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Thayer native part of Antarctica science team

Friday, November 4, 2011

Prof. Craig Cary inspects the ice sheet. Photo/Submitted
Craig Herbold was a Thayer fourth grader when he became intrigued with dirt -- soil, actually.

Herbold's main influence was Mary Jane Pounders, who retired in 2008 after teaching science in Thayer for 27 years. She died in August 2010.

"Craig always credited Miss Pounders with getting him interested in science," Herbold's mother, Clyda Herbold, said Tuesday, Nov. 1. "She is the one who made it fascinating for him. That's how important teachers are."

On Nov. 2, Dr. Craig Herbold and fellow Waikato (New Zealand) University scientists headed to Antarctica to study the soil in a volcano there. They will be accompanied by a team from National Geographic.

Herbold graduated valedictorian of his 1995 Thayer High School class. It is his third trip to Antarctica, and first with National Geographic accompanying him.

Herbold, Professor Craig Cary and Associate Professor Ian McDonald are headed to the most isolated geothermal sites on Earth, at the summit of Mt. Erebus.

National Geographic will be photographing them at work. The troupe includes a photographer, writer and lighting technician to track the three Waikato scientists and two advanced field operators from Antarctica New Zealand.

Professor Cary is director of ICTAR, an international Antarctic research center based at the University of Waikato, dedicated to understanding Antarctica's unique and fragile terrestrial environment.

Herbold said in an email message that he "hates to be a shameless self-promoter," but his parents, Carl and Clyda, urged him to send information to The South Missourian News about the trip.

"The first time he went, I was terrified," Clyda said. "I feel it's very important to research the environment, but it's very scary for me."

Working Mt. Erebus

"We've been working up on Mt. Erebus for the past three years, studying the unique bacteria that live in the hot soils - 65 degrees," Cary said in a university press release.

"We've got temperature probes placed all around the volcano that we'll be recovering this year along with extensive sampling," Cary said.

The group also will drill ice chimneys and scale down them into caves to collect soil samples.

"It's cold and dangerous stuff; it's hard work, but it's so exhilarating," Cary said.

Cary said they are finding that the microbes appear archaic.

"We believe they may come from the deep subsurface of the continent and are specifically adapted to life in these extreme conditions. They've been isolated from the rest of the planet for a long time and may contain the last vestiges of an ancient life, and we hope to find the genetic fingerprints of old organisms."

Cary said they hope that by looking at the genetics of this rare microbial community, they will discover how long-gone microbes adapted and survived the harsh conditions.

Before coming to Waikato University eight years ago from the United States, Cary had National Geographic funding for an earlier research project on geothermal fields. The current project, which has taken the scientists from Yellowstone volcano in California, through several sites in South America, Deception Island and Antarctica, is funded by a Marsden Grant.

The group travelling to Erebus got together in Christchurch on Nov. 1 and left for Antarctica on Wednesday.

The team will spend about three weeks with the magazine group, then return to New Zealand for a few weeks before going back to Antarctica for a few more weeks.

"They can only go in the summertime," Clyda said. "It's still solid ice, but it's a little warmer at the volcano."

Craig is second from the last of the Herbold's five children. He studied at the University of Southern California after high school, and earned his doctorate at the University of California - Los Angeles.

"His work is very interesting, but more complicated than I can understand," Clyda said. "When he comes home, he's a very fun uncle to his nieces and nephews."

Clyda said Herbold will be home in Thayer for a visit next summer.

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