Antarctic research data and what it means

Kaleia Lawrence, Editor in Chief

Antarctica is breaking records, and not in a good way.  

On March 18, a research station recorded a 70 degree Fahrenheit temperature which is much warmer than normal. Some scientists even called it a new world record, though that exact data isn’t tracked by the World Meteorological Organization.   

Shortly after this shocking data came out, members of the Antarctica Weather Station group visited Madison College. During their visit in the STEM Center, they talked about what the numbers mean and more about the icy continent. 

While the jump in temperature might be dramatic, it’s not exactly clear what it means yet. 

“It doesn’t necessarily, immediately mean like, oh, this is climate change. That’s not, unfortunately, how it works,” said Lee Welhouse, Instrument Technician with the Antarctica Weather Station group. 

“If it was that easy, that would be really nice for researchers. But it takes time, it takes effort, it takes understanding how and why these things are happening.” 

Though the exact cause of the warming event might not be determined yet, some effects are likely to follow.  

Doctor Matthew Lazzara is a teacher and department chair of physical sciences at Madison College. He’s also part-time senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the Space Science and Engineering Center and a part of a group that’s known as the Antarctic Meteorological Research Data Center.  

Lazzara said that the changes this will cause to glaciers and ice can be worrisome. With the heat causing ice to melt quicker, ocean and sea levels would rise in a similar fashion.  

“There’s some concern there, you know, but we’re still learning about it,” said Lazzara.  

Madison College is playing a role in learning more about Antarctica in a couple different ways. 

The Antarctic Meteorological Research Data Center is a joint effort between the college and UW. Part of this project is “building a digital library for Antarctic meteorological data”, as Lazzara put it. This means getting logical data about findings there compiled into one spot online. Other scientists could even add their findings to it.  

Another project is the new electronic core for weather stations in Antarctica, housed near the faculty parking lot. This helps with making quality measurements at the climate level. It features a first-of-its-kind onboard calibration system for temperature observations, according to the Madison College website. 

Money for this project came in the form of a grant from the National Science Foundation Awards. An institution can submit three proposals a year, and Lazzara’s first try brought the grant to college. 

So far, about a dozen students have worked on the project in the past five or six years. At least three students got deployed to Antarctica with the project.  

“The goal wasn’t to have students be trained to become electronic Antarctic persons or meteorology people who would be polar experts,” said Lazzara. “The goal is to give them an Antarctic experience so that they would have a heads up on their resumes for the jobs that they were pursuing.”  

It’s hard to say exactly what’s in store for Antarctica and how changes will impact the world, but as Lazzara said, “Stay tuned. More will be coming up.”