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Refusing to Call It Fear

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA– It’s not surprising that a trip to the bottom of the world might provoke thoughts of death. It’s true the risks we face as scientists in Antarctica today are fewer than those faced by Antarctic explorers of the past. A century ago many of these explorers lost their lives. With this exploration I am acutely aware of being first a human being and second a scientist. There are finite conditions in which my body can continue to function. I’ve never been afraid of death but am somewhat concerned about the process of dying. Freezing to death sounds less than ideal.

Sea ice on McMurdo Sound.

Our field location on the ice shelf, tens of miles from the closest station (McMurdo Station) is indeed remote. However, it is not the isolation that concerns me, but the physical conditions of the location that dance along the bounds of human survival. I will be living and working atop a shifting, melting, buckling ice sheet in temperatures of -25F with a -60F wind chill. Is it possible the ice will crack? Will there be white out conditions? Yes. However, it’s the questions I’ve yet to imagine that concern me more. So, I’ve kept it inside. I’ve swallowed the desire to say, “Good bye.” Instead, I use, “see you later.”

A crack in the ice.

I haven’t told my family. When they talk about the extremes I throw out terms I’ve heard but have yet to understand. Technological terms that make life in Antarctica survivable if not comfortable. Have I spared them by not sharing these thoughts?

I leave North America in three days. We received an email last night from a team member that left before us. “The weather at McMurdo Station has been horrendous,” I can’t help but wonder what horrendous weather in Antarctica may comprise. Many teams of scientists are backed up in New Zealand unable to complete the final portion of their journey. The email made me pause. But, I refuse to call it fear. I will refer to it instead as anxiety.

I am certain of one thing: No matter how powerful this anxiety becomes, it will never overwhelm my desire to answer burning scientific questions. So no matter what happens along my journey, I know it will happen while chasing answers to scientific questions I am compelled to answer. This to me is a good way to live.

A road on the ice sheet.
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7 Responses »

  1. Oh Andrea –
    Great post!! I got goosebumps, and you aren’t even on the Ice yet!


  2. Great post Andrea!

    You are going to have an amazing adventure. I look forward to hearing about what “horrendous” weather at McMurdo is and how your “anxiety” morphs into new emotions you have likely never experienced.

    -Cassandra (a fellow ice stories correspondant)

  3. Andrea!!!!!!! Great posting….I really enjoy it…

  4. Thanks for all of your wonderful comments regarding my article. It’s notes like yours that help keep me inspired when I’m cold and tired. Thanks! Go Science!

  5. WOW!!!!!!!

  6. wow thats pretty cool!

  7. Andrea, this is your long lost buddy writing from far warmer climes, namely Kauai. I’m sitting here with the visiting Scott Divine and we were talking about old times in Sacto, wondering how and where you are, so upon googling you, this is the only way to contact you. Find me and/ or Scott on facebook! I am so proud of you and love you SO! much.