The newly renamed Matataua Glacier lies in the Royal Society Range in Antarctica.

Peter Reicek/NSF

Antarctic glacier gets new name in wake of sexual harassment finding

The changes sparked by the #MeToo movement have now reached Antarctic glaciers.

Last week, the Marchant Glacier was renamed the Matataua Glacier in the wake of a finding of sexual harassment against its namesake, geologist David Marchant. The change was made by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) in Reston, Virginia, an interdepartment agency of the U.S. government.

“Boston University determined David Marchant violated Title IX regulations, and U.S. policy says geographic features are to be named for people who have made extraordinary or outstanding contributions to the advancement of polar science,” says Kelly Falkner, director of the Office of Polar Programs at the National Science Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, the lead agency for the U.S. Antarctic program. “Boston University found Marchant created an environment that was hostile and harmful to fellow researchers, particularly women. That behavior is unacceptable and impedes scientific progress,” Falkner adds.

Last year, Marchant was found to have sexually harassed then–graduate student Jane Willenbring during field work in Antarctica nearly 20 years ago. Willenbring, now at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, says she was “pleased and surprised” by the move, which she says “sends a message that this sort of thing isn’t tolerated anymore.” She calls the new name “completely appropriate.”

The glacier, originally named in 1994, sits near Mata Taua Peak in the Royal Society Range. “Matataua” is a Maori word meaning “a scout before the troops,” says Louis Yost, BGN’s executive secretary. BGN made the decision in agreement with the New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa). 

*Correction, 19 September, 10:10 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect BGN's status as an interdepartmental agency.