Skip Navigation

Exciting Work!

Courtesy of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln Alumni Magazine

Cathy Seybold working at Bull Pass Soil Climate Research Station (Antarctica).Not all soil scientists are driving around in pickup trucks, digging holes, and mapping land. Life can get pretty exciting if you are one of those soil scientists who are looking for adventure. If that is the case,  then talking to Cathy Seybold is a good idea.

But first let’s get this straight. Cathy Seybold prefers “tropical sites.”

But she goes wherever her job as a soil scientist for the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service takes her. And once a year, for 10 days or so, her job takes her to Antarctica.

Seybold works from New Zealand’s Scott Base, a research facility on Ross Island, just a couple of kilometers from McMurdo Station, a United States base. In overly simplified terms, her job is to monitor the soil as a means of understanding the effects of climate change, global warming.

No doubt you have an image of the climate in Antarctica. And no doubt your images are fairly accurate. Seybold goes in January, a summer month in the Southern Hemisphere and probably the warmest time of the year with temperatures from minus-25 degrees Celsius to just above freezing.

Oh yes, and 24 hours of daylight.

Scientists are issued outdoor clothing, including Extreme Cold Weather jackets, composed of 106 parts and requiring eight hours of assembly by one person, according to the Antarctica New Zealand government website. “It’ll keep you warm if it’s really bad,” said Seybold.

And it can get really bad, to the point at which helicopters taking scientists to research sites are grounded and flights bringing them from Christchurch, New Zealand, can’t land.

She took over the project in Antarctica in 2006 and has been there nine times.

Her first trip to Antarctica was exciting: 30 hours to New Zealand, with a “couple of days to recover,” and then on to Scott Base. “You’re landing on ice, there’s no airport, and you get off. ‘Wow, you’re here’,” Seybold said.

Her work travel also takes her to Alaska’s North Slope, “tundra, which is a different environment,” she said. But the climate is similar, as in cold.

“I don’t like the cold,” said Seybold, however, she does love the job.

For more information on the data collected in Antarctica and Alaska, please visit the Soil Climate Research Stations page.