Into the Melchior Mist: The shadowy face of the Antarctic Peninsula

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0580.JPGAnother day in Antarctica. A layer of stratus hangs over the Melchior archipelago, sending thick, grey undulating waves over the group of small islands. These snow-capped islands sit in glossy black water like scoops of ice cream floating in dark root beer. There is an abandoned Argentinian base here, but we’re not doing any landings. Instead, we’re in the zodiacs cruising for views of seals, penguins, and fantastical ice sculptures. We meander in and out of rocky coves painted in lichens and moss.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0565.JPGMelchior feels different from our other visits along the Antarctic Peninsula. Quiet and subdued, rather than grand and majestic. The clouds give the day an air of melancholy, as if Antarctica has fallen asleep. It makes me wonder how different our trip would feel if our entire visit were beneath overcast skies. It very well could have been. Antarctica, like the rest of us, has many faces, and she chooses which one to show us.

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Our zodiac driver, Juan, pulls up a growler from the dark water. These are very dense bits of disintegrating iceberg that can float right beneath the surface. They’re difficult to see, and can pack a wallop on the side of the ship. There have been a couple of occasions where we’ve heard the ship clanging with the impact of these things. It’s amazing to think that something so invisible in the water can make such a racket. But sometimes it’s those things unseen, floating just beneath the surface, that have the loudest voices.

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growler pulled up from alongside our zodiac while cruising around the Melchior Islands.

One of the components of our Homeward Bound professional development program was ‘visibility.’ Of all the things we worked on during our three weeks together – including leadership, strategic planning, science and science communication – I have to admit that I balked at this one. I didn’t even realize that I was balking at the concept of visibility in my work and life until well after I had returned home. All of the other things we discussed, which included a really close look at our leadership and communication styles, felt comfortable to me. But, deep down, I realize that I’ve always balked at making my work more visible, and this has had a long-term, and not necessarily positive, impact on my career as a scientist.

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The remnants of the unoccupied Argentinian base on the Melchior Islands make me wonder: how much of our own work do we abandon before it’s reached the light of day?

Through my life, and especially in my career, I guess I’ve preferred to hang out in the mist, like the Melchior islands. I like to move under the surface when I can, nudging without upsetting. Stepping into the light, making my work more visible, exposes me to vulnerability. As a result, there’s been a lot of work through my career that doesn’t really see the light of day. All scientists have an archive of abandoned work. And maybe some of it shouldn’t see the light of day! But I think that sometimes that work is abandoned simply because we haven’t built up enough trust in ourselves to move it forward.

I suppose one of the things I’ve come to understand through Homeward Bound is that we chose the face that we share with the world, and sometimes we hold ourselves back from sharing everything that we’re capable of doing.

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Without a doubt, a growler, drifting beneath the surface can move ships. But what opportunities do we have, what impact can we have, when we surface and let our work shine in the full light of day?

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