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Miami scientists at the South Pole: Part four of four - How one scientist "fell in love"

12/07/2011

Bill Green, professor of interdisciplinary studies, drilling through the ice with Tom Gardner, graduate student, Institute of Environmental Sciences, at Lake Fryxell, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica.
This is the fourth in a four-part series on Miami researchers in Antarctica. December marks the 100th anniversary of the famous Race to the South Pole between Norwegian Roald Amundsen (reached Dec. 14, 1911) and Briton Robert Falcon Scott (reached Jan. 17, 1912). Read Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

Miami researchers have had a long presence in the Antarctic, beginning with geochemist Bill Green, professor emeritus of interdisciplinary studies, more than 30 years ago. Green made his first trip to the South Pole as a graduate student in 1968, when a chemist was needed at that time to look at the composition of the strange lakes that occupy the Taylor, Wright and Victoria Valleys.

“I thought of this as a one-time exotic adventure that I could not pass up. Much to my surprise, however, I fell in the love with the place and with the work.”

He received his first National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to conduct research in the Antarctic Dry Valley lakes in 1980, and was supported by the NSF for 20 years to research polar lakes. He has made nine trips to the South Pole – the last one in 2000.

Green’s expeditions to Antarctica — “the most sublime of continents, a land of light and darkness, of scrawls and traces and hints of eternity,” he describes — have contributed to understanding of the chemical evolution of the Dry Valley lakes in terms of the surrounding glaciers, the inflow streams, the soils and the geologic history of the region, and also the transport and fate of heavy metals in these systems.

They have also resulted in an award-winning book, Water, Ice & Stone: Science and Memory on the Antarctic Lakes, which won the prestigious John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing in 1996.

Green gives an account of his 2000 Antarctic expedition in the first chapter of a new book, Boltzmann's Tomb: Travels in Search of Science (2011). The book “interweaves the story” of Green’s lifelong evolution as a scientist with a “globe-spanning pilgrimage to important sites of scientific discovery.”

In contrast to current conditions at the Antarctic Research stations, where scientists can email and blog from the field, Green explained that “there have been many changes during my 32 years on The Ice. In 1968, McMurdo Station was a tiny place with relatively few science groups. Communications with the outside world were difficult and involved the assistance of amateur radio operators.

“I think I talked with my parents one time in four months. Even communications between McMurdo and our field camps were sporadic. As late as 1980, conversations with home were not easy to arrange. No emails, no satellite calls.”

This year, scientists from Miami University will have a presence in the Antarctic for more than half a year, from the beginning of the Antarctic summer, Oct. 2011, through the beginning of the “polar night,” June 2012.

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Photos Photos  
McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica, Lake Hoare, 1983 - campsite, graduate students Mike Angle (Ph.D. 1984) and Tom Gardner (master’s degree, 1984) during Bill Green’s (professor emeritus of interdisciplinary studies) expedition.

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