Irene Bernasconi

This week’s WiSE Wednesday will highlight the late Argentine marine biologist, Irene Bernasconi. During her scientific career (spanning the years 1924 to 1984) she was considered to be Argentina’s leading echinoderm specialist. Best known for her work on sea stars in the Argentine sea, she also studied brittle stars and sea urchins. Over the course of  her career she was responsible for describing a number of novel genus and species, and also revised a number of pre-existing taxonomies based on her discoveries. Apart from her groundbreaking work that helped shape sea star taxonomy, Irene Bernasconi is perhaps best known for the record breaking field work she conducted in Antarctica. In November of 1968 at the age of 72, she was one of the first Argentine female scientists to conduct research in Antarctica – accompanied on the trip with three other leading female scientists. The team persevered through several challenges on the trip – including a critical restoration of their research station which was covered in ice upon their arrival. Their trip lasted two and a half months where they carried out duties such as placing deep sea nets and trotlines at depths of up to 180 meters, taking water, mud, flora and fauna samples, and growing local microbial cultures for analysis. Notably for Irene Bernasconi’s research, the over 2,000 echinoderm specimens collected on the trip enabled the discovery of a new echinoderm family in the Antarctic region. In recognition of their pioneering trip, on International Women’s Day in 2018 (the 50th anniversary year of the expedition), the National Directorate for Antarctica, the Argentine Antarctic Institute, and the Naval Hydrographic Service paid tribute to the first Argentine women to conduct research in the Antarctic by incorporating their names into Argentina’s Antarctic cartography. To this day, Bernasconi Cove is located on the Southeast area of the Jason Peninsula in Antarctica. 


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