4 November, 1999
I'm Baaaack. Yea, I know, I said I wasn't going to post a journal today. Remember what I said about being flexible when traveling in Antarctica? Well, I got all ready for the helo flight to Cape Roberts. Three other people were scheduled to go with me. When we arrived, we checked in (they weigh each person and their baggage) and then were told there was problem with the larger helo (a door was broken) and they would have to take a smaller helo. The smaller one had a cargo weight capacity of 750 pounds. Well, since me, my baggage, and gear took up a third of that capacity, I was left on the ground. Extreme bummer! Well, perhaps I will get a chance some other time.
At least I get to finish my discussion about why Antarctica is so cold. Did you find a city in the Northern Hemisphere which is just as far from the North Pole as McMurdo is from the South Pole? If not, try Thule, Greenland. But we will get back to that later.
Why is Antarctica so cold? Well, the obvious answer is the sun. Duh! The angle of the sun is so low here that even when the sun is above the horizon all day, like it is now, not much energy gets to the surface per area unit. Add to this the increased depth of atmosphere that the sunlight must penetrate and you can see why the sunlight that does reach here doesn't provide much energy. Also, due to the bright white snow cover, much of the sunlight that does fall on the surface is reflected back into space. Snow has a high albedo. Albedo is a measure of the percentage of light a surface reflects. A black surface has a low albedo. This is why cold weather clothing is often a dark color to absorb energy more efficiently.
If this was all to the story, then Arctic temperatures would be the same as the temperatures in the Antarctic because these same conditions exist in the Arctic regions as well. There are two major factors that contribute to the intense cold found in Antarctica. First, Antarctica is a landmass. The Arctic region is primarily covered by ocean. The water of the oceans retains energy better than a land surface. The ocean water can absorb heat in the summer time and store it. This warmer water can then moderate the temperatures in the winter months. This happens to a lesser degree in Antarctic because of the huge landmass of the Antarctic Continent.
The oceans play an even more important role in the climate of Antarctica. One way heat is moved around in the Earth system is by ocean currents. Currents move heat absorbed by the waters near the Equator towards the Polar Regions, north and south. Iceland, despite its name, has a fairly mild climate for its latitude, because it is swept by relatively warm ocean currents from the south. Warmer waters can move their way into the Arctic Ocean moderating temperatures.
Antarctica has a totally different situation. About 34 million years ago, when Australia and South America moved away from Antarctica, a strong current developed which encircled the continent. The current, called the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, essentially isolates the water around Antarctica from the other oceans of the world preventing movement of warmer water from the lower latitudes. This isolation has also contributed to the unique types of animals found in the southern oceans.
Below is a chart of the monthly average high and low temperatures in McMurdo. Also included are charts of sunlight for McMurdo and Thule, Greenland. Compare the sunlight in the two locations. Are they similar? (Remember that their seasons will be at opposite times of the year.) See if you can find information on the annual temperatures for Thule. Is it warmer in Thule than McMurdo? Check it out!
I forgot to tell you about the Halloween Party they had in McMurdo last week. The costumes were great. Very creative. I have attached a picture of the party. Everyone there seemed to be having a lot of fun!
There are a great number of interesting and talented people involved in the Cape Roberts Project. Over the next several weeks, I want to introduce you to some of the people from various counties who are contributing to the success of the project. So here is today's CRP3 Featured Team Members:
The group of micro-paleontologists who specialize in the study of marine protists called foraminifera include Peter Webb from Ohio State University in Columbus, Percy Strong from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences in Lower Hutt, New Zealand and Wojciech Majewski. Wojciech is a Ph.D. candidate at Ohio State and is from Warsaw, Poland. Peter Webb is also the Senior Scientist for the Cape Roberts Project.
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