Elaine Hood will never forget the first time she stepped foot in Antarctica.
Blindingly bright sun reflecting off the ice. Brilliant shades of blue and white. Not a breath of air. It’s all seared into her brain.
“It’s stunningly beautiful. I have lived and worked around the world most of my career. (Antarctica) remains the most breathtakingly beautiful place I have ever seen,” she said.
Hood, a Conifer resident, is an adventurer at heart. More than two decades ago, she decided to take a break from her 20-year teaching career and spend an austral summer working in Antarctica, the virtually uninhabited southernmost continent. She thought she’d spend several months there and return to the classroom, but the continent captivated her.
Now, as communications manager with the Antarctic Support Contract, Hood has spent nearly five years on the continent in 11 deployments. The Antarctic Support Contract works with the National Science Foundation — the entity that manages the United States Antarctic Program — to support the science happening in Antarctica and to maintain three research stations there.
Hood and her team work to communicate plans to new folks before they deploy to Antarctica, maintain the Antarctic Photo Library, write stories for The Antarctic Sun and escort any media or film teams that may be visiting.
In addition, the Antarctic Support Contract hires about 1,000 people to work seasonal positions as land surveyors, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, cooks and more. Hood likes to equate the research stations to small college campuses with dorms, classroom buildings and a power plant. People must be there to keep the lights on, food stocked and snow plowed.
It takes a special person to do that work, considering those hired are essentially cut off from the world. There are six months of darkness and just three months when it’s warm enough to routinely land an airplane.
“We hire people who are very flexible in their personality, have a very can-do attitude,” Hood said. “If little things frustrate you, this is not the job for you.”
Hood said she is constantly amazed by the research being conducted by scientists visiting the continent. When in Antarctica, it’s not uncommon to eat breakfast with a penguin scientist, lunch with an astrophysicist and dinner with a paleontologist who just discovered a new dinosaur species.
An Antarctic Sun article from earlier this year, for example, details how the continent is becoming greener as it warms. Plants — moss, in particular — are popping up in spots that had once been inhospitable, and it could mean big changes for Antarctica’s ecosystems, according to the article.
“The science we support in Antarctica cannot be done anywhere else on the face of the Earth,” Hood said.
“Every encounter you have is mind boggling. … It is so exciting to have this daily interaction with these brilliant people to learn about what they’re doing.”