Virtual Base Camp

Expeditions by Year

Welcome to the Virtual Base Camp, the starting point for your exploration of the polar regions with PolarTREC teachers and researchers!

PolarTREC expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica can be found here starting in 2007 to 2015. You can also access archived expeditions to the Arctic that took place through TREC in 2004-2006. Journals, photos, ask the team forums, and information about each expedition can be found by following the links to all the expeditions. Use the Expedition Search feature to narrow your choices or find a particular expedition or region. Use the Members feature to find teachers and researchers involved with PolarTREC expeditions.

A new feature to the Virtual Base Camp are Projects. Projects are expeditions that had teachers for more than one year. You can learn more about the science and see all the teachers and researchers involved in the research project over two or more years. You can also access all the related project resources (presentations, lessons, PolarConnect events, etc.) related to the projects.

Current Expeditions

Melissa Lau
Educator

Organization
Piedmont Intermediate
Oklahoma City, OK
United States
Dates:
6 June 2018 to 7 July 2018
Location:
Toolik Field Station, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
The goal of this expedition is to understand arctic terrestrial change by monitoring vegetation communities in northern Alaska associated with the International Tundra Experiment Arctic Observatory Network (ITEX-AON). The team will study environmental variability and increased temperature on tundra plant phenology, growth, species composition and ecosystem function. The ITEX network works collaboratively to study changes in tundra plant and ecosystem responses to experimental warming. The network monitoring sites are located across many major ecosystems of the Arctic. This project will provide urgently needed data critical to understanding the impact of multi-scale vegetation change on ecosystem function, namely land-atmosphere carbon and water fluxes and energy balance.
Joanna Chierici
Educator

Organization
Melvin H. Kreps Middle School
Roebling, NJ
United States
Dates:
24 June 2018 to 4 July 2018
Location:
Ship-based, Eastern Bering Sea
What Are They Doing?
Eastern Bering Sea (EBS) jellyfish populations have fluctuated dramatically during the past three decades. When jellyfish populations are high, they likely have major impacts on the Bering Sea food web. This project will estimate the age structure and age-specific abundances of the predominant jellyfish in the Bering Sea, Chrysaora melanaster, in order to understand how their population size changes with time. The ultimate goal is to estimate the reproductive capacity and success of this jellyfish in relation to climate variability and to investigate the potential for jellyfish population increases to become a recurring pattern in the Bering Sea under future climate scenarios. This will in turn enable forecasting of jellyfish abundance and their predatory impacts in the Bering Sea ecosystem.

2011 Expeditions

Juan Botella
Teacher

Organization
Monona Grove High School
Monona, WI
United States
Dates:
8 February 2011 to 25 April 2011
Location:
Icebreaker N.B. Palmer in the Southern Ocean and Drake Passage
What Are They Doing?
An interdisciplinary team of scientists, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), traveled from McMurdo Station, Antarctica to Punta Arenas, Chile aboard the U.S. research vessel Nathanial B. Palmer. While aboard, they collected data from the Bellingshausen, Amundsen, and Ross Seas and the Southern Pacific Ocean. Using many different types of oceanographic instruments they collected water samples at various depths to obtain data about the salinity, temperature, oxygen, CFCs, nutrients, ocean carbon, and other substances. Other scientists participating in the research cruise measured aerosols, solar radiation, and recovered and deployed moorings that were used to collect data during the remainder of the year. Oceans play an important role in the global carbon cycle, as they absorb and store carbon dioxide (CO2) from our atmosphere. However, the amount and rate of carbon dioxide absorption depends on many...
Paula Dell
Teacher

Organization
Lindblom Math and Science Academy
Chicago, IL
United States
Dates:
9 April 2011 to 12 June 2011
Location:
Palmer Station, R/V Laurence M. Gould
What Are They Doing?
Antarctic icefish are uniquely adapted to life in the extreme conditions of the Southern Ocean. Waters surrounding Antarctica are unlike any other, they are isolated, very cold, have large amounts of dissolved oxygen, and have low numbers of competing animals. Because of this unique environment, the icefish have evolved with some interesting traits. They do not have a swim bladder, and they spend much of their time near the ocean floor. To help them survive in the very cold waters, they have antifreeze proteins in their blood and body that keep their cells from freezing. Because of the high oxygen content in Antarctic waters, the icefish are able to survive with lower amounts of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen to the rest of the body, than other fishes. Scientists believe that the unique characteristics of icefish cell structure may be connected to how well they are able to withstand increases in ocean temperature. Because of this, Antarctic icefish may signal the...
John Wood
Teacher

Organization
Talbert Middle School
Huntington Beach, CA
United States
Dates:
17 April 2011 to 4 June 2011
Location:
Healy, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
The carbon cycle is the means by which carbon is moved between the world’s soils, oceans, atmosphere, and living organisms. Northern tundra ecosystems play a key role in the carbon cycle because the cold, moist, and frozen soils trap rotting organic material in the soils. This very slowly decaying organic material has caused carbon to build up in the arctic during the past thousands of years. Now warming in the arctic is slowly causing the tundra to become warmer and dryer. As a result, the trapped carbon leaves the soil as carbon dioxide and goes into the atmosphere. The research team studied changes to the carbon cycle in northern forests by setting up experiments that copy the setting of warmer and dryer tundra. When they arrived at the field site they first removed snow from the research sites, constructed new warming chambers, installed water wells, and set up a carbon dioxide measuring system. After the set-up, the team began taking field measurements of carbon dioxide...
Lollie Garay
Teacher

Organization
Redd School
Houston, TX
United States
Dates:
24 April 2011 to 1 May 2011
Location:
Barrow, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
The research team sampled the coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean to investigate how microbial creatures affect the productivity of a coastal Arctic ecosystem. They traveled to the field site via snowmobile and sampled the seawater through a hole drilled into the sea ice. The seawater collected was used to look at competition between autotrophs, organisms that make their own food, and heterotrophs, organisms that cannot make their own food, and for nitrogen (N) in the waters near Barrow, Alaska. The field work took place over the course of three seasons (two years) to give researchers the opportunity to investigate the coastal water ecosystems in different seasons, winter and summer, and with different amounts of daylight. The sources of nitrogen vary when there is no daylight in the winter, from the summer where there is nearly 24 hours of daylight. In ocean ecosystems, microbes dominate many of the processes and are the major producers and consumers of carbon dioxide (CO2)...
Michael Lampert
Teacher

Organization
West Salem High School
Salem, OR
United States
Dates:
25 April 2011 to 20 May 2011
Location:
Svartisen Subglacial Laboratory, Norway
What Are They Doing?
Glaciers are like moving rivers of ice, and as meltwater makes its way to the bottom of the ice sheet it acts like a lubricant helping the glacier move. As climate warms in the polar regions, glacial meltwater increases, reduces friction, and causes this movement to increase. Increased glacial movement may cause glaciers to recede more rapidly, but there is no exact formula for this. For this project, the team worked at the Svartisen Subglacial Laboratory, a laboratory located beneath a glacier, to study the glacier’s movement. From the lab, water pressure beneath the glacier was manually increased in an attempt to cause rapid glacial movement. The sliding of the glacier caused very small earthquakes, which could be measured using seismometers at the glacier surface and in rock tunnels below the glacier. Predicting future increases in ice-sheet sliding speed is one of the single largest unknowns in predicting sea-level rise due to melting glaciers. The measurements taken were...
James Pottinger
Teacher

Organization
Gateway High School
Monroeville, PA
United States
Dates:
22 May 2011 to 14 June 2011
Location:
Swiss Camp, Greenland
What Are They Doing?
Solar radiation is the major energy source that drives our climate and supports life on earth. In this project, the research team gained a better understanding of the solar radiation reflected back into space and absorbed by our planet, also known as the Earth’s heat balance. The team collected data related to this balance using weather observing instruments and a specially equipped aircraft that detected wind speed and directions and electromagnetic radiation. The measurements were part of an international effort to record radiation called the Baseline Surface Radiation Network project. The data collected was used to further study the Greenland Ice Sheet and it’s processes such as melting and gas exchange with the atmosphere. Studying heat balance is an important concept in climatology because light surfaces, like snow, reflect more radiation back into space while dark surfaces, like water, absorb more radiation. When you have snow cover, about 90% of the solar energy that goes...
Jim Miller
Teacher

Organization
Cleveland Heights High School
Cleveland Heights, OH
United States
Dates:
20 June 2011 to 15 August 2011
Location:
Barrow, AK
What Are They Doing?
Underlying the northern arctic coast of Alaska is a thick layer of permafrost. As water melts and pools on top of the permafrost, thaw lakes are formed. There are many thaw lakes on the North Slope of Alaska. As they decompose organic material, the bacteria and other microorganisms living in thaw lakes produce methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas, and increased microbial activity in thawing permafrost areas could lead to changes in the atmosphere due to the release of methane. Microbial activity in thaw lakes is not very well understood. This research was important for better understanding how microbial activities affect the biogeochemical cycle, or the way specific chemicals move through living and non-living processes on Earth. To collect their data, the research team combined research methods from biology, ecology, and biotechnology. They collected data in the field including soil cores, thaw depth, water table depth, and dissolved oxygen measurements. Additionally, they...
Kevin McMahon
Teacher

Organization
Renfroe Middle School
Dates:
27 June 2011 to 25 July 2011
Location:
Summit, Greenland
What Are They Doing?
Aerosols are small, solid, particles like dust, smoke, and smog which are suspended in the air. Aerosols are generated by a variety of natural and man-made sources such as fossil fuel combustion, forest fires, and dust storms. Because aerosols have the ability to diffuse light coming from the sun, they may actually have a cooling impact on our Earth’s climate and the Greenland Ice Sheet. In order to study the effect of aerosols on the arctic and the Greenland Ice Sheet, the research team took snow and air samples to measure the amount of aerosols. By looking at snow surface properties and chemistry the research team explored connections between aerosols and the snow surface albedo, or reflectivity. The Greenland Ice Sheet plays a key role in regulating global climate. It also stores a large volume of fresh water. If it melts, it has the potential to cause sea level to rise. It is important to understand how air pollutants impact the climate of the Arctic, because changes in...
Laura Lukes
Einstein Fellow
Dates:
1 July 2011 to 24 July 2011
Susy Ellison
Teacher

Organization
Yampah Mountain High School
Carbondale, CO
United States
Dates:
3 July 2011 to 15 July 2011
Location:
ANWR, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
Growth rings, also known as trees rings or annual rings, are annual layers of tree growth that can be seen when looking at the cross section of a tree trunk. Looking at the rings, you can determine the age of the tree by counting the rings. By looking at rings, you can also study the response of the tree to environmental conditions like a really dry or wet year. The study of tree rings is called dendrochronology. The research team studied mostly white spruce trees on the North Slope of Alaska. They collected samples from the boreal forest and further north around the tree line (the place too far north for trees to grow). They collected samples by coring trees, taking tree measurements, and recording observations about the environment around the trees. Using this study, the research team looked at environmental conditions of the past and tried to determine which conditions have the greatest impacts on tree growth. The records were compared to similar data from around the...
Mark Goldner
Teacher

Organization
Heath K-8 Elementary School
Brookline, MA
United States
Dates:
10 July 2011 to 14 August 2011
Location:
Ny Alesund, Svalbard
What Are They Doing?
The Svalbard Archipelago has an arctic climate and is home to several large bodies of ice called glaciers. There are alpine glaciers in the mountains, and also tidewater glaciers that end in long narrow bodies of seawater called fjords. For the past nearly 10,000 years, the glaciers of this region have been receding and most recently there has been a regional reduction in sea ice. The region is ideal for the study of past climate because the arctic is sensitive to changes in climate and several different types of measurements on and around glaciers can be conducted here. The research team, which included undergraduate geoscience students participating in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program, traveled to Svalbard to investigate how climate change affects sediment transport and deposition associated with the tidewater glaciers, icebergs, meltwater streams, and marine currents. Tidewater glaciers are among the fastest changing systems in the Arctic, offering the team...
Susy Ellison
Teacher

Organization
Yampah Mountain High School
Carbondale, CO
United States
Dates:
24 July 2011 to 11 August 2011
Location:
Raven Bluff Site near Kivalina, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
The team excavated portions of the Raven Bluff archaeological site, the remains of a prehistoric camp that dates to the very end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. The site in Northwestern Alaska is important because it contains the oldest well-preserved collection of archaeological animal bone in the American Arctic. This can teach us about ancient people’s diet, hunting tactics, and seasonal movements. The site also contains fluted projectile points – a type of stone spear tip that is associated with many of the earliest archaeological sites in the continental United States. Fluted projectile points are found in Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada, but have never been reliably dated. Because people migrated from north-to-south after entering the Americas from Asia across the Bering Land Bridge, fluted points in the far north are expected to be older than the fluted projectile points found in the continental United States. However, initial findings from...
Michael League
Teacher

Organization
Millsboro Middle School
Millsboro, DE
United States
Dates:
19 August 2011 to 11 November 2011
Location:
McMurdo Station
What Are They Doing?
The research team SCUBA dived below the sea ice to collect polychaete worms. Polychaetes are segmented worms generally less than 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) long, but can vary greatly. They are marine worms that live throughout the world’s oceans and can survive in very harsh conditions including the deepest depths of the ocean. Once the worms were collected, the research team ran temperature and nutrition experiments on them in the laboratory. These experiments helped researchers understand how the worms are able to adapt to these very cold waters, and how they will survive as ocean temperatures increase.
Michelle Brown
Teacher
State College, PA
United States
Dates:
6 November 2011 to 12 December 2011
Location:
McMurdo Station
What Are They Doing?
Humans have occupied the McMurdo Sound for over a hundred years. Early visitors had little impact on the region, but starting in the late 1950’s year-round, permanent buildings were established at McMurdo Station. Over the years thousands of humans have visited this area and have changed the landscape. Under its obligations to the Antarctic Treaty, the United States maintains a long-term monitoring program designed to track the environmental conditions in and around the station. Each year, the research team conducts environmental monitoring and chemical, physical, and biological sampling in and around McMurdo Station. They collect samples from both marine and terrestrial habitats as measures of human impact. They take the samples back to the lab to look for contaminants. The results of this research help document and minimize the impacts of future science and support operations in Antarctica. This information can be used to inform management decisions in and around McMurdo...
Michelle Brown
Teacher
State College, PA
United States
Dates:
11 December 2011 to 5 January 2012
Location:
South Pole Station and AGO remote site, Antarctica
What Are They Doing?
Michelle and the research team supported a project that has been collecting important data since the early 1990's. The Polar Experiment Network for Geospace Upper atmosphere Investigations project (or PENGUIn for short) is gathering information in Antarctica to further understand the sun and space influences on the Earth’s upper atmosphere. This network is supported by the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs and is a collaborative effort to better understand the high latitude atmospheres of Earth and its response to conditions in space. To do this, scientists created Automatic Geophysical Observatories (AGOs) that are active at five locations in Antarctica. These remote observatories house nearly identical instrumentation that measure atmospheric weather conditions at the poles. This includes the Earth’s magnetic forces, aurora activity, and the influence of phenomena in space weather. All of the AGO sites are on the Antarctic Plateau but record different...
Mike LeBaron
Teacher

Organization
Lake Norman High School
Mooresville, NC
United States
Dates:
5 November 2012 to 14 December 2012
Location:
McMurdo Station
What Are They Doing?
This is the first of two research seasons in Antarctica for the WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) project. The goal of the WISSARD Project was to learn more about the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of the unique environments under glaciers in West Antarctica. In addition to understanding the geology and hydrology, the team studied life in extreme subglacial environments. By investigating this interrelated system, they got a better understanding of the influence of climate change on the melting of ice sheets and their contributions to sea level rise. The WISSARD Project had three inter-related components: * RAGES (Robotic Access to Grounding zones for Exploration and Science) * LISSARD (Lake and Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) * GBASE (GeomicroBiology of Antarctic Subglacial Environments) The primary goal of the first field season was to test and explore the zone (grounding zone) just before the grounded ice...