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.

2016 Expeditions

Juan Botella
Teacher

Organization
Monona Grove High School
Monona, WI
United States
Dates:
4 January 2016 to 27 January 2016
Location:
McMurdo Station / Estación McMurdo
What Are They Doing?
We will be performing maintenance on the neutron monitors. The neutron monitors are used to study the sun, which occasionally undergoes solar storms that produce bursts of energetic particles. We are interested in learning more about the energy range and abundance of the particles produced in these events, which is important for understanding how to protect electronics and the electrical grid from extreme space weather events. ## ¿Qué están haciendo? **CosRay: Monitoreo de Neutrones** Nuestro trabajo consistirá en dar mantenimiento a los monitores de neutrones. Estos sensores son utilizados para estudiar al sol, el cual produce ocasionalmente tormentas solares en las que emite partículas de gran energía. Nos interesa aprender más sobre el rango energético de éstas partículas, asi como sobre su abundancia, ya que esto nos permitirá predecir mejor las tormentas solares y así podr proteger equipos electrónicos y las redes eléctricas acá en la tierra.
Alex Eilers
Teacher

Organization
Pink Palace Museum
Memphis, TN
United States
Dates:
11 January 2016 to 18 February 2016
Location:
McMurdo Station, Antarctica
What Are They Doing?
The team will travel daily to Weddell seal haul out sites on the sea ice near McMurdo Station. While on location, the team will find female seals that they had handled approximately two months earlier, and recapture the females to assess changes in their health, condition and behavior over the summer months. To do so, the seals will be captured and sedated. Once sedated, the seals will be weighed and measured (length and girth), have blood and tissue samples collected, and their molt status assessed. In addition, imaging ultrasound will be used to determine if the females are pregnant, and -0 if so - the size of the fetus will be measured. They will also take thermal images of the seals to see how much heat the seal is losing to the environment. Time-depth recorders that had been deployed earlier in the summer will be recovered, and the diving and foraging behavior of the seals during the past two months examined. The team will return the next season in an attempt to relocate...
Kelly McCarthy
Teacher

Organization
Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School
Coal Township, PA
United States
Dates:
20 April 2016 to 19 May 2016
Location:
Kangerlussuaq, Thule AFB, Greenland
What Are They Doing?
IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever conducted. IceBridge uses a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated science instruments ever assembled to characterize yearly changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic. The research team is experiencing first-hand the excitement of flying a large research aircraft over the Greenland Ice Sheet. While in the air they are recording data on the thickness, depth, and movement of ice features, resulting in an unprecedented three-dimensional view of ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice. Operation IceBridge began in 2009 to bridge the gap in data collection after NASA's ICESat satellite stopped functioning and when the ICESat-2 satellite becomes operational later in 2016, making IceBridge critical for ensuring a continuous series of observations of polar ice. IceBridge flies over the Arctic and Antarctic every year — in the...
Anne Schoeffler
Teacher

Organization
Seton Catholic School
Hudson, OH
United States
Dates:
3 June 2016 to 30 June 2016
Location:
Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
What Are They Doing?
The research focuses on the interactions between plants and their pollinators, which are animals that aid in plant reproduction through transporting pollen. The aim is to understand how changes in temperature and precipitation may influence plant-pollinator interactions and plant reproduction. Temperature and water availability may alter the timing of flowering and floral traits that attract pollinators, such as nectar volume and flower size. In addition, temperature may alter what pollinator species visit flowers and how often they visit. The combination of these effects on plants and pollinators may influence plant reproduction, measured as the number of fruits and seeds a plant produces. The researchers hope to relate changes in the abiotic environment to floral attractive traits, pollinator visitation, and ultimately the reproductive success of plants. Three focal plant species, blueberry, harebell, and dwarf fireweed are used because they are common in the area and flower at...
DJ Kast
STEM Programs Manager

Organization
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
United States
Dates:
9 June 2016 to 10 July 2016
Location:
Toolik Field Station, AK
What Are They Doing?
Microbial diversity has recently been found to show a pattern of organization at various scales. The research team attempts to answer three basic questions about microbial diversity and dispersal, focused on the long-term aspects of dispersal events and climate change: 1) How does environment influence microbial community composition and rate of function? For example, how quickly they convert organic material to carbon dioxide. 2) How are distribution patterns of microbial communities in lakes, streams, and soils influenced by the dispersal from local water flow? 3) How are the shifts in microbial community composition related to shifts in environmental conditions over time such as those caused by climate change?
Stanley Skotnicki
Teacher

Organization
Cheektowaga Central Middle School
Cheektowaga, NY
United States
Dates:
16 June 2016 to 21 July 2016
Location:
Cherskiy, Russia at the Northeast Scientific Station
What Are They Doing?
The goal of our project is to understand how terrestrial ecosystems influence permafrost temperatures. There are places in the Arctic where climate is warming but permafrost temperatures are stable, while at other places permafrost temperatures are rising rapidly with climate. Soil and vegetation that sit on top of permafrost can either promote heat transfer or act as insulators. Our project will use field measurements at research sites throughout Alaska and Siberia to identify broad trends in relationships between ecosystems and permafrost temperature dynamics. At research sites in Siberia we will make detailed measurements to identify the processes responsible for these trends. This work will help to understand the effects of Arctic vegetation change on permafrost temperatures.
Sandra Thornton
Teacher

Organization
Broadwater Academy
Exmore, VA
United States
Dates:
29 June 2016 to 12 August 2016
Location:
USCGC Healy, Northern Chukchi Sea
What Are They Doing?
The Arctic Ocean is one of the most remote locations on Earth and the area where the impact of climate change may be most strongly expressed. In the Chukchi Borderlands (CBL) area, water masses from the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet and interact over tremendously complex bottom topography, creating intricate currents and sea ice drifts. It is also the region of the most dramatic summer sea ice meltdown in the last decades. This project is a multi-disciplinary group effort to explore marine communities from microbes to mammals and from sea ice to seafloor in this poorly known, bathymetrically and hydrographically complex Arctic region. We will use a combination of photographic mapping using ROV, physical sampling, and state-of-the-art metagenomics to assess the diversity of this region. Field work involves a ~30-day icebreaker cruise in the summer of 2016, with use of the ROV Global Explorer that provides unique opportunities to capture fragile pelagic organisms and observe...
Ivy McDaniel
Teacher

Organization
Golder College Prep
Chicago, IL
United States
Dates:
30 June 2016 to 24 July 2016
Location:
Toolik Field Station, AK
What Are They Doing?
**Team Announcement: Due to unexpected circumstances, Ivy McDaniel will not be going to the field this season with the research team.** Tremendous stores of organic carbon frozen in permafrost soils have the potential to greatly increase the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Permafrost soils may thaw sporadically and melting ground ice can cause land-surface sinking called "thermokarst failures". These failures change the rate and amount of carbon released with the unanticipated outcome being that soil carbon can be mixed-up from a depth and exposed to sunlight as the land surface is altered. Sunlight can photo-degrade or break-down organic carbon and alter the carbon's ability to support bacterial respiration to produce carbon dioxide. Whether sunlight and UV exposure will enhance or retard the conversion of newly exposed carbon to carbon dioxide is currently unknown—this study is providing the first evidence that this alteration will be amplified by photochemical...
Karen Temple- Beamish
Teacher

Organization
Albuquerque Academy
Albuquerque, NM
United States
Dates:
24 July 2016 to 16 August 2016
Location:
Approximately 8 miles off the Parks highway, near 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, permafrost, ecosystems play a key role in the carbon cycle because the cold, moist, and frozen soils trap organic material and slow their decomposition. This very slowly decaying organic material has caused carbon to build up in the Arctic during the past thousands of years. Historically, the tundra has stored large amounts of carbon because soil decomposition in permafrost was very slow. Now, warming in the Arctic is causing the permafrost to thaw and the tundra to become warmer and dryer. As the earth warms and permafrost thaws, this previously frozen carbon is released as carbon dioxide and goes into the atmosphere, turning the tundra into a source of carbon, rather than a sink. We are using carbon isotope techniques to measure how much carbon comes directly from soil decomposition and how much comes from plant respiration. This will help us...
Nell Kemp
Teacher

Organization
Lindblom Math & Science Academy
Chicago, IL
United States
Dates:
12 August 2016 to 6 September 2016
Location:
Toolik Field Station, Alaska (and Healy, Alaska)
What Are They Doing?
Below the surface of arctic tundra is a matrix of soil, roots, and fungal hyphae that may play a critical role in the trajectory of future climate change. For millennia arctic plants have persisted in cold, wet, and shallow soils underlain with permafrost, permanently frozen ground, in many regions of the Arctic. However, with unprecedented warming in the last century, these plants may see the amelioration of their harsh, belowground environment. With a warming climate, the depths to which permafrost soils thaw each summer increase, potentially providing greater access to drier and more nutrient rich soil resources. Yet, whether arctic plants and their obligate, fungal root-symbionts have the capacity to respond rapidly and exploit soil resources as frozen, high-latitude soils thaw is unknown. Our research investigates the opportunistic capacity of arctic plants and their fungal symbionts to explore a newly available soil environment. Our goal is to uncover the role that the...
Cara Pekarcik
Teacher

Organization
North Quincy High School
Quincy, MA
United States
Dates:
1 September 2016 to 17 October 2016
Location:
Western Antarctic Peninsula, aboard the R/V Palmer
What Are They Doing?
This project focuses on an important group of photosynthetic algae in the Southern Ocean (SO), diatoms, and the roles associated bacterial communities play in modulating their growth. Diatom growth fuels the food web in the SO and balances atmospheric carbon dioxide by sequestering the carbon used for growth to the deep ocean on long time scales as cells sink below the surface. The diatom growth is limited by the available iron in the seawater, most of which is not freely available to the diatoms but instead is tightly bound to other compounds. The nature of these compounds and how phytoplankton acquire iron from them is critical to understanding productivity in this region and globally. The investigators will conduct experiments to characterize the relationship between diatoms, their associated bacteria, and iron in open ocean and inshore waters. Experiments will involve supplying nutrients at varying nutrient ratios to natural phytoplankton assemblages to determine how diatoms and...
David Thesenga
Teacher

Organization
Timberline PK-8
Longmont, CO
United States
Dates:
30 September 2016 to 26 November 2016
Location:
McMurdo Station, Antarctica
What Are They Doing?
The objective of our project is to understand the behavior of the McMurdo Shear Zone (SZ) in Antarctica through a four year integrated study involving field observation, satellite remote sensing, and numerical modeling. The SZ is a section of heavily crevassed ice that separates the slow-moving McMurdo Ice Shelf (MIS) from the larger fast-flowing Ross Ice Shelf (RIS). Previous mapping of crevasses in the SZ indicates the potential for unstable behavior. Our project will carry out GPS surveys to study the surface deformation across the SZ and Ground Penetrating Radar surveys (GPR) to obtain detailed maps of crevasse extent and orientation. Because the shear zone is intensely crevassed, and hence dangerous for surface travel, we will perform the GPR surveys using an autonomous robot. The field observations will be used to develop a numerical model of the shear zone’s behavior and simulate future scenarios of its influence on ice shelf stability. The SZ provides a critical amount...
Timothy Dwyer
Teacher

Organization
Spring Street International School
Friday Harbor, WA
United States
Dates:
1 October 2016 to 4 December 2016
Location:
McMurdo Station, Antarctica
What Are They Doing?
Since the first expeditions to the poles, scientists have compiled a long list of polar taxa that have unusually large body sizes. This phenomenon is known as polar gigantism, and biologists have proposed many hypotheses to explain it. The most broadly-accepted idea is the ‘oxygen hypothesis,’ which states that polar gigantism stems from a combination of high oxygen availability in the ocean and low metabolic rates because of the extreme cold temperatures. In combination, these two factors are thought to allow animals to be giants by making it comparatively easy to get enough oxygen from the environment to support large bodies. The links between body size, environmental oxygen availability, and performance have been used to argue that as marine and aquatic environments warm, giants will be among the first to disappear. We are looking at these tradeoffs and the validity of the size-vulnerability hypothesis using Antarctic pycnogonids (sea spiders), which contain spectacular examples...
Maggie Kane
Teacher

Organization
Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning
Denver, CO
United States
Dates:
23 October 2016 to 18 November 2016
Location:
Punta Arenas, Chile and airborne over Antarctica
What Are They Doing?
IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever conducted. IceBridge uses a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated science instruments ever assembled to characterize yearly changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic. The research team will experience first-hand the excitement of flying a large research aircraft over the Greenland Ice Sheet. While in the air they will record data on the thickness, depth, and movement of ice features, resulting in an unprecedented three-dimensional view of ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice. Operation IceBridge began in 2009 to bridge the gap in data collection after NASA's ICESat satellite stopped functioning and when the ICESat-2 satellite becomes operational in 2016, making IceBridge critical for ensuring a continuous series of observations of polar ice. IceBridge flies over the Arctic and Antarctic every year — in the Arctic...
Kate Miller
Teacher

Organization
Washington-Lee High School
Arlington, VA
United States
Dates:
24 December 2016 to 1 February 2017
Location:
South Pole, Antarctica
What Are They Doing?
How do you find something that isn't directly visible? That's the challenge faced by the team who developed the IceCube neutrino detector under the ice at the South Pole. Just as X-rays allow us to see bone fractures, and MRIs help doctors find damage to soft tissue, neutrinos will reveal new information about the universe that can't be seen directly. The in-ice particle detector at the South Pole records the interactions of neutrinos which are nearly massless sub-atomic messenger particles. Neutrinos are incredibly common (about 100 trillion pass through your body as you read this) subatomic particles that have no electric charge and almost no mass. They are created by radioactive decay and nuclear reactions, such as those in the sun and other stars. Neutrinos rarely react with other particles; in fact, most of them pass through objects (like the earth) without any interaction. This makes them ideal for carrying information from distant parts of the universe, but it also makes them...
Joshua Heward
Teacher

Organization
Timpanogos High School
Orem, UT
United States
Dates:
26 December 2016 to 12 February 2017
Location:
McMurdo Station and Dry Valleys, Antarctica
What Are They Doing?
The McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-Term Ecological Research (MCM LTER) Program is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary study of the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in an ice-free region of Antarctica. MCM joined the National Science Foundation's LTER Network in 1993 and is funded through the Office of Polar Programs in six year funding periods. The McMurdo Dry Valleys (77°30'S 163°00'E) on the shore of McMurdo Sound, 2,200 miles (3,500 km) due south of New Zealand, form the largest relatively ice-free area (approximately 4,800 sq km) on the Antarctic continent. These ice-free areas of Antarctica display a sharp contrast to most other ecosystems in the world, which exist under far more moderate environmental conditions. The perennially ice-covered lakes, ephemeral streams and extensive areas of exposed soil within the McMurdo Dry Valleys are subject to low temperatures, limited precipitation and salt accumulation. The dry valleys represent a region where life approaches its...
Eric Thuma
Teacher

Organization
Stoney Creek High School
Rochester Hills, MI
United States
Dates:
30 December 2016 to 26 January 2017
Location:
McMurdo Station and Amundsen-Scott Station, Antarctica
What Are They Doing?
Neutron monitors are used to study cosmic rays, and indirectly the sun, which occasionally undergoes solar storms that produce bursts of energetic particles. We are interested in learning more about the energy range and abundance of the particles produced in these events, which is important for understanding how to protect electronics and the electrical grid from extreme space weather events. The McMurdo deployment will involve dismantling two neutron monitors and if possible, the South Pole deployment will be to perform routine maintenance.