The Coldest Place at the Bottom of the World
By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
- trace Shackleton's actual route on an area map and estimate the trip miles using a map scale.
- trace Shackleton's intended route on an area map.
- describe the altitude changes involved in a trek across Antarctica.
- present some basic information about Antarctica and how it compares to the student's own state.
Related National Standards
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (National Council for the Social
III. People, Places, and Environments: Social studies programs should include
experiences provide for the study of people, places, and environments.
VI. Power, Authority, and Governance: Social studies programs should include
experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change
structures of power, authority, and governance.
Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (National Council
of Teachers of Mathematics)
Standard 7: Computation and Estimation
Standard 13: Measurement
Tools and Materials Needed for each group
Estimated Time to Complete Lesson
One class period to complete the map activities (Procedure Steps #1-3) and one
class period to complete and discuss the chart in Step #4.
Antarctica is the fifth largest continent and is approximately 10 percent of
the Earth's land surface. East Antarctica is separated from West Antarctica by
the Transantarctic Mountains (also called the Great Antarctic Horst). East
Antarctica is mainly a high, ice-covered plateau and is larger than West
Antarctica, which is comprised of an archipelago of rocky islands covered and
held together by ice. Antarctica has an average altitude of 14,000 feet (6,000
feet of rock and 8,000 feet of ice/snow), which is roughly three times the
average altitude of other continents. The Antarctic has 90 percent of the
world's ice and 70 percent of the world's freshwater. The terrain is 98 percent
ice and 2 percent rock. The Antarctic is the coldest and windiest continent on
Earth. It is 11°C colder than the equivalent altitude in the Arctic. The
area is also very poor in natural resources.
Antarctica is governed by the international Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which
establishes the continent as an area of scientific research. The treaty
prohibits military use and radioactive waste dumping in the area. In January,
the heart of the Antarctic summer, the population of scientists and visitors
may approach 4,000. In winter the population can drop to fewer than 50. Most of
the inhabited areas are along the coast. The United States has a large
logistical support facility at McMurdo Sound that supports six smaller
facilities, including one at the South Pole.
To acquaint students with Ernest Shackleton's journey, have them view the
Voyage of Endurance
video clip on this Web site. (Requires QuickTime
Organize students into groups and provide each group with a copy of the
Shackleton's Route activity sheet. Specific longitude and latitude
coordinates of Shackleton's Actual Route are given on the activity sheet. Have
students mark these locations on their map with an "X" and then trace
Shackleton's route in red pen, marking the direction of travel with arrows.
Note: it may be helpful if students label all the longitude lines on the map before starting.
Have students use the map scale to estimate how far the explorers traveled. To
see where NOVA's expedition currently is in comparison to Shackleton's journey,
check out Expedition Maps
Now provide each group with a copy of the Antarctic Map activity
sheet. Have students plot the coordinates given for Shackleton's Intended Route
with an "X" and trace that route in blue pen. Have students compare the two
routes. How far off was Shackleton from his intended journey?
Have students use the Antarctic Altitudes sheet to describe the
altitude changes involved in the trip Shackleton intended to take across the
Organize students into groups and have them complete the How Does Your
State Compare? activity sheet. Have them identify the biggest differences
between Antarctica and their state. How much colder is Antarctica and why? How
many times can their state fit into Antarctica? (More advanced students can use
the Antarctic Map activity sheet to draw their state in to scale.)
Compare the average population density (number of people per square mile of
land) by dividing the number of people by the number of square miles. What
differences do students feel are the most significant and why? Have students
add any aspects about Antarctica and their state that they would like to
Helpful Web Sites
CIA—World Factbook 2000
Features information about Antartica compiled for the Central Intelligence
Agency Factbook. Entries include geography, people, government, economy,
communication, transportation, military, and transnational issues.
Antarctic Polar Pointers
Includes links to such topics as astronomy, biology, ecology, geology,
glaciology, meteorology, and oceanography.
Compiled by Robert Holmes, who travels to the Antarctic each year to install
and repair automatic weather stations. The site includes section of frequently
asked questions of what it's like to work in Antarctica and essays from people
who have worked and lived in Antarctica.
USA Today—Antarctic Index
Provides links to basic and detailed information on science and research in the
Antarctic, ice and snow, work and daily life, Antarctica in the news, and more.
Also includes links to information about the Antarctic Treaty.
Students may be assessed through:
- their participation in classroom discussions.
- their accuracy on the map location activity.
- the accuracy of their calculations estimating Shackleton's actual and intended trips.
- the accuracy of their altitude analysis of the continent crossing.
- the level of detail in the comparisons they draw when comparing their state to Antarctica.
Consider the future of Antarctica. Research and report on the
Antarctic treaties. Student groups can give oral reports to the class. Once
everyone has presented, have the class devise a future treaty that encompasses
the essential features of development and governance that is best for
Antarctica. Then have students return to their groups to discuss what they see
as a future for Antarctica. What should happen there? Can this be a place for
people to live if the world gets too crowded? Why or why not? Who should rule
there? Who owns the land and resources? Who should make and enforce the laws?
Have each group make a concise presentation to the class as to what they think
the future of Antarctica should be.
Research and report on an Antarctic animal. How has the animal
adapted to survive in the harsh polar environment? Students can draw a food web
that includes the animal.
Design an animal that could survive in the Antarctic. What features
would this animal have to have? Have them consider such things as size, fur,
movement, metabolism rate, food requirements, and social structure. Students
may want to use this Web site's Danger on the Ice to better understand
the challenges of the Antarctic environment.
Shackleton's Expedition |
Surviving Antarctica |
Explore Antarctic Islands
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