Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2005 | People

To the Ends of the Earth: Angela Hendrichsen

By Jennifer Hemmingsen

Angela Hendrichsen’s degree in civil and environmental engineering has taken her just about as far as she can go. Geographically, anyway. This past winter, Hendrichsen, 96BSE, worked as an environmental technician for the United States Antarctic Program at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

The same wanderlust that led Hendrichsen from her hometown of Burlington to jobs in Florida and the Pacific Marshall Islands brought her last fall to McMurdo, the largest of three permanent U.S.-run Antarctic research stations. Temperatures at McMurdo have been recorded as low as minus 59 degrees Fahrenheit, but they rise to a balmy 20 degrees during the austral summer, from October to February, when hundreds of scientists head there to study everything from single-celled organisms to glaciers to the stars. As a contract engineer, Hendrichsen made sure their drinking water was safe and the wastewater systems were working at all three major stations and dozens of smaller field camps.

In some ways, McMurdo is like any small town. It’s got a bowling alley, a library, and a coffee shop. There’s Internet access, a radio station, and a weekly newspaper. But, modern conveniences can’t mask the realities of where you are: the sun never sets during the six months you’re there, and most of your neighbors are penguins and seals. Working in Antarctica is definitely not for everyone, Hendrichsen says. There are no malls or movie theaters, and no place to get away from it all—everyone sleeps in the same dormitories and eats in the same cafeteria.

“To work on the ice [as it’s called locally] definitely takes someone who is willing to give up a lot of daily conveniences that you get in the States, but you get a lot of conveniences in return,” Hendrichsen says. “Everything is taken care of. You just have to work and do your laundry.”

But when you’re 8,500 miles from home, even perks like free haircuts can start to lose their appeal, and by the time the weather started to cool in early February, Hendrichsen was ready to move on. After traveling for a few months, she will decide where to go next.

After all, there are a lot of places to explore between here and the ends of the earth.