Homeward Bound takes off

By December 18th, 2016

Three of our top scientists are on board the MV Ushuaia in Antarctica as part of an innovative leadership program for women in science.
dinghy leaving main boat with snow/ice background

Heading in zodiacs for the first landing.

They left Ushuaia in Argentina on 2 December with a smooth crossing of the infamous Drake’s Passage.

They then made their first landing at Barrientos in the Aitcho Islands – all elephant seals, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguin colonies and skuas looking to steal eggs and newborn chicks.

It’s the inaugural Homeward Bound voyage for women scientists of all disciplines; an innovative leadership program for women in science combined with an education program about climate change and its impacts on the planet, against the backdrop of the Antarctic.

photo taken from behind a group of people looking at penguins on snow

The view from MV Ushuaia.

The trip selected 76 in a rigorous application process for the journey from around the world – physicists, mathematicians, engineers, doctors, marine ecologists, astronomers.

From CSIRO are:

  • Principal research scientist with Land and Water working in sustainable development, resilience and adaptation, Dr Deb O’Connell,
  • Team leader with Food and Nutrition and food microbiologist, Cathy Moir, and
  • Senior research scientist with Oceans and Atmosphere specialising in ocean pollution, Dr Denise Hardesty.

Denise Hardesty said before she left: “This is an amazing chance to connect and to build opportunities for research collaboration and to build global networks not just with people working in Australia but people working on different issues, and having the Antarctic as a backdrop, how much better could it be?”

Deb O’Connell said she was also attracted to the program because of its inclusion of a broad range of experience levels; not just senior women talking to senior women, but with PhD students being able to talk to team leaders and vice versa: “There’s a range of people and ages and times in careers and I think we’ll get a lot of strength and learning from that.”

granite beach with ice-capped mountain in background

“The beach had an interesting array of rocks including large granite boulders which don’t belong in this landscape and must have travelled a long way – probably caught up in a glacier from elsewhere,” says Deb O’Connell.

From their first landing on the Antarctic continent at Brown’s Bluff Dr O’Connell wrote:

“When we looked out of the windows, the sun was out, and we were facing a pebbled shore and the towering cliffs of Brown Bluff.

“We zodiaced our way through the mosaic of different shapes and colours of icebergs, small groups of penguins flipping on and off the icebergs and porpoising in small groups.

“The pictures are inadequate to show the scale and complexity of Brown Bluff. It was like a mythical barrier to another kingdom, like in Lord of the Rings. A complex mix of volcanic rocks, ashflows, basalt, granite, conglomerate, rounded pebbles. Steep wall-like towering cliffs, with glacier dripping off the edges.”

And on return, each of the women scientists presented their own area of science as part of a ‘Science Symposium at Sea’, part of activities on board to build the science communication skills and visibility of each participant

woman in red jacket in front of ice cliff

Setting foot on the Antarctic continent. Image: Joanna Young


Still more to discover as the journey continues until 21 December.

Read more about the journey and CSIRO’s involvement and follow the team on Facebook.