Ask NASA Climate | November 24, 2015, 13:08 PST

Gummy penguins

The other Thanksgiving bird

By Laura Faye Tenenbaum

Not quite real penguins on a not quite real ice floe.

Not quite real penguins on a not quite real ice floe.

Take a moment from your holiday preparations to consider what a science team in Antarctica will be feasting on this Thursday. Here’s a hint: It’s not turkey. According to Dr. Heidi Roop, research associate at the University of Rochester’s Taylor Glacier Blue Ice Drilling Project, the hottest new tradition among polar scientists working in the field in Antarctica is to chow down on gummy penguins for the Thanksgiving holiday—and today, she’s busy stuffing her suitcase with the candy critters.

As soon as the Air National Guard’s C-17 aircraft gets her to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and then a helicopter gets her to Taylor Glacier, she expects her backpack will be the most sought-after game in camp, at least for a few days. Sugary snacks help field scientists get through the cold nights, she explained. Sometimes they sleep with candy in their tents so they can keep their metabolism up. “A chocolate bar at midnight is of one the quickest ways to get warm,” Roop explains.

Heidi Roop
Dr. Heidi Roop packs for an Antarctic expedition.

Roop and the rest of the polar expedition team will spend two months in the field drilling 70 meters down through Taylor Glacier in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys to collect ice core samples. They melt the ice cores on site to release the air bubbles that had been trapped in the ice. The analysis of ancient air extracted from ice cores is a crucial way for scientists to gather evidence of greenhouse gases, such as methane, in Earth’s past climate.

You can find out more about the University of Rochester Ice Core Lab here and follow their expedition here. I’ll continue to write about their field research once they’ve finished their candy feast and gotten out of their tents to work off their sugar high in the cold, blue icescape.

And whatever you decide to feast on, I hope you enjoy it.