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By  Amy Macintyre 10 December 2023 4 min read

When a major windstorm with gusts of more than 200 kilometres per hour damaged special air sampling equipment in Antarctica, CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Ann Stavert packed her bags and made the journey to one of the world's most remote research labs to replace it.

The instrumentation is installed on a small red hut affectionately known as ‘Mabel’ by those based at Casey Station, and is used to measure greenhouse gases continuously in a monitoring operation that has been ongoing for more than 30 years. Ann is one of few Australians able to get the research up and running again.

As well as providing this important service for research, Ann made the trip doubly valuable by taking some time to connect via a live video cross with her six-year-old daughter and more than 500 of her peers at an Illawarra based public school to share with them what it is like working as a scientist in Antarctica.

Connecting students to science in the field

Despite a physical separation of more than 4000 kilometres, Ann was able to connect directly with the school’s specialist STEM teacher, Lisa Macdonald, while all students from kindergarten to year six watched on for one of the ‘coolest’ Microsoft Teams meetings on offer.

For half an hour the students learned about life at Casey Station including what they wear to stay warm, how they get food, what local wildlife can be found, and about the number of occupations that play an important role on site.

Ann shared about her work measuring carbon dioxide  (“the air we breathe out”) and methane (“cow burps”), among other gases found in Antarctic air samples. She explained that CSIRO measure the air in two ways at Casey. They have an instrument that makes continuous measurements, and also fortnightly air samples are collected in flasks to be sent back to a lab in Melbourne for analysing for many other gases. The findings are shared with the international science community to observe how the earth’s atmosphere is changing over time.

A short, pre-recorded video took the students on an outdoor tour of the station site including Mabel Hut, the endemic moss known as the ‘rainforest of Antarctica’ and the surrounding icy landscapes.

This was followed by an enthusiastic question time kicked off by Ann’s own daughter. Students of all ages asked questions ranging from the current temperature in Antarctica (a mild -1 degrees), to how Ann was able to secure an internet connection, and whether she had seen an aurora.

Long-lasting learning impact

School teacher Lisa said the experience created a memorable and impactful learning opportunity, leaving a lasting impression on students and encouraging a sustained interest in science.

“The live stream provided inspiration and motivation for students to pursue careers in STEM fields, offering a firsthand look at the exciting possibilities and impact of scientific research.  

“Many of them went back to their classrooms and wrote about what they would like to do in Antarctica in the future – a scientist, a sparky or a chef! It broadened students' career horizons by introducing them to a less common but fascinating career path.

 "This unique encounter not only broadened our students' career horizons but also showcased the power of real-world connections in shaping their educational journeys. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Ann Stavert for sharing her expertise and passion, making this an unforgettable experience for our entire school community.

CSIRO STEM Professionals in Schools 

Ann and Lisa were introduced through CSIRO’s STEM Professionals in Schools program, which connects teachers all around Australia with professionals like Ann working in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields in order to bring real world STEM to the classroom.

In this case, Ann dialled in from a remarkable location, but Lisa says the benefit lies in the collaboration between educators and STEM professionals regardless of their location.

“As a teacher, partnering with ‘STEM Professionals in Schools’ proves highly advantageous. This collaboration enriches teaching resources, offers valuable networking opportunities, and supports engaging project-based learning initiatives.

“The presence of STEM professionals not only inspires students by providing motivational role models but also encourages collaborative efforts among teachers from different disciplines.  

“It enhances community engagement and showcases our school's dedication to preparing students for future STEM careers and establishing a meaningful bridge between our educational setting and the professional world."

Thirty minutes well spent

From Ann’s perspective, the live cross was a worthwhile way to spend a small part of her day, adding more to the variety of things she finds herself doing as part of her job.

“Every day is a little bit different, and I do everything from writing computer code to process and analyse data, to talking to other scientists about what the data is telling us, to tinkering in a remote location with a spanner. I love the combination of skills required – research, logic and practical hands-on work."

The trip was Ann’s fifth to Antarctica, and she considered the live video chat with the school a great opportunity to show her daughter and her friends why the travel and the research is so important.

“Science is interesting, and challenging, and important! We need to encourage our kids to study it because the world is changing and we will need future scientists, engineers and mathematicians to help us understand it, and how to best live in it."

This article is republished from Education Today. Read the original article.

Welcome to Antarctica and welcome to Mable Hut, where we measure greenhouse gases.

Situated on the top of a small hill, just behind Casey Station, Mabel hut is on the edge of Antarctica.

Behind the Hut there's ice, rock and snow all the way to the South Pole.

And in front of the Hut the station, and then ocean all the way to Australia.

CSIRO, which is the government science body, collects air from above Marble Hut. From these intake cups, the air travels down the tubes and into the Hut.

Once inside the lab, air comes down through the black tubing via a valve and into the instrument in the grey box.

This is a laser based instrument which measures methane and CO2 every 2 1/2 seconds.

Scientists like me can log on remotely to collect the data to help us learn about the air and the atmosphere and how it's changing.

What am I doing here? Well, I'm here to fix the grey box, which unfortunately has developed a leak.

Now I'm only here for a week and a bit, but there's a team from the viewer of meteorology who are here the whole year, and every two weeks they put on their snow boots.

They climb up the hill, even in the pitch black in the middle of winter because there's no sunshine here. All day and winter they climb up that hill and they fill one of these.

This is a glass flask. Now the team uses the flask pump unit, which is this blue box, to fill this up with air, and they're sent back to Melbourne to the central laboratory where we measure them for a whole bunch of gases.

Not just methane, not just CO2, but all sorts of other interesting gases that tell us more about the atmosphere and how it's changing.

So while I'm here at Casey, I have one other big job. See that silver mast on the side of the Hut?

Well, it used to be about four times higher, almost 10 metres tall.

But a month and a half ago there was a massive storm at Casey. The winds were over 200 kilometres per hour and it lasted for 10 hours. And in that storm, our mast snapped in half.

So while I'm here, I'm going to be installing a new mast.

While I'm down here kneeling on the freezing cold rocks, I want to show you something really cool.

Nowhere else on the Antarctic are there plants that grow.

Here at Casey they have what they call the rainforest of the Antarctic.

Tiny little moss plants. Now these are all around Mabel Hut.

I'll have to be really careful when I might be visiting not to squash the moss or the biologists get really grumpy at me.

I hope you found that interesting.

Now I'm going to be here for a while, so if you have any questions just ask.

Dr Ann Stavert offers a tour in Antarctica of Mabel hut and its surrounds

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