By: Anna Laws
The South Pole was discovered in 1911. The first female scientists arrived in 1969. For the almost six decades in between, it was preposterous to consider women making the arduous journey to the Pole. The US navy refused to even transport women to the continent, citing concerns for their hygiene and safety. Although a few ladies from other nations had stepped foot on Antarctica, certainly none had travelled the almost one thousand miles between the two key US stations linking the coast with the South Pole itself.
Women making such a journey just wasn't the done thing. The men already present on the continent were quite content to retain a boys' club. Popular opinion held that women simply couldn't handle the harsh climate. Icy winds complement temperatures that never rise above a frigid +7.5F. The entire winter is cast into darkness, and even the perpetual daytime of summer can bring danger. Any sunlight that doesn't hit the travellers directly can still reflect off the white plains for a second attack. This brightness can cause blindness. Despite this, Antarctica is a valuable research area and well worth the journey.
In the late sixties, two major changes cleared the way for women to finally travel to the South Pole. Firstly, the US navy lifted its transport restrictions in the face of increased women's rights awareness. Soon after, the NSF welcomed proposals from female science teams wishing to research the area. Immediately an all-female group of geologists led by Dr. Lois Jones seized the opportunity. Along with a biologist and a journalist already present on the ice, they were flown out to the Pole. The six women chose to march together from the plane to share the historical significance of being the first woman to walk on the South Pole.
Today researchers live and work on the continent, using the unique location to their advantage. For instance the grim isolation is perfectly suited for the BICEP2 experiment, poised to feel the tiniest tremors caused by gravitational waves yet escaping false signals arising from the rumble of nearby traffic and other urban difficulties. The long nights are ideal for observing the skies, with the South Pole Telescope and Keck Array currently scanning the Cosmic Microwave Background (the fingerprints of the Big Bang). And where else could we watch emperor penguins going about their daily business?
This summer an expedition of seventy-eight female scientists lived on Antarctica to research the impact of climate change, with a broad range of represented disciplines including astronomers, engineers, and doctors. Connecting these disciplines shows that part of the magic of Antarctica is in its power of unification. May the legacy of those first six women continue!
Final ScientisTalk of the Semester!
When: 4/25, 6-70pm
Where: Lowell Small Dining Hall
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