University of Southern California


Farewell, McMurdo Station

Donal Manahan, February 1, evening — A month ago, as I was making my last preparations to leave for Antarctica, I wrote on this blog about my goals for this expedition.

I hoped we could show this new group of young polar scientists why the earth’s poles are so important. We certainly achieved that goal.

The group gained many new insights during this short but intense program in understanding how millions of years of evolution in ice-cold environments have shaped the biology of Antarctic organisms. Those insights will further predictions on how cold-environment species might adapt to warming events.

I was particularly impressed by how well research group members worked together across disciplines on so many different projects. Mathematical modelers worked with experts on patterns of gene expression. Ecologists collaborated with physicists. Everyone worked together and respected each other’s knowledge base. They learned a lot, and had fun in the process!

I also wanted to explain to our young scientists the fascinating history of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration — not just the geographic aspect of being the first to reach the South Pole, but the pioneering work of the scientists who accompanied Scott and Shackleton to this area more than 100 years ago.

How remarkable it is to visit the standing record of the first human presence in this area of Antarctica. Our group photo below shows all of us standing in front of Captain Scott’s hut, built in February 1902. This is where the first scientific measurements in the McMurdo region were made. In the background is the modern research station of the United States Antarctic Program — our home for the past month.


The students and postdoctoral fellows in this National Science Foundation project certainly gained a better understanding of how to live and work in Antarctica. They undertook measurements in the field and learned how to plan the extensive logistical support needed to stay safe while working “on the ice.”

I am confident the program inspired and trained a new group of international polar scientists. When they return to their home institutions, they will share their excitement and personal experiences with their colleagues and the public. By becoming new ambassadors for Antarctica, they will help society understand the importance of the poles for the future well-being of the entire planet.

Donal Manahan is professor of biological sciences and director of USC’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.