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February 12, 2013

Area frog, SUNY professor return from Antarctic research

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — Freddy the Frog of Greater Plains Elementary School in Oneonta went with a local college professor on a research trip to Antarctica.

Freddy arrived safely back at school Monday with Devin Castendyk, associate professor at the State University College at Oneonta. On Monday afternoon at the school, Castendyk regaled pupils with tales about microscopic organisms living in frigid water, the movement of glaciers, encounters with penguins and details about his research project.

Castendyk recently returned from a two-month stint conducting research in Antarctica as part of the Stream Team of the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecologic Research, funded by the National Science Foundation. While there, he corresponded with two classes at Greater Plains Elementary School, answering questions and posting photographs, many including Freddy, through his blog at

Freddy the Frog, a stuffed, bright green mascot for Adele Youngs’ third-grade class, has traveled the world with different people every year as part of the social studies curriculum.

“He was the perfect travel companion — never complained,’’ Castendyk, associate professor of water resources in the college’s earth and atmospheric sciences department, said.

Castendyk soon will travel to the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder, to process research data between March and June.

At Greater Plains on Monday, Castendyk spoke to about 30 sixth-graders and 45 third-graders in two 45-minute sessions. His talks included elements of geography, history and humor along with details about the reasons and process behind the research project. Through maps, he showed his travel routes and data collection sites in Antarctica.

“This is a very, very special environment,” Castendyk told the pupils. “The Ross Sea — it’s kind of funny, they call it a sea, but it’s all covered in ice.”

Castendyk said his job was to measure the amount of water that was going into lakes. The glacial ice melts, he said, then forms streams, and the water runs into lakes. The data collected supports is used in studies of living organisms and climate change, he said.

Castendyk’s slide illustrations Monday showed his team members at work sites, glaciers with crevices bigger than school buses, and moss and other slime-like forms of life that are under research. Freddy appeared in a couple of pictures, and in other photographs, Castendyk’s teammates held postcards sent from Greater Plains pupils.

“We had so much fun looking at these,” Castendyk said. “I can’t tell you how much this made us happy.”

Julie McKee, a sixth-grade science teacher at Greater Plains, said the cards were returned with an official stamp. The students enjoyed following Castendyk’s work, she said, and benefited from connecting with a scientist conducting field research. Pupils were impressed that there were areas in Antarctica without snow, she said, and they no longer imaged that penguins were “everywhere.’’

Catstendyk said the weather was good, with high temperatures of about 40 degrees. While working with the stream water, Castendyk said, he wore special gloves to protect the living organisms from sunscreen and other foreign matter, such as remains from his breakfast or lunch, that might be on his hands.

The research team also checked equipment at remote stations, where data about water levels is collected and is available for reading online, he said.

Castendyk said team members lived in a tent. The sun didn’t set, he said, and to sleep he used an eye mask. But it was easier to adjust to sleeping in the light than to nights the wind blew and made the tent fabric flap noisily, he said.

Kalei Valk, a sixth-grader, said she was impressed by Castendyk and his work in Antarctica.

“It’s just really cool to learn about somebody who went there and studied,’’ the 12-year-old said. “It was just amazing.’’