University of Maine climate science professor Jacquelyn Gill knew that the chance to spend 10 days in the Siberian wilderness shooting a documentary about ice age fossils for the Discovery Channel was an opportunity she could not pass up.
The fact that her trip ended up lasting more than a month, and brought her to the brink of death in a Russian intensive care unit, was not something she could possibly have anticipated.
Gill finally returned to her home in Bangor on Oct. 1 — nearly six weeks after she left for the tiny, unfathomably remote Siberian town of Belaya Gora — and still is recovering from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in both legs, as well as a pulmonary embolism in both lungs.
“It was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me,” said Gill, a New England native who has lived in Bangor since 2013. “I’m just so happy to be home.”
Gill, 37, a paleoecologist who specializes in the study of climate change during and between ice ages, is no stranger to the wilderness, having done fieldwork all over the world. She’s also a media savvy scientist, as co-host of the climate change podcast Warm Regards and as one of the co-founders of March for Science, a rally held in cities around the world each April in support of science’s role in society.
She was approached over the summer by London-based company Renegade Pictures to be one of four featured scientists in a documentary, “Ice Age Fossils in the Permafrost.” The other scientists included British paleontologist Victoria Herridge, Swedish paleogeneticist Love Dalen and American evolutionary biologist Dan Fisher. The program will be jointly produced by Discovery and the BBC, and it will air on TV over the winter.
Gill quickly obtained her Russian visa and began the first of what would be many long journeys to get to the Siberian taiga, the massive boreal forest that covers the majority of Russia, Canada and Alaska.
Commercial flights from Boston to London, and then London to Moscow, took her to Yakutsk, the largest city in the vast Sakha region of Russia. From there, Gill and crew flew via small plane to Belaya Gora, a village unreachable by car on the Indigirka River that served as their base camp. From Belaya Gora, the crew every day took a three-hour boat trip, followed by another shorter boat trip, up the river to the research site: a camp where locals drill large, cave-like holes into the permafrost to look for highly valuable woolly mammoth tusks.
“The permafrost caves are like these windows into a past ecosystem — everything from mammoths to birds and grass and moths, and even a cave lion cub that was completely intact,” Gill said.
Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.
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