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Cool Careers: Scientists at the Poles *Feature Index*

Think about work and you probably picture yourself in a nice, heated lab or office, the coffeemaker steaming and the radio playing in the background. After work, you can hop into your car, or jump on your bike, and head for home.

Things are quite different for many of the authors in this month's feature. They have made two of the world's most extreme work environments--the polar regions--their field of interest: Antarctica, the world's southernmost continent, also referred to as "The Antarctic," and its little brother, "The Arctic."

For much of the year their regular working days may be similar to those of any scientist. But when it comes to visiting the field, their career choices have profound consequences. Whether they are going to the poles for a whole season or just on a 2-week trip on a research vessel, science at the poles means deprivation--they will have to live without many of the amenities they are used to at home.

Although superficially similar, the Arctic and the Antarctic are very different places. While Antarctica is a continent with landmass underneath the ice, the Arctic is basically an ocean, though the edges of other countries and regions--from Alaska and Canada to Greenland, Scandinavia, and Russia--fall within the Arctic Circle. You'll only find polar bears in the Arctic, but if penguins are your thing, you'll have to head for Antarctica. The Arctic has trees, the Antarctic doesn't. Indigenous people, including the Eskimo and the Laps, live in the Arctic, whereas there are no native peoples in the Antarctic.

How extreme are these environments? The polar regions are the coldest, windiest, and most arid places on Earth. The ice caps are quite thick--up to 3 kilometres in the Arctic and an average of 2160 metres in the Antarctic. Temperatures at both poles frequently drop below -50°C.

These hostile conditions make the poles unique laboratories. In fact, Antarctica has the highest average concentration of research personnel in the world--scientists make up 100% of its population (which is still quite low with only 4000 "inhabitants" during the summer and about 1000 during the winter).

But if you read about our authors' personal motivations for spending time in the polar regions, you will realise that the poles don't just offer fascinating research problems. The astounding scenery and camaraderie of life North or South mean that the poles really can provide some cool career options.

Due to the overwhelming response to this feature and the high number of great articles we've received, we will be publishing "Scientists at the Poles" essays throughout March 2002. As we put new articles online, we'll add photos of the authors and links to the articles to the corresponding blurbs on the index page below. So, please check back during the month to find more great stories from researchers at the poles!


Frank Lisker grew up in the former East Germany and thought he would never get to the South Pole. But by the time he had finished his studies, the wall had gone and his dreams could come true.

Currently working on her PhD jointly with Cardiff University and the British Antarctic Survey, Claire Allen is studying marine sediments and has just participated in a scientific cruise to the Southern Ocean.

Chemistry and Atmospheric Science

Despite the fact that she is a native Californian and used to warm weather, Krishna Foster jumped at the chance to visit the Arctic to take measurements of atmospheric chemicals.

Polar latitudes hold secrets into the earths's past climate, secrets Berry Lyons believes may provide insights into the implications of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and better models of future climate change.


Australian microbial ecologist Jenny Skerrat writes about what it takes to do research in Antarctica--from personal traits to research project design--and the beneficial effect of the experience on her career.

An ecologist as well--she travels frequently to the Arctic Sea-- Iris Werner talks about polar research careers in Germany.

Dave Norton's research, which is funded by the University of Alaska's Cooperative Institute for Arctic Research, examines the impact of chemical pollutants on the human ecology of four arctic marine communities.


Kathleen Conlan is with the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, and she is also a member of the Canadian Committee for Antarctic Research (CCAR).

Marc Cattet of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada is a wildlife physiologist and veterinarian. He investigates the physiological response of wild mammals to different environmental and anthropogenic stressors.

At the University of Innsbruck, Austria, where ice and life are her topics, Birgit Sattler's research looks at microbial diversity in alpine, arctic, and antarctic environments.

Joe Grzymski, a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University in New York City, went to Antarctica for an NSF-sponsored graduate class on marine biology.

Barbara Niehoff works on crustaceans at the Alfred Wegener-Institute in Germany and has visited both polar regions.

Astronomy and Space Sciences

How do polar research and exploration support astrobiology and planetary science? Find out from James Hall.

Georg Delisle, a senior scientist with Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), became a meteorite expert by coincidence.

On Devon Island in Canada's high Arctic, volunteers and private organizations work with NASA and ESA to make the human exploration of Mars a reality.

Iain Coleman works for the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, where he uses data from spacecraft and radar networks to find out more about the outer reaches of Earth's atmosphere.


A polar winter means several months without any daylight--find how our polar snowbirds fared.

Marine biologist Keiron Fraser spent two and a half years at the British Antarctic Survey's Rothera Research Station. In his second winter, he was also the base commander.

Ursula Stüwe was medical doctor for and also head of the German Georg von Neumayer Station in the Antarctic--quite a career transition at age 52.

Recent Returnees

Having returned from the U.S. Antarctic Palmer Station, Kevin Peters is ready to make his career transition. He originally wanted to become a physician, but now he wants to master in biology.

Jocelyn Kaiser, a writer with Science magazine, has just returned from a scientific cruise with the British Antarctic Survey. Find out if she got seasick!

Job Market and Funding

Next Wave Germany's editor Eick von Ruschkowski profiles Germany's two main employers of polar researchers: The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) and the Alfred Wegener-Institute for Polar Research.

And in the U.S., GrantsNet editor Katie Cottingham has taken a careful look at federal funding opportunities from NSF, NASA, and NOAA that are available to carry out research at the poles.


Last, but not least, the Next Wave staff has collected a number of great resources for wannabe polar researchers, as well as those that simply love the world of ice.

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