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Pleasant Grove man on an expedition in Antarctica

January 10, 2019
Kevin Dickerson poses for a photo in Antartica.

An American Fork junior high biology teacher, Kevin Dickerson, is spending the next few weeks in a part of the world where it is summer.

But, where he went is not the typical destination. Dickerson, who lives in Pleasant Grove, is helping to research the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in Antarctica for seven weeks.

PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating) is a program that brings educators and polar researchers together to further polar science, education and understanding. Teachers who are chosen through an application process are matched up with scientists to collaborate on research in polar regions.

Dickerson was matched up with Brigham Young University biology researcher Byron Adams, who is on his 16th trip to Antarctica to study microbes in the soil and to document and learn how ecosystems respond to environmental changes.

“What’s going on in the poles is a precursor to what’s happening in the rest of the world,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson and Adams left on Dec. 30 and arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Jan. 2.

In New Zealand, they received training for two days with the Untied States Antarctic Program and receive their ECWs (extreme cold weather gear.) They participated in training about keeping the continent of Antarctica pristine and keeping themselves safe.

Two days before he left Utah, Dickerson said that the opportunity did not yet seem real.

“When I land on the ice, it will seem real,” he said. They finally landed on ice when they arrived in Antarctica on Jan. 4, after taking a boomerang flight on Jan. 3 – taking off and going partway, but turning back due to quickly changing weather conditions.

Then, they traveled to the McMurdo Station, a United States science research station. There, Dickerson will have a room to stay in and a lab to catalog samples. They will not stay at the station the entire time, however. From there, they take a helicopter out in the field to the McMurdo Dry Valleys, an ice-free area of Antarctica, on the western coast of McMurdo Sound.

While there, the team will be sleeping in sleeping bags in tents.

“It’s summer there now. The sun is up all the time,” Dickerson said.

During the day, it is about 20 degrees.

“They have winds that come ripping down off the South Pole,” Dickerson said. “Those winds are clocked at 200 miles per hour.”

Dickerson found out about a year ago that he was accepted for the project. After that, he began preparing by becoming more educated about Antarctica, working out with weights and a new diet to gain 15 pounds and receiving vaccinations. He also attended training in Alaska for a week and worked with Adams to learn procedures for their research.

“It has been amazing to learn more about Antarctica,” he said.

Outreach is a major part of the PolarTREC program and Dickerson will be communicating with several schools while in Antarctica. Dickerson journals with photos and writing every day so students of all ages can learn about earth’s coldest and least-populated continent as well as the research being conducted.

Anyone can follow the journal entries and post questions. Teachers can sign up for webinars by going to https://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/dry-valleys-ecosystem-study.

“Hopefully, I can bring back more skills and information to help students,” Dickerson said.

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