Patricia Selkirk was lured into the cold, dry valleys of Antarctica by a fascination with mosses and liverworts. The first woman to spend a summer (1982-83) at Casey Station, Dr Selkirk has been a pioneer of Antarctic science and a member of seventeen expeditions.
She points out that mosses and liverworts – bryophytes – become more and more important in the plant community the further one travels south because they indicate what is going on in the environment.
Braving the isolation and harsh conditions of the polar south, Dr Selkirk was the first to recognise the importance of the Sub-Antarctic region - at the outer edge of the Antarctic Zone - in monitoring climate change. ‘There has been a significant and rapid retreat of the ice,’ she says. ‘Scientifically, this is utterly fascinating. As the glaciers retreat, new land is revealed to be colonised by plants and animals, which gives us a wonderful opportunity to study the dynamics of colonisation.’
As a scientist Dr Selkirk says her task is to observe and interpret constantly changing natural processes. Her research has been broad-ranging, from landscape-level geomorphology and vegetation history to studies of plant reproduction and sub-cellular genetics.
Dr Selkirk has been a trail-blazer and an inspirational role model for women scientists wishing to work in Antarctica. She has also played a major role in helping to train future Antarctic scientists. For her pioneering spirit and outstanding service on many Antarctic expeditions, she received the Australian Antarctic Medal in 2004.
Citation: For outstanding service in support of Australia Antarctic expeditions.