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QMC PHD graduate takes flight

Old Girl Holly Winton is a recent PHD graduate who has gone above and beyond for her research, enduring extreme weather conditions and months of cold showers.

Holly, who studied at Queen Margaret College from 1991 – 2002, has a long running family association with the school.

“My family has had a long connection with the school – my mother Jeannine Winton, my grandmother Rachel Winton and two aunties attended Queen Margaret College,” Holly says.

“My grandfather was on the board of governors and made a member of College.”

A member of Glamis House, Holly’s favourite subjects were Geography and Materials Technology but she did not have a specific career in mind.

“Queen Margaret College taught me the importance of perseverance and strong study skills,” she says.

After finishing secondary school, Holly completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Geography followed by a Postgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies with Distinction at the University of Canterbury.

Holly then returned to Wellington to complete a Master of Science, majoring in Geology with First Class Honours before crossing the ditch to do a PHD at Curtin University, Australia.

As part of her PHD, Holly investigated atmospheric iron fertilisation of Australian and Antarctic waters.

“Just like humans need nutrients, so do microscopic marine plankton that live in the surface waters of the ocean,” she says.

“These marine phytoplankton are a crucial component of the biological carbon pump which transfers carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the ocean. However there is a limitation of micronutrients in the waters surrounding Antarctica, and the deposition of atmospheric iron is one process that alleviates the shortage.”

The biggest challenge Holly faced completing her PHD research was living and working in Antarctica.

“Living in isolated deep field camps in Antarctica is definitely hard work,” Holly says.

“As Antarctica is a desert, it is essential to drink copious litres of water and we have to make water ourselves by digging and melting snow. That means no hot showers. If a blizzard comes in, you can spend hours digging out your tent.”

Holly is about to embark on her fifth exhibition to Antarctica.

“The thought of camping on the ice in -30°C temperatures, 800km away from the nearest station in extreme weather conditions that make one in ten days flyable, can be daunting for some,” she says.

“Not I. I love it. Fresh clear air, drinking the purest water on the plants, escaping from the stresses of city life, exploring unchartered land – but the most exciting part is the science.”

Holly has recently started a postdoc at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK as a Polar Atmosphere Ice Chemist.

“We will be drilling a 1000 year ice core to reconstruct the history of the ozone layer,” she says.

“This project is particularly relevant to New Zealanders as we are all aware of the detrimental impact of the destruction of the ozone layer. The thickness of the ozone layer is governed by natural and anthropogenic factors and our project is investigating the underlying causes of past ozone variability.”

Holly’s advice for future students is to take their kiwi ingenuity and positive outlook with them wherever they go.

“It’s something I always take to Antarctica with me – especially useful when you have limited resources.”