Temple professor teaches high school students about Antarctica, rising sea levels

Atsuhiro Muto spoke to students in Pennsylvania and New York for this year’s Antarctica Day.


Atsuhiro Muto has traveled to Antarctica six times to study what lies below the vast continent’s surface.

This week, Muto, an assistant professor of polar geophysics and glaciology, brought his experiences from those trips to classrooms in New York and Pennsylvania for this year’s Antarctica Day.

Muto spoke to Rippowam Cisqua School elementary students in Bedford, New York on Thursday as part of the school’s Antarctica Day programming. Earlier this week, he also spoke to students on Tuesday at Octorara Junior-Senior High School in Atglen, Pennsylvania about the importance of preserving Antarctica’s glacial environment over Skype.

Muto performs active seismic imaging in Antartica its subsurface to find materials like hard rock, soft sediment or water, he said. The imaging can predict how fast ice flows from the land to the ocean.

Antarctica Day began in 2010 to commemorate when 12 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway signed the Antarctic Treaty, on Dec. 1, 1959. The nations agreed Antarctica would only be used for peaceful purposes, like research.

Marcia Rapone, a chemistry and environmental science teacher at Octorara Junior-Senior High School, plans to teach a new course called Climate Science in the spring. She said scientific literacy about climate change is important but can be overwhelming because it’s easy for people to feel defeated by “the issue of our time.”

“I know that my students feel that way often, I see that in their writing,” she added. “Our environmental science class is a lot of, ‘I don’t really know what to do.’”

Rapone signed up to have Muto speak to several of her students after hearing about the opportunity from the National Science Teachers Association.

Muto enjoyed the teaching experience.

“It was great to be able to spread the work of what we do and what we find out,” Muto said. “I could feel the energy and the enthusiasm from high school students, so I look forward to the future.”

In his presentation, Muto emphasized the importance of protecting the Thwaites Glacier, which has the potential to affect global sea level risings, he said.


Muto is a member of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, an international program of scientists studying when the Thwaites Glacier will likely collapse and its impact on sea levels.

Thwaites Glacier is in Western Antarctica and its melting has accounted for four percent of the global sea level rise since the 1990s, BBC News reported in April 2018.  

Muto is a part of a larger group of researchers, including ITGC scientists from the U.S. and the United Kingdom, to spoke to students this week for the program’s 2018 Antarctica Day event.

According to National Geographic, sea levels have recently risen 0.13 inches a year — about double the rate previously seen in the last 80 years.

“It’s important that we reach the basic science behind this sea level impact, climate change and how we actually know about it, and it’s not a political thing,” Muto said. “This is happening, and we’re finding evidence and we need to communicate that to the public.”

“It’s exciting because it’s cool to talk to somebody who studies Antarctica,” Rapone said. “It can connect to the standards of showing the students the reality of job opportunities out there for scientists.”

Rapone’s classes prepared for Muto’s presentation by learning about his research in Antarctica and creating group questions, she said. The group of 80 high school students also used virtual reality goggles to watch videos by The New York Times about life in Antarctica.

Muto said the event was important because the effects of melting glaciers will affect younger generations.

“In the next coming decades, I think sea level rise is actually going to be a problem and the contributor to sea level rise could actually be West Antarctica,” he added.

Octorara Junior-Senior High School’s librarian Nina Thwaites, who helped Rapone get ready for the event, said she was excited to learn about Muto’s work.

“I’m excited to see what they’re doing up there,” she said. “I’m just looking forward to learning.”

Thwaites also enjoys sharing the same name as the widely discussed glacier, she added.

Muto said he hopes students learned more about the challenges associated with combating climate change and possible solutions to the problem.

“I want to make sure that I give them opportunities to talk to people and to do activities that can lift them up, as well as help them feel like they can be part of the solution, not just sitting back and watching the problem unfold,” he added.

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