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Team heading to Antarctica

It's the coldest, most desolate place on earth. Antarctica's springtime temperatures are cold enough to freeze peanut butter and toothpaste.

Allan Ashworth

It's the coldest, most desolate place on earth.

Antarctica's springtime temperatures are cold enough to freeze peanut butter and toothpaste. Only a few organisms can survive.

But that doesn't daunt North Dakota State University geology professor Allan Ashworth, who, joined by two students and field partner Adam Lewis, will brave extreme conditions on an expedition to the continent in October.

"There's an excitement in being in a place where few people have been before," said Ashworth, who's making his fourth trip to Antarctica.

The continent is a geologist's paradise, containing a vast untapped record of the Earth's climate history.


As the world grapples with concerns about global warming, research in Antarctica can reveal new insights into past warming and cooling trends, Ashworth said.

"It's thrilling to be a part of that," he said. "It's a privilege to be in that position as a scientist."

On previous visits, Ashworth collected plant, mollusk and insect fossils. The fossil record is the only way to get an idea of what temperatures were like millions of years ago, he said.

Ashworth's discovery of a fossilized fly pupa earned him international attention.

He hypothesized that the fly's ancestors lived in Antarctica - a suggestion that contradicted scientists who believe all flies in the Southern Hemisphere evolved from northern ancestors.

An article about the fly appeared in a 2003 issue of the science journal Nature.

This is the first time Ashworth will take students to Antarctica.

The upcoming trip will bring the crew to the dry valleys of the Transantarctic Mountains in an area between the outlet glaciers of the Polar Plateau.


He hopes the students use the trip to develop their own geology careers, creating a new generation of researchers.

Andrew Podoll, an NDSU senior geology student, said he never dreamed he would get the opportunity to go to the continent.

"If you can study in Antarctica, you can study almost anywhere," he said. "It's probably the best field geology area in the world."

Anne Aghion, an Emmy winning filmmaker, will accompany the research team for several weeks during the two-month trip. She'll also join a team from the University of Wyoming that plans to measure the hole in the ozone layer.

Her film about the expeditions will air on television throughout the world in fall 2007, including on the Sundance Channel in the U.S.

The film will focus on "the human adventure of the scientists working in an extreme environment," Aghion said from Paris. "I'm interested in the mental space this kind of work brings you to."

"I don't want to betray the science, but it's much more about the people than the science."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Bryce Haugen at (701) 235-7311


Allan Ashworth

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