold freezing water of Antarctica. i was also wondering if you could give me dot points on how ice fishes survive in Antarctica. Thank you very much, your help will be much appreciated.

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/23/07
      Tori, Scroll down to Maggie's "One fish, two fish, ice fish" post to read about how they get by without red blood cells, which is really fascinating (in part they get by through being exceptionally "big hearted"). Antarctic fish also make antifreezes that help keep ice crystals from growing within their blood. Truly amazing animals!
  31. Diving Margarita Bay
    Posted by Marcelo Mammana on 05/24/07

    Congratulations for your work and your website!
    I would like to know
    1-if you did some shore or near shore dives, and if so, how deep had you have to go to find life, meaning, to avoid iceberg scour bottom. 2-what kind of underwater life is most probably found in these places.
    Thank you very much for your time and help.
    Best regards,
    Dr.Marcelo Mammana
    Base San Martín

  32. Shore diving
    Posted by Marcelo Mammana on 05/24/07

    Congratulations for your work and your website!
    I would like to know
    1-if you did some shore or near shore dives, and if so, how deep had you have to go to find life, meaning, to avoid iceberg scour bottom. 2-what kind of underwater life is most probably found in these places.
    Thank you very much for your time and help.
    Best regards,
    Dr.Marcelo Mammana
    Base San Martín

    1. Posted by Maggie on 06/04/07
      Hello Dr. Mammana! As several of our posts describe, all of our diving is near shore - within a 2 mile radius from Palmer Station. The numerous small islands within that radius and reachable by zodiac host a variety of dive sites. We avoid the biologically barren shallow ice scoured spots since there is little to collect. The majority of our sites are on steep walls where diverse sponges and tunicates can colonize with less competition from algae. Our bottom depth is limited to 130' for safety reasons - Palmer has no decompression chamber. Other dive sites have gradually slopes down to deeper water. These are good spots for dives targeting algae. Often on sites like this when we get shallow for our standard 20-25' saftey stop, we are in an ice scoured area. We are quite fortunate here at Palmer Station to have access to a variety of dive sites. Thank you for your interest and I wish you safe diving and fun collecting!
  33. ask the team a question
    Posted by hayley on 06/03/07

    how do leopard seals survive in such a harsh climate?

    1. Posted by Maggie on 06/04/07
      Hello Hayley, Plants and animals all over the earth deal with 'harsh' climates in one way or another. It is all about adapting to the environment whether it be a hot sulfur spring teeming with microscopic bacteria or cold, icy waters of Antarctica. Leopard seals like all the seals down here deal with the cold with lots of insulation from blubber. You may know that leopard seals are at the top of the food chain here. Special adaptations like being a fast and powerful swimmer enabling them to sneak up on unsuspecting prey like seabirds have added to their success as a predator. But when times are tough, these big seals can maintain their strength and bulk by eating krill - small shrimp-like critters that keep the even bigger whales fat and happy. Thanks for visiting our site - keep thinking great "how" questions!
  34. Re: Conditions for living
    Posted by Jacob on 06/05/07

    Hello. My name is Jacob, and I am interested in developing on Antarctica.

    What type of treaties are signed between countries as far as whom has rights to build on Antarctica? Could I (meaning someone in general) simply fund a construction crew to go to Antarctica and melt out a section to the surface and start building a town / city? What are the policies on that, and who enforces them?

    I am a high school student, looking out on life.


    1. Posted by Maggie on 06/07/07
      Greetings from my southern 'home' Jacob. I really do feel at home here in Antarctica - having had the great fortune and privilege of spending many years cumulative time here doing science. However, as a United States citizen, I will never be able to homestead a parcel or develop a town of my design. The United States and now over 50 countries have signed the Antarctic Treaty which in essence protects this vast and grand continent from private and commercial development. Citizens of those signatory countries are bound by their country's commitment to maintain Antarctica as a commercial/development/exploitation-free continent. It is a continent for all mankind dedicated to science and exploration. It is a land that I hope you look out for and protect in your own way as you proceed with your life. All the best to you from this truly unique and utterly cool continent.
  35. Re: Ask the Team a Question
    Posted by lee on 06/06/07

    how do the leopard seals survive harsh weather?

    1. Posted by Maggie on 06/07/07
      Hi Lee, Leopard seals are popular this week it seems. Except here at Palmer, when their presence has altered dive plans. Anyway, please see the reponse posted to a similar question from Hayley two days ago. Thank you for visiting us and thinking about our cooool environment!

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