When Mom Is Arctic Pole Explorer

09 Apr 2018

Climate scientists Zoe Courville, 42, and Lora Koenig, 40, met more than a decade ago in the middle of the Greenland ice sheet where they were colleagues — before either of them had kids.

Now, Koenig, who lives in Colorado, has two sons, and Courville, who lives in Vermont, has one son.

To be an explorer, as you are, means to be often away from home.

Koenig: Oh yes,we are often away from home for weeks at a time studying the impacts of climate change in remote areas of the world. It was especially hard at first to be thousands of miles away from our families

You had your first son in 2010.

Koenig:Yes, and it was the same year, when I got a grant to go to Antarctica. I went to the field and cried the whole plane ride when I left and I missed his first Christmas, but when I got back, he snuggled right in.

Zoe, you had your son the next year.

Courville:Yes, Lora was the pioneer and I had to ask hera lot of questions. The biggest question I had was if her son remembered her when she came back after being gone.

Lora, did you have good advice for your friend?

Koenig: I remember Ididn’t have any.We’re scientists. We want data, and we don’t have that.

Zoe, did your son recognize you, when you came back after the expedition?

Courville: To my regret, he didn’t. He sort of recoiled when I went to go have my imagined moment of us running into each other’s arms. You know, I wondered if I had done the right thing.

And what do your fellow scientists think you are away from your kids?

Courville: You see I still struggle with a remark — unsolicited — from one of my fellow scientists.

He said to me, ‘You know, I was in the field a lot and I was always grateful that my wife stayed home with the kids because kids need their mothers.’ He very pointedly wanted to let me know he thought that was important, but, kids also need their fathers and you don’t hear that a lot.

Yes, children need equally both.

Koenig:I thinksI’ma better scientist because I’m a mother — because I work harder in the field. If I’m away from my children, there’s an extra weight that I have to do even better.

What’s your husbands’ attitude to your work away from home?

Courville: Recently, I wanted to go on a work trip to the South Pole. The way I had phrased it to my husband was, ‘You know, honey, they might need someone to go to the South Pole to drill some ice cores.

Did your son welcome your decision?

Courville: He actually piped up and said ‘Mommy, you can do that.’ And so, there was a moment where I felt like things would be OK, that my son actually understands what I do is important and is kind of proud of me.


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