Antarctic Neutron Monitors For Solar Study


Teacher Ric Thuma and Dr. Madsen will be hosting several PolarConnect events over the duration of their stay in McMurdo, Antarctica. For more information and to register, fill out this form.

What Are They Doing?

The circuit board of the cosmic ray detector. Photo by Juan Botella.The circuit board of the cosmic ray detector. Photo by Juan Botella. 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.

Where Are They?

McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Tim Spuck.McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Tim Spuck. We will be staying at McMurdo station, and working at the CosRay building, which is a short hike from the station, just beyond Observation Hill. The neutron monitor project is the longest continuously running experiment in Antarctica. The neutron monitors will be reassembled and continue operating at the Korean Antarctic base Jang Bogo. One neutron monitor station formally at CosRay was redeployed at Jang Bogo in December 2015 so this project will maintain a continuous data record in Antarctica starting in 1961.

Expedition Map


Saying goodbye to McMurdo Well, I arrived home just in time for my little girl's birthday. I got in at 7:30 PM last night and got to sleep by midnight. I hit the ground running at 5:30 this morning. I'm not too jet lagged, so back to real life. I have forms to fill out and exams to give. I've got to start cooking my meals and being a teacher and dad again. There are lots of things that I missed so it's good to be home. But I don't think I'm being hyperbolic when I say that my visit to Antarctica changed my life. I will always remember it and I thank everyone who made it possible. Now I will...
McMurdo from above. IF the weather cooperates this will be my last day in McMurdo (and that is a big if). I am scheduled to bag drag tonight and then begin the long trek home tomorrow, as long as Antartica cooperates. I've absolutely got mixed feelings. This place is beautiful but it is harsh. The people are great but I miss my family. I've learned a lot but it's been hard work. I guess I'm ready to go home but I wish I could make it back someday. That is a very doubtful prospect though because very few people ever make it here. I hope I made the best of the experience. Clouds act weird here...
Original 12
Nations with regular operations in Antartica are bound by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. The 12 original nations to adopt the Antarctic treaty were Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan, South Africa, and Belgium, but the number who have adopted the treaty has grown to 53. It is a symbol of international cooperation that is unparalleled and its influence can clearly be seen in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.Flags of the first 12 nations to sign the Antarctic Treaty. Some important provisions of the Treaty are...
Today I got to spend part of the day in the McMurdo Ice Sheet. This was really my first time in the field, most of my responsibilities have been on Station so far so this was a real treat.This is near the transition zone. There were better pictures showing pressure ridges but none of those showed off my beard. My visit was courtesy of Dr. Doug MacAyeal. Doug is a glaciologist who has been studying the ice for 40 years. He is currently investigating the way in which the ice cracks. This is not well studied in Antartica but is very important because it goes directly into the stability of the...
The Wormherders in the Dry Valleys.
Yesterday, I got the chance to meet a bunch of extraordinary scientists. I was thrilled with the result, I had the privilege to sit down briefly with Diana Wall and Ross Virginia. They had to bag drag that day so they gave me a few minutes and then introduced me to the other members of their team. But I do want to let you know why I was so excited to talk with them. These two scientists were the founders of The McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-Term Ecological Research (MCM LTER) Program. The Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network was created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1980 to...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

30 December 2016 to 26 January 2017
Location: McMurdo Station and Amundsen-Scott Station, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: Collaborative Research: Neutron Monitor Observations of Cosmic Rays from Jang Bogo and McMurdo and Collaborative Research: Element Composition of High Energy Solar Particles

Meet the Team

Eric Thuma's picture
Stoney Creek High School
Rochester Hills, MI
United States

Eric Thuma has been teaching in Rochester, Michigan for 19 years. He has had the pleasure of teaching physics, astronomy, and geology during that time. Eric has also been teaching Astronomy at Macomb Community College since 2014. He graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in astrophysics and holds Master’s degrees in Education and Astronomy. Recently, he has worked as an educator researcher for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. His enthusiasm for sharing research with students is what has led him to seek out the PolarTREC experience.

Jim Madsen's picture
University of Wisconsin River Falls
River Falls, WI
United States

Dr. Madsen is the chair of the Physics Department at UW-River Falls and Associate Director of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory where he directs the education and outreach program. His research interests include heliophysics and astrophysics, which he has studied at his various projects in Antarctica. In addition to research, Dr. Madsen is committed to reaching a broad audience beyond the research community. He is involved in education and outreach for the IceCube project including professional development courses for teachers and science and math instruction for the UWRF Upward Bound Program. He collaborates with a number of programs and institutions in addition to PolarTREC, including the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, UW-River Falls Upward Bound and McNair Programs, and service groups (Rotary International, Boy and Girl Scouts, university alumni associations, etc.). You can read more about Dr. Madsen's work here and here.

"Working in Antarctica is a wonderful adventure, and it is great to provide opportunities for others to have this awesome experience."

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Latest Comments

Eric, Nice job explaining how the detectors and the researchers know what is a real neutrino and what is a false positive. Good work. Mike in Pittsburgh
Great question. There are lots of things that address this. The detectors are optimized for the wavelengths produced by neutrino interactions. The thickness of the ice also affords a great deal of...
Agreed but at least the Antarctic treaty is a start. I got the ball rolling and really set the stage for things like the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Hopefully, nations will be able to continue to...
Well my project involved direct collaboration with South Korean Researchers. We were moving the CoRay neutron monitors to a South Korean station called Jang Bogo.
I met folks from New Zealand, Belgium, South Korea, Germany, England, and a few others.