The last thing on my to-do list last week: fly to Antarctica. It wasn’t a metaphor or a joke.
Actually, I was only going to leave for Antarctica Friday. It will take me three to four days to get there (via New Zealand), so I won’t arrive “on the ice,” as they say, until Monday night Colorado time. I’m posting this from Christchurch, NZ, where I’m spending the day being issued cold weather gear from the US Antarctic Program (that classic red parka in all the pictures).
It’s still a little surreal that I’m really going. As a kid, I dreamed of running the Iditerod. I read all the books about the great race that I could find. But with climate change melting the course more and more every year, that started to look unlikely. About ten years ago, fresh out of college, I started applying to research technician jobs I saw advertised in Antarctica. I figured it was a long shot, though: if they didn’t already have someone in mind, there were probably hundreds (at least) of applications and even if I were qualified, it would be practically a lottery.
I fell in love with a hot desert instead for a time. I was thrilled that Peter Chesson agreed to advise my doctoral work, and I learned a tremendous amount in his lab and appreciated his support (and still do!). But at some point while counting seedlings in full sun at 115 degrees Fahrenheit, with the dark rocks burning through the soles of my shoes, I started to daydream about Antarctica again.
It was around then that Diana Nemergut first told me about cryoconite holes, ice-bound natural microcosm experiments in the glaciers of Antarctica. Her excitement was contagious, and I was interested in her research. When she offered me a position as a postdoc, I was was both honored and humbled, wondering if I could really contribute what she thought I would bring to the project.
Diana passed away at the end of last year. There’s not an easy way to say that. I barely knew her, especially compared to her long-time colleagues and her family, yet she was such an inspiring example of a scientist and a person and made such an impression on me in the short time I had to interact with her that even I miss her. She is certainly in my thoughts as I head to Antarctica, as she is often in the thoughts of her many friends.
I am also grateful to her collaborator Steve Schmidt for taking on the responsibility for the project and for adopting me and welcoming me into his lab. Some of you reading this may remember me talking last year about moving to North Carolina to work with Diana, and been confused when I instead wound up in Boulder. 2016 has so far been full of highs and lows, but above all it has been a year of many unexpected transitions and growth personally, geographically, and research-wise.
Despite the massive amounts of planning that have already gone into this upcoming field season (seriously, this is the best-planned field study I have EVER embarked on – and it could still change anyway due to field conditions), I am sure the rest of 2016 has the potential to set new high bars for unexpectedness and growth even in this year of transitions.
I’ll try to update this site regularly despite the limited bandwidth at McMurdo, and you can also follow progress from our team blog (cryoholes.wordpress.com), YouTube channel, and follow us on Twitter (@cryoholes).