Every year, thousands of scientists come to Antarctica for research. For a dozen days in January, in the middle of the chilly Antarctic summer, the Associated Press, including photographer Natacha Pisarenko, followed scientists from different fields searching for alien-like creatures, hints of pollution trapped in pristine ancient ice, leftovers from the Big Bang, biological quirks that potentially could lead to better medical treatments, and perhaps most of all, signs of unstoppable melting. [16 photos total]

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1
In this January 25, 2015 photo, Chile's Navy ship Aquiles moves alongside the Hurd Peninsula, seen from Livingston Islands, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago in Antarctica. This is also the place where a hole in the ozone layer, from man-made refrigerants and aerosols, parks for a couple months when sunlight creeps back to Antarctica in August. It triggers a chemical reaction that destroys ozone molecules, causing a hole that peaks in September and then closes with warmer weather in November. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
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In this February 1, 2015 photo, Holy Trinity church stands illuminated at Russia's Bellinghausen station on King George Island in Antarctica. Holy Trinity is the world's southernmost Eastern Orthodox Church. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
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In this January 22, 2015 photo, Chilean Navy officers push away ice by moving their boat in circles as they approach the Aquiles navy ship where they will pick up international scientists and take them to Chile's scientific Station Bernardo O'Higgins in Antarctica. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
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In this January 22, 2015 photo, a Gentoo penguin feeds its baby at Station Bernardo O'Higgins in Antarctica. "To understand many aspects in the diversity of animals and plants itís important to understand when continents disassembled," said Richard Spikings, a research geologist at the University of Geneva. "So we're also learning about the real antiquity of the Earth and how (continents) were configured together a billion years ago, half a billion years ago, 300 million years ago," he said, adding that the insights will help him understand Antarctica's key role in the jigsaw of ancient super continents. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
5
A worker from the Chile's Antarctic Institute sits on the snow on Robert Island, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago in Antarctica, on January 24, 2015. NASA uses the remoteness of Antarctic to study what people would have to go through if they visited Mars. The dry air also makes it perfect for astronomers to peer deep into space and into the past. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
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In this January 20, 2015 photo, wooden arrows show the distances to various cities near Chile's Escudero station on King George Island, Antarctica. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
7
Chilean Alejo Contreras looks through a window on King George Island in Antarctica on January 28, 2015. Exploring Antarctica is something Contreras, 53, began dreaming about as a teen after reading Robert Falcon Scott's journal of his journey to the South Pole. When Contreras finally got to the South Pole in 1988, he stopped shaving his beard. Antarctica is “like the planet’s freezer,” said Contreras, who has led more than a dozen expeditions to the continent. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
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In this January 24, 2015 photo, snow surrounds buildings used by Chile's scientists on Robert Island, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago in Antarctica. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
9
Peter Convey, an ecologist for the British Antarctic Survey, searches for samples on Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago in Antarctica, on January 24, 2015. Convey, who has been visiting Antarctica for 25 years, braved heavy rain, near freezing temperature and winds of more than 20 knots to collect samples of the spongy green and brown mosses that grow in patches on the ash of the volcanic island’s black rock mountains. He was looking for clues in their genetics to determine how long the species have been evolving on Antarctica, in isolation from other continents. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
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In this January 26, 2015 photo, penguin footprints cover the beach in Punta Hanna on Livingston Island, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago in Antarctica. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
11
In this January 27, 2015 photo, penguins walk on the shore of Bahia Almirantazgo in Antarctica. Antarctica “is big and it’s changing and it affects the rest of the planet and we can’t afford to ignore what’s going on down there,” said David Vaughan, science director of the British Antarctic Survey. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
12
Chilean Navy officers transport scientists to Chile's Station Bernardo O'Higgins in Antarctica on January 22, 2015. Because there is no local industry, any pollution captured in the pristine ice and snow is from chemicals that traveled from afar, such as low levels of lead found in ice until it was phased out of gasoline, or radiation levels found from above-ground nuclear tests thousands of miles away and decades ago by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, according to David Vaughan, science director of the British Antarctic Survey. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
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In this January 20, 2015 photo, a church is lit in the town of Villa Las Estrellas on King George Island, Antarctica. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
14
Members of the Spanish base Gabriel de Castilla, and scientists watch a movie on Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago in Antarctica, on January 24, 2015. As an active volcano, Deception Island is a pot of extreme conditions. There are spots where the sea boils while in others it can be freezing. And while the sun rarely shines on the long, dark Antarctic winters, night time never seems to fall on summer days. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
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In this January 24, 2015 photo, a scientist stands behind a window on the Spanish base Gabriel de Castilla on Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago in Antarctica. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #
16
An iceberg floats in the Bahia Almirantazgo near Livingston Island, part of the South Shetland Island archipelago in Antarctica, on January 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) #

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