What Are They Doing?

Automatic Geophysical Observatories (AGOs)Automatic Geophysical Observatories (AGOs) The purpose of the project was to monitor "space weather." Space weather encompasses phenomena that take place a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth. This includes the ionosphere, the magnetic fields of the Earth and Sun, the northern and southern lights, and the solar wind. A high-latitude location (either north or south polar regions) is ideal for such monitoring because in these regions the field lines of the Earth's magnetic field become almost perpendicular to the Earth.

To do this, scientists created Automatic Geophysical Observatories (AGOs) that are active at five locations established across the Antarctic Plateau that house nearly identical instruments measuring atmospheric weather conditions. During their stay, the team made sure all of the different instruments were working properly and collecting reliable data. Supporting these observatories is crucial to the study of interactions between the magnetic fields of the Sun and of the Earth. Learning more can help us understand the potential disturbances in these fields that can disrupt radio communications or our power systems, and even take out satellites that orbit close to Earth.

Where Are They?

AGO Site in AntarcticaAGO Site in Antarctica The team first flew to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica – the southernmost continually inhabited place on the planet. They then flew on to remote field observatories on the Antarctic Plateau using a small fixed-wing aircraft. They made a landing on an unprepared snow surface and set up camp for several weeks. They had to deal with seasonal temperatures of approximately -20 F and worked at an altitude of close to 11,000 ft!

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 12 November 2012 to 22 December 2012
Location: South Pole Station and remote field sites on the Antarctic Plateau, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: The Polar Experiment Network for Geospace Upper atmosphere Investigations project (PENGUIn)


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Meet the Team

Tim Spuck's picture
Oil City Area High School
Oil City, PA
United States

Tim Spuck teaches Earth & Space Sciences at Oil City Area Sr. High School in Oil City, PA, and has served as the District’s K-12 Science Department Chair. Recently he completed an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship with the National Science Foundation’s Division of Graduate Education's GK-12 STEM Fellows Program. Over the years he has also taught courses at the undergraduate level, lead many teacher training programs throughout the US and abroad, and is currently pursuing his D. Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction at West Virginia University. For the past 20 years Tim has worked to engage his students in authentic science research, and those students have been recognized throughout the scientific community for their discoveries and contributions to astronomy. Tim’s contributions in education have been recognized through numerous awards including the Einstein Fellowship, American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics Educator Achievement Award, Tandy Technology Scholars Award, the Pennsylvania Christa McAuliffe Fellowship, and the Kevin Burns Outstanding Science Teacher Award. Although his primary focus over the past 20 years has been astronomy education and the development and support of partnerships between STEM researchers and educators, he maintains a strong interest in a wide variety of STEM areas.

Robert Melville's picture
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ
United States

Bob Melville did his undergraduate training at the University of Delaware and went on to finish a Ph.D. in Engineering at Cornell. He worked at Bell Labs and then taught electrical engineering at Columbia University before joining the United States Antarctic Program in 2004. He is currently employed by the New Jersey Institute of Technology as a staff engineer to support geophysical research in Antarctica. Bob was a member of the 2005-2006 winter-over crew at the South Pole. He is also an extra-class amateur radio operator WB3EFT.

Andrew Gerrard's picture
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ
United States

Andrew Gerrard is a Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and Deputy Director of the Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research. He received his BS in physics from the State University of New York at Geneseo in 1996 and his MS and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University in 1998 and 2002, respectively. His current research interests include remote sensing of the middle and upper atmosphere, atmospheric and magnetospheric dynamics, and synoptic observations of coupled systems.

Andrew Stillinger's picture
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ
United States

Andy Stillinger is currently employed as a staff engineer for NJIT in support of geophysical research in Antarctica. Andy has done two tours with the USAP working on the Automatic Geophysical Observatories and will return to the Ice for 2011-2012 season.

Alan Weatherwax's picture
Siena College
Loudonville, NY
United States

Professor Weatherwax is an internationally recognized authority on the interaction of planetary and terrestrial radio emissions, both natural and man-made, with space environment. At present, and together with his research team of students and engineers, he directs optical, radio, and magnetic experiments in Antarctica, Canada, and Greenland. The Weatherwax Glacier in Antarctica is named in his honor to recognize his research efforts on that continent.