These Women Came to Antarctica for Science. Then the Predators Emerged – WIRED

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Content warning: This article includes scenes of physical and sexual harassment and assault.

The trouble in Antarctica started in Boston. It was August 1999, and Stanford geologist Jane Willenbring was then a 22-year-old self-described “country bumpkin.” She had just arrived to start her master’s in earth science at Boston University. As an undergrad with an oboe scholarship at North Dakota State University, she’d studied beetle fossils found in Antarctica and learned how, millions of years ago, the now frozen continent once pooled with freshwater lakes. “That’s not so different from the conditions we might expect in the future,” she says. She wanted to explore this critical science. “It seemed really important for future global climate change,” she says.

Of all the geologists, few were more renowned than the one Willenbring had gone to Boston to study under: 37-year-old David Marchant. Marchant, a scruffy professor at BU, was a rock star of rock study. He was part of a research group that rewrote Antarctic history by discovering evidence of volcanic ash, which showed that Antarctica had been stable for millions of years and was not as prone to cycles of warming and cooling as many thought. To honor his achievements, the US Board on Geographic Names approved the naming of a glacier southwest of McMurdo Station, the main research base on Antarctica, after him.

Willenbring says Marchant had insisted on picking her up at the airport, an offer she thought was nice but strange. It got stranger when he started making her feel bad for his gesture, which she hadn’t asked for. “I’m missing a Red Sox game,” she recalls him chiding her. “You really should have picked a better time to fly.” He asked whether she had a boyfriend, how often she saw him, and whether she knew anyone in Boston or would be alone. In a few months, she’d be heading with him on a research trip to Antarctica and the region with his big chunk of namesake ice. “It was almost like a pickup line,” she recalls, “‘I have a glacier.’”

But it’s what happened in the glacier’s shadow that led Willenbring to take on Marchant and become the first to expose the horrors faced by women at the bottom of the world. A report released in August 2022 by the National Science Foundation, the main agency funding Antarctic research, found that 59 percent of women at McMurdo and other field stations run by the US Antarctic Program said they’d experienced sexual harassment or assault. A central employer, Leidos, holds a $2.3 billion government contract to manage the workplaces on the ice. One woman alleged that a supervisor had slammed her head into a metal cabinet and then attacked her sexually. Britt Barquist, a former fuel foreman at McMurdo, says she had been forced to work alongside a supervisor who had sexually harassed her. “What was really traumatic was telling people, ‘I’m afraid of this person,’” she says, “and nobody cared.”

With a congressional investigation underway, Willenbring is sharing her full story for the first time with the hope of inspiring others to come forward and claim the justice they’ve long deserved. But even now, decades after she first got into Marchant’s car, she can’t help asking herself how, and why, the nightmare happened in the first place. “You never hear a women-in-science panel where people are talking about stuff like I do,” she says, “because they’re smart enough to fucking run.”

In November 1999, Willenbring flew to New Zealand and boarded the large militaristic plane arranged by the NSF for the eight-hour flight to McMurdo Station. She was heading there with Marchant and another grad student, Adam Lewis, for her first trip to the continent. They’d be collecting samples from a plateau where glaciers had drained through the ice. This would help them understand when glaciers had eroded and would give insight into future climate change scenarios. “I really wanted to go to Antarctica, hike around, dig holes, collect samples. That kind of thing,” she says.

It didn’t take long for Willenbring to notice that there might be unexpected challenges ahead. The plane didn’t have a private toilet. Instead, at the back, there was essentially a bucket partially concealed by a curtain that didn’t reach the floor. “This is fine for guys, because they just stand and pee into the bucket,” Willenbring says. “But I would have to hold on to my pants, and you could see my butt.” On other occasions women resorted to using “pee funnels,” she later learned, but no one had ordered one for her. Marchant told her he chose not to order one, she recalls, because he thought it was “gross having women stand up while they pee.”

After landing on the ice shelf airfield, Willenbring felt “totally spellbound,” with her boots slipping on the icy surface and the cold crisp snap of Antarctic air in her lungs. She rode in a giant bus as she got debriefed, she says, on the dos and don’ts of life in the delicate ecosystem she’d come to study: how to sort garbage, what to keep in bottles or bags. McMurdo Station itself wasn’t much to look at—just a jumble of buildings and construction vehicles. At that time of year, the research station housed around 1,000 people, including scientists and crew. Many liked to go to the annual kegger in the helicopter hangar or to gather at Gallagher’s, the station’s watering hole.

As a newbie “on the ice,” as locals put it, Willenbring had to complete survival camp before heading into the field. She excelled at making a fire in the snow, tying the correct knots to secure a tent, and building an igloo, in which she had to sleep for a night. There was one other newbie in the Boston group who was even less experienced than Willenbring, and certainly less qualified: Jeffrey Marchant. To her surprise, David Marchant had brought along his older brother. Jeffrey wasn’t a scientist; he was a research assistant professor at Tufts University’s medical school who, Willenbring recalls, had tagged along for fun. It seemed outrageous to her that Marchant would disrupt their work like this. But he just laughed when she questioned him, and he told her to call his brother by his field nickname: Ken Tonka. The name had come up when the group was playing the “porn star name” game of pairing a team member’s middle name with their favorite childhood toy. But she recalls Marchant telling her that “Tonka” was also “because his penis was like a Tonka truck.”

the four of them—the Marchant brothers, Willenbring, and Adam Lewis—took a helicopter more than 70 miles to the desolate Dry Valleys region, where they’d be spending weeks doing research. Most field scientists flew back now and then, but Marchant had told Willenbring that he believed in toughing it out in the bitter cold: no showers, no bathrooms, and, as she learned, no privacy. “He views himself as the second coming of Ernest Shackleton,” Lewis recalls, so much so that Marchant asked to be called by the nickname Shack.

Marchant seemed to have no patience for anyone slowing him down, especially women. Lewis told Willenbring that on a previous expedition, Marchant had bullied a high school teacher, Hillary Tulley, who’d joined them to participate in their work. On one of the group’s first days there, “he marched up the side of a mountain as fast as he possibly could for no other reason than to make Hillary tired,” Lewis says (and Tulley confirms). “He would say things to her like, ‘You’re not gonna make it. You’re slowing us down, Hillary. I don’t know even know why the hell you’re here.’” Tulley recalls that “it was a big clusterfuck from the jump … It was all just not good.”

When they’d pause out in the field to talk, “Marchant would always stop at the place where there was a big rock so he could stand on it to be the tallest,” Tulley says. “One day, I stood on the rock first, and the way he looked at me … I just thought it was so easy to bait this guy. To establish dominance.”

Willenbring had her own trouble to face. Marchant had brought three tents for the four of them. He said she would be sharing with his brother. “Why don’t you stay with your brother?” she asked Marchant. “Because Jeff likes you,” he told her, suggestively. (Jeffrey Marchant declined to comment for this article.)

As they spent their days digging for volcanic ash and carefully collecting samples of sediment and rocks found in glacial ice, Marchant would talk up his brother to Willenbring. He said Jeffrey played oboe, just like her, and asked whether she’d seen his brother’s penis yet. She had. She would be sleeping in their tent when sometimes she would hear him wake up, and then see him standing there, peeing into a bottle with an erection.

As disgusted and nervous as this made Willenbring feel, she also felt afraid to challenge Marchant. Like any grad student, she needed her adviser’s approval and support to advance in her field—to get a thesis approved, receive a recommendation, get referrals for a job. “He definitely had the power,” she says. Willenbring stuck it out.

Personal tents for staff at the Shackleton Glacier science camp, situated on the Shackleton Glacier in the Transantarctic mountains of Antarctica.Photograph: Getty Images/Jeff Miller

But as the days passed and the polar sun beamed over them around the clock, Willenbring’s research mission became increasingly dark. On some days, Marchant made them hike for 13 hours while collecting samples. During the long journeys over the unforgiving rocks, Willenbring feared they’d hit an ice storm, or go so long without a snack that Lewis, who was diabetic, would go into insulin shock. (Lewis says he packed an abundance of snacks to ward off the risk.)

Marchant tried to run them like a boot camp. “He made us all do push-ups. You know, ‘Gimme 50!’” Lewis says of at least one occasion. The few times Lewis mustered the nerve to speak up—warning Marchant that he might be crossing a line—he says Marchant laughed him off.

Even if Willenbring had gathered the courage to call for help, there was only one way to do it. The group had a radio that they used to call back to base and deliver a daily check-in message, alerting McMurdo personnel that they were safe. But, Willenbring says, Marchant never let it out of his control. Every morning, he’d call back to McMurdo: “Four souls in camp, and all is well.”

Willenbring’s feelings of isolation grew. Then, one day, while digging into the gravelly sediment off on her own, amid the sandstone and dolerite, she found a big piece of granite. “It was serendipitous,” she says. “This was something new.” The presence of granite suggested an unexpected twist in the historical record—and in assumptions of when ice had deposited sediment at that location. But when she showed Marchant the dark jagged samples, he dismissed her as “a dumb fucking whore,” she says. “I was like, ‘I just can’t win,’” she recalls.

As repulsed and angry as she felt, Willenbring knew her findings were valuable, no matter what Marchant said. It became clear that belittling her had become a sport for him, whatever the circumstance. He would chastise her for carrying heavy equipment and for not carrying any at all. Sometimes it would get to be too much, and she would break down. “He hated when I’d cry,” she recalls. “He’d laugh and then get mad at me for crying. It was just the ultimate fucking with my head.”

One day, Marchant asked her to look closely at a sediment sample he held in a small bent spoon, then blew the crystalline shards into her eyes. Another time, she says, he grabbed her by her backpack and pushed her down a loose gravel hill she was struggling to climb. She resolved that she would fight back if she needed to. She had already told him that she was a black belt in tae kwon do. “I don’t know how to put this in a way that doesn’t make me sound totally psycho,” she tells me, “but if it had gotten super bad, I would’ve just beaten him with my hands or by smashing him in the face with a shovel.”

Marchant didn’t relent. He pushed her down and taunted her. She fantasized about punching him in the nose. Midway through the field season, he started pelting her with rocks whenever he caught her urinating—easy for him to do since there were no bushes or trees. Willenbring began drinking less water so she wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom. She got a bladder infection. It got so bad that she started urinating blood. When she told Marchant, he told her to drink cranberry juice. Throughout it all, Marchant would radio each day and give the OK message back to base. “Four souls in camp,” he would say, “and all is well.”

after the team returned to Boston, a faculty member asked Willenbring to write a tenure recommendation letter for Marchant. She felt she had no choice, so she did it. She recalls that he’d made it clear she was not to speak of their time on the ice—that if she did, she’d be branded a liar. In other words, she believed he would ruin her career.

When he tried to enlist Willenbring in hazing a younger student and denigrating their work, she refused. But the stress was taking a toll. “I would try to push it far, far down,” she tells me. “You try not to think about it, that it’s there. Otherwise it’ll drive you crazy.” After more than two years at BU, Willenbring left with her master’s degree.

She moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to work on a PhD in earth sciences at Dalhousie University. After finishing, she landed a coveted position as an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania. It was a joyous moment—the great payoff after many difficult years. But Willenbring says the bad behavior resumed. She says male colleagues made degrading remarks—about her clothing, about her nipples, about her being too fat to fit behind seminar desks. (She was pregnant.)

One day, when her child was 3, Willenbring was without childcare and brought her daughter along to the lab. She set her up in an observation room with a window so the little girl could watch. Willenbring went into the adjacent room and waved as she suited up in a white coat and goggles. For the first time, her daughter seemed to understand that her mom was a real-life scientist. “I want to be a scientist just like you!” she exclaimed.

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Meredith Nash in Neko Harbour, in West Antarctica, during her voyage with Homeward Bound.Photograph: Sarah Conolly

Willenbring responded by bursting into tears. “I was imagining her going through what I did,” she tells me. When her daughter asked her why she was crying, she reassured her, though it felt like a lie. “Sometimes mommies do happy tears,” she said, “because it makes me so happy that you want to be a scientist.”

That night, Willenbring went home on a mission. She decided it was time to finally speak out. She opened her laptop and wrote up a draft of her complaint against David Marchant. But then she got scared. She didn’t have tenure. Her academic career still felt insecure. She set the draft aside.

A few months later, in 2016, Willenbring moved with her daughter across the country to become a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. It had been nearly two decades since she escaped her time with Marchant on the ice, but her experiences left her both psychologically and physically damaged. (She has fought bladder problems since her infection in the field.) She also carried an intense sense of shame for not having spoken out, one way or another, despite her fear at the time. She felt sick imagining Marchant harassing other students with impunity. But now, in her new job, she finally had tenure.

In October of that year, Willenbring filed a Title IX complaint about Marchant. When Boston University officials assured her that they would look into the matter, she felt hopeful. “I actually thought they would be happy to know about this,” she says, “because what a horrible liability, having this guy as a professor.”

David Marchant did not respond to WIRED’s request to comment.

Following Willenbring’s complaint, two other women joined the action: “Deborah Doe,” who alleged that Marchant had called her a “cunt” and a “bitch” and had threatened her PhD funding—she had been so traumatized that she left higher education—and Hillary Tulley, the high school teacher from the earlier trip with Marchant. “His taunts, degrading comments about my body, brain, and general inadequacies, never ended,” as Tulley put it.

Around the time, the Me Too movement was gaining momentum. The Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal broke, and the monstrous behavior in Antarctica went viral. Samantha Bee joked about it on her show Full Frontal, saying, “You can’t even go to the most remote part of the planet without some dude swinging his cold, shriveled dick your way.” It felt cathartic for Willenbring, but it also brought new challenges—starting with the death threat she found written on her office door.

In November 2017, the university concluded its investigation and determined that Marchant had in fact sexually harassed Willenbring and that the case warranted the start of termination proceedings. Marchant appealed, and a group of faculty recommended that he merely be suspended for three years without pay. After that, he was free to return. It seemed that despite Willenbring’s effort, more needed to be done to finally bring justice, and light, to the horrors at the bottom of the earth. Three months later, that’s exactly what happened.

In February 2018, the environmental news site Grist published an account from five women who alleged sexual harassment, sexual coercion, and bullying on the inaugural Homeward Bound, a leadership-development voyage to Antarctica for women in science and technology fields. One claimed to have woken up next to a naked crew member with “no memory of what had happened.”

Founded by Australian leadership expert Fabian Dattner, the voyage had a tagline: “Mother Nature needs her daughters.” Seventy-six women had paid about $15,000 each for the three-week trip, which included workshops on the boat and scientific tours in Antarctica, where the voyagers focused their research. University of Tasmania sociologist Meredith Nash boarded the ship as a researcher studying leadership programs for women in science and tech. What she discovered on the expedition shocked her.

One night on the ship, Nash, a native Chicagoan with tattooed arms and a crest of blond hair on her close-shaved head, attended a group party that quickly devolved into a drunken bash, with the captain wearing a dress and another crew member being led around on a leash. (Nash says there’s “a long Antarctic tradition for men to cross-dress.” A Homeward Bound representative noted, “On every voyage at the midway point of the journey we have a costume party which is a celebratory experience for all the women to join and participate.”)

Nash, as part of her study, had collected video diaries from women on the journey. She was going through them back in Tasmania when she found a video of a woman crying in the ship’s dining room because a crew member, she said, had just followed her back to her room and tried to hold the door open and enter without her permission. Nash, horrified, emailed and then called the woman to see whether she was OK. “She said she’d already talked to the faculty about what happened,” she says, “and that was that.”

The woman in the video was Nicole Hellessey, a PhD student at the University of Tasmania who had joined the Homeward Bound program to connect with other women scientists. Recalling the incident, Hellessey says that she alerted members of the voyage’s faculty while still on board, but no one followed up or checked in on her before or after Nash’s phone call. “I dealt with that trauma alone,” she says. (Homeward Bound says that “if participants raised any concerns … this information was shared with the Homeward Bound leadership team.”)

“This was a voyage for women to go to Antarctica and break boundaries, and instead, the few men on board made this experience feel like a microcosm of the real world,” Hellessey adds. “I felt unsafe, and what happened to me brought me back to reality.”

According to Dattner, two crew members lost their jobs following the voyage. After the trip, many of the women sent the Homeward Bound organizers a list of recommendations, which included developing a code of ethics and closing the bar by midnight. About a quarter of the women thought the list didn’t go far enough, and sent a second letter urging the program to, among other things, hire an independent clinical psychologist and foster an environment free from offensive and intimidating language.

“A lot of mistakes were made on the first trip that some of us fought very, very hard to remedy for future expeditions,” says Sea Rotmann, who participated in the Homeward Bound trip. The program implemented some of the ideas and dozens of others to improve safety. (In 2018, a New Zealand magazine had been reporting on the allegations of abuse and harassment when lawyers representing Homeward Bound threatened the publication with the possibility of a lawsuit. Lacking the financial resources to deal with litigation, the magazine killed the story.)

Stunned by what had happened on the Antarctica expedition, Nash dug further. She continued interviewing and collected surveys from more than 150 women scientists about the treatment they faced while conducting remote field work in Antarctica. Sixty-three percent of them reported being harassed, and about half said they’d never spoken up about what had happened. The harassment ranged from physical assault to microaggressions: “PhD supervisors withholding data,” Nash says, “or preferencing the male members of a research team over the women.”

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Meredith Nash helped reveal widespread sexual misconduct in Australia’s Antarctic programs.Photograph: Adam Gibson

In 2020, the Australian Antarctic Division commissioned her to lead a government-funded review of diversity, equity, and inclusion at its programs. “When I first started,” she tells me, “one of the scariest moments I had was when one of the people I was working with said, ‘See that guy there? He raped that woman over there 10 years ago on station.’”

During her nearly two years working on that review, Nash learned about widespread incidents of harassment and assault. The reign of male expeditioners in the region and the isolation of the harsh environment made it all the more insidious. “Women have to work in the field with their abusers for weeks at a time because they simply can’t leave,” as she puts it. In the spring of 2021, she suggested to the director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Kim Ellis, that he immediately launch a more specific investigation into sexual misconduct.

That didn’t happen, but Ellis says he met with Nash monthly and implemented many of her other recommendations, including hiring three women to roles within the previously all-male executive team, providing menstrual health products in all bathrooms at Antarctic division offices, and improving training on sexual misconduct.

Nash says there’s more to be done. And it starts with more women speaking out. “The only reason we know about David Marchant is because Jane Willenbring had the courage to talk about her experiences.”

On April 12, 2019, Boston University finally fired David Marchant for sexually harassing Willenbring. (The university said it could not corroborate her claims of physical and psychological abuse.) Marchant released a statement, which the journal Science quoted as vowing that he had “never” sexually harassed anyone, “not in 1998 or 1999 in Antarctica or at any time since.” But because of Willenbring, the word was out.

Reeling in the wake of this scandal, the National Science Foundation commissioned an outside study on sexual assault and sexual harassment at the Antarctic research facilities. The lengthy report, made public in August 2022, had shocking allegations of assault, stalking, and harassment. Britt Barquist, the former fuel foreman, was on contract at McMurdo with a company now called Amentum. She oversaw a crew of about 20 who did the dangerous work of handling and cleaning diesel and gasoline fuel tanks. One day in late November 2017, she tells me, she was sitting at a table alongside a man who held a senior position at Leidos, the company managing the Antarctic research stations. He’d been running a briefing for the staff when he groped her in plain view.

When she talked about it with her supervisor, he said he’d witnessed some of the incident himself. His boss reported it to the human resources department at Amentum. “I told HR that I don’t want to be anywhere around him ever again. I am scared of this person,” Barquist says, “And they said, ‘OK.’”

But in 2020, during another stint working with the McMurdo contractor, she was told she’d be attending weekly virtual meetings with that same senior official. Barquist, who needed the job, downplayed it to herself. “It was just disgusting and awful to have to look at his face and listen to him talk,” she says, “just to see him treated as a normal guy, when in my head I’m like, ‘This guy is a predator. Why is everyone just acting like he’s some normal person?’”

The next year, toward the end of nearly three weeks of Covid quarantine with a crew in New Zealand, she’d scanned the manifest for an upcoming flight to Antarctica and saw the senior official’s name on it. When she called her HR department over a spotty connection to complain, she says she was met with obstinance by two officials, one of whom had been introduced as a victim’s advocate.

“I said I still don’t want to be around this guy,” she tells me, “but they said, ‘So how do you suggest we deal with this?’” Barquist gets emotional as she recalls her conversation with the two women from her employer. “I thought they were going to be on my side,” she says. Instead, they kept pressing her as to how afraid she felt to be around him.

“I finally was like, ‘Yes,’” she says, “‘I feel unsafe being alone in a room with him!’” Then the signal dropped, she says, and she never managed to reconnect with them. Barquist flew back to Antarctica, where she tried to avoid the senior official. But as her team’s safety depended on her communicating with him on a nearly daily basis, she eventually relented.

Amentum would not answer specific questions about Barquist’s case but did say that the company had “zero tolerance for harassment” and, once informed of an allegation, “cooperates with investigation requests and, where appropriate, conducts its own internal investigation.” Leidos, meanwhile, said that it has “zero tolerance for such behavior.”

Jennifer Sorensen, a food steward and janitor at McMurdo, felt from the start that she’d arrived on an island of men. Women, she sensed, “weren’t going to necessarily be seen as human.” Sorensen fell into what locals call an “ice relationship” with a man while they were stationed together. But the day after Christmas, she says, her “ice boyfriend” raped her. Two years later, she reported it to a communications specialist at Leidos as well as the HR department and president of GHG, the company that employed the individual. She was stunned when, following a four-day investigation, GHG told her that the attack was not an assault. Instead, a GHG executive told her, “We have concluded that a sexual incident took place that resulted in feelings of humiliation and extreme discomfort for you.”

The company informed her that it was sexual harassment, which meant the most that could be done was for GHG not to hire her alleged rapist back. “It just felt like this bizarre game of telephone, where I was truthful,” she says, “and then they tried to repeat it back to me like, ‘No, that’s not it at all.’” (GHG ultimately did not view this incident as a violation of the NSF’s Polar Code of Conduct.)

After the NSF released its August 2022 report on sexual harassment and assault at McMurdo and the other US stations in Antarctica, Leidos submitted a statement to the US Congress claiming it had received “zero allegations” of sexual assault in the past five years. “Either they’re straight-up lying,” Barquist says, “or somehow they put what happened to me into some weird bucket of ‘not sexual assault.’” As part of a 2023 investigation by the Associated Press, other women came forward, including a woman who alleged she was choked and assaulted by a colleague at McMurdo in November 2022. (The accused was later found not guilty in a jury trial.) Women at the station formed a group, Ice Allies, to support and educate one another.

In a statement to WIRED, the NSF says it has “been grappling with this challenge for many years” and that the report prompted the agency “to take quick and deliberate action” to improve the safety and culture of Antarctica’s research bases. According to a spokesperson, “These are only our initial steps in Antarctica. We will continue to make changes as part of an ongoing effort to address the community’s needs.”

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tkPhotograph: Sarah Conolly

Two months after the NSF report came out, the Australian government finally released Nash’s study to the public, though it published only seven of her 42 pages and redacted specific individuals’ accounts. Tanya Plibersek, Australia’s minister for environment and water, whose office in part oversees the country’s Antarctic programs, said she was “gobsmacked” by what she read. “There is no place for sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior in any workplace,” she said. Kim Ellis, the Antarctic division director, issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned” and “accepted all the recommendations.”

Nash’s report hinted, however, at a larger problem—lack of trust. Women felt the program’s leadership lacked the “deep knowledge” required to take meaningful steps, and doubted HR’s ability to properly handle formal complaints. Three months later, Ellis announced his resignation.

Nash’s work also prompted Australia’s Antarctic leaders to commission a more comprehensive review. Released in spring 2023, it included a survey of nearly 250 people and found that “a significant number of participants do not believe” the Antarctic division “is psychologically safe, and there are negative consequences for speaking up.” The division says that it has since expanded its leadership training programs.

As in the US, however, the problem down under hasn’t gone away. At the end of 2023, a leaked survey of women in the Australian Antarctic program showed that nearly one-third of survey respondents reported seeing or experiencing bullying or harassment in the previous two months but felt afraid to speak up about it. “The reason why women don’t want to talk,” Nash says, “is because they’ve been gaslit this whole time, where everyone’s saying, ‘It didn’t happen. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t believe you.’”

The NSF has since announced changes at McMurdo, including banning the sale of alcohol at Gallagher’s and appointing a woman as special assistant to the NSF director focusing on sexual assault and harassment prevention and response. Leidos told a congressional committee that it would require more security clearances for those wielding master keys that open multiple dorm rooms and that it would install peepholes so people inside can see who’s at the door. The company also promised to give field teams additional satellite phones—the sort of thing Willenbring could have used when she was stuck with Marchant. “We take sexual harassment and assault allegations seriously,” a spokesperson for Leidos told WIRED in a statement. “We also strictly enforce our policies prohibiting retaliation against employees who raise concerns. At Leidos, we expect a safe and respectful environment for everyone.” Until recently, however, the individual who Barquist said harassed her had remained employed by the company.

Representative Zoe Lofgren, the ranking member of the US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which is conducting the congressional investigation into Leidos and the NSF, says that such slow-walking should never take place. “Leidos has maintained a willful ignorance to the situation on the ice.”

Willenbring tells me she believes the response from the NSF and others has been sluggish at best. It took six years from when she filed her complaint with Boston University for the NSF to come out with fixes. With two dozen other countries, including Russia, the UK, and Brazil, having at least one base on Antarctica, it’s likely only a matter of time before more stories emerge. Only two other countries have guidelines in place for reporting sexual assault and harassment in their programs. Many nations with a presence in Antarctica don’t have workplace harassment laws at all. As Nash puts it, some of those other countries “are going to have to have their own moment of reckoning.”

In November 2023, another Homeward Bound expedition set off for Antarctica with dozens of women on board. Fabian Dattner, the organizer, tells me that more than 60 new rules have been put in place to ensure a safe and productive environment. In addition to a prohibition against crew mingling with scientists, the voyage now has a psychologist and psychiatrist on board and the ship’s bar closes as early as 9:30 pm.

The harassment of female scientists in Antarctica has another consequence: the impediment of the work of women such as Willenbring who have devoted their lives and research to better understanding climate change. There will be plenty of work that has to be done. A report published online in October in the journal Nature Climate Change documented an alarming trend. Some of the waters around Antarctica glaciers are projected to warm at a pace three times faster than that of the previous century. This will cause “widespread increases in ice-shelf melting, including in regions crucial for ice-sheet stability,” the study determined. This could contribute to devastating sea level rise—between 1 and 3 feet—by 2100.

One glacier is no longer listed on the map: the one named for David Marchant. Two years after Willenbring filed her complaint, the US Board on Geographic Names voted unanimously to strip Marchant’s name from his coveted berg. Willenbring posted the news on Twitter along with the hashtag #MeTooSTEM. The 7-mile-long glacier, which drains the slopes of the Rampart Ridge, is now called Matataua, after a nearby mountain peak. It rises far beyond McMurdo Station—a reminder of the men who claimed the ice and the women taking it back before it’s gone.


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