Response To Kathleen Heideman's “The Scientific Method: Poems of Antarctic Inquiry and Research in Preparation.”
Kathleen Heideman is a poet, but not like Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman. Heideman is also a scientist, or it seems she is because she writes poems about the scientific work being done in Antarctica. A link to her poems is on the website for the National Science Archives. The collection is titled, “The Scientific Method: Poems of Antarctic Inquiry and Research in Preparation.” The very first poem in the collection describes an ice hut with a fishing hole used to catch fish called Trematomus bernacchii. It is titled “Ice Fishing.” If one were to come upon this poem without knowing the context, they may think that it is about ice fishing in one of the northern Midwest states such as Minnesota, where ice fishing is a common activity. Heideman does not mention Antarctica in the poem until the very last stanza. Her stanzas are more like paragraphs documenting the work of the scientists who study fish and other parts of the natural world. Antarctica begs to be studied.
In another of Heideman’s poems, she talks about Lake Vostok, which is a massive lake, one of the largest in the world. However, it is covered by two and a half miles of ice and has been for 30 million years. Lake Vostok is a fresh water lake, and not frozen, or at least in the early 2000’s scientists thought it was as alive as a lake can be and only frozen in primordial time. Heideman includes links to news articles about Lake Vostok in her poem titled, “Under the Ice: Life.” One of the links is to the BBC website. There it says, “It’s very existence defies belief. Scientists are desperate to get into the lake because its extreme environment may be home to unique flora and fauna, never seen before, and NASA are excited by what it could teach us about extraterrestrial life” (BBC). Many things could be learned about life on Earth if scientists could figure out how to get through ice to the water without contaminating the water with the ice.
Studies done since then have found that there is life in the water of Lake Vostok. Scientists were able to bore down into the lake through the ice. According to a 2017 Live Science article by Becky Oskin, “In addition to fungi and two species of archaea (single-celled organisms that tend to live in extreme environments), the researchers identified thousands of bacteria, including some that are commonly found in the digestive systems of fish, crustaceans and annelid worms” (Oskin). The lake remains liquid year-round despite the fact that its average temperature is 27 degrees Fahrenheit because it sits above a geothermal zone.
Perhaps the information that is learned from Lake Vostok can help scientists. It may be that the information can help scientists to find a way to survive the coming global warming. Even if it is not useful for that, it is extremely exciting to know that there is a place on Earth that has been untouched for millions of years. Perhaps Lake Vostok can reveal how life on Earth started, or as Oskin pointed out, perhaps give clues to extraterrestrial life. It may be important for scientists to know how organisms can survive in outer space if the conditions on Earth become impossible to sustain human life and humans must leave the planet to find a new place to live.
The fact that I never would have known about Lake Vostok if I had not read a poem is exciting to me too. I love poetry, but few if any poems I have read in the past led me to exciting scientific research. Who would have thought that a poet, who writes more like a documentarian, would be talking about Antarctica’s hidden primordial lakes?
BBC. "The Lost World of Lake Vostok." 26 October 2000. BBC. Web. 4 May 2020. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2000/vostok.shtml>.
Heideman, Kathleen. "The Scientific Method: Poems of Antarctic Inquiry & Research in preparation." Antarctic Artists & Writers Program — Past Participants. National Science Foundation, 2005. Web. 4 May 2020. <https://www.nsf.gov/geo/opp/aawr.jsp?#B>.
Oskin, Becky. "Vostok: Lake Under Antarctic Ice." 21 December 2017. Live Science. Web. 4 May 2020. <https://www.livescience.com/38652-what-is-lake-vostok.html>.