Exploring Antarctica: A Fellowship on the continent surrounding the South Pole

A cold snap here and a coating of snow there, during this winter’s Richmond area weather, is no comparison to the summer cold of Antarctica. Maggie Walker Governor’s School teacher and Chester resident Lynn Reed explored science outside of the area, spending last summer on an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship - she continues the fellowship in Washington, D.C. today.

There are only 26 Fellowships awarded and it’s not just an honor, it’s more like a confirmation of hard earned work and intelligence.

Village News interviewed Ms. Reed about her Fellowship and her time spent in Antarctica.

Village News: Was the competition intense when applying for the fellowship?

Lynn Reed: There were over 200 applicants. For 2012-13, there are 26 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows serving in four agencies (NSF, NASA, NOAA, DOE) and on Capitol Hill. Eight of these are serving a second year. Seventeen of the Fellows serve at the National Science Foundation in a variety of directorates.

VN: What project(s) are you working on at the NSF (National Science Foundation)?

Reed: I am the Einstein Fellow in NSF’s Geosciences Directorate, the Division of Polar Programs. I honestly feel like I won the lottery – the Polar Programs office awards grants to researchers in both the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as manages logistics in Antarctica. One of my goals is to create a set of math lessons based in Arctic or Antarctic contexts.

VN:  What project did you work on during your stay in Antarctica?

Reed: To understand the work going on in Antarctica, I was deployed to McMurdo station for three weeks. McMurdo is home to nearly 1,000 people during the Antarctic “summer” season. It looks a bit like a mining town, and it has its own power plant, water plant (they use a reverse-osmosis method to produce its water), and a wastewater treatment facility – and I toured them all. I was there over both Christmas and New Year’s, and it was interesting to spend it with a community of interesting and hardworking people.

Using McMurdo as my home base, I visited a penguin rookery at Cape Royds (www.penguinscience.com), watched a Long Duration Balloon launch and toured the LDB facility, toured the nearby Scott Base (New Zealand) and the not-so-nearby Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.  I hiked some in the Marshall Valley (one of the so-called Dry Valleys) and explored the Scott’s Discovery Hut and Shackleton’s Hut, both conserved and maintained by the Antarctic Heritage Trust.  In addition to making the long trips to and from Christchurch, New Zealand and to and from South Pole by LC-130s (prop planes equiped to land on snowy runways), I got to take a few helicopter rides to get to the Dry Valleys and Cape Royds.

VN: Are you spending two full years as a fellow and, I assume, your teaching job will be waiting?

Reed: In general this is a one-year fellowship, but a few second year fellowships are awarded.  I am honored to be chosen as a second-year fellow for 2013-14.  I am lucky in that Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School does offer its faculty the ability to take a leave of absence for situations such as mine. I even Skyped from Antarctica with the Governor’s School in December.

VN: Is there a proponent of your work there or currently that has to do with global warming?

Reed: Not directly, but there are many, many different research projects that are gathering evidence related to understanding climate change. For example, the ice core projects, the NOAA facilities at both Summit Station (Greenland) and South Pole station that measure CO2, ozone, particulates, [for example].

VN: Has your fellowship provided experience you will use in your classes when you return?

Reed: One of the things that the Fellows have been involved in are evaluating and disseminating classroom resources that teachers can use.  For example, there’s a nice algebra lesson about the shrinking amount of sea-ice in the Arctic using data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.  I am participating in a multiagency initiative called ClimateChangeLIVE.

VN: Were you expecting the amount of activity there?

Reed: During the summer season approximately 125 people live and work at the South Pole Station.  The current “main” building is fairly new and it is an amazing work of engineering.  It contains a cafeteria, gym, dormitory, laundry, scientific labs, post office and general store, library, offices, etc.  In addition to the main station, there are other buildings – housing the South Pole Telescope, located, the NOAA research station.

South Pole station is located at over 3,000 m – it’s on top of the ice sheet.  Because the ice sheet is moving, every January 1, the precise location of the geographic pole is calculated and a new geographic marker is installed.  (I have a photo of the 2012 marker which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the attainment of the South Pole by both Amundsen and Scott.)

VN: What information or additional experience will you be able to bring back to your classroom? Assuming you will go back to teaching when your fellowship has completed.

Reed: What I hope I will be able to bring back is not only excellent interdisciplinary lessons and resources but also enthusiasm for STEM education.  From my experiences, I will have more recommendations for students as they contemplate careers and higher education opportunities.   International collaboration will become even more important as we look to understand global issues such as climate change.

VN: We know you were there in summer, but does the weather get as bad as some may think?

Reed: Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest, highest (on average), and least-populated of the continents.  I was there during the peak of the austral summer:  24 hour sunlight and temperatures (at McMurdo) generally between 15 and 40 degrees F.

At the South Pole, because of the elevation, it was much colder, between 0 and 15 degrees F while I was there.

VN: Do you still have connections in Chester?

Reed: My husband is holding down the fort – he works at VCU.  (We are seeing a lot of I-95 as we travel back and forth.)  My daughter and her husband live in Chesterfield.  My older son and his wife live in McLean.  My younger son is finishing college in Indiana.  (I am from Illinois originally, and my parents and extended family are all located there.)We moved to Chester in 1998 from Blacksburg.


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