Campus Life

UWF alum facing the ultimate antarctic challenge

Passionate about preserving history for future generations, UWF alumna Susanne Grieve will go to any length to learn more about historic adventurers and explorers, even if it means suiting up in four layers of heavy gear, facing temperatures that fall to negative 96 degrees Fahrenheit and enduring three months of darkness 24 hours a day. The only American in a four-person conservation team at Scott Base in the Ross Sea region of the Antarctic, Grieve is working to preserve huts used by Antarctic explorers Capt. Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton. Sponsored by the Antarctic Heritage Trust, the project involves conserving artifacts such as cans of food, clothing, and medical tools, as well as the huts of these explorers who perished in the early 1900s.

“When we first stepped off the plane, there was nothing but total whiteness,” said Grieve, the first American to be selected by the Antarctic Heritage Trust for the 2008 winter conservation team. “It’s incredible to be a part of this experience. To be in the huts where these explorers had their last meals was pretty emotional for everyone on the team.”

A conservator for The Mariners’ Museum in Virginia at the USS Monitor Center, Grieve was selected from more than 400 applicants after an intense screening process for this seven month project working with other conservators. Grieve began her passion for archaeology at the University of West Florida working as an underwater archaeologist and went on to pursue her master’s degree in conservation from the University College of London.

“UWF has definitely played a big role in where I am now,” said Grieve. “I absolutely fell in love with the campus. I was able to have great discussions with teachers that I still talk with, as well as hands-on time and the opportunity to get practical experience on top of classroom experience.”

Grieve currently faces many obstacles throughout this project, from the harsh cold to the painful winds of up to 50 miles per hour. She will soon face three months of darkness and will only see 15 other people at the base.

“This has been the biggest challenge of my life personally and professionally because the artifacts are so unique,” said Grieve. “The biggest adjustment is the cold. Working outside, having the right clothing and taking precautions doing the smallest things. Nothing can prepare you for this environment.”

Working nine-hour days, six days a week, the team will spend time conserving the camps of these explorers, which have been placed on the World Monuments Fund’s List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World. The team has been doing everything from vacuum sealing the food tins from the expeditions to also preserving individual artifacts like clothing as well as newspapers and books.

The team maintains a blog of their experiences to share with the public the personal stories of the conservators and what they’re experiencing through their work and the environment.

“Each member of the team specializes in a different type of conservation and brings something to the table for the project,” said Grieve. “Although sometimes there are no words to describe what we’ve seen or felt, it’s important for us to tell the world about our experiences. I know I’ve already been changed and although this environment can be cruel, it’s incredible to experience nature at its best.”

UWF is Creating Great Futures – Want to help? Visit Learn about UWF’s Anthropology and Archaeology programs at Visit the Antarctic Heritage Trust Blog.

By Megan Tyson, University Marketing Communications