Biologist - Dana Bergstrom

At age 13 or so, what did you want to do when you grew up?

At 13 all I knew was that I wanted to be a scientist, but not sure what kind. I had known that I wanted to be a scientist from when I was 10 years old in year five. My class mates had all just laughed at me and thought I was stupid to want do something like that. When I was 13 a man called Harry Butler was roaming through the Australian bush on our TV screens pulling lizards and snakes from under rocks (he was like Steve Irwin) and that looked pretty cool. I also like camping and the bush a lot. The funny thing is that all through my high school years most of my teachers thought I was going to be an artist because I was really good at art. Yet to be a good scientist you have to use all your creative skills.

What town or city are you from?

I was born in Hornsby, in Sydney.

What were your educational/technical qualifications when you first worked in Antarctica?

I had just finished a Bachelor of Science and went down having just begun a Master of Science.

What was your work experience before undertaking your position in Antarctica?

I didn't have much experience in paid work but had my training from my science degree.

Why did you want to go to Antarctica?

Because it looked like a really exciting and beautiful place to go to.

What is your Antarctic experience?

I am just about to embark on my twelfth voyage south. I have worked on most of the six sub-Antarctic island groups in the world (Macquarie Island, Heard Island, Marion and Prince Edward Islands, Iles Crozet and Iles Kergelen), also on Scullin Monolith and in the Vestfold Hills.

What did you do in Antarctica?

I have conducted research on the terrestrial [land] ecosystems of these areas. In particular I study plants. My first studies included asking questions such as what plants live in these places, how did they get there and where else can they be found in the world? Lately I've been asking questions on: how do they grow in these cold places, how do they cope with all the penguin poo (an Antarctic version of chook poo) and how will the ecosystems cope with global climate change?

I am also leading a big international science project during the 'International Polar Year' called Aliens in Antarctica. We are not looking for little green aliens from outer space but how people can accidentally carry seeds and spores from their homes to Antarctica.

What skills did you need to do that work?

I needed a good science background, some theoretical skills like designing a scientific study, some practical skills like identifying plants and taking accurate measurements, and field skills like not getting lost if you get caught out in a thick mist or snow storm.

What did you like most about living and working in Antarctica?

This is a hard question to answer because there are so many good things. I obviously like asking questions about nature. I like living in a small community for a while. There are always heaps of enthusiastic people in Antarctica: people who have lived really interesting lives and are willing to create fun and make good things happen around them, not just wait for life to arrive. I like living and working in an environment where nature rules.

Because most of the time you have to walk everywhere, your life is controlled by the weather. If it is sunny you go out and do fieldwork, if a blizzard has hit, you stay in or get inside as soon as possible and work on something else. Finally, I find Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic is very beautiful, not just the seal and penguins but the plants, spiders and other small beasties, and the rocks and scenery too.

What was the scariest thing that happened to you?

The scariest thing that ever happened to me was flying in a helicopter around the ice covered mountain, Big Ben, on Heard Island. We flew over the top of the volcano on its summit and saw that there was boiling lava at the bottom crater. When we reached the other side of the crater, the helicopter flew into an updraft of wind, so powerful that it stopped the helicopter blades from spinning and the helicopter fell over toward the lava. I thought we were going to crash, but seconds later the blades began spinning again. The helicopter pilot had everything under control.

What was the greatest challenge for you?

The greatest challenge is always to do the very best science in a very difficult environment: a place where instruments freeze up or blow away, your fingers are always cold, your boots are always wet and your nose is always dripping snot.

What did you miss most about Australia?

The smell of eucalyptus and gum trees, magpies calling in the morning and my family.

What was the most striking thing you noticed when you returned from Antarctica?

Crowds of people, noise, pollution and cars.

Do you want to go again?


What do you think should happen to Antarctica in the future?

Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands should be protected forever.

This page was last modified on July 1, 2014.