Sunday 19 June 2016

Questions about Antarctica (3): "I think it would be life changing"

The third question I asked this group of Year 9 and 10 students was "would you like to go to Antarctica? why, or why not?
Their answers were: 
Yes: 51
No: 29
(with a few Maybes, or Both).

Interestingly, 24 of the 29 "No"s were because it was "too cold!" Some students worried that it was too isolated, lonely and/or dangerous, or they wanted to travel to other places first.
You have to take a boat there and I get sea sick.
Not really because that’s not my paradise place.
No because it’s cold and lonely, and it’s very big and you could get lost and die.
I don’t tolerate the cold very well. it would be a cool experience for others but I wouldn’t enjoy it personally.
Too cold I would rather go to Fiji.
Or, more bluntly:
No because why?

Snow mound on survival course. Photographer: R J Korsch.

But many of the students who answered Yes talked about what a great experience it would be, and they also wanted to see the animals:
I would love to study the birds there. I want to see the penguins and all the snow. I want to see a real penguin in its real environment. I like whales and penguins. I love the animals there.
Yes because I like to travel and explore and it’s not a usual place to go. I’d like to find out more about it. Because it would be an amazing experience and could inspire me to write about something. I would love to go there because you would learn a lot and it would be really enjoyable. 
I would love to go it would be such a great experience and the sights would be so amazing.

Orca whale. Photographer: Tim Higham.

Some students had specific goals in mind:
I would like to buy a snow cone there.
I want to see that colourful thing in the sky!

Even the students who said Yes were a bit worried about the weather:
I would like to go for adventure but not for the cold. Only for a little bit because I don’t like the cold. Yes, but it would be cold.
One summed up the dilemma perfectly:
It would be cool but it would be cold

And some were, admittedly, ready to go anywhere:
Yes because I haven’t been out of New Zealand.
I would go anywhere if I had the chance besides the North Island.
Only if it is free.

But there were also some fabulous enthusiastic replies:
I would love to go to Antarctica and explore and do research.
It will be a new experience and something I have never done before. It would also be cool to see all the different species of animals that live there.
I would love to see the aurora lights in person. I also want to see what animals are like in their natural habitat.
Yes I would like to go there because I like the cold and it would be cool to see penguins in their own habitats. It would be really cool to see ice and water all around. It would also be awesome to see killer whales.

Here are two of the best and I can agree with both of them:
Yes! I think it would be life changing. 
Because there are not many places like Antarctica.

Moonlight at Cape Evans. Photographer: Richard McBride. 

(Thanks to the ADAM website for these great photos, and thanks again to the students of Freyberg High School and St Peters College for their great responses.)

Questions about Antarctica (2): what don't you know?

The second question I asked the Year 9 and 10 students was what didn’t they know, or what did they want to find out about Antarctica?
Lots of things!

The students were fascinated about the climate
Why is it always so cold? Does it ever get warm?  How cold is it actually? How hot and how cold can it get? How windy can it get? Does it rain? What is the warmest part?
If you have a cold and a runny nose does your snot freeze over? 

… and the difference between summer and winter:
Is it just super dark and depressing for 6 months?
What are the hours of sunset and sunrise in summer and winter? How long are the days?
Are seasons the same as here? What is summer like?
How long can you stay [outside] before you freeze?

The aurora:
Can you see the lights? Where do the aurora lights come from?

Auroras over Scott Base. Photographer: Becky Goodsell. 

Snow and ice:
Is the snow everywhere? How thick can the ice get? How does the ice taste? How old is the ice? I also want to know how thick different pieces of ice are and how much weight they can hold. If you squirted water out of a bottle, would it freeze? Why does the sun not melt the snow/ice?

Nearly all of them wanted to know more about the animals that live there
How tall are penguins, what are they like, do they bite, can you pat them? Can you feed any sea animals? 
How much does an orca eat usually? Do killer whales swim under the ice? 
What kind of species are there that live under water? 
What is the most common animal?

Some wondered what it's like living there:
What’s the population? Do people live there permanently? 
How many layers of clothes do you have to wear? 
Could you snow board there? 
Is it hard to live there because of the cold? 
Do people live in igloos? Do you eat disgusting food? 

Antarctica NZ clothing store

Field rations, 2006-2007

Some were just puzzled:
Why do people want to live down there?

There were some very practical questions:
Do they have shops?
Do you get wi fi there?
I would like to know about phone service.

And some concerns about keeping safe:
What happens if a big snow storm comes, where would you go? 
How do you know where the ground is that will not collapse through? 
If you are walking on ice and there is a crevasse underneath and you fall, will you fall in water or more ice? 
What do you do with dangerous animals?

Just a few of them mentioned climate change:
What is the rate at which Antarctica is melting? How much is global warming actually affecting it?

Iceberg, Antarctic Peninsula, 1991-92.
Photographer: Lou Sanson

And there were some questions that don’t really fit into any category:
Is there a secret place there where people might be living, and how long might they have been there?
Is there anyone buried there under the ice and snow?

These are all great questions and I don't know all the answers - but I'm hoping to find people who do!

(Thanks to the ADAM website for these great photos.) 

Questions about Antarctica (1): what do you know?

Many thanks to students from Freyberg High School and St Peter's College, both in Palmerston North, for helping start me off on my Antarctic project. I was there last week for some (pre-arranged) school visits, but they had checked out my author Facebook page and already found out about my Antarctic adventure.

At the end of each session, I asked the students to get into groups and answer three questions for me:
What do you know about Antarctica?
What don't you know, or what would you like to find out?
Would you like to go there? Why or why not?

There was a huge buzz of conversation around the hall as they talked about their ideas. Of the 100 replies I collected, most came from Year 9 and 10 students, aged 13 and 14. There were many great responses and some very interesting results!
So what did I find out?

To start with, I think there must be an automatic reply button to questions about Antarctica. (Try it on people you know and see if I'm right.) The first three topics that come to mind  are overwhelmingly:

  • cold! (89 replies)
  • penguins (49 replies)
  • snow and ice (34 replies)

Degrading iceberg, Cape Hallett.
Photographer: Danielle O'Keefe. 

Adelie penguins on ice and water.
Photographer: Rebecca Roper-Gee

What also surprised me was what these students didn’t mention. Only two knew that Sir Ed Hillary had been to the Pole - in fact, only one mentioned the South Pole at all (calling it the southern pole) and not many said anything about where Antarctica is (below NZ at the bottom of the world) or how beautiful it is (amazing views / it looks majestic / shiny and bright)

Only a couple knew for certain that polar bears don't live in Antarctica, whereas as many thought they did as mentioned killer whales. Some thought that dogs lived there. Three or four students referred to the aurora (once misnamed the northern lights). None mentioned any of the early explorers like Scott or Shackleton. None mentioned the Erebus tragedy of 1979.  

Scott Base sign with aurora at night.
Photographer: Martin Meldrum

But I also got these great insights from students who knew a bit more:

  • There’s a place in Antarctica that is an ice free desert. The climate there is similar to Mars and only microorganisms live there. Scientists plan to research it to use in models for life on Mars.
  • The weather changes drastically and during half the year it’s in complete darkness and the other half it’s in complete light.
  • Antarctica is melting from climate change and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Northern Dry Valleys, 1995-1996

(Thanks to the ADAM website for these great photos.) 

Friday 17 June 2016

Going to the ice!

So after sitting on this news for the last few months, I can now finally announce where I'm off to later this year.

I'm very pleased and grateful to be one of the recipients of the Antarctica community engagement programme (formerly the Media Programme and Artists and Writers Programme) for the 2016-17 summer season on ice! This is either exciting or scary depending on which way you look at it, and at the moment I'm looking at it both ways. But mostly pretty excited! 

More details to follow about the project I'll be working on. Right now I'm just letting the news sink in. 

Thanks to the A.D.A.M. website for these photos!

Emperor penguins

Scott Base
Midnight sun

Wright Valley

Saturday 4 June 2016

"Libraries, Literacy and You"

ReaLM (Reading and Literacy in Manawatu) is running its annual seminar on Friday 17 June 2016, 8.30am-4.45pm at the Conference Room, Sports and Rugby Institute, Massey University.

Looking forward to being there with Bob Docherty, Paul Beavis, Pamela Jones and some other great speakers. 

And thanks to Paul Beavis and Mrs Mo's Monster for this great poster!