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Antarctica's coldest, darkest season draws Montana State University researchers
Date:3/10/2008

BOZEMAN, Mont. -- John Priscu normally works in Antarctica during its warmest and longest days. He usually shares the continent with scientists from all over the world.

This year is different.

The Montana State University scientist with an international reputation for polar research is spending his 24th season in Antarctica with no other researchers except the 17 members of his team. They're there for 2 1/2 months at the beginning of the coldest and darkest part of the year. During Antarctica's winter -- also called the "Polar Night" -- daylight disappears completely and temperatures can reach minus-55 degrees F.

He was looking forward to it, Priscu said before leaving Bozeman in January. He had been planning the trip for nine years and said it is vital.

He wants to get a more complete picture of what's happening in the lakes and liquid water that exist under Antarctica's glaciers, Priscu said. That's why he asked the National Science Foundation, which funds his research, if he could go at a different time of year. Spending a couple of months in Antarctica at the same time every year for decades is invaluable, but not good enough.

"Antarctica doesn't stop in the winter," Priscu said.

Priscu's team is working on several research projects, one of which is aimed at better understanding how microorganisms adapt to the loss of light. The researchers know that microbes stop converting sunlight into energy and start consuming organic carbon in the dark, but they want to learn more. The answers relate to global warming and carbon balance, Priscu said.

Priscu typically goes to Antarctica in October and returns in December. This year, he and Barbara Vaughn left Bozeman on Jan. 29 to get married in New Zealand. After their Feb. 5 wedding and a week-long honeymoon, Vaughn returned to Bozeman and Priscu continued on to Antarctica to join some of his team members already in Antarctica. This year's team includes
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Contact: Evelyn Boswell
evelynb@montana.edu
406-994-5135
Montana State University
Source:Eurekalert

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