Antarctica is not a man’s world - not anymore. Women have played an important role in the advancement of Antarctic science especially in the last 50 years. An on-line collection of biographies of successful female scientists who worked in Antarctica celebrates that. Hopes are that the carriers of these women will inspire young girls to follow in their footsteps.

This photo was taken on the 100th Anniversary of Robert F. Scott's arrival at the South Pole January 17, 1912. (Photo: Julie Palais)
This photo was taken on the 100th Anniversary of Robert F. Scott's arrival at the South Pole January 17, 1912. (Photo: Julie Palais)

An international team of scientists have organised a global ’Wikibomb’ to blow up the perception once and for all that Antarctic science is a boy’s club. “Women of the Antarctic Wikibomb” aims to tell the world about many great, and generally under-recognised, female Antarctic research role models. A Wikibomb is like a weather-bomb, but with pages of information instead of rain. It’s also a quantum-shift in publicly available information. Hosted via Wikipedia, the Wikibomb contains profiles of around 100 top female scientists from 30 countries. The team is led by Marine Biologist Dr Jan Strugnell from La Trobe University. In an article published in the international science journal Nature the team said: “It is important that senior women scientists are visible to younger female scientists so they know that careers in science are possible - You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Jan Strugnell, leader of the Wikibomb team, at the argentine Carlini Base with the ship James Clark Ross in the background. (Photo: Ira Cooke)
Jan Strugnell, leader of the Wikibomb team, at the argentine Carlini Base with the ship James Clark Ross in the background. (Photo: Ira Cooke)

The profiles have been officially unveiled at a meeting of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) in Kuala Lumpur in August. Among the Wikibomb profiles are internationally renowned New Zealand scientists including Dr Nancy Bertler, Professor Pat Langhorne and Dr Christina Hulbe. Dr Stevens, President of the New Zealand Association of Scientists, and well-known Antarctic researcher said, “It is vital we give the next generation of scientists, both male and female, a true sense of who does Antarctic research. Women have been playing an increasing role in Antarctic research since the 1950s. The time has come for them to gain far greater public recognition. Methods of communicating are changing and the Wikibomb taps into this. It’s challenging enough dealing with funding, the weather and drifting sea ice – there should be no other limits on achievement.”

Leading Palaeobotanist Dr Marie Stopes was rejected for Scott’s historic 1910 expedition to the South Pole. Soon after 1300 women applied for another British Antarctic Expedition. None of which were accepted. This has changed. “There has been a lot of high-impact research and leadership by women in Antarctic science over the last ten years,” Dr Strugnell said. “For example, Germany’s Institute for Polar and Marine Research and the British Antarctic Survey are both led by women. Korea recently appointed its first female Antarctic station leader. A previous Chief Executive of Antarctica New Zealand, Gillian Wratt, has a profile on her achievements.”

The New Zealand glaciologist Dr Nancy Bertler is leading the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution Project (RICE).  Here she recovers bedrock material from the bottom of the RICE core, Roosevelt Island, Antarctica together with colleague and Alex Pyne. (Photo: Nancy Bertler)
The New Zealand glaciologist Dr Nancy Bertler is leading the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution Project (RICE). Here she recovers bedrock material from the bottom of the RICE core, Roosevelt Island, Antarctica together with colleague and Alex Pyne. (Photo: Nancy Bertler)

The team’s Wikipedia expert, Dr Thomas Shafee, said Wikipedia was now the world’s most widely viewed reference site, and many people turn to it for their information about science. When Wikipedia began, less than ten percent of scientists featured were women. Today, that number is just over 16 percent’. He said, “Despite such heroic efforts, it’s still an up-hill battle.” Jeanine Foster, Antarctica New Zealand General Manager of Communications said, “The New Zealand Antarctic Programme is proud to support such a high calibre of female Antarctic scientists working on some of the most pressing questions facing the world today. New Zealand has a proud history of women earning positions in some of the nation’s most influential roles – as such it is befitting to have New Zealand’s women in science celebrated at this level.” Other scientists’ profiles are from Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Morocco, Netherland, Australia, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, UK and the USA. The Wikibomb project is part of the global Athena Swan Charter for advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine.

Source: Antarctica New Zealand