Marie McLane ’08 was in sixth grade when she learned about ozone depletion. “The idea that humans could create something as significant as a hole in the ozone—that we could actually influence the climate—was incredible to me,” she recalls. That fascination with human-influenced planetary change never wavered. Now the site supervisor at Greenland’s Summit Station, she works under harsh conditions to bring some of the world’s best climate science to life.
She’s the practical resource researchers need at an icy, isolated Greenland research site.
“The researchers who come here to do their work are brilliant, but they might not know how much gas a snow machine burns or how many oil filters they need for a generator. That stuff is critical here. You don’t want to be 300 miles away from a town and have your snowmobile break down with no idea how to change a fan belt. I help researchers with these things because their survival and safety come first.”
A geology degree from Smith gave her the background to succeed.
“A lot of the people on the logistics side don’t have science degrees like I do. But for me, it’s an advantage. It gives me insight into the academic world. I understand how hard it is to get funding to come up here and the pressures that scientists feel to get publishable data. I have perspective on the challenges that both researchers and logistics people face.”
She got her foot in the door her junior year at Smith.
“I learned about the Juneau Icefield Research Program, and I was able to do an eight-week field glaciology course in southeast Alaska. That opened my eyes to all sorts of opportunities.”
She’s helping collect data that gives us insight into a climate-changed world.
“We’re the only year-round facility on a polar plateau in the Northern Hemisphere. We’ve been collecting important data on things like CO2 levels for years—it’s the data that Al Gore used in An Inconvenient Truth. We also launch weather balloons to measure the ozone hole, and we provide information that helps sat- ellites measure global ice levels and the elevation of the ice caps.”
“You don’t want to be 300 miles from town and have your snowmobile break down. I help researchers with these things.”
Humans aren’t meant to live in such brutal conditions, but shefinds beauty even in the cold, dark months.
“In a way, working here is like backpacking or sailing. We’re focused on our immediate needs: Do we have heat, food and water? There’s a simplicity here. There’s no advertising or billboards, and we can’t get fast enough internet to watch movies or anything like that. A real community develops when we’re here. Sometimes there are as few as five people here, and we are doing everything together: living, sleeping, eating, working.”
She sees a bright future in our world’s coldest places.
“Eventually, I hope to move to a higher-level position—either here or in Antarctica—that will allow me to do even more to help scientists figure out how they can have a successful season here.”
SAQ, Spring 2017