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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Australian Physicist Dies at Pole




An Australian astrophysicist died suddenly of undetermined causes Friday at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, a research center operated by the National Science Foundation, and his body must remain there until the Southern winter ends in October.


While the death of the astrophysicist, Dr. Rodney Marks, is not thought to be related to the harsh conditions at the Pole, it is the most recent reminder that scientists who conduct numerous experiments there must contend with a perilous isolation when emergencies arise.


Scientists and technical personnel at the Pole during the Southern winter are trapped there by the weather, no matter how ill they become. Last July, an Air Force jet dropped medical equipment at the Pole after a physician, Dr. Jerri Nielsen, discovered a lump in her breast. Nielsen treated herself, with advice from other physicians, until she could be flown out at winter's end.


Marks, 32, complained of severe fatigue and reported to the station's physician, said Dr. Adair Lane, an astronomer at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the project manager for the Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory. "His condition did improve for a while," Lane said. "And he was conscious and was able to converse with the people attending him. And suddenly his heart stopped and all the resuscitation failed."


The cause of death probably will not be determined until Marks' body can be removed and an autopsy performed, said Dr. Karl Erb, director of the foundation's Office of Polar Programs.


Marks was "wintering over" at the station, with about 50 other scientists and technicians who are involved in projects that include measuring ozone in the atmosphere and capturing subatomic particles called neutrinos from space.


His job was to operate the submillimeter telescope, which observes radiation from the gas clouds around star-forming regions in space and is part of the University of Chicago's Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica, Lane said.