This summer, students and teachers from around the world will have the opportunity to be among the first to communicate via e-mail with a scientific expedition to the arctic. Organic geochemist Ken Anderson of the U.S.Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory will be one of six researchers traveling to Axel Heiberg Island in the far northern Canadian arctic in July. The research site lies between the magnetic north pole and the geographic north pole, at about 80 degrees north--so far on top of the world, Anderson said, that compasses therepoint southwest.
Anderson will maintain contact with Argonne via satellite link, conditions permitting, to transfer data and images collected from the site. He will also be able to send and receive e-mail via satellite link. Theoretically, Anderson said, communicating from the arctic location should work, but no one has ever done it with portable equipment from this far north.
"The satellite is located one degree above the horizon," he said. "Just a little further north and you're out of satellite range. Once I can get to the satellite, I should be able to get to anywhere in the world." The group will leave for Canada on July 6 and spend approximately two and a half weeks at the site, which experiences daylight 24 hours a day. Temperatures will range from about 32 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using e-mail from the site was orginally intended only for transmitting data back to Argonne. Anderson's wife suggested that family members back in his native Australia would enjoy receiving e-mail from the arctic. "From there, I got the idea to involve students," Anderson said. "Going on the expedition is too good an opportunity to pass up and too good not to share." Students and teachers interested in trying to contact Anderson should call Donna Jones Pelkie at (630) 252-5501 at Argonne for more information and instructions.
Anderson said he will try to answer all the e-mail he receives. However, if that
becomes impossible, updates will be posted--conditions permitting--on the
World Wide Web home page of Argonne's Division of Educational Programs at http://www.
Anderson's research focuses on how plant matter--leaves, bark, wood, and resin--is converted into coal. The trip will offer him a unique opportunity to collect samples of individual plant tissues that were preserved before they could decompose and mix with different specimens. Researchers also hope to study the site's geology and sediment to learn why these fossils are so well preserved. "There had to be something there at the time that was preserving things as they fell," Anderson said.
The expedition is funded by the Carnegie-Mellon Foundation. Anderson's research is funded through DOE's Office Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Chemical sciences.