To understand the importance of Antarctic data and its links to the Earth System as a whole
To understand the complexities involved in collecting Antarctic data
To use the data provided to create graphs/charts/maps and improve data analysis skills
To be able to draw conclusions from the data trends and compare different results
To review and understand data relating to climate change and draw one’s own conclusions
Prepare to go south
This activity shows the user just how much is involved in getting out into the field in Antarctica to collect data. It is designed to highlight what a remote and difficult place Antarctica is to get to and work in – and just how far away it is from the UK. It should be emphasised that despite these challenges, the UK sends hundreds of people there every year because science in Antarctica is very important to help understand what is happening all over the world.
Collect data about the Ocean / Collect data about the Air / Collect data about the land
These video-diary-style activities lead the user through the data collection process and are designed to immerse the viewer in the location – to feel like you are travelling out into the Antarctic wilderness to collect your data.
Once the data is available, there are suggestions on how to process and analyse graphs and charts and also to compare results and draw conclusions. This can be led by the teacher depending on the statistical abilities and required outcomes for the class.
Using your data
When the data has been analysed, a discussion into what the data is telling you should be led by the teacher.
Answers to the example questions:
The ocean around Antarctica is often less than 0°C. This is due to its salt-content, as salty sea-water has a higher density and lower freezing point than fresh water.
The atmosphere is split into layers where different physical effects dominate. In the lowest layer (the troposphere – up to ~10km), temperatures decrease with height as the atmosphere is well mixed, and as a parcel of air moves up, it expands and therefore cools. The stratosphere (up to ~50km) then increases in temperature with height due to absorption of solar UV radiation by ozone at these altitudes. Above that, the mesosphere decreases in temperature again up to ~90km.
The areas have different rock types and ages. This is because these three areas came from different parts of the Gondwana supercontinent and collided to form the current landscape.
Other possible questions/answers:
Deeper layers of the ocean are not mixed like the upper layers, and are therefore much more thermally stable. The turbulent upper layers transfer heat upwards to the atmosphere and downwards to the deeper waters.
There is often a layer of algae just below the surface that causes the water to become slightly more acidic.
In shallow waters, iceberg scour damage occurs much more frequently that at greater depths, however, deeper scours are proportionally more devastating due to the massive size of the icebergs involved.
Air pressure decreases exponentially with height all the way up through the atmosphere.
The directions of strike are often related to the angles of collision of the different land masses. This reflects the overall complexity in understanding Antarctica’s geological past.
Graphs showing changes in air and sea-surface temperature for the Antarctic Peninsula over the last 50 years
The trends show a clear increase in air (3°C) and sea-surface temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula region.
Increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and climate change are significant contributors.
Studying the charts reveals the different rates of warming/cooling at different depths. Students should be encouraged to analyse and understand the data to reveal that the greatest warming is at the surface, compared to 100m depth. This can then be linked to climate change and also the air temperature data.
Graphs showing carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere and global temperature over the last 800,000 years
The fluctuating graph reflects ice-ages and interglacials (as we are in now) over the last 800,000 years. The link between temperature (red) and carbon dioxide (black) should be highlighted. The overall CO2 maximum should also be noted (~300ppm).
Graph of carbon dioxide concentration from 800,000 years ago to the present, highlighting the last 25 years
This clearly shows a dramatic increase in carbon dioxide levels in recent times, with the current CO2 maximum higher than at any time over the last 800,000 years. The steepness of the graph over the last 150 years should also be highlighted. This is caused by human activity and a discussion about future change and predictions for the future can be had, referring back to the links with temperature and predictions for the future/climate change.
Graph showing ozone concentration over Halley Research Station between 1956 and 2008
The rapid decrease in atmospheric ozone over the Antarctic was caused by the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), mostly in the northern hemisphere. The ozone ‘hole’ formed in less than a decade. This was the first proof that humans can influence the atmosphere around the entire planet in a comparatively short time.
The graph shows that the decline has levelled off. This is a direct result of the 1987 Montreal Protocol and proves that international action can reverse dangerous climate trends. The ozone hole should repair itself in ~60 years. A discussion can be had linking this theory to climate change and the effectiveness of current environmental initiatives/Government action around the world.