Astrophysicist’s South Pole Death Remains a Mystery After Eight Years

[/caption]In May 2000, Australian astrophysicist Dr Rodney David Marks died from acute methanol poisoning whilst stationed at the US Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. He was a 32 year old “brilliant and witty” scientist, whose death shocked his family and friends. The media jumped on this story, citing the tragedy as the “first South Pole murder,” but there was little evidence to suggest anyone else was involved. Unfortunately it appears that New Zealand investigators have been hampered by a lack of co-operation by the organizations that run the facility, so it remains unclear whether Marks’ death was the result of foul play or tragic accident…

Dr Marks was employed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, working on the Antarctic Submillimetre Telescope and Remote Observatory project. The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (pictured below) is maintained by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and US contractor Raytheon Polar Services, and is the southernmost continually inhabited settlement on Earth. With this exotic location comes a high degree of risk; after all, if there’s an accident or emergency, you can’t just find the nearest hospital. Although the facility has good medical support, should something unexpected happen, the scientists living right on top of the South Pole are at the mercy of the extreme weather and isolated location.

Aerial view the South Pole, including the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (NOAA)
Aerial view the South Pole, including the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (NOAA)

In the month of May 2000, medical staff at Amundsen-Scott were confronted with a baffling problem when a distressed Rodney Marks came to them three times during a 36 hour period. On May 11th, he had felt sick and vomited blood when travelling back from the remote observatory to base. On returning, his condition took a rapid turn for the worse. Baffled by the situation, medical staff sought advice via satellite, but they were too late. On May 12th, the astrophysicist had died.

For six months, officials had to wait until Marks’ body could be flown to New Zealand for an autopsy where it was found that the 32 year old had suffered from acute methanol poisoning. As New Zealand has jurisdiction over the incident, investigators from the nation took on the task of working out how Marks could have become poisoned.

According to a recent article in the New Zealand Herald, the investigators may never get to the bottom of this Antarctic mystery. On September 24th, coroner Richard McElrea released his findings behind the death of Dr Marks, airing his frustrations that the police investigation had been hampered by the lack of co-operation by the NSF and Raytheon Polar Services.

The police officer assigned to investigating the case, Detective Grant Wormald, even remarked, “Despite numerous requests, I am not entirely satisfied that all relevant information and reports have been disclosed to the New Zealand police or the coroner.” Dr Marks’ family have also been disappointed by the lack of communication they have received by the organizations responsible for the safety of their researchers.

And I don’t think we are going to try to find out any more in regards to how Rodney died. I’d see that as a fruitless exercise […] For heaven’s sake, a man has died in your care. Why wouldn’t you help the police? .” – Paul Marks, Dr Marks’ father.

Originally, suicide was thought to be at the root of this mystery, but it was quickly ruled out as it didn’t fit with Dr Marks’ profile. He was a happy scientist who was engaged to Sonja Wolter, a young maintenance specialist, who had signed up to the station to be with her fiancé. According to the Detective Wormald, “Sonja and Rodney were a great couple. It is so rare to see people that seem so perfectly matched. And they were extremely happy together.”

It was also suggested that Marks may have consumed the methanol deliberately, to get a “recreational high,” even though there was a plentiful supply of genuine liquor and beer at the facility. Dr Marks was a social young man who “always said was that the solution to any problem is to go down to the pub and have a few drinks,” according to one of his friends, Andrew Walsh. Even though he may have enjoyed a few drinks and could be considered to be a binge drinker, it is strange to think he would willingly consume the dangerous substance for fun.

There are some sinister overtones to this mystery however. According to a 1996 report, Dr Robert Thompson, the first doctor to examine Marks when he came to the medical facility for help, said the astrophysicist was “nervous, anxious and upset.” What’s more, he noted two needle marks on his arm, but decided not to ask about them.

Had Marks been murdered by one of the 49 members of staff at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station? Unfortunately, we may never know whether Marks’ death was deliberate or by accident. According to the US agencies, an investigation had been carried out, but Detective Wormald has not been privy to the conclusions. “It is impossible to say how far that investigation went or to what end,” he said.

The Herald reporter apparently approached Raytheon, but the company would not comment and an NSF spokesman referred any questions to the NSF offices in Washington DC.

It looks like everyone is remaining tight-lipped about the events on May 11th-12th 2000, ensuring the world may never get to the cause behind the tragic death of this talented and friendly astrophysicist.

Sources: NZ Herald,, Wikipedia

17 Replies to “Astrophysicist’s South Pole Death Remains a Mystery After Eight Years”

  1. This screams alien conspiracy. How many movies have been made with this EXACT scenario?….Something’s not right Scully…

  2. So many factors that can’t be investigated because of the isolation, temperatures, and all the rest of what makes Antarctica what it is. What a terrible shame to lose a gifted, witty scientist like that, and in such a way. R.I.P., Dr. Marks.

  3. I seem to recall something about an Astronaut wearing a Diaper and traveling cross country to shoot her lover’s mistress. Meh, astronomers are a weird bunch, but what can you expect from Humans.

  4. Does anyone know whether he drank a lot of of diet drinks or used artificial sweeteners? Check out the composition of aspartame–food (no pun intended) for thought.

  5. Not really sure that a story like this warrants some of these (rather poor) attempts at witticism.

    Hope the authorities manage to get to the bottom of this

  6. “…Dr Robert Thompson, the first doctor to examine Marks when he came to the medical facility for help, said the astrophysicist was “nervous, anxious and upset.”

    Well, the man had just vomited BLOOD, and was obviously not feeling well all of a sudden. You’re a genius, doctor.

    Also, it makes no sense that he would drink Methanol for a ‘recreational high’ and then not tell doctors when he came to them with adverse affects…

    I think the only conclusion we can reach here is that he was murdered in a fit of rage by some other under-sexed station scientist, jealous that his fiance had appeared on the scene. Scientists working in the antarctic are always losing their minds, and resorting to killing each other. I worked for a while with a scientist who had just come fresh from the Antarctic for a year, and he was crazy. Therefore, they all must be.

    I’m only half joking.

  7. He came in for treatment and the doc noticed needle marks but didn’t ask about them???

    WTF??? ANY half way realistic – (accidental) autopsy would discover the slightest bit of drugs in his system. As long as they actually DID an autopsy…………..
    He wasn’t doing methane shots, no one is that stupid!!

  8. This is a taste of what we will be seeing when we finally colonize the rest of the Solar System.

    Humans will make a mess wherever they go.

    They haven’t evolved enough to live anywhere but Earth’s temperate zones.

  9. there is more to this than meets the eye. unfortunately it is suppressed in new zealand where the inquest took place.
    affidavits given to the police/coroner state that the doctor treating rodney self medicated with the base supply of morphine and ketamine. he also offered these to others at the base for recreational use. rodney did not take these. the doctor probably tried to cover up his own illegal use of drugs under his supervision by claiming rod had needle marks. doctor made marks. us marshal later ordered that the empty drug vials/containers, found by doctors bed, be destroyed.
    does that make things a little clearer??

  10. by the mouth
    the fish is mostly caught
    the doctor killed him? with f’reindship’ and a drink
    we will now require the truth
    of everything south on the pole
    imagyne the cover up
    murder included, what was kept under ice
    b now in da lyte


  11. Dr. Marks observed the ‘mythical’ planet Nibiru, (as it is commonly known).
    NASA actually discovered this planet in1983, and for the reason of National/worldwide security, it was hushed up.
    This planet is very much real and can be seen from the south pole very clearly, you can even see it from New Zealand.
    It is very much thought of as being the cause of Earth’s current weather problems, because of the extra gravitational pull this ‘Nibiru’ planet has on our planets.

  12. Marks was working on a project relating to Nibiru?? well then….Perhaps he learned too much….let’s all try and figure it out!!!

    but not suffer the same fate preferably….though if armaggedon is coming….

    well in a couple eyars we’ll be able to see nibiru and planet X and all that no problem with the naked eye so “they” say….perhaps as well as bringing a superadvanced alien race and a host of gravity related oddities as well as the fulfillment of some rather bizarre religious beliefs Nibiru will explain why marks was murdasuicikillicided…

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