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Antarctic accolades

The U.S. Geological Survey honors Akhouri Sinha for his 1972 biological research expedition, which provided critical data about animal populations.

Banner image of map of Antarctica

Few live to see a crimson sunset beyond the frosted bluffs and ice-sheathed waters of Antarctica. Akhouri Sinha, adjunct professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, was one such explorer—and now, a mountain is named in his honor.

Mount Sinha is a tribute to hard work and no small amount of moxie on Sinha’s part. In 1972 and 1974, Sinha participated in NSF-funded Antarctic research expeditions. Little was then known about shoreline animal populations. Sinha worked side-by-side with a team of renowned scientists to catalog native seal, whale and bird species along nearly 100,000 nautical square miles of Antarctic coast.

During four-month research sessions, Sinha and his teammates surveyed animal populations from a Coast Guard ship. They were often dropped via helicopter atop vast sheets of pack ice to observe and capture resident fauna. Once, Sinha was even attacked by predatory Skua birds near Palmer Station. “No guts, no glory,” says Sinha, speaking fearlessly of his voyages from ship to shore.

Photo of book with penguin on left page

The ice Sinha once traversed has begun to disappear at an alarming rate. Records of population sizes, types and behaviors created by Sinha and his teammates have established critical baseline data that remain relevant in today’s climate change debates. Their findings also constitute the first body of work to inform United Nations policy makers in population conservation efforts.

The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 established the area as an international scientific preserve. Today, however, its abundant resources—oil, minerals, and marine life—are at risk of exploitation by illegal harvesting and new legislation that could divide the continent into economic-use zones.

The next generation of scientists and conservationists have their work cut out for them. And work they must, if they are to create once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like Sinha’s. “Show [the world] that you are capable, don’t be afraid to contact people out in the field today, and grab every opportunity,” says Sinha.

 

— Colleen Smith

Media coverage

U of M professor discovers he has a mountain named after him
KSTP | July 17, 2014

At 81, professor still pioneers research
MN Daily | July 16, 2014