A museum without walls: An expeditionist’s tale of Antarctica


Newspaper clippings recounting the expedition findings. Photo credit: Melissa Joseph

A crowd of people entered the Gateway Science Museum Wednesday night as the annual “Museum Without Walls” series took place. This week’s lecture was called “Antarctica: A Scientific Odyssey”. The talk discussed the adventure of four scientists trekking their way through an Antarctica expedition.

The lecture was led by Fraka Harmsen, one of the explorers who participated in two expeditions of Antarctica in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Harmsen’s extensive background in geology is backed by 33 years as a professor and researcher for the California State University system — even serving time as the Dean of Natural Sciences at Chico State.

Newspaper clippings recounting the expedition findings. Photo credit: Melissa Joseph

The ever adventurous Harmsen recently came out of retirement to pursue a position as Director of United States Engagement at her alma mater, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and has now chosen to share her daring story with the town of Chico.

As Harmsen approached the podium, a huge slideshow hung behind her, projecting the words “Mountains of Madness,” the title of a novel written by fellow Antarctica expeditionist, John Long. The audience was attentive as she began to introduce herself.

Harmsen first explained the grueling conditions of Antarctica and the below freezing conditions that left the scientists physically weakened for most of their travels. Introducing the novel by John Long, Harmsen continued to read excerpts from the book that detailed their harrowing journey across hundreds of kilometers of ice.

Harmsen read from multiple chapters, with the most interesting chapter being an excerpt that depicted their final days of the expedition: rationing food, fuel, and energy as unpredictable weather pursued. The group of scientists spent their Christmas worrying how they would survive their final days with diminishing resources and reach their final destination.

Harmsen shows slideshow pictures while discussing her adventures. Photo credit: Melissa Joseph

Fortunately, on New Year’s Day, the scientists were able to make a mad dash to their destination and board a flight to their base. On that specific expedition, the scientists uncovered a multitude of findings, including a new species of archaic fish, a meteor, and numerous fossils.

At the end of the lecture, Harmsen stressed the threat of climate change and urged the audience to recognize its effects. She then answered questions and clarified audience inquiries about the terrain of the South Pole and its characteristics.

To attend a “Museum Without Walls” educational lecture at the Gateway Science Museum, more event information can be found on their website.

Melissa Joseph can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @melisstweetz.