Norfolk pupils to help Antarctic study

Learning about Captain Scott and his explorations from books was all very well for a group of Norwich school children, but it can't compare to having their own Antarctic adventurers to talk about.

Learning about Captain Scott and his explorations from books was all very well for a group of Norwich school-children, but it cannot compare with having their own Antarctic adventurers to talk about.

Scientists at UEA are involved in a project which aims partly to predict food availability for some of our best-loved marine creatures and partly to improve models of our future climate.

They plan to release freely-drifting instruments into the waters of the Antarctic, without knowing for sure where they will go.

But, unlike a desert island castaway's message in a bottle, the scientists will be able to follow the paths of these instruments daily, as they are swept along and swirled around by ocean currents and by eddies - the ocean's equivalent of weather systems.

And children from Avenue Middle School, who met the scientists yesterday, will be able to follow their progress from the safety of their classrooms.

Juris Zarins, headteacher, said: "It was just coincidence that we happened to be working on the Antarctic as part of a Year 4 project when we got to hear about the scientists' project.

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"For us there will be several things of interest: there will be regular links to what is going on in Antarctica; and the scientists will be putting things on the web and also we will be able to e-mail them and they can e-mail us back, so there will be a daily IT element which, with our interactive whiteboard, all the children will be able to see.

"On top of that, we will also be able to adopt one of the trackers. It makes something that was just a classroom exercise become a real issue with modern-day scientists.

"They have learnt about past explorers such as Scott but this brings it into the present."

Prof Karen Heywood, of UEA's School of Environmental Sciences, is leading the project and plans to deploy 40 of the drifters at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

"We think that some might escape west from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific Ocean; others might follow the steep continental slope, far below them. But who knows?"

Part of the reason for the scientists' interest in these currents is biological.

Krill, the shrimps of the Southern Ocean, are the main food source for all the other ocean creatures.

If their numbers drop, so do the numbers of whales, fish and penguins.

Together with setting the drifters off on their ocean odyssey, UEA scientists will be measuring water properties around the Antarctic Peninsula such as temperature and saltiness.

Chemical measurements will show where the water has originated, with the possibility that some of this water has been released from Antarctica's ice sheets during summer melting.

Determining where melting occurs and how it influences the water and ecosystem surrounding Antarctica is one key goal of the International Polar Year.

During the year, scientists from many nations will make similar measurements around the coast of Antarctica to better understand processes, such as ice sheet melting, that are not currently included in climate models.

This will lead to better predictions of future climate.