What land mass A) holds 70 percent of the world’s fresh water, but almost no animal life, B) was settled only about a hundred years ago and C) hosts exactly one prestigious summer workshop for young biologists?
The answer is a place where “summer” means very brief forays above freezing temperatures: Antarctica, the most mysterious of the earth’s continents, a paradox of barren land surrounded by teeming waters.
Antarctica — specifically, the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station — is the home of the NSF-funded International Graduate Training Course in Antarctic Marine Biology, an exceptionally selective and enduring program for would-be polar scientists.
“It was the first formal graduate training program held on the seventh continent. No group of graduate students had ever been to Antarctica before on this scale,” says Donal Manahan, founder of the program and director of the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies at the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Manahan and a small group of colleagues have been accompanying some of the world’s best young biologists to Antarctica since 1994. More than 200 faculty and students representing 30 nations have participated to date.
In 2010, anyone can follow along.
From January 4 to February 1, visit this blog for a look over the shoulders of polar scientists as they study the marine life that surrounds Antarctica. One of the group’s biggest goals: learning to work in teams to understand and predict the reaction of living things to climate change.
“It’s really a moon shot of a field trip, in some ways. You bring very bright people and you plunk them on the moon for the first time. What would you discover?” Manahan asks.
Some will make discoveries that will start them on a brilliant career. Some will decide that polar science is not for them. All will have a life-changing experience on the “highest, driest, windiest” continent, as Manahan describes it.
Check summerinantarctica.usc.edu frequently for dispatches, photos and videos from Manahan and the program’s students.
To learn more about the NSF-funded training program, visit antarctica.usc.edu.