College works with NSF on Antarctic program

by Sungil Ahn | 1/25/16 7:48pm

Sponsored in part by the College, a number of United States and Chilean high school students are traveling in Antarctica as part of a new initiative named the Joint Antarctic School Expedition.

The 10 day trip from Jan. 17 to Jan. 27, sponsored by a $500,000 National Science Foundation grant and the Chilean government, aims to inspire the next generation of polar scientists through “hands-on field experiences and cultural exchange,” outreach coordinator for the Institute of Arctic Studies at the Dickey Center for International Understanding and main organizer for JASE Lauren Culler said

Students met in Miami on Jan. 17, then traveled to Santiago, Chile on Jan. 19. There, they met with United States Ambassador to Chile before continuing on to Antarctica.

Erin McConnell ’17 , who works with the Institute of Arctic Studies in the Ice Core Lab, was excited that the College and the NSF are getting high school students involved in Antarctic programs and that the program will expose the students to more field work in the sciences.

JASE sent Chilean students and four American students to King George Island in the Antarctic where they will learn about scientific research conducted in Escuderos, a Chilean research base. The entire program is in Spanish — American participants were also required to be fluent in Spanish.

The program began when the NSF reached out to the College with the goal of engaging young people in science, technology, engineering and math. This program specifically focuses on exploring cutting-edge polar science and getting high school students excited about arctic studies, engineering professor and co-principal investigator on the NSF grant Mary Albert said.

Albert said that she thinks it is important for the students in the program to interact with students from other countries and to see that the opportunity for research on large scale problems such as climate change and global energy is within their grasp. Student activity on the program can include studying seals and penguins, viewing the growth of moss, grass and algae, visiting fisheries and traveling on a ship along the coast to see the effects of climate change on the glaciers first hand, she added.

Since many countries have research centers around King George Island, the program provides high school participants with the chance to meet students and scientists from around the world, Albert said.

High school students are learning what scientists’ lives are like, what equipment they use and how international scientists conduct their research, Dartmouth Institute of Arctic Studies director and organizer of JASE Ross Virginia said. He added that the program exposes the students to a vast set of questions and opportunities, and that students share their experiences with others and fuel their interest in science.

Programs like JASE are a perfect way to bring United States high school students and the College together to engage with international scientific communities, he said.

Albert said that it is significant that the program sends students to the Antarctic because the region influences “global energy balance” and serves as “an amplifier” for climate change.

Virginia echoed this sentiment, saying that because the Antarctic glaciers melt, the albedo — the fraction of solar energy reflected from the Earth back into space — decreases and creates a feedback loop in which Earth warms at an increasing rate. As the ice melts, it is important to come up with a sustainable way to extract the previously untapped resources, particularly oil and gas, as they become available, he said.

In regards to Dartmouth’s engagement in the program, Virginia said that the NSF reached out to Dartmouth because of the scientists here and the College’s “leadership in polar science.”

Programs like JASE are a way for the College to gain recognition and recruit the best high school students worldwide, especially since a number of participants in the College’s past Arctic and Antarctic programs are attending Dartmouth, he added.

The College’s engagement in programs like JASE is important as the Arctic programs funded by the NSF or NASA usually have the College’s Ph.D. students working as faculty for the program, Albert said.

The program also fits into the larger goals of the Dickey Center, Virginia added. One of the Dickey Center’s goals is to bring international communities together through cooperative science and this Antarctic studies program is “perfect” for this purpose, he said.

He added that JASE is a way to bring “Dartmouth out to the world,” which fulfills one of the Dickey Center’s goals of engaging internationally through polar science.

The JASE program is one of two programs that the NSF supports through its grant to the Dartmouth Institute of Arctic Studies. While JASE takes high school students to the Antarctic the second program, the Joint Science Education Project, takes high school students to Greenland.