Dear Kent:
Here we have the standard version of all the furious activity currently underway in Antarctica.

Part I: NSF
Begin with the NSF, a non-profit government agency responsible for all scientific endeavors of the United States. This month, they published the following fact sheet. It contains these facts, among others:

1) They partner with academic institutions and the U.S. Military
2) They are building a new U.S. Science Facility at Vostok
Fact Sheet  

Media contact:     Peter West     (703) 292-8070

Scientific Logistics at the Poles

March 2001

Background. The National Science Foundation (NSF), through its Office of Polar Programs (OPP), supports basic research in a wide range of scientific disciplines in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. Due to the harsh conditions and remoteness of these locations, logistical support for science in the field is a complex undertaking and involves partnerships with other nations, with the private sector, with academic institutions and with the U.S. military. NSF is an independent federal agency and is the only federal agency whose mission covers research in all fields of science and engineering.

The 109th Airlift Wing, N.Y. Air National Guard. One common element in NSF's logistical infrastructure at both Poles is air support provided by the Scotia, N.Y.-based 109th Airlift Wing. The unit flies and maintains the world's only fleet of ski-equipped LC-130 "Hercules" transport aircraft.


In the Antarctic, the 109th flies its "Hercs" in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). NSF, through the USAP, coordinates almost all U.S. scientific research in the Antarctic. The 109th's aircraft are the program's workhorses, transporting scientists and support personnel to the continent from New Zealand and transporting science parties and equipment into the field. The planes also are used to transship all materials needed to rebuild Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and to build East Station, a new U.S. scientific facility at Lake Vostok, deep in the Antarctic interior.

Antarctic Logistics. OPP provides scientists with the equipment and facilities needed to conduct cutting-edge science in the field despite the very difficult conditions on the Antarctic continent and surrounding ocean; to analyze data in the state-of-the-art Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center at McMurdo Station, the USAP's logistics hub; and to communicate large amounts of data electronically to laboratories in the U.S.

To support a wide-range of sciences, from oceanography to astronomy, and to insure that scientists are able to access the remote sites that often are most productive to their work, NSF maintains three U.S. year-round research stations on the continent; summer camps (as required for research in the field); the ice-strengthened research ship R/V Laurence M. Gould; the icebreaking research ship R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer; a fleet of ski-equipped, propeller-driven LC-130 airplanes; Twin Otter airplanes; and helicopters.

Research stations. NSF's logistic structure in Antarctic centers around three major facilities:

McMurdo Station: Located on the Ross Island in McMurdo Sound, the largest U.S. Antarctic station serves as a "gateway" to continent for scientific field teams as well as the logistical hub for most of the U.S. scientific activity. During the Southern Hemisphere's summer (austral summer), the population of scientists and support personnel at McMurdo often exceeds 1,000 people. In the austral winter (from February to late October), the population drops to roughly 180 persons. Scientists use the facilities in the Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center to conduct their work with a comfort and an access to equipment, telecommunications, and supplies similar to that to which they are accustomed in laboratories in the home institutions. McMurdo also provides field parties with access to everything from tents and sleeping bags to snow mobiles and air transportation to conduct their investigations.

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station: Located 841 statute miles inland from McMurdo, at the geographic South Pole, this station accommodates a maximum of 220 people (80 of whom are construction workers or construction-support personnel) during the austral summer. Astronomy and astrophysics are the primary scientific work carried out at the South Pole and several sophisticated telescopes are maintained there.

The current Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, named for the two men who raced to discover the South Pole in 1911 and 1912, was built in the 1970's and features a central geodesic dome. The station currently is being rebuilt and modernized with reconstruction scheduled for completion in 2005. Part of the modernization includes an upgrade of the telecommunications capability at the Pole to allow for higher bandwidth.

For more information about astrophysics in Antarctica, see

For more information about upgrades to South Pole Station, see

Palmer Station: Located on Anvers Island in the Antarctic Peninsula region, logistically isolated from the other stations, it relies mainly on the R/V Laurence M. Gould for transport of passengers and resupply from a port at the southern tip of South America. The R/V Laurence M. Gould provides onboard research support in marine biology, oceanography, and geophysics and can support science in other areas of the southern oceans.

Icebreaking. The U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers Polar Star and Polar Sea provide channel breaking at McMurdo, allowing for a resupply ship and a refueling ship to reach the station; treaty inspection missions and occasional research support; a variety of other vehicles; and automated, unmanned weather and geophysical observatories. Ships of the U.S. academic fleet and the ocean-drilling program also occasionally support research in Antarctica.

Air Support. In addition to support from the N.Y. Air National Guard, the U.S. Air Force's 62nd Airlift Wing, based at McChord Air Force Base in Washington State, provides additional logistical support at the beginning and the end of the austral summer with C-141 jet cargo aircraft.

Logistics. USAP also contracts with Raytheon Polar Services Corp. (RPSC), of Englewood, Colo., for logistical support for the program.

For more information about RPSC, see

Part II: Astrophysics in Antarctica

Astrophysics research is particularly suitable in Antarctica.

Antarctic Astrophysics

A variety of conditions both in Antarctica generally and more specifically at the South Pole make the continent a world-class observatory.

Long-Duration Ballooning (LDB): Since 1988 NSF and NASA have developed techniques for flying and recovering large balloon payloads -- in the range of two tons -- at altitudes of roughly 37 kilometers (120,000 feet) for extended periods of approximately two weeks. These techniques position the experiment above 99.7 percent of the atmosphere. For some experiments, this provides scientists with conditions as good as a ride on the space shuttle or even a satellite.

For two reasons, the unique geophysical conditions above Antarctica make LDB flights possible during the austral summer.

Since the balloon is illuminated continuously by sunlight, both directly and by reflection from the underlying clouds or snow, it does not undergo the large changes in temperature, and therefore altitude, that are experienced during the normal diurnal cycle in more temperate regions. There, the daily heating and cooling cycle results in the loss of helium and also ballast, severely limiting flight times, a situation that is avoided above Antarctica. Additionally, each summer for a period of a few weeks, a nearly circular pattern of gentle east-to-west winds is established in the Antarctic stratosphere. The circulation is generated by a long-lived high-pressure area caused by the constant solar heating of the stratosphere. This allows the launching and recovery of a balloon where it can be recovered relatively easily on land.

Over the past decade there have been LBD flights in most Antarctic research seasons -- roughly mid-December through mid-January, with two balloons frequently being flown during the season.

South Pole Astrophysics: Several geophysical attributes make Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, operated by the USAP, an important and unique observatory:

*    Its location at the earth's axis means that any celestial object can be observed for long periods from the same elevation in the sky. Most famously, for many years South Pole was used to make long continuous solar observations, with some runs lasting for over 100 hours.

*    The station is located at an altitude of approximately 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), atop the Antarctic ice sheet. The atmosphere at the station also is extremely cold, with the result that there is very little water vapor overhead. Water vapor is the principal cause of atmospheric absorption and variability in broad portions of the electromagnetic spectrum from the near infrared to millimeter radio waves. Many telescopes have exploited this over the past decade, most notably to map submillimeter neutral carbon emission in the galaxy and to measure the anisotropy of the cosmic microwave radiation.

*    The Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Array (AMANDA) takes advantage of the extremely clear ice deep below the surface at South Pole to create the world's largest particle detector. AMANDA can detect and track the path of
neutrinos that interact in the ice after having passed completely through the earth. AMANDA is presently the only viable high-energy neutrino telescope with over 500 photodetectors buried between 1,400 and 2,400 meters below the surface.

See also: Press Release on Detailed Images of Early Universe

Part III: Geophysics

The "problem" they have discovered, may relate to this subject matter...if the ice is melting quickly, then its weight will allow the plates to lift. It seems that Antarctica is somehow separating. See attached Word doc on Isostatic Rebound. Also see attached Vostok article from November 2000, defining its geological origin...Is Antartica dividing! AND melting? or dividing because it is melting...? And what happens if that anchor land mass moves quickly. Did you notice the level of EQ activity in the South Pacific in the last months, weeks, days? HMMM...I wonder if this is the big NSA secret. And if the earth is breaking up at the south pole, what will the effects of that be on the magnetosphere? etc. Does this picture make any sense?

Geology and Geophysics in Antarctica

Important problems of interest to the Geology and Geopyhsics program include:  

*    determining the tectonic evolution of Antarctica and its relationship to the evolution of the continents from Precambrian
  time to the present
*    determining Antarctica's crustal structure
*    determining the effect of the dispersal of Antarctic continental fragments on the paleocirculation of the world oceans,
  on the evolution of life, and on global paleoclimates and present climate
*    reconstructing a more detailed history of the ice sheets, identifying geological controls to ice sheet behavior, and defining
  geological   responses to the ice sheets on regional and global scales
[see attached article on isostatic rebound]
*    determining the evolution of sedimentary basins within the continent and along continental margins

All of these problems involve the need for an improved understanding of where, when, and how Antarctica and its surrounding ocean basins were accommodated in the interplate movements inferred from studies of global plate kinematics. In short, the program encourages investigation of the relationships between the geological evolution of the Antarctic plate and paleocirculation, paleoclimate, and the evolution of high-latitude biota. A current emphasis is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Program in conjunction with the Antarctic Glaciology Program.  

In geophysics, the continent and its environs have a central role in the geodynamic processes that have shaped the present global environment. The tectonic role of the Antarctic continent in the breakup of Gondwanaland, the close interaction of the Antarctic crust and ice sheet with their attendant effects on the planet's fluid systems, and Antarctica's present day seismically quiescent role defines the important thrusts of geophysical research in the high southern latitudes. Modern geophysical and logistical technology might focus on three broad ³transect zones,² across the Weddell and Ross embayments and in the area of the Amery Ice Shelf, where prospects for broad-scale understanding of the region are highest.   

In addition to research focusing on Antarctica, the program plays a key role, along with NASA and the Smithsonian Institution, in collecting meteorites and facilitating their use in research. The Antarctic Geology and Geophysics Program supports meteorite collection through ANSMET, the Antarctic Search for Meteorites, and chairs an interagency committee that is responsible for oversight of curation and sample allocation activities for the Antarctic meteorites. NASA provides special curatorial services at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Smithsonian provides long term curation in the national collections. Both NASA and the Smithsonian participate in developing basic sample descriptions. Collection expeditions over the last two decades by ANSMET have resulted in more than 8,000 meteorite samples that are available for research. This constitutes about 25% of the world supply of meteorites for scientific research. Within the collection are several samples of the Moon and 5 of the 12 known Martian meteorites, including ALH84001 which is at the center of the controversy about possible evidence of microbial life on early Mars.

And finally,

FYI, the official version of the New South Pole Station project:

New South Pole Station Power Plant, Satellite Link Go Online

Key milestones toward safety and modernization reached

Major construction projects to improve the electrical generating capacity and communications links at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station were completed this month, despite extreme weather conditions in Antarctica that have hampered cargo flights.

The new power plant, which went online on January 20, will increase the station's peak generating capacity to one megawatt of electrical energy, while providing three levels of backup redundancy. On January 18, meanwhile, personnel at the station, conducted a successful test of a new satellite ground station. Employees of Raytheon Polar Services Company, NSF's logistical contractor in Antarctica, worked closely with a number of government agencies and sub-contractors to achieve these successes.

"These projects help set the stage for future generations of world-class scientific research at the South Pole," said Karl Erb, who heads the U.S. Antarctic Program. "The advantages of the polar environment for research into the origins of the universe, as well as for studies of the ozone hole and a number of other topics of global importance, far outweigh the difficulties of working in this hostile environment."

The Pole's isolation and extreme environment make an adequate and stable power source and reliable communications crucial to safety. Because aircraft cannot land at Pole for eight months of the year, the station is in some respects more like an observatory operating on the moon than on earth.

If this information turns out to be lip service, at least we have what they did say on record.