An Exceptional Antarctic Scientist

Being a scientist at the Canadian Museum of Nature means many things: discovering nature, publishing your research, mentoring students, talking to the media, giving peer reviews, and the list goes on. It is a diverse and fulfilling career.

A person stands beside an immense iceberg.

Iceberg lodged in the sea ice in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Image: Kathy Conlan © Canadian Museum of Nature

In the “peer review category”, I recently had the honour of serving on the selection committee for the prestigious Martha T. Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica. This is a US $100 000 prize funded by the Tinker Foundation and is a legacy of the International Polar Year. The prize is for a mid-career scientist and is unrestricted. It could be used to help students, go to Antarctica, put on a workshop or pay your mortgage. Your choice.

A mass of ice hangs just above the sea bed.

The same iceberg viewed from underwater. The dropstones frozen in the iceberg give a record of its movements as they drop off. Image: Kathy Conlan © Canadian Museum of Nature

We were a group of six judges from diverse Antarctic backgrounds with 12 distinguished candidates to review. Each candidate had been nominated by a peer who provided us with a thorough review of their career and letters of support from other peers. The nominees had incredible Antarctic careers and glowing reviews. To choose one who was just that much more incredible was our task. We were guided by the expertise of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, which administers the prize.

After much deliberation, we chose Dr. Valérie Masson-Delmotte, a French scientist who has dedicated her career to understanding past changes in the climate of Antarctica and how they may predict future climate locally and worldwide.

A woman stands in front of a snowy landscape.

Valérie Masson-Delmotte, the 2015 Martha T. Muse Prize winner. Image: Marc Delmotte © Marc Delmotte

Valérie studies glacier ice cores using various clues, such as changes in stable isotopes, to determine what the climate was and how it varied. Among her significant findings are that the last Antarctic deglaciation happened in synchrony with increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, just like is happening today. Valérie is a prominent leader in her field, mentors many students, gives popular talks and writes books for school children. She is a well-known scientific leader in France and was awarded the 2013 Prix Irène Joliot Curie (website In French) for Scientific Woman of the Year.

It was indeed an honour to be part of the judging team and to think that the Canadian Museum of Nature’s expertise reaches so far. Congratulations, Dr. Masson-Delmotte!

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