Meet 100 Women in Polar Science and Support!

We’re collecting stories from 100 global women in polar employment, both polar science and non-academic polar roles. Check them out here – updated weekly!

 

Our thanks to the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation for funding this project, The Ocean Foundation for acting as the US fiscal sponsor, and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) for their support.

 

Want to feature or know a cool woman who should? Contact us!

Michaela Stith

Discipline: Interdisciplinary; Environmental Science and Policy

Age: 25

Nationality: US-American

Organisation: Polar Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (USA)

Regional focus:  Arctic and Antarctic

Social media: Twitter and Instagram

 

What’s the work that you do?

I am the author of Welp: Climate Change and Arctic Identities, a travel memoir about environmental justice in the circumpolar North. At the Polar Institute in Washington, D.C., I organize events about Arctic and Antarctic policy, coordinate two blog columns, manage the scholarly publication Polar Perspectives, and direct “The Arctic in 25 Years” Youth Symposium. My best work centers Indigenous and Black people in thought leadership about Arctic research and policy.

 

What keeps you going?

Alaska is my lifelong home. I always imagined my future children and theirs would have ice to slide on, healthy streams to fish from, and old forests to walk in. But the Arctic Ocean may see its first ice-free summers in 25 years, and the Anthropocene is already transforming northern environments. The conviction among Arctic peoples that their home can be more thriving and equitable for future generations is what keeps me going.

 

What’s your message to the world?

Climate change is a cultural problem embedded in our relationship with the environment. This means all climate change mitigation and adaptation should focus on human rights and self-determination. Ultimately, a standard of whiteness in science and policy created climate change—and other systemic problems like mass incarceration—in the first place.

Michaela poses near Point Barrow Refuge Station during Nalukataq festival in Utqiaġvik, Alaska.
Emily taking a day off from research to meet Icelandic horses in Akureyri, Iceland

Emily Chen

Discipline: Marine Ecology

Age: 25

Nationality: US-American

Organisation: Institute of Oceanography, Polish Academy of Sciences (Poland)

Regional focus:  Arctic and Antarctic

Social media: ResearchGate

 

What’s the work that you do?

I am a marine biologist who has participated in projects ranging from nutrient stoichiometry to environmental DNA to range shifts of marine invertebrates. These experiences helped me take a holistic approach towards my PhD research on Arctic and Antarctic ostracods, which are tiny crustaceans present in all the oceans. They are important links in the food web and can reveal information about ocean conditions in the context of climate change.

 

What keeps you going?

What keeps me going is my passion for research and having the platform to share knowledge about polar marine life to inspire change. It’s comforting to know that all marine scientists share a common goal to understand and help our oceans. Although I am working in experimental-based research, I will keep communicating science and advocating for people that will be the most impacted by the threats facing the Polar Regions.

 

What’s your message to the world?

For those looking for ways to get involved in marine science and conservation, there is something for everyone. Our ocean is complex and it takes many skills to protect it, including law, graphic design, public speaking, and web design. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get started!

Lu An, PhD

Discipline: Glaciology (Polar Remote Sensing)

Age: 32

Nationality: PR China

Organisation: Tongji University, Shanghai, China

Regional focus:  Arctic and Antarctic

Social media: Google Scholar and Facebook

 

What’s the work that you do?

I joined Eric Rignot’s research group at UC Irvine in 2011 and graduated with a Ph.D. in 2017. Currently, I work at the College of Surveying and Geo-informatics, Tongji University, China. I have been working on using high-resolution airborne gravity data combined with other data sets to infer the bathymetry of fjords and bed topography of glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. The aim is to create data sets that are critical to understanding the role of ice-ocean interaction in controlling the evolution of glaciers and ice sheets.

 

What keeps you going?

For almost ten years, I conducted research in polar science with my advisor at UC Irvine. He is a great scientist full of enthusiasm, which was inspiring in all these years of hard work. You could say he was a lighthouse on my way to pursue the truth of science. And the field experiences in Alaska (2016) and Greenland (2018) also inspired me to continue my research in the Polar area. 

 

What’s your message to the world?

As the climate changes, global sea level rise will be one of the major environmental challenges of the 21st Century. I would like to contribute my effort to improve our estimates of sea level rise by figuring out how oceans interact with glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.

Lu stands in front of an oil painting by Diane Burko depicting Jakobshavn Glacier in Central Greenland, one of the most active glaciers in Greenland. She is at the National Academy of Science in Washington, DC (2018).
Alexandra, dressed in high-visibility fluorescent clothing, leans over the reeling of the CCGS Hudson above a wild Labrador Sea.

Alexandra Filippova, PhD

Discipline: Marine Geochemistry and Paleoceanography

Age: 34

Nationality: Russian

Organisation: GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (Germany)

Regional focus:  Arctic

Social media: Twitter

 

What’s the work that you do?

I am a marine geochemist. I work in the Labrador Sea and Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Based on different paleo proxies, I reconstruct past climate conditions and water mass circulation patterns. I am particularly interested in Heinrich Stadials, their true origin and effect on the deep water mass production in the past and how it is comparable to the modern day situation characterized by increased glacial meltwater runoff due to climate change.

 

What keeps you going?

The mystery of the unknown. There is still so much we  don’t know or don’t understand from our past history. I think to understand where we are going it is important to learn where we have been. And I hope to shed more light on the history of our increasable world and processes that happened in the past.

 

What’s your message to the world?

If someone told me 20 years ago that I will become a scientist, work in Germany, write scientific papers, present at conferences, I would have never believed them. Not only because people thought I am not smart enough, but also because they thought it is not who I can be. Never let other people dictate you who you are or who you will be. Be who you want to be and believe in yourself.

Jessica O’Reilly, PhD

Discipline: Anthropology

Age: 43

Nationality: US-American

Organisation: Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA

Regional focus:  Antarctic

Social media: Twitter and Faculty website

 

What’s the work that you do?

I am an environmental anthropologist who studies Antarctic and climate change scientists and policymakers, learning about how people translate between scientific knowledge and environmental management and policy. One of my longstanding interests revolves around how people grapple with scientific uncertainty, particularly that of the Antarctic ice sheet’s future. I also work with the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition and the United States delegation to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings.

 

What keeps you going?

My love for learning and my love for the world. My students, who are renewable sources of energy, optimism, and idealism. My family. And knowing just how many smart, committed people are working daily on solving the problems brought about by climate change. 

 

What’s your message to the world?

“Listening to the science” only gives us part of the picture—and the science doesn’t give us the solutions even once we understand the climate crisis. Addressing anthropogenic climate change requires other kinds of work in addition to the brilliant research that scientists conduct: political work, justice work, policy work, and work in our communities. We all—scientists, social scientists, artists, leaders, children, and so on—have something to contribute.

Jessica, wearing blue polar gear, a harness and a red helmet, is surrounded by narrow ice walls in the Imax Crevasse on the Ross Ice Shelf (crevasse has since collapsed). A bright blue light shines above her.
Mia, wearing a blue bandana in front of the Southern Ocean, is holding a seal pup.

Mia Wege, PhD

Discipline: Marine predator ecology

Nationality: South African

Organisation: University of Pretoria (South Africa)

Regional focus:  Antarctic and sub-Antarctic

Social media: Twitter and Website

 

What’s the work that you do?

I am interested in using novel developing technologies and quantitative methods to understand species distributions and relationships with their environment. My research broadly focuses on the distribution, habitat use and foraging ecology of marine predators. Specifically, I am interested in their at-sea behaviour and its influence on the population dynamics. This research includes work done on Antarctic and sub-Antarctic fur seals, Weddell, Ross, and crabeater seals.

 

What keeps you going?

Working with similarly passionate people who believe in what they do and also get excited by the science. And of course, fieldwork! Having the privilege of working hands-on with wild animals and observing their unique behaviour and personalities keeps me coming back for more. Those Antarctic sunsets and sunrises make it even more special.

 

What’s your message to the world?

We can do something about climate change – we just need to work together.

Dalia Barragán Barrera, PhD

Discipline: Marine Biology (specialized in Marine Mammals)

Age: 36

Nationality: Colombian

Organisation: R&E Ocean Community Conservation Foundation, and Fundación Macuáticos Colombia 

Regional focus:  Arctic 

Social media: Facebook 

 

What’s the work that you do?

I’m a Marine Biologist with a PhD in Biological Sciences. I’m a native of Bogotá in Colombia (not Columbia). My first passion was whales (I had watched the “Free Willy” movie!), but when I discovered that killer whales are indeed dolphins, I was captivated by these small cetaceans. Therefore, my work has been focused on conservation, distribution, ecotoxicology, and genetics of marine mammals, as well as environmental education and science divulgation.

 

What keeps you going?

My daughter Martina and my nieces María José and Ana Sofía, not only because they are girls, but also because they are children living in a developing country like Colombia. For them, I continue working, and although currently I don’t have a position, I plan to be a professor or work in the government, to try to support young students to be whatever they want to be.

 

What’s your message to the world?

All people have the same right to live in a better world and be whatever they want to be. All aspirations are valid, but we need the same conditions to achieve the dreams. Therefore, we must try to whatever we can – that can be small actions, such as being respectful with ourselves and others (including nature), voting well to demand health, food, education and environmental protection, among other fundamental rights. One candle can make a difference, because we will be millions of candles demanding and doing equity in the world.

Dalia stands on a rocky hill overlooking the Bulgarian Antarctic base St Kliment Ohridski on Livingston Island, Antarctic Peninsula.
Femi is on board the research vessel Teisten in Kongsfjorden, Svalbard. In the background, a snow-covered mountain meets a calm sea.

Femi Anna Thomas

Discipline: Marine Biology (specialized in Microbial Ecology)

Age: 30

Nationality: Indian

Organisation: National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (India)

Regional focus:  Arctic 

Social media: Facebook and Twitter

 

What’s the work that you do?

I am a Polar early career researcher pursuing my PhD in Arctic bacterial diversity and metal-bacterial interactions. I have always been fascinated with the tiny microbial world which motivated me to pursue a PhD in the same field. My work mainly focuses on understanding who are the major bacterial players in different Arctic ecosystems? What do they do there? How do they face the different stresses caused by environmental contaminants?

 

What keeps you going?

My passion for understanding the unknown has always motivated me in my research career. My family, friends and colleagues are a constant support to keep me going. Another motivating factor is the research work in Arctic which is equally inspiring and challenging.

 

What’s your message to the world?

Enjoy what you are doing! Keep a motivation check and always give importance to your mental health. Share your ideas and keep yourself updated – this can definitely help in gaining new perspectives. Love nature and be a pro in understanding the different environmental issues. Be part of the solution. Love yourself, keep smiling and cherish every moment of your life.

Harmony Jade Sugaq Wayner

Discipline: Coastal and Marine Management

Age: 24

Nationality: Alaska Native

Organisation: University Centre of the Westfjords (Iceland); Igiugig Village (Alaska)

Regional focus:  Arctic 

Social media: Facebook and Instagram

 

What’s the work that you do?

I’m Alutiiq from Naknek Native Village. I am an interdisciplinary graduate student in Iceland, focused on how Indigenous and Western fisheries knowledge systems combine to manage Alaskan fisheries better. My thesis is on the well-being of Indigenous communities and the link to harvesting wild foods of the land. 

 

What keeps you going?

I am fueled by my family back home in Western Alaska, my village (Naknek), and my Native Corporation (Bristol Bay Native Corp.) and all the support they give me. I am a proud 4th generation woman commercial fisher in the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery.  Fishing gave me a gritty work ethic and helped pay for my education. 

 

What’s your message to the world?

Take opportunities to push yourself out of your comfort zone and make time and space to rest. Every year, I put up fish with my family and spend time on my home’s tundra, ocean, and river.  A system that has historically oppressed Indigenous peoples, people of color, and women won’t change overnight. Take care of yourself in this work. 

Harmony is hip-dip in icy water in front of stark cliffs in Naknek, Alaska. She is holding a sockeye salmon.
Juliana, framed by rocks, is standing at Hennequin Point on King George Island, Antarctic Peninsula.

Juliana Souza-Kasprzyk, PhD

Discipline: Polar Ecotoxicology

Age: 33

Nationality: Brazilian

Organisation: APECS Brazil, Adam Mickiewicz University (Poland)

Regional focus: Arctic and Antarctic

Social media: Instagram

 

What’s the work that you do?

I am a Brazilian biologist with a PhD in Biological Sciences. I have been studying the contamination of the polar environment since 2011, having had the opportunity to participate in scientific expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica. I have been focusing on the anthropogenic impact in these regions, but also trying to understand the role of seabirds in absorbing, eliminating, transporting and mobilizing those contaminants.

 

What keeps you going?

Since I was a child, I dreamed of being a scientist. I get the pleasure and fulfilment of working with what I love and it makes me want to keep moving forward. This year, my life changed completely when my daughter Cecilia Aurora was born. This is another reason to smile and fight every day for a more diverse, fair, equal, inclusive and equitable society.

 

What’s your message to the world?

“And your will shall decide your destiny!” When you really want something and try hard, you can achieve everything you want. Just don’t give up on the first adversity. I wish for everyone, but especially for us girls and women, the opportunity to be what we want to be!

Yulan Zhang, PhD

Discipline: Cryospheric chemistry and environment

Age: 38

Nationality: PR China

Organisation: Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

Regional focus:  Arctic

Social media: WeiChat (13919978700)

 

 

What’s the work that you do?

For the past decade, I have been working to understand pollutants and the environmental impacts they have on glacier melting, carbon and nitrogen cycles, and climate change in the cryospheric regions.

 

 

 

 

What keeps you going?

Climate change and what it means for human development in the future is a fascinating topic to study, and my fascination with it keeps me going. In particular, how will the cryosphere change under climate warming at the end of the 21st century? What role do carbon and nitrogen bio-geochemical processes in the cryosphere play in relation to climate change? What impacts do cryospheric changes have on climate change and sea level rise?

 

What’s your message to the world?

Black carbon, an anthropogenic pollutant, can hasten glacier melting. When glaciers melt and permafrost thaws, greenhouse gas emissions will increase, which has the potential to further warm our climate. We need to keep studying this to understand the role humans play in how our climate is changing.

Yulan, wearing polar gear including boots, stands on a wooden walkway in Barrow, Alaska.
Ebru gives a thumbs up in front of a glacier in Svalbard, Norway.

Ebru Caymaz, PhD

Discipline: Social Sciences (International Relations)

Age: 35

Nationality: Turkish

Organisation:  Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Turkey

Regional focus:  Arctic

Social media: Twitter

 

What’s the work that you do?

Previously, I was working as a volunteer to increase awareness of human-induced climate change. I’ve traveled across the Arctic, collected my data, and organized public events in Turkey. Traveling to Greenland completely changed my perspective on this process. As an ERC in the field of social sciences, which is another challenge for me to conduct fieldwork, I have been studying and trying to develop an inclusive/adaptive governance framework for the Arctic communities. I have traveled through Greenland twice and conducted in-depth interviews with the local communities.

 

What keeps you going?

I’ve attended several conferences (such as Arctic Science Summit Week, Arctic Frontiers, Arctic Social Sciences Conference, and Arctic Change) and got connected to a wider world of scholars. Both senior researchers, as well as my peers, have motivated me to proceed.

 

What’s your message to the world?

At the nexus of science and diplomacy, based upon the pillars of political will, diplomatic involvement as well as governmental support, polar science diplomacy holds the potential to unify resilience efforts pertaining to the poles and develop inclusive governance models.

Kimberly Aiken

Discipline: International Environmental Policy

Age: 35

Nationality: US-American

Organisation: Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition
Regional focus: Arctic and Antarctic

Social media: LinkedIn and Instagram

 

What’s the work that you do?

I’m a jack of all trades. I’m an early career (polar) research and policy professional currently contributing to a host of Antarctic environmental campaigns, including Southern Ocean MPAs, krill conservation, climate change, and Antarctic governance. I co-organize webinar events and disseminate communication products on Antarctic environmental issues through digital storytelling maps, social media content, and articles. Previously, I worked on Arctic plastic pollution projects in Norway and Arctic Governance research with the German Arctic Office.

 

What keeps you going?

Passion, dedication, and contribution to a region and cause greater than myself is one of the most self-gratifying things! The phenomenal women, men, and Arctic/Antarctic youth that I had and still have the privilege to collaborate with and work with every day! The mentorship I receive from senior colleagues in the polar community and the intimate, special moments I’ve shared with Arctic Indigenous Peoples in Alaska and Norway.

 

What’s your message to the world?

Be the change you wish to see in the world!

Kimberly standing at a Sámi Indigenous reindeer camp in Tromsø, Norway, in January 2020.
Gemma stands on the back of a wooden sled, looking out over the ice, in Antarctica.

Gemma Brett, PhD

Discipline: Glaciology – sea ice

Nationality: Irish

Organisation: Gateway Antarctica, University of Canterbury (New Zealand)
Regional focus: Antarctica

Social media: ResearchGate

 

What’s the work that you do?

I use geophysical and satellite techniques to study how sea ice, the ocean, and the Antarctic Ice Sheet interact. This system is critical for global ocean circulation and climate regulation….without which, none of us would exist!

 

What keeps you going?

My nieces and nephews and the hope that we can and will do better.

 

What’s your message to the world?

Go outside, get amongst it, and enjoy nature! We are an integral part of our beautiful planet and we are capable of taking better care of it. Every decision we make matters – both big and small.

 

Yelena Yermakova, PhD

Discipline: Political Philosophy

Age: 36

Nationality: US-American and Russian

Organisation: University of Oslo

Regional focus:  Arctic and Antarctic

Social media: ResearchGate and LinkedIn

 

What’s the work that you do?

My work is in political theory. I am interested in the governance of international spaces such as the Polar regions, which institutions should govern these spaces, and what makes these institutions legitimate and worthy of support. I recently defended my PhD dissertation, “Governing Antarctica: Assessing the Legitimacy and Justice of the Antarctic Treaty System,” which is about decision-making and the authority in the Antarctic regime.

 

What keeps you going?

Feeling very fortunate to work on the topics that I truly find fascinating: global governance, institutional legitimacy, and global commons. Hoping that perhaps my ideas will contribute to global governance and the principles it should be guided by. The support from and interaction with other polar regions researchers! The amazing community of Antarctic humanities, legal and social sciences researchers.

 

What’s your message to the world?

Collaboration and sharing the ideas is a key to a successful research, so reach out to other researchers and support others! 

Yelena, dressed in coat and scarf, stands in front of the sea and sunset.
Andrea, in full Antarctic gear including ski goggles and life jacket, stands in front of a penguin colony on the Antarctic Peninsula

Andrea Herbert, PhD

Discipline: Anthropology & Antarctic Studies

Age: 39

Nationality: German

Organisation: Gateway Antarctica, University of Canterbury (New Zealand); Constantia Consulting
Regional focus: Arctic and Antarctic

 

What’s the work that you do?

I do a little bit of everything. I’m on the edge of academia, occasionally coordinating teaching projects at university, guiding on polar expedition vessels, or consulting on Antarctic projects for a colleague’s consulting firm.

 

What keeps you going?

Knowing that it’s a privilege to be involved in polar endeavours. I get a kick out of both physical in-person activities in icy environments and the more removed desk-based approach, e.g., about how best to manage our engagement with the Polar Regions.

 

What’s your message to the world?

Women are invaluable in polar work!