17 November, 1996

About a week ago I got an e-mail message from Miss Pace's Penguin Patrol, a third grade class at Forbes School in Torrington, CT. They had a number of interesting questions that I'll try to answer.

question 1: Is there a government in Antarctica? A resident community? Schools? Antarctic monetary system?

Several countries have claims to portions of the continent, however, the US does not recognize them. There is a sort of governing body here at McMurdo, the National Science Foundation and the Antarctic Support Association has representatives that are stationed here. They oversee all operations and insure that all activities are conducted in a safe and efficient manner. Since no families live here, there isn't a need for schools, however, everyone is involved in either doing or supporting scientific projects. I guess that makes this one big school where everyone is a student.

We have a ships store, one small room, were we can buy toiletries, candy, and a few necessities. The store takes US currency. The store at the New Zealand Base is the size of a closet and the take both New Zealand and US currency. All food is provided so there isn't much need for money, which's a nice part of working here.

Question 2: What are the animals around? You've mentioned seals and fish. Are there penguins, polar bears, other land animals?

There are no land animals in Antarctica. There would be nothing for them to eat since there is no vegetation. The seals and penguins get their food from the ocean and come onto the ice to avoid predation.

Question 3: Is the land completely covered by snow? If so, does it ever melt? You're in their spring now and the sun never sets, what about in winter?

Ice and snow cover Ninety five percent of Antarctica. The are a few places, near the edge of the continent where the air is so dry, any snow that falls quickly evaporates. This occurs even though it is very cold. In the summer there is melting near the ocean around McMurdo Sound. Yesterday we had a high temperature of 30 degrees, which seemed like summer.

The sun never sets during the summer months and never rises during the winter. After being here for six weeks I'm still not used to the lack of darkness. At midnight its as bright outside as it is at noon. I think it would take a real long time for be to get used to never having it get light.

I have a question for the "Penguin Patrol". If you were to come to Antarctica for one week to study penguins, what would you bring.

These penguins are very curious and walk up to us when we work near them. Several weeks ago thousands of them arrived to build pebble nests where the females will lay two eggs. The male and female will then take turns watching the eggs. The one who is watching doesn't get to eat because their food source is in the ocean.

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