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Professor Kathy Kasic takes a quick break from capturing images in Antarctica, where she was part of a research team searching for signs of life in the depths below the Whillans Ice Plain. Photo by Billy Collins
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First STEM Lecture documents Kasic’s research into depths of Antarctic ice


Ahmed V. Ortiz

“I couldn’t do straight science, it just wasn’t in me.”

Kathy Kasic, whose work a year ago took her to Antarctica where she and a team of researchers drilled through a vast expanse of ice in search of climate change data and of life in that extreme and foreboding environment, has been chosen to deliver Sacramento State’s first STEM Scholars Lecture of the Fall Semester.

Kasic, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies, was scheduled to deliver her lecture at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, in the University Union, Redwood Room.

Her talk, “Beneath the Ice: Exploring a Subglacial Lake in Antarctica,” details the documentary films of the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) expedition. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Last winter the SALSA team, a group of 20 scientists and 30 support staff funded by a National Science Foundation grant, set out to explore a location 300 miles from the South Pole, where they spent the next 21 days camping on the ice. Using a two-ton hot-water drill, they burrowed deep into the ice to reach Lake Mercer for the first time and uncover clues about climate change and the possibility of life far below the surface.

Kasic was a principal investigator with the team and spent about six weeks probing for signs of life 1,100 meters below the frozen surface as part of SALSA, which seeks to further the limited understanding of how organisms survive in extreme environments and how life and climate interrelate.

“It’s also about understanding the ice sheet and the movement (several meters daily) of the ice sheet dynamics,” Kasic said.

Kasic, whose work as a director/cinematographer has been featured at international festivals and broadcast on BBC, Discovery, PBS and National Geographic, was the expedition’s documentarian.

Curiosity, she said, drives both art and science. Kasic wonders about “what lengths we’ll go to try to figure out things that make us curious about our world and about ourselves.”

Born in England but reared from age 7 in Dallas, Kasic had studied frogs in the Amazon and camped in the Costa Rican tropical forest. But Antarctica truly was a world apart. Skua, a type of predatory bird, were the only nonhuman living things she saw. The record 35-day government shutdown that occurred while Kasic was on ice was little more than rumor. Eminent potential whiteout conditions made free-range exploration perilous and inadvisable.

But she had to explore, for art’s sake. Kasic, who estimates she took 600 pounds of gear, made a few cautious forays away from camp to capture sound and dramatic landscapes for her preferred method of filmmaking, which she called “sensory verite” – capturing life unfolding naturally.

She filmed and recorded sound for an hour-long documentary that she estimates will be done in the spring 2020. In addition, the expedition will yield four short films. A photo tour will follow. Also yielded will be K-12 learning modules, aimed primarily at junior high school students, which will reside on the PBS website and be downloadable.

“If you can tell a story about science that shows the humanity of it, then I think people might be able to engage with it better,” Kasic said. “To be part of that environment was very inspiring.”

The STEM Scholars lectures are designed for the general public. These lectures bring together the Sacramento area’s business and educational cohorts, as well as local community members, to learn more about Sacramento State faculty research and scholarly efforts in STEM fields. The lectures cover a wide range of STEM topics from artificial intelligence to environmental sustainability issues. Recent past lectures addressed topics such as the importance of seasonal wetlands, developing new molecules to combat HIV, and the mathematics of U.S. elections.


Ahmed V. Ortiz


Ahmed V. Ortiz is a writer/editor, working at Sac State since 2011, after a 13-year newspaper career. He is an avid cyclist, enjoys traveling and loves animals and most sports, especially baseball. Ahmed believes in doing no harm and that love is the only way.