NSF invites media to visit Antarctica

December 01, 1999

MEDIA ADVISORY December 2, 1999 PA/M 99-31

To Report on U.S.-Sponsored Research (2000-2001 Season)

Deadline: May 1, 2000

The National Science Foundation (NSF), which runs the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), is accepting written requests from professional journalists to visit Antarctica during the 1999-2000 research season.

NSF wishes to convey the scope and significance of the science conducted in Antarctica to the widest possible cross-section of the public. Accordingly, NSF annually selects a very small group of journalists, representing diverse audiences, to make individual visits to the United States' three Antarctic research stations -- McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott South Pole, and Palmer -- to report on NSF-sponsored scientific projects or research themes. Previously, journalists have accompanied field science parties, sailed on research cruises or focused on studies at a particular site. Visits usually last one or two weeks, but may last longer depending on intended results. A reporting plan that details those expectations must be submitted as part of the application. Competition is intense for a very limited number of slots.

A selection committee comprising USAP science and logistics personnel and media officers from NSF's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (OLPA) reviews all proposals and selects finalists. The committee, in general, looks for proposals that indicate an understanding of the nature and challenges of the scientific enterprise NSF supports in Antarctica and the desire to communicate that understanding to the public. Another consideration that affects selection is USAP's ability to provide the logistical support needed to carry out a specific reporting plan. Print, television, and radio journalists are welcome to apply. NSF also welcomes proposals from the fields of online news and high-definition television.

NSF's Office of Polar Programs has a separate program to support artists and writers in Antarctica whose primary form of expression is not journalistic. For information see http://www.nsf.gov/od/opp/aawr.htm, or contact: Guy Guthridge, 703-306-1033, gguthrid@nsf.gov.

Application: Focused applications with thorough reporting plans that indicate solid working knowledge of the U.S. Antarctic Program and the science it supports stand the best chance of selection. Feature film proposals and general reporting about the Antarctic, travel, or logistics are not given priority. U.S. media receive preference.

Reporting Plans: Reporters must develop their own reporting plans, with assistance from NSF scientists and public affairs officers. Reporters who are selected must visit NSF headquarters in Arlington, Va. for a day or two of background briefings.

Expenses: Reporters or their employers pay for round-trip transportation to -- and accommodation in -- Christchurch, New Zealand (if travelling to McMurdo or South Pole Stations) or Punta Arenas, Chile (if travelling to Palmer Station). Reporters make their own travel arrangements and hotel reservations in New Zealand and Chile. Reporters must visit NSF headquarters in Arlington, Va., at their own expense, for pre-trip planning. NSF furnishes cold-weather clothing solely for use in the field as well as housing, transportation and food in Antarctica, at no cost to reporters.

Medical: Finalists must pass a comprehensive physical exam conducted at their own expense by their personal physicians and subject to screening by the U.S. Antarctic Program. Certain medical conditions may preclude a candidate from visiting Antarctica, even if selected as a media visitor. Every USAP participant, including scientists, must pass the physical.

How To Apply: Contact NSF (by phone or by e-mail) as soon as possible to express interest and to obtain background materials. Plans for reporting from Antarctica should be submitted in a short letter -- preferably no longer than two pages. Freelancers must supply evidence of a firm commitment to publish or air their work on their prospective employer's letterhead.

Send the letter and any supporting materials (such as a limited number of clips or videotaped segments) to:

National Science Foundation
Office of Legislative and Public Affairs
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1245
Arlington, VA 22230
Attn: Peter West or Amber Jones
pwest@nsf.gov or aljones@nsf.gov

Deadline: Written requests must be received no later than May 1, 2000. NSF will make final selections in mid-summer, and will notify those who are selected -- and those who are not -- as soon as possible.
Attachment: Highlights of NSF's 1999-2000 Antarctic Research Season and list of useful Web sites for research.

Highlights Of NSF's 1999-2000 Antarctic Research Season

This list suggests some story ideas. Not all projects listed will continue next season.

INTERNATIONAL TRANS-ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION (ITASE): ITASE is a multi-disciplinary approach to global-change research that integrates meteorology, remote sensing, ice coring, surface glaciology, and geophysics and is part of the overall West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Program. The U.S. ITASE general objectives are to determine the variability of West Antarctic climate and the environmental variability in West Antarctica over the last 200 plus years. U.S. ITASE is coordinated through the science management office located at the University of New Hampshire. The university coordinates the eight funded U.S. science projects that comprise the U.S. ITASE. Researchers from Arizona, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Ohio will be participating in U.S. ITASE activities this year. Experiments will include radar studies of bedrock underlying the West Antarctic Ice Sheet; high-resolution radar profiling of snow and ice stratigraphy; and glaciochemistry.

ANTARCTIC PACK ICE SEALS: The pack ice that surrounds Antarctica contains at least 50 percent of the world's seal population. As a group, these seals are the dominant predators in Southern Ocean ecosystems. Fluctuations in their abundance, growth patterns, life histories, and behavior provide a potential source of information about environmental variability in and around Antarctica. As part of an international project, in which USAP is participating, researchers will count seals from the air and determine species distribution, attach radio and satellite transmitters to the animals to monitor their behavior, and attempt to determine the animals' prey preferences. This will require for the first time that the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer carry helicopters to assist in the research.

CAPE ROBERTS PROJECT: Evidence that cataclysmic volcanism rocked Antarctica some 21 million years ago was produced last field season by the Cape Roberts project, an international effort involving scientists from the United States, New Zealand, Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany. Cape Roberts drilling will continue for the third season this year. The team will attempt to collect cores from the Ross Sea floor by drilling through sea ice into the underlying sea floor. Ice at least 1.5 meters thick is needed to serve as a drilling platform. Sediments and fossils in the drill core should help provide information about conditions 25-70 million years ago, and fill in gaps missing from knowledge of the Earth's climate. During this interval of time, the first ice sheets in Antarctica began to form. This period is particularly important scientifically as it covers a period in the planet's history when Earth last experienced temperatures as warm as those that are expec! ! ted to occur over the next few centuries as a result of greenhouse warming. Work also will begin this season on analysis of materials drilled in previous years of the project.

MICROBES AT THE SOUTH POLE: Although associated in the public mind with images of vast penguin colonies - which exist only on the continent's temperate coast - most of Antarctica is a frozen desert, devoid of life except at the microscopic level. Researchers this year will attempt to determine the species and abundance of microscopic algae in permanent ice and snow and will study the microbes' metabolic activity and molecular biology to try to understand how they live and how they got there. How life can exist in such incredibly harsh conditions: the Pole is in total darkness most of the year and average low temperatures in winter routinely drop as low as minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Their findings may have implications for studies of how life may survive in extreme environments elsewhere in the solar system.

ASTRONOMY AND ASTROPHYSICS AT THE SOUTH POLE: The atmospheric conditions at the South Pole make it a world-class astronomical observatory. Several projects will be conducted this year. They include:

Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA): Buried under the clear, deep ice at the South Pole and using the ice as medium for detecting subatomic particles, AMANDA represents the first steps toward creating a neutrino telescope that is a square-kilometer-sized. By making images of high-energy neutrinos, AMANDA has the potential to discover discrete sources of neutrinos, and shed light on the "dark-matter" particles that astronomers believe make up most of the matter in the universe. AMANDA also can search continuously for supernova explosions in the Milky Way galaxy and perhaps even search for the birth of the super-massive black holes that power quasars.

Degree Angular Scale Interferometer (DASI): An array of 13 telescopes, DASI will be assembled at the Pole this year after being shipped from Illinois. The device will assist scientists to study the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, the afterglow of the Big Bang that brought the universe into being and from which galaxies formed.

CONSTRUCTION AT AMUNDSEN-SCOTT SOUTH POLE STATION: Modernization and upgrading of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station continues this season. The existing station is 20 years old and has exceeded its design life. The South Pole Modernization Project (SPMP), a $128-million initiative, will replace the existing station by 2005. Construction crews worked over the austral winter to complete the interior construction of a new garage and machine shop at the station. Work will begin this summer to prepare the foundations for a replacement laboratory - which will be built on supports above the ice cap - in the station's "dark sector," an area that is shielded from visible light and electromagnetic radiation which would interfere with astronomical research conducted at the Pole. Construction also will begin on the exterior of a new power plant. The power plant's interior will be completed during the upcoming austral winter. The reconstruction project is on schedule and within budget.
Useful Web Sites: For a description of the full range of research that USAP supports, see: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/1998/nsf98155/start.htm

For a fact sheet about the U.S. Antarctic Program, see: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/media/99/fs_usap.htm

National Science Foundation

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