Location: **Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula. **Latitude: 64° 49.3171′ S Longitude: 64° 03.3766′ W
Antarctic trivia (answer at end of this journal entry): Who owns Antarctica?
The residents of Palmer Station warmly welcomed our invasion! Most of the science party and support team spent a pleasant afternoon and evening at Palmer Station while we awaited further information from our project managers in Denver and the NSF (National Science Foundation – the funding agency for this research project) in Washington D.C. We got a chance to check email and even surf the Internet a bit – just like home.
Seven days without email makes one weak! Frederic and Isabelle catch up on email at Palmer Station.
Palmer Station is a U.S. research facility that hosts numerous projects throughout the year, but mainly in the summer season. We were the first visitors at Palmer since mid-June. The winter population this year at Palmer Station was 16, so our short visit nearly tripled their population. So what’s with all the "Palmers” – who was N.B. Palmer, and why are so many things named after him? I did a little research and this is what I found…Captain Nathaniel Palmer (an American) is believed to be the first person to sight Antarctica in November, 1820.
During our visit to Palmer Station I got a chance to visit with David Minor, the winter laboratory supervisor at Palmer. The staff at Palmer make sure that the visiting scientists have everything they need to conduct their research and support the research efforts while in progress. David said that one of the things he does at Palmer is act as a dive tender. Dive tenders support dive teams as they work in the frigid waters around the station. He said that leopard seals are commonly seen in the area, and that while the seals are more curious than dangerous, they pose a threat to the divers. The dive tenders watch for seals during dives and alert the divers to the danger. Another threat divers face while working in these waters is with equipment – even a small tear in their dry suit can be life threatening.
David Minor, Winter Laboratory Supervisor at Palmer Station
Even in winter many projects are underway at Palmer Station. The station monitors seismic and nuclear activity and maintains long-term experiments in marine biology and other disciplines. The station does not get resupplied during the winter – everything the residents need to live arrives by boat before the start of winter. The station is much like a small city – carpenters, plumbers, engineers, and even a doctor live here year round to support the scientific activities in progress. Palmer Station seems less remote than other U.S. bases in Antarctica (McMurdo Station and the South Pole Station), but it actually is. Palmer is nearly impossible to reach by plane or helicopter, so transit to and from Palmer is by boat. Tourists on Antarctic cruises visit Palmer in the summer months, but there are no visitors during the winter season.
David told me he thinks Palmer Station is the best U.S. facility to work at in Antarctica because of the calm atmosphere, beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife year round. He repeated a comment I’ve heard from some of our on-board science support team members – "home is where your storage is” – that is, many of the people who work in places like Palmer (and aboard the RVIB Palmer) do not have a permanent residence, and that’s the way they like it! These folks truly have a spirit of adventure and can’t imagine having a 9-5 job.
RVIB Palmer from Palmer Station
Palmer’s fantastic chef prepared a wonderful pizza dinner for us that evening and everyone enjoyed the chance to relax a bit. After dinner we connected to Raytheon’s office in Denver via videoconference. (Raytheon is the company contracted by the U.S. Antarctic program to manage expeditions such as ours.)
Unfortunately the pleasant day was capped by some not so great news – we were asked to return to Punta Arenas so that the fire-damaged areas of the ship could be professionally cleaned to ensure the safety and health of all aboard. It’s a four day trip from Palmer Station back to Punta Arenas, so this delays our operations significantly. Its hard to say how this setback will affect the cruise – the plan is to get the ship cleaned and head back out, but we know there is a possibility that we won’t return to the ice and that our cruise will end prematurely.
Answer to today’s Antarctic trivia question:
Who owns Antarctica? No country owns or rules Antarctica. 42 countries have signed a treaty that promises that all human activity in Antarctica should be dedicated to peaceful purposes.
Try this: What supplies would you need to live through the winter at Palmer Station? What about 16 people? See if you can create a list of items the team at Palmer Station needs for the winter. Remember that they have no access to the outside world during the winter season, so think of everything they would need for at least three months.