Theo Calkin

When Theo Calkin moved to Wellington to begin a Bachelor of Arts in early 2016, thoughts of the Antarctic were far from the forefront of his mind. “Growing up in Taupo, you’re never that removed from geology or geologists – but through highschool, I always thought my passions lay with social sciences and economics.” A lucky foray into a first-year earth science course caused a quick pivot to a physical geography BA before Theo settled on a geology/environmental studies Bachelor of Science, where a first-year course about Antarctica planted a seed of interest in heading down south.

Theo Calkin and Dr Gavin Dunbar in Antarctica field season 2019.
Theo Calkin and Dr Gavin Dunbar in Antarctica field season 2019.

Undergraduate fieldwork across central New Zealand naturally aligned with Theo’s outdoor hobbies (fishing, tramping, camping, and skiing), strengthening his interest in earth science. Undergraduate summers were spent possum trapping, roving about the Central North Island as geotechnical intern, and later working with Dr. Cliff Atkins (VUW) and Julian Thomson (GNS) on a geoscience education website ( The variety and quality of opportunities afforded to Theo through his undergraduate studies motivated him to enrol in a geology MSc.

Unbeknown to staff at the Antarctic Research Centre, Theo’s decision to stick around at VUW came coupled with another decision – that he would wander the halls of the ARC knocking on doors and nagging already harried scientists relentlessly, until one day they’d get so sick of it that they’d simply have to take him to the ice. That approach paid off when Senior Lecturer Dr. Gavin Dunbar capitulated and offered Theo the chance at a month-long stint as a field assistant for the Antarctic Science Platform’s hot water drilling programme at the Kamb Ice Stream (KIS) in late 2019. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing – one of Theo’s early meetings with senior ARC Antarcticans warned “You won’t shower for a month. You’ll be living in a tent, peeing into a bottle, and crapping in a bucket the entire time. And you might not see a single penguin!”

While all of those were true of Theo’s Antarctic experience, he remained stoked about the direction his studies have taken him. “Stepping out of the GlobeMaster and onto the ice runway was unreal – that first blast of cold air was really special.” Theo spent a month on ice, including three weeks at a field camp near the grounding zone of the Kamb Ice Stream, which is about 850 km from Scott Base. The project centred on the recovery of short sedimentary cores from the seafloor beneath the Ross Ice Shelf, which Theo was using to reconstruct past behaviour of the Kamb Ice Stream, where flow stagnated roughly 160 years ago. The Siple Coast Ice Streams, of which KIS is one, export a significant portion of West Antarctica’s interior ice, so understanding their history was an important element of understanding the stability of the broader West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Theo Calkin was the recipient of Antarctica New Zealand's New Zealand Post Antarctic Scholarship, and the Antarctic Research Centre Masters Scholarship 2020. Theo  graduated with a Master's in Geology under the supervision of Gavin Dunbar and Cliff Atkins in 2021.