Dartmouth Researchers Head South for the Winter -- to Antarctica


by Lee McDavid, Arctic Program Manager

A number of Dartmouth students, faculty and staff will be celebrating the holidays far from home, in fact, just about as far from home as you can get, unless you're a penguin.

Starting around Antarctica Day on December 1--which celebrates the signing of the international treaty in 1959 that preserves Antarctica as a place for research and peaceful purposes--and continuing well past Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, and even Martin Luther King Day, Dartmouth researchers will be living and working "on the ice," the nickname for the most uninhabitable continent on earth. But the only continent with no permanent residents also has a lot of visitors, many of them researchers.

"The opportunity to work in Antarctica is a life-changing experience, and many first-timers catch 'polar fever' and head South year after year," says Myers Family Professor Ross Virginia, an ecologist who has been working in Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valleys since 1989, and even has an Antarctic geological feature named after him--Virginia Valley (see inset). In a few weeks he'll be leaving for Antarctica as will earth sciences professor Bob Hawley, Linda Morris, Education Program Director for the Ice Drilling Program Office at Thayer, and Ruth Heindel, an earth sciences graduate fellow in Dartmouth's NSF-funded IGERT program in polar environmental change.

Thayer graduate student Ross Lieb-Lappen and assistant professor of engineering Rachel Obbard have just returned from Antarctica. Two other IGERT graduate students, Ali Giese and Rebecca Williams, are celebrating Antarctica Day in the most authentic way possible--in Antarctica. Giese is doing glaciology fieldwork from New Zealand's Scott Base (named after the polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott who died on an ill-fated Antarctic expedition after reaching the South Pole) and Williams is taking the solar-powered rover developed at Thayer to map ice crevases, called the Yeti, for a spin on an active volcano, Mt. Erebus.

Dartmouth's Arctic research is more well known, but the number of faculty working in Antarctica and the opportunities for graduate students to do research there is unusual for the size of the institution.

"It was an opportunity of a lifetime," says IGERT graduate student Julia Bradley-Cook who joined an interdisciplinary team to monitor ongoing long term ecological experiments, including a project looking at how the local Adelie penguin population affects the land. Bradley-Cook just received the Antarctica Service Medalfor her time spent there.