AN ICE-COVERED lake in Antarctica now bears the name of Deneb Karentz, a University of San Francisco biology professor who has conducted research on the southernmost continent for the past 20 years.
“It’s totally unexpected,” said Karentz, who has a joint appointment in the departments of biology and environmental science. “It’s actually quite an honor, and I’m quite thrilled.”
Lake Karentz, which is 1.3 miles long, recognizes Karentz’s contribution to the study of Antarctica. Most of her research has focused on the effects of ozone depletion on marine plankton, and has shown that many organisms have a good set of natural defenses against the increased ultraviolet exposure.
Because there is no history of permanent settlements and because the continent has been explored and studied by people of all nationalities, most Antarctic geographic features are named after people. Names are proposed to the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names, which then makes recommendations to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for approval. Approved names generally honor those that have played a significant role in the understanding of Antarctica.
Karentz began conducting research in Antarctica by chance. About 20 years ago, she signed up to help with fieldwork for an Antarctic project needing volunteers, thinking it would be an incredible opportunity. After the four-month stint, she submitted a proposal to study the biological effects of ultraviolet light on marine plankton in Antarctica. The U.S. government had just sent a team of scientists to investigate the ozone layer hole above Antarctica, prompting intense interest in research on the continent and on climate change. Her research was awarded funding from the National Science Foundation.
Now she returns about once a year for her research as well as to assist with other projects. Karentz also teaches an advanced biology course in Antarctica for graduate students from across the world.
Karentz works at two of the three American research stations on the continent, staying anywhere from six weeks to six months. No matter the length of the stay, everything is taken care of by the U.S. Antarctic Program, including meals, cleaning, and even clothing—researchers are issued two large duffle bags with everything from socks to parkas. Karentz describes research in Antarctica as “an incredible opportunity to be totally focused on your work.”
Simply getting to the White Continent can be an adventure. To reach McMurdo Station, Karentz flies to New Zealand and then flies on a military cargo plane for six to eight hours to the station. Reaching Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula requires a flight to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America, and then a four- to five-day trip aboard an icebreaker ship to an almost other-worldly place.
“It’s just a beautiful place to be with fantastic landscapes,” said Karentz. “There’s nowhere else like it on Earth. It’s incredible.”