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Hands-On Look at Antarctica
In this lesson, students create a 3-D map of Antarctica using a tortilla
and dough. It is intended to introduce students to the continent.
specifically developed for 5-8, but easily modified for younger
students. (Modify by offering a pre-labeled work page and reduce
the number of features labeled)
In creating this map, students will do the following:
Develop an understanding of the geography of Antarctica
Understand the global position of Antarctica
Become familiar with the field locations of ITASE
Identify significant geographic features of Antarctica and locations relevant to Antarctica
Use the map as a reference during discussions and future learning activities
Science Content Standards
Standard D: Earth and Space Science
1 flour tortilla for each two students (any size will work, but the 8”
ones work best on 9 X 12 paper) Students could do this individually.
However, the benefit of working in pairs is to have the students
discuss the map and placement of features as they are working.
1 rounded tablespoon Model dough for each map (see recipe below)
1 sheet 9 X 12 blue construction paper per map
Fine point black and red markers
Outline map for each pair
Transparency of outline map (opt)
Atlases or copies of attached maps
It can be difficult to find good maps of Antarctica for student use. A few web options are:
Make model dough
for maps. Use 2 parts flour to 1 part each salt and water. Stir.
(For every 10 students, use ½ cup flour, ¼ cup
salt, ¼ cup water.) This can be made a few days ahead
and covered with plastic. (It’s actually easier to use
and dries faster if it sits for a day before use.)
Run copies of maps.
One outline map for each pair plus additional maps for resources
as needed. The National Geographic Expeditions map helps with
(opt) Make an overhead
transparency of the outline, Expeditions, and global position
Two 40 minute class periods
Note: Make the maps through the mountain building in the first
class period so the dough has time to dry before labeling.
Ask the students what they know about Antarctica. If this is the
beginning of a unit of study, you might want to record group responses
on a poster or have groups of students record their own responses.
Refer to this at the end of study to reflect on what was learned.
Tell a few interesting facts about this continent that were not
included in the student information. (See list of Interesting
Facts for ideas)
1. Draw a reasonable
outline of Antarctica on the tortilla. The shape of Antarctica
can be related to the head of an elephant. The Antarctic Peninsula
is like the trunk. West Antarctica is like the face and East Antarctica
is like a huge ear. Another way to imagine it is as a turkey.
The peninsula is the neck, West Antarctica is the gobbler, East
Antarctica is the tail feathers. Emphasize the 3 distinct parts
of Antarctica: Antarctic Peninsula, West Antarctica, and East
Antarctica. Encourage the students to use most of the tortilla.
The end product will be about 6” from the tip of the Antarctic
Peninsula to the eastern side near the Shackleton Ice Shelf.
2. Cut out the outline shape. Keep the scrap pieces for other landforms.
3. Using scraps, cut rough shapes to resemble the southernmost parts of
4. Cut out islands for
5. Set the cutout pieces on the blue paper to show relative direction
and distance to each other. (See map of Global Position.) This
is not intended to be done to scale, but to give an overall visual
introduction to the relationship of the various parts. The smaller
islands are included because they are less frequently discussed,
but sometimes of higher interest than the more recognized continents.
Note: South America
is about 600 miles from the tip of the peninsula with South Africa
4 times as far and Tasmania about 3 times as far.
6. Glue the pieces to the paper.
7. Label the landforms and major oceans and seas
8. Build model dough mountain ranges to roughly show terrain of the continent. Label
during the second session.
9. Using chalk, color in the ice shelves.
10. Label the significant areas of interest on Antarctica. (Adapt this list to match the
maps you use and to include any particular items you want to emphasize.)
||Mt. Erebus (12,280’)
||Vinson Massif (16,684’)
|Larsen Ice Shelf
||Mt. Kirkpatrick (14,856’)
|Ronne Ice Shelf
|Ross Ice Shelf
||Geographic South Pole
||Magnetic South Pole (approximate)
11. Using a red marker, draw in the Antarctic Circle and label 66 ½ degrees South.
12. Optional: Draw
in the traverse maps for the ITASE teams. This makes the map really
crowded. Using a larger bulletin board map seems to give a better
view of the traverse. The individual maps can be used to compare
or discuss the route. (see http://www2.umaine.edu/USITASE/Proposal/images/Itaseroutemap.jpg)
There are really
3 South Poles. There is a Ceremonial South Pole with a reflective
ball and flags of all the nations that have signed the Antarctic
Treaty; the geographic pole, which is where all of the lines
of longitude converge; and, the magnetic pole where a dip needle
compass will point straight down.
The ceremonial pole
is not moved annually and is carried on the flow of the glacier.
It’s over 100’ from the geographic pole.
The geographic pole
is marked each year and the marker is moved to correctly identify
the location. The pole doesn’t move, but the ice does!
The magnetic pole
is presently located out in the sea. It actually travels daily
in an elliptical path and may move on a northwesterly path 10-15
km each year.
Antarctica is the
highest, coldest and windiest continent on earth.
The average elevation of Antarctica is 7500’.
The South Pole station is at an elevation of 9,300' (2900m)
The largest active volcano on the Antarctic continent is Mount Erebus (12,444’)
on Ross Island.
The Vinson Massif
is the highest peak on the continent and is higher than any
peak in the lower 48 states.
The Transantarctic Mountain range runs across Antarctica and is about 3000 miles
long. The distance across Antarctica is about the same as traveling
from New York City to Los Angeles.
Antarctica is about
½ the size of Africa, twice the size of Australia or
the size of the United States and Mexico combined.
The coastline of
Antarctica is about 19,800 miles long or about the distance
from Anchorage, Alaska to the tip of Chile.
About 98% of the continent is covered by ice.
The ice covering Antarctica is so heavy that it actually pushes down on the land
to make some of the landmass below sea level.
The average thickness of the ice sheet is 1.5 miles.
At least 90% of the world's ice is on Antarctica.
Scientists believe that the ice cap has covered the continent for the last 5 million years.
The Antarctic ice sheet contains 70% of the world's freshwater.
Inland, the continent is a desert because of the low snowfall. The interior region
receives less than 3” of precipitation a year.
The ice sheet preserves a record of the world’s past climate and pollution over the ages.
Lake Vostok is one
of the world’s deepest lakes (1764’) and it’s
entirely under 2.5 miles of ice.
The largest ice
shelf is the Ross Ice Shelf, which is almost the size of Texas.
The dry valleys on Antarctica are used to simulate the landscape of Mars.
The air in the
dry valleys is so dry that nothing decomposes there. There are
Weddell seal carcasses there that are over 1000 years old.
There is no native
wildlife on Antarctica except insects. The largest of these
is the wingless midge that is about 1/2 “ long.
Man has never lived there permanently
The largest land animal is the wingless midge which is a wingless insect about
The tip of South America is about 600 miles from Antarctica.
The tip of South Africa is about 2500 miles from Antarctica.
No country owns Antarctica.
The low temperature on July 2, 1983 at Vostok Station was minus 129.3 degrees F.
Coal beds and plant fossils have been found on Antarctica. This proves that the
continent was not always covered with ice.
(Click on images below to view full screen)