With the assistance of modern technology and local connections to Texas Tech University, fourth-grade students at North Ridge Elementary found themselves experiencing an up close and first-hand account of life on Antarctica.
Natasja van Gestel, an assistant professor in the Texas Tech’s Department of Biological Sciences, conducted a Skype session with the students on Tuesday, February 12 from her research site in Antarctica where she’s studying climate change’s effects on plants and soil microbes.
Van Gestel started her four-month research trip in early December at the Palmer Research Station on Anvers Island. Her current research includes how warming affects successional nutrient cycling, the transition to plant colonization, and how warming influences that fundamental ecosystem transition in the Antarctic region.
During Tuesday’s 45-minute Skype session that included an array question and answer dialogue, she shared her experiences with the students in Mrs. Grothusen’s class.
“Antarctica surprises me every day,” van Gestel said. “It is really beautiful, and the air is so clean. It’s an amazing environment and I cherish it every day.”
The students at North Ridge have been studying weather, climate and geography, and their studies prepared them with numerous great questions:
“How warm can it get in Antarctica?”
“What is the soil like?”
“How does fungi grow and survive in those cold temperatures?”
“Has moss always been visible in Antarctica?”
“How does climate change affect erosion?”
“Have any pieces of Antarctica broken off?”
“What can we do to help global warming?”
After the Skype session concluded, van Gestel shared on her blog how impressed she was with the students.
“It was an exciting day today!” she wrote. “I was very impressed with the insightful questions. It was obvious they had done some research regarding Antarctica. They are now experts on soil and moss in Antarctica. After the Skype session, I had a renewed sense of hope for our future. A brighter future is ahead, I am certain of it.”
North Ridge principal Shannon Morrison was appreciative of the opportunity his students experienced.
“My hope would be that the kids see that there’s an opportunity outside of West Texas,” Morrison said. “It’s a big world, and that’s what I think our fourth-grade teachers want our students to see, and not just feel like they have to be so confined to this little space out in West Texas, but that there’s so much going on.”