HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA — It is the coldest, driest, windiest continent on the planet. It is twice as large as Australia, and sits under two miles of ice. As National Geographic's Frozen Under reminds us, Antarctica is more than just a white patch on the bottom of all those desktop globes.
Online companion to a feature article in the Geographic's December print edition, Frozen Under does a nice job of demonstrating Web content that complements --and promotes-- the mother publication. In addition to an excerpt from the magazine, Frozen Under offers 'behind the scenes' content (through interviews with the article's author and photographer) additional online-only photographs, and a set of 360-degree QuickTime panoramas. (Who knew the South Pole looked like a barber pole?) Visitors can also take part in an online forum about developing the continent for tourism, (15,000 people visit annually) check out recommended links, send an e-card, and download a PDF version of a map of the continent - executed in the classic National Geographic style.
The most web-specific component of Frozen Under is a 13 minute Flash presentation - divided into four segments, and covering the Antarctica's Wildlife, Human Habitation, and its position as the Last Great Wilderness. The presentation itself is a fairly standard narrated slide show - except that in this case, the photography is of National Geographic quality. Sound clips allow visitors to brush up on their Adelie versus Emperor penguin calls, photographs reveal both pristine wilderness and the impact of humans, (ie. dumped garbage) and narration discusses everything from territorial claims on the continent to the surprising fact that it's becoming a center for astronomy - thanks to the exceptional elevation, a thin, cold, dry atmosphere (optimal for good 'seeing') and, one assumes, an especially low level of light pollution.
The four segments move from one to the next automatically, so you can view the entire presentation without laying a finger on your mouse - which, the wonders of interactivity notwithstanding, makes for a nice break while online. (There is a Pause button - in case the phone rings during the show.) And while, like so much on the Web today, this exhibition is most conveniently viewed with a high speed connection, its Flash-based nature means that once the data is downloaded, viewing will be the same regardless of connection speed.
The webmasters are also kind enough to provide approximate download times for 56k connections, (it's always nice to know what you're getting yourself into before getting yourself into it) as well as the ability to ignore the "No Flash Detected" warning and proceed to the show. (I'm guessing that the Flash detector is looking for the latest version --5-- of the software. When I visited the site with Flash 4 installed, I was told that I didn't have Flash at all - but the presentation played flawlessly.)
It all makes for an interesting portrait of the continent - and in the coming months, when those of us in the northern latitudes are tempted to complain about our winters, it will also add some helpful perspective.
Frozen Under can be found at http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/data/2001/12/01/html/ft_20011201.1.html.