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Life in Extreme Environments


In a series of three extended investigations, students will compare and contrast their local environment with the extreme environment of the Dry Valleys, Antarctica, site of a Long -Term Ecological Research Project. Through their exploration, students will gain knowledge of the adaptations organisms use to survive extreme conditions and the diverse conditions under which life can exist.


What does life need to exist? Can life be supported elsewhere in our Universe? What about the recent debate over the possibility of ancient microscopic life found on meteorites from Mars? Many people are interested in the possibilities of life occurring beyond our own Earth. To investigate this scenario, scientists are exploring the Earth's own extreme environments. From the driest deserts to the deepest depths of the ocean, researchers are finding that the chemical, physical, and biological "needs" for life are diverse, and that life thrives under what we once would have believed to be impossible conditions. Come explore the cold, windy, desert-like Dry Valleys of Antarctica, used by NASA to test equipment prepared for space travel and investigation of the moon and mars. In this corner of our Earth tiny organisms exploit crevasses in the outer surface of rocks, microscopic critters freeze dry to survive the long dark winter, and perennially ice-covered lakes are the locations for lush phytoplankton blooms in the spring.


  1. Dry-Up Baby! Anhyrdobiosis (freeze drying)

  2. Finding a Niche - Rocky Hide-Aways (nematodes; cold, low moisture, low food)

  3. Lake Life Under Ice - Phytoplankton Blooms (cold, wet)
    A. Ice-cover implications for phytoplankton survival
    B. Ice-cover implications for phytoplankton productivity
    C. Annual solar cycle implications on phytoplankton productivity

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    Last modified: Thu Feb 11 14:00:41 CST 1999