Antarctica is the coldest, driest place on Earth with a fairly limited number of native species which have adapted to these extreme conditions over millions of years. As a result, it's not very likely that a non-native species would survive there . . . right? Actually ever since exploration and exploitation of the Antarctic region began in the 1800's, new species have been showing up, mostly brought in by accident, but some were brought in intentionally. PolarTREC teacher Mike LeBaron worked with the WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) Project, to see how a new, totally unexplored ecosystem, subglacial Lake Whillans, was being drilled into and explored for the very first time. Keeping that sub-glacial ecosystem "clean" while at the same time learning about the possible life forms in it was a major objective of the project. In this lesson students will gain an understanding of the impacts of invasive species and discuss the value of keeping the subglacial lake environment unchanged as a result of human activities.
When they complete this lesson, students should be able to:
This lesson is intended for High School students, but can be altered or simplified for younger students. This lesson will cover elements of Earth Science, Biology, and ethics. Students will be reviewing multiple sources of data and developing their own understanding from that data. In preparation it will be useful if students have some basic understanding of ecology, invasive species, glacial processes, and evolutionary change in simple organisms (Note – these concepts are not addressed directly by this lesson).
This activity is presented in two parts: Part 1 is focused on understanding the general impact of invasive species. Part 2 will ask students to consider why maintaining subglacial Lake Whillans in an unaltered state is important to both the ecology of that ecosystem and to the scientific objectives of the project.
This lesson has several specific learning objectives. When you are done with Part 1 you should have a good understanding of what a non-native or invasive species is and how they affect ecosystems. If there are words you don't know, keep track of them so you can share questions with other students in your class. You will also be sharing many of your ideas and what you have learned with your classmates as well.
The WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) Project planning took many years. WISSARD was designed to drill through approximately 2500-3000 feet (800 meters) of ice to get into a shallow lake that lies between the rocks that make up the continent of Antarctica and the ice sheet that covers virtually the entire continent (see the links below for a detailed explanation and diagrams). Subglacial Lake Whillans is one of many lakes that exist under the ice of Antarctica. These lakes have been there for many thousands of years and may contain life forms that can only be found in these dark, cold ecosystems! If living organisms do exist in the lakes beneath the ice, they are probably microbes – very simple organisms that consist of only one cell and are related to organisms such as bacteria or viruses. It's not exactly the type of environment where you might think about invasive organisms, but remember even microbes can be invasive (like West Nile Virus), so a big part of the WISSARD Project was keeping foreign invaders out of these subglacial lakes.
There are many online resources that will help you understand about the WISSARD Project. For this lesson you will use the links below to learn about the project and create a picture in your mind (and on paper) of how the project worked to keep foreign organisms out of the lake. As you read through the online materials, look for answers to these questions: • How might planning during the 5+ years before the actual drilling have helped to reduce or eliminate possible contamination? • What was the role of technology in reducing the contamination risk? • What processes did the people doing the drilling and working at the field site use to control contamination? • Could contamination still be introduced into the subglacial lake? If so, how?
Read the following articles (they are all short) and take notes that will let you fully answer the questions above. Remember that you may have to interpret and analyze the information in several different articles to come up with a complete understanding to these questions.
And finally, if you want to watch part of a podcast that explains the project, see Antarctica Day (http://www.polartrec.com/resources/event/antarctica-day-2012-michael-leb...) and listen starting at approximately 34 minutes into the podcast. Take a look at the many other journal articles and the blogs in PolarTREC.com and WISSARD.org for additional information or just to learn about life in Antarctica.
The Scientific Method and Scientific Argument – Students tend to view science as a set of rules or known facts that they are responsible for learning. They rarely understand the nature of science and how scientific data become scientific knowledge. All too often they view the scientific method as a set of well-defined steps that do not change from one type of work to another. They also don't comprehend that scientists argue all the time, not because one person wants to "win", but because discourse and argumentation are how we question what we think we know and ultimately learn and expand our knowledge. This last part is more nearly the real scientific method. The Summer 2013 issue of The Science Teacher (NSTA.org) has a number of good articles and guidelines for helping students understand scientific argument and its place in the Scientific Method (see resources). Based on the information provided in the various resources for the WISSARD Project, students could:
Popular Press - Follow up on the articles that were published in popular press about the WISSARD Project or include these in the student reading. See the listings of publications and resources at:
Antarctic Invasives – Look at what organisms have made the jump from more northern latitudes onto the Antarctic continent, how they got there, and what if anything, is being done to control them.
Teachers may want to asses student work in the data gathering stages of this lesson and then see how they can integrate their findings with those of their classmates through an open discussion. For an overall understanding of what students take away from this lesson, a student lead discussion or Socratic seminar is an excellent tool. Students should be able to identify and discuss the reasons why keeping the subglacial lake environment unchanged is critical to the long term study of this and other similar systems. Their reasoning should be supported by the research they did on invasive species. In a Socratic seminar, each student has a chance to interact in an open forum and is free to express their own opinion and support it with the data they researched or learned about from their fellow students. Ultimately this gives all students the chance to reflect on what they learned. The teacher's role is to keep the discussion on track, ask open-ended "starter" questions if needed, and simply observe. The students direct the overall discussion through their comments and the statements they make to one-another.
Some links to help get a Socratic Seminar discussion started are: * Guidelines for Socratic Seminars: http://nwabr.org/sites/default/files/SocSem.pdf * Chowning, Jeanne Ting, Socratic Seminars in Science Class, The Science Teacher, Vol. 76, No. 7, October, 2009 (available to NSTA members at their web site, NSTA.Org)
Teachers, here are some possible ways to start the discussion if needed. Remember that rather than asking for student opinions, the goal is to encourage well-justified reasoning based on evidence in the text they read or research they have done. Some ideas for discussion questions include:
The WISSARD Project has been over 5 years in the planning and design stage. This is an important (sidelight) element to help students understand – that often the planning for a scientific activity takes much longer than the actual time spent "doing the science". The field setup and equipment testing period at McMurdo Station was about 2 months. After the testing period, the equipment was "traversed" (hauled on sleds by large tractors) 600 miles over the ice to the actual field site over Lake Whillans. Once the equipment was at the field site, the actual drilling and sampling was less than 3 weeks. The samples obtained from Lake Whillans will be used by many different members of the science team for years to come.
The project also relied on many new technologies for the drilling and sample collection. The complexity of the project, the number of people involved, and the logistics of making it all work in the severe environment of Antarctica are difficult for most people to comprehend.
This is an "objective based" lesson. Keep the students focused on the objectives. Here's a quick look at what the main findings for each of the objectives should focus on and discover.
The Socratic Seminar: I hope that you will try the Socratic Seminar if you have not done one before. They can be a truly remarkable experience for both you and your students. They are student centered and let students experience learning through discussion. They can also be a train wreck if the students have not done the background work or simply cannot accept the responsibility of leading themselves through the learning process. As a teacher, your biggest challenge will be to remain distant and intervene only if the discussion drifts off focus or needs new inputs to revitalize it. Your job is to listen and observe. Students may have a hard time with this, but both AP/Honors and regular classes will almost always rise to the challenge and find real enjoyment in the discussion time.
This lesson was developed by PolarTREC teacher Mike LeBaron based on his experiences as a member of the WISSARD team and the objectives of the WISSARD Project. (mlebaron [at] iss.k12.nc.us). Special thanks to Dr. Ross Powell, Northern Illinois University, Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences, DeKalb, Illinois and Susan Kelly, WISSARD Outreach Coordinator, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana.
Common Core Science Standards
• RST.9-10.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.
• RST.9-10.5. Analyze the structure of the relationships among concepts in a text, including relationships among key terms (e.g., force, friction, reaction force).
• RST.11-12.8. Evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science text, verifying the data when possible and corroborating or challenging conclusions with other sources of information.
• RST.9-10.9. Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources (including their own experiments), noting when the findings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.
Next Generation Science Standards • HS.Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems • HS.Earth’s Systems • HS.Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems North Carolina Earth Science Essential Standards • EEn.2.7 – Explain how human activities affect the biosphere • EEn.2.8 – Human behaviors and sustainability