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December 1998

Students join ACD at the South Pole via the Web

Thanks to the initiative of ACD scientist Lee Mauldin, K-12 students around the world will be able to join in the excitement of a six-week field study at the South Pole's new Clean Air Facility. Lee is one of four NCAR staff stationed at the Pole from early November through mid-December for the Investigation of Sulfur Chemistry in the Antarctic Troposphere (ISCAT) project. While there, Lee is maintaining a Web site with frequent updates and kid-friendly language explaining the science, geography, and logistics behind a South Pole expedition. See the Web site.

"To me it's a neat thing just to be able to go [to the Pole]," says Lee. He envisions the Web site as a "virtual field trip." Lee's posting include a link to his electronic mailbox. "Hopefully we can get some input from schools and answer their questions by e-mail," he says. The site also features photos taken by Lee with a digital camera. The 13 November installment, "Live (Almost) from the South Pole," tells of the group's arrival in Christchurch, New Zealand, en route to the research site. It also details the long list of clothes needed for the Pole, despite its 24-hour sunshine this time of year.

The goal of ISCAT is to study sulfate chemistry at the Pole, a site where many variables can be controlled. There are few human influences on atmospheric chemistry and no local sources of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) or sulfur dioxide (SO2), the two primary sources of airborne sulfur. At the Pole's elevation of nearly two miles (three kilometers), air that routinely sinks to ground level produces an uncommonly clean atmosphere similar to that found higher up. This, according to the project proposal, "provides many of the benefits of an aircraft study with the much lower cost and long measurement times of a ground-based campaign."

Joining Lee on the NSF-supported experiment are ACD coinvestigator Fred Eisele, scientist Dave Tanner, and technician Ed Kosciuch. NCAR's team will accompany researchers from Drexel University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as instrumentation from the University of Minnesota (UM). As part of the round-the-clock measurements, NCAR will sample DMS and SO2; the hydroxyl radical (OH), in a more stable setting than usual; a variety of other chemicals; and particulates in the size range of 15 to 400 nanometers. Since ISCAT is studying the early stages of sulfate formation, even smaller particles of 3 to 4 nanometers--consisting of only about 100 molecules each--will be measured with a state-of-the-art ultrafine particle instrument built and operated by UM.

This fall's field work is the first of two rounds scheduled for the four-year ISCAT program. The second field phase will take place in the fall of 2000 and will be keyed to answering questions that arise from this year's sampling. Years two and four will be devoted to data analysis.

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu

Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall