DECEPTION ISLAND, Antarctica — Earth's past, present and future come together here on the northern peninsula of Antarctica, the wildest, most desolate and mysterious of its continents.
Clues to answering humanity's most basic questions are locked in this continental freezer the size of the United States and half of Canada: Where did we come from? Are we alone in the universe? What's the fate of our warming planet?
The first explorers set foot in Antarctica 194 years ago hunting 19th century riches of whale and seal oil and fur, turning tides red with blood. Since then, the continent has proven a treasure chest for scientists trying to determine everything from the creation of the cosmos to how high seas will rise with global warming.
"It's a window out to the universe and in time," said Kelly Falkner, polar program chief for the U.S. National Science Foundation.
For a dozen days in January, in the middle of the chilly Antarctic summer, The Associated Press 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.
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.
Here's a look at some of the images from the trip: