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Lessons From The South Pole !!


Lessons & Communication from Susan Cowles

Week 1

Week 2 

Week 3 
Part 1

Week 3 
Part 2

Week 4 Chart 1

Week 4
Chart 2
Week 4
 Chart 3

Week 5

Live Broadcast from the South Pole



Week 1:


Happy New Year, and greetings from 61 20 (degrees minutes) south and 64 59 west!

I'm on board the Laurence M. Gould and we are in the middle of the Drake Passage. The weather has been good so far, though we have gotten into rougher seas since last night.

We left Punta Arenas, Chile on January 2, and we are due to arrive at Palmer Station, Antarctica, on January 6th. (My chair is rolling around a lot--I hope there won't be too many typos here!) We get email in batches twice a day, but there is no Internet access. So, it is hard to keep track of the days.

There is a TV screen in the lab where I'm working--it gives continuous data on our position, on the wind, temp, course heading, and so forth. The barometric pressure has been dropping, so we may be in for a storm.

Here are a couple of math problems that you might want to use. There are others on the journals page at

The first officer, Jay Bouzigard, told me that our journey will be 928.6 nautical miles from Punta Arenas, Chile to Palmer Station. The ship travels at an average speed of 10 nautical miles per hour. So:

1) How many hours should it take us to travel to Palmer Station? How many days is that?

2)We left Punta Arenas at 1pm on January 2nd. According to your calculations, when (time and date) should we arrive at Palmer Station?

3) I'll give you the time spent waiting in airports vs. time spent travelling to Punta Arenas. What is the raio or percentage of time I spent on the ground vs. time spent in the air? Or, students could calculate time in travel (including ground transportation) vs. time waiting. Whatever--here are the data:

December 20, 2001

Corvallis to Portland via car 2 hours

Check-in and Waiting at PDX 3 hours

Flight from Portland to Dallas 3 hours 45 minutes

Waiting in Dallas 2 hours

Flight from Dallas to Santiago, Chile 9 hours, 45 minutes

now it's December 21st

Waiting in the Santiago airport 9 hours ( my flight was late and I missed the connecting flight; because it was right before Christmas, all the other flights were full. I was able to get on the last flight of the night)

Santiago-Punta Arenas, Chile, 4 hours (with a brief stop in Puerto Montt, Chile).

Here are some other measurements:

Corvallis to PDX: 100 miles

Portland to Dallas--1616 miles

Dallas to Santiago 4869 miles

Santiago to Punta Arenas 1363 miles

There are miles as supplied by the airlines. I assume they are statute miles.

It is getting a little too rough to type (and to think), so I will close this and get it in the group to be sent out later today. In answering, it is best to write to The TEA people will transfer my address to Palmer Station when we get there. If you reply to this ship address, I may not get it.

Cheers, S. Cowles

Week 2 


It is hard to believe that we left Punta Arenas only nine days ago, and that
we have been here on station only for five days.  We have been working hard
and learning a lot.  I thought I'd write with a little background about what
we've been doing.  I don't plan to write this much in the journals, but I
will talk about some of these topics.

Most of the science here at Palmer involves the use of Zodiac boats, the
inflatable "rubber" craft that can really zoom around. People use the
Zodiacs to collect water samples, travel to islands to observe birds and
plants, and to collect sediment samples.  The Zodiacs each have a 55
horsepower engine with an auxiliary engine as well.  There are two sizes:
one holds up to ten people, and the other holds six.  A minimum boating
party is made up of two trained operators.  To be trained, a person needs to
take Boating I and Boating II.  If you are just going to go out as a passenger,
you only take Boating I, which includes Island Survival Training.  Normal
boating operations cease during sustained winds about 20 kts, because even
with a heavy load, the Zodiac could be flipped in a high wind.

The POPs team took Boating I the day after we arrived here at the station.
This mainly was a course to demonstrate the zipped float coats and other
attire we need to wear when out in the boat.  We also learned about the
contents of the safety caches on various islands. We set up a tent, saw how
the emergency stove works, and talked about first aid for hypothermia.
Because the weather changes so quickly,  people sometimes have to stay on an outer island rather than return to Palmer.  By outer I mean within the 2 mile-radius boating limit from Palmer!  Each cache is made up of 3 barrels of supplies.  I'll do a lesson about that sometime.

Then, the next day we had Boating II.  This is the course that allows us to
be operators.  Our entire team took the course, as well as a scientist from

We each had to take a turn starting the engine, driving the boat, landing on
a rocky island, departing from the island, stopping the engine, tipping the
engine up, tipping it back in place, and changing the fuel tanks.  Finally,
we practiced the "person overboard maneuvers".  Our instructor (who was
wearing a super-duper wetsuit) fell into the water several times and pairs of us had to get him into the boat.  He went in about three times!

 The boating safety measures here are quite impressive. Each team of boaters takes 2 radios and then we radio in to the station when we leave one place for another, and again once we arrive at that destination!

Amy (a POPs team member from Virginia) and I have gone out to collect
phytoplankton in a net.  We had the boating instructor with us, because it
really takes 3 people to do this job.  Amy and I took turns operating the
winch to raise and lower the net, while the other one drove the boat.  The
phytoplankton turned out to consist mainly by diatoms, which are the
favorite food of krill.  Amy, Michele (another POPs team member) and I went
back out in a Zodiac to collect some snow.  We took two containers with a
capacity of 60 liters (each one)  We landed on a rocky shore which had a
deep layer of snow on a rocky shelf above us.  We shoveled snow into the two
containers and then brought them back to the lab. We melted the snow so that
it could then be filtered through columns.  We are looking for POPs in the
air, in the melted snow, and in the water.

Two nights ago I gave the weekly "science lecture".  I had made a (my first)
Powerpoint presentation on adult education/literacy/numeracy.  I asked the
Palmer Station group (about 35 of us, I think) to come up with some math
problems that relate to their life and work.  Not only are there scientists
here, there are electricians, carpenters, logistics personnel, a doctor, a
cook, heavy equipment operators, waste treatment specialists, and many
others.  Everyone is thinking about math problems, and I have received some good ones already.  So, I'll be incorporating some of them into journals.  If the problems are too complicated to send in a simple journal, I will send them to you in this weekly letter.  (And if you do not want to be on the list to get this
message, please let me know!

Cheers, Susan Cowles

Math Problem:

Hi! Everyone here is on the lookout for good math problems!  This one comes via Dave Bresnahan, the National Science Foundation representative down here. He works in logistics and operations in D.C., but he has had a lot of experience at all the Antarctic stations. NSF has a representative at each station, at least during the summer months. Dave took the same ship here as we did. 

I would be interested in hearing from those of you who try these problems with learners in your programs. Are we developing problems that are at a good level of complexity? All comments are welcome!   Cheers, Susan 

If South Pole Station requires 324,512 gallons of fuel before the flying season ends about 15 February and a gallon of fuel weights 6.8 pounds and the aircraft average payload delivered to Pole is 26,000 pounds, how many LC-130 flights are required to deliver the fuel. Assuming six flying weeks remain, how many flights per week just for the fuel delivery. Enjoy!


To learn more about the POPs team in Antarctica, visit these webpages:
 Polar Science Station:

Live Broadcast - February Broadcast

TEALive Broadcast - Connect with TEAs in Antarctica!

February 21 at 9:00 am PST with Susan Cowles

Susan's Expedition Description & Journal:


You can access the TEALive Real Audio sessions and software through:

You can participate in two ways: first, you can gather around a computer with Internet access and watch the images and listen to the questions and answers. Second, you can send email questions to either before or during the broadcast. We will attempt to answer these questions on air, because the program director in the US will read the questions to us over the telephone link.  Third, you can always watch and listen later through the Internet site, if the time a date don't work for watching/listening live.

To test your connection, you can connect to the "Join a Live Broadcast" link at Monday through Friday from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm (EST). You can also test your connection anytime by clicking on the "Listen to a Previous Broadcast" link at and selecting any of the broadcasts listed. 

We invite you, your students, and colleagues to e-mail questions for the live broadcast before and during the RealAudio session from the e-mail link at (or email directly to The questions will be provided to the TEA in the field during the session by the broadcast host.

If you have questions, please contact:

Arlyn Bruccoli - Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic Program

603) 646-4416


Week 3 Part 1


It seems impossible that my first full day here at Palmer Station was only three weeks ago today! 

The days are packed with a variety of things to do. I did not write a separate letter the second week I was here, so this is a combination letter. In fact, I will probably break it up into a couple of parts. I will send a separate one with more math. This will be general background description of our science activities. Some will be featured later in upcoming journals, with photos. So, here's the science we are doing: 

First, we have the daily POPs team meeting at 8 am. It is at that time that we decide about water sampling. Ideally, we plan to go out in Zodiacs twice a week to stations A, E, B, G, and I. (I'll attach a copy of  he sampling map in case you don't still have it.) These stations, indicated by the letters on the map, are the places established by the Palmer Long Term Ecological Research Project (LTER) of which our study is a part. So, the science is coordinated by taking samples from these stations. For example, the krill people and the phytoplankton people take routine measurements at B and E. We are trying G and I also because the wind often comes from the direction of the glacier, and so there might be POPs deposited in that region. Two people who are certified boat operators must be in a Zodiac at all times, so 2 team members go out. We are in constant radio communication with Palmer, and we radio in every time we change position. We use a GPS to make sure we are on station. Sometimes we have to interrupt our sampling and reposition the Zodiac if the currents and winds have carried us away from the sampling site by more than .25 nautical miles. Stations E is a pain in the neck when the weather isn't terrific. It is not protected from the winds and the ocean currents and swells. It is just at the 2 mile limit boundary around Palmer Station, but it can take at least 30 minutes to get out there when the ocean swells are high. Once we are at any station, we sit and bob around while we fill two canisters of water that have been pumped from a depth of 5 meters. Each canister holds 40 liters, and each takes at least 25 minutes to fill. (the man coming down in February will be bringing more effective and efficient tubing, we hope!) We use a small battery operated pump. So, when we get on station, we must connect the hose to the battery and to the winch and to the weight, lower the weight to 5 meters, connect the pump to the battery, and then wait while we watch the hose fill the canister with water! Also, we have to rinse out all containers twice with seawater before we begin to pump. A couple of times people have gotten seasick while taking water samples, though I have not, yet! We have been visited by curious penguins while we have been out there--one once circled the boat numerous times. We decide he was a representative from either the National Science Foundation or the Antarctic Treaty! In order to have an efficient filtering system back at the lab, we collect two canisters of water from each of two stations, and then repeat the process the next day at the same station. So, by the time we go out to station E and then B, or to Station G and I, and then back to Palmer with 2 canisters of water samples from each station, we have spent at least three hours on the water. If the weather is terrible, or if the winds are too high for boating (over 20 knots/hour), or if the visibility is close to zero, then we don't go out. Otherwise, we are out in a lot of different circumstances.  For example, it was calm and cold yesterday, with dark skies and waters.   Michele and I went out to sample. There was a lot of ice floating between Station E and Station B. (Huge pieces of the glacier have been breaking off and floating away. It is fresh water, so it floats on the seawater, but much of it is below the surface) We had to go quite slowly, because we have to dodge the large pieces of ice (the Zodiac engine doesn't like it) and we have to watch out for bar ice. That is clear ice, with dimples in it. It is so transparent that the driver can't see it from the back of the Zodiac. So, I had to drape myself over the bow of the Zodiac, pointing out the ice and also providing weight for the bow, so we could plow through the ice, not over it! I've always wanted to be one of those mermaids on the bow of a ship, but wearing five layers of polypropylene didn't give the desired effect! After more than an hour in that ice, we had collected a small iceberg that had drifted around us and under us. It was quite a trick (for Michele) to get us out of the ice, and away from that piece. 

The final adventure was that the LM Gould arrived in port yesterday, and it was tied up so that there was only a very narrow space between the Gould and the Zodiac parking places! Also, our davit and winch could easily have snagged on the stern lines from the Gould, but we got under the lines in good shape. Can you tell that I am often at the edge of my comfort level with all of this? 

The other sampling we do involves snow. We have taken snow samples from each of two sites on different islands. This involves taking shovels and containers holding an amazing amount of heavy snow. ( 60 liters, and that   melts down to about 38 liters of water.) It is hard work, as is carrying the darned containers back to the Zodiac and trying to get them in the Zodiac in the bumpy swells. (You may remember that one-liter of water weighs 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds!) However, it isn't often that one can shovel snow while being supervised by penguins, so I won't complain! 

The POPs team is now collecting ice core samples from the glacier behind Palmer Station, but I have not volunteered to be a part of that process! The ice is bad at the base of the glacier and a little higher up, and I know what happened to Robert Scott on his trip to the South Pole when he tried   to "man-haul" supplies in sleds pulled by human power! The water and melted snow samples are filtered through XAD columns for POPs. This is done with the water, under pressure, right in the canisters, so once the nitrogen tank is connected to it, the filtering just needs to be checked and changed. I also filter, by hand set up and with a small pump, some of these water and snow samples for chlorophyll and particilate organic carbons. Each type of filtration requires a different sort of filter and different packaging, but all samples are frozen for later analysis. Finally, we are also taking air samples from two devices set up in the "backyard", which is at the back of the station. To get there we climb up and over a lot of the rock that makes up this island. We have been changing the filters every 36 hours, but I heard that we might change to every 24 hours. That is a two-person job, as well. So, that's the science we are doing: water samples, snow samples, and air samples, followed by some lab work. I was featuring scientists (in the journals) who returned to Chile today when the Gould left. I'll now be sending more journals about our science. And, I'll send off part two of this shortly! 

     Cheers, Susan   

Data for Week 3  

Virginia Tardaewether, an instructor at Chemeketa Community College, Dallas, Oregon, just told me that one of her students found an interesting web site. The student is Barbara Eckert, and she found a math quiz that asks questions about Antarctica, including questions related to temperature and krill. I think that there are links to resources for finding the answers. 

URL: This is from We don't get much Internet access, so I haven't seen it, but Barbara and Virginia were happy to have the information passed along to all of you.

Cheers, Susan

Week 3 Part 2

Hello again!

Here are some suggestions about resources:

First, if you wish to incorporate science activities in teaching situations, please remember that Polar Station Science has a link to many online activities from its top page. The direct link is The activities are organized as "web-based activities", "hands-on science activities", and "lesson plans for group activities". (Remember also the specific POPs learning activities at ) Some of the activities are great for individual learner use, and others may need instructors/tutors to collect supplies. There is a lot of great stuff there in the Polar Science Activities links (I can say that because I didn't write it, just choose it). Cheshire Beckerman, the web master at Western Pacific LINCS, has done a great job with site design, too, so it is an easy web site to use. 

Second, adult literacy was featured in the latest Antarctic Sun, the online newspaper published at McMurdo Station. We have received the FAX version, and I am not sure if it is up on their web site for general use. Check and look for the edition of 01/27/02 

Third, we participated in a Real Audio broadcast on Thursday, January 24, 2002, 0900 PST. Many thanks to Mary Anne Nusrala and Jim Crotts of LBCC, in getting the technology ready and the group together to talk to us in almost real time (there was a lag between talking and listening on the web site). I used an INMARSAT telephone line to call Arlyn Bruccoli of TEA, and she made all the magical connections with the teacher, students, and server in Wisconsin. Joining me were Dave Bresnahan, the National Science Representative currently here, and Hugh Ducklow, Principal Investigator on the POPs team and professor of biology at the College of William and Mary Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

We had questions from many places, and Hugh and Dave got all the hard ones! It was great that they were able to join me. We were sitting in Dave's office, overlooking Arthur Harbor and the glacier. Arlyn said that they had over 80 computers connected live.

The broadcast will be on an archive at  When the satellite was last overhead here, I checked the site, but our broadcast was not yet up. When it is available, you will see 20 images that I sent in advance. They are of the setting around Palmer Station and the plants/animals that are found here. There will be another broadcast in February, and I will let you know when that is scheduled. Joining me will be Bob Farrell, the Palmer Station manager, and a scientist. 

Cheers, Susan Cowles


To learn more about the POPs team in Antarctica, visit these webpages:

Polar Science Station:


Math problem with data: 

 Guy Guthridge of NSF, the Office of Polar Programs, is on this list of  Antarctic Teachers.  Guy poses another interesting question about this  graph.  I think it is a valuable question to ask, because it really gets to  the question of how graphs are labeled. 

 "Might this problem be posed to students of numeracy? 

 In the Word file on which the data are displayed graphically, do the  letters on the x-axis mark the beginnings or the middles of the months?" Data

Guy also provided the answer: "Answer: A Julian day calendar shows that day 295 occurs around 22 October. The  first data point (for day 295 in the table) thus is about two-thirds of the  way through the month of October, so the letters mark the beginnings of the months."

 Thanks, Guy!!!

Week 4 - Chart 1 


The journal for February 6, 2002 is about the reverse osmosis process of
water desalination (or desalinization) that we use here. Some of you have
been asking for data to work with.  Our particular POPs group doesn't have
any, because analysis will be done back in Virginia.  I have asked other
scientists for graphs and charts, and they will be forthcoming.

Meanwhile,  I have three charts that show some data about the reverse
osmosis process.  Our system requires that I send only one image at a time.

Here's the question:
Chart 1:  As pressure is increased, what happens to water flux (as measured
in gallons per foot per day?)  As pressure is increased, what happens to the
percentage of salt rejection?

Answer:  The chart shows the increase in water flux as pressure increases.
The salt rejection starts at a minimum of approx. 96% and increases to a
plateau of approx. 99.9%.


Week 4 - Chart 2


The journal for February 6, 2002 is about the reverse osmosis process of
water desalination (or desalinization) that we use here. Some of you have
been asking for data to work with.  Our particular POPs group doesn't have
any, because analysis will be done back in Virginia.  I have asked other
scientists for graphs and charts, and they will be forthcoming.

Meanwhile,  I have three charts that show some data about the reverse
osmosis process.  Our system requires that I send only one image at a time.

Here's the question:
Chart 1:  As pressure is increased, what happens to water flux (as measured
in gallons per foot per day?)  As pressure is increased, what happens to the
percentage of salt rejection?

Answer:  The chart shows the increase in water flux as pressure increases.
The salt rejection starts at a minimum of approx. 96% and increases to a
plateau of approx. 99.9%.


Week 4 - Chart 3

Chart 3: As the salinity (brine concentration) of the feedwater increases,
what happens to the water flux (as measured in gallons per foot per day)?
As the salinity (brine concentration) of the feedwater increases, what
happens to the percentage of salt rejection?

Answer:  There is a decrease in water flux as brine concentration increases.
"As the feedwater salinity increases, the osmotic pressure increases to the
point where the fixed system pressure is inadequate to overcome the pressure
to maintain water flux.  The salt rejection starts to decrease due to a
fixed rejection % applied to a higher sourcewater salinity and lower
permeate flux."  (This is from the workbook that David gave me) " 99.9%
rejection means there is 0.1% salt passage. 0.1% of 38,000 PPM (parts per
million) = 380 PPM; 0.1% of 54,000PPM = 540 PPM.

Week 5

Greetings to you all!

We have been busy here, whether out in the Zodiacs or doing other things.
We have had tremendous swings in weather.  We have had lots of snow, high
winds, and rain.  There have been several days when we haven't been able to
go out in the Zodiacs.

The other thing to report, though I don't plan to write a journal about it,
is that the fire detectors/alarms work very well here!  We always take them
seriously.  The other day most of us were awakened by an alarm that went off
before 6 am.  We dashed out in pajamas (and jackets and boots) to the muster
area.  The alarm was triggered by a super-sensitive detector in an outlying
building.  It measured heat change, not a dangerous temperature itself.
Well, anyway, it got us out of bed in time to see the results of a large
snowfall during the night.

We have had two other alarms in the last two weeks--one triggered by a
faulty hair dryer--and the other one was this afternoon.  I haven't found
out yet what the cause was, but we got the "all clear" before the alarm had
gone into many phases (most of us were already at the muster area, however).
You can't believe how fast people can move when those alarms sound.  (And
there is no mistaking the alarm for anything else--flashing lights and very
loud noises!) The fire team is moving quickly to their closest sets of
protective clothing, and the rest of us are moving out of the buildings by
the nearest exits and over to the boathouse for muster.  No one panics, but
no one dawdles, I can tell you.  I would bet that we are all at the muster
area in less than 60 seconds, and that is for the people who are the
farthest away.  I'll bet I was there in 20 seconds today.

The NSF rep (Dave Bresnahan) who is here at the moment is the person who has
given us the fuel problem at the South Pole, the compactor problem, and now
he has a third.  He went to a great deal of effort to get these data, too.
I'm sure you can have students develop some great questions from this!

Here is the amount of food that was ordered and consumed for Thanksgiving in
November, 2001 at McMurdo Station.  This is the largest station in the US
Antarctic Program, so this makes for interesting numbers.

Finally, I hope you can watch and listen to the Real Audio presesentation on
Thursday, Feb. 21st.  I sent a message out earlier about it.  If your
students want to send email questions to be read during the broadcast, they
can be sent to the coordinator, not to me.  You can send email questions to either before or during the broadcast.

OK, that's it for now!  The ship schedule has not changed recently, though
the latest cruise had some delays due to supplies and weather.  (It was too
windy here to use the crane to unload some of the cargo).  So, as of now, I
am scheduled to depart Palmer Station on the LM Gould on Thursday morning,
February 27th.  To be realistic, I can't promise to answer any email that I
receive after the morning of Feb. 25th.  So, that means I'll try to answer
any email sent by Sunday, Feb. 24th.  (our email is received twice a day,
now early morning and early evening).  That schedule changes, also, by 4
minutes earlier each day.

I've enjoyed hearing from you and your classes.  There have been some great
questions, comments, and, from some elementary school classes, great
suggestions of books I would like to read!

Cheers, Sue Cowles

Thanksgiving Numbers!

We do have various informational stats from Thanksgiving 2001:
McMurdo Station Thanksgiving Dinner: Saturday, November 24, 2001
Community Population: 903 Freshies order week ending 11/21/01:
Fresh vegetables: 3820#
Fresh produce: 1570# (Swt potato @100#, potato @250#, squash @150#)
Whole turkey cooked: 800#
Turkey breast cooked: 400#
Gravy prepared: 40 gallons
Pumpkin pies baked: 90 (8 slice per pie)
Misc. other desserts: 1500 pieces


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