Photo/IllutrationNaomi Harada, head of the summer team for the 60th Japanese Antarctic research expedition, stands in front of the Shirase observation vessel in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward on Nov. 5. (Yumi Nakayama)

Naomi Harada was named the first female team leader of a Japanese Antarctic research expedition that will take her back to the frozen continent after a 27-year hiatus.

Harada, 51, a researcher at the government-affiliated Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), said she will use her experience of facing difficulties in extreme environments to manage the summer team.

“By supporting each other during times when things don’t work out so well, I want to create a situation in which everyone can bring back results,” she said.

The 60th Japanese Antarctic research expedition consists of 100 people in two teams, which will both head to Antarctica this month.

The 69-member summer team, led by Harada, will return to Japan in March 2019, while the winter team of 31 members will come back in March 2020.

As summer team leader, Harada will be in charge of transporting goods to Japan’s Syowa Station and handling team members’ pictures and other data for biology, geology and snow ice studies.

She said she might be too busy managing the team to conduct her own observations but is looking forward to returning to Antarctica for the first time in more than a quarter century.

“Will this bring back memories or will it feel like the first time?” she says she asks herself.

Harada was born and raised in Hokkaido and studied natural radiation at Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture.

She developed an itch to visit the South Pole after hearing that one of her university professors had conducted research in Antarctica.

As a student at Nagoya University’s graduate school, she boarded a research vessel and examined seabed sediments to study the history of ocean environments.

Coincidentally, her research center received a request to dispatch a member to Antarctica, and she immediately raised her hand to join.

On the 33th Japanese Antarctic expedition, Harada became only the second female selected for such research.

Her duties for the 1991-92 expedition involved collecting tiny biological particles in the sea. But she could not find the particle-collecting device two months later when she was scheduled to return to Japan.

After completing graduate school, she started working at JAMSTEC and continued studying environmental transitions. She also served as chief researcher of an observation vessel.

Now a resident of Yokohama, Harada is a deputy director of JAMSTEC’s Research and Development Center for Global Change, and she is often at sea for several months at a time.

She said changes caused by global warming surprised her on every trip to the Arctic Ocean, which expanded her interest in Antarctica.

The National Institute of Polar Research, which was looking to appoint its first female leader for a research expedition, valued Harada’s experience and offered her the position.

The 29th Antarctic research expedition was the first to have a female member among the crew.

For the 33th summer expedition, Harada was the only woman selected.

However, 14 women will join the 60th expedition.

But that ratio is still lower than those in Antarctic research expeditions dispatched by other countries.

“I want to create a path to increase the number of Japanese female members,” Harada said.