If you have been checking out the Palmer Station webcam (http://www.usap.gov/videoclipsandmaps/palWebCam.cfmrecently you may have noticed that we have been having a wide variety of visitors lately. The type of visitor and duration of stay have varied greatly, mostly the length of stay has depended on the weather. Our visitors have ranged from a 12 meter (39.4 ft) long sailboat to giant icebergs and small JulieVisitors1cruise ships.
On Monday of this week, the S/Y (sailing yacht) Quijote stopped by for a visit (that was the sailboat visitor). The morning after their arrival, anyone at Palmer interested in learning more about Quijote was invited out to the boat for a tour. I jumped at the chance for a visit after hearing that the couple that owned the Quijote also built her. I was really curious about the process and effort that would go into a colossal project like building a sailboat and travelling to Antarctica. Plus, we sometimes get to go out on some of the ships that visit the Palmer area and give talks about the work we do here at Palmer and this seemed like a neat opportunity.

All four of Quijote’s crew warmly welcomed a small group of Palmerites (one of the nicknames for residents of Palmer station) aboard Quijote after we pushed our way through the densely packed brash ice that had blown into Hero Inlet (where Quijote was secured, about 100 ft from the Palmer boat dock). Quijote arrived in our neck of the woods with her “parents” (Fede and Laura) and two of their friends (Erik and Pato).

We (Kevin, Bill (a Palmer LTER Principle Investigator), Dave (the Boating Coordinator), Nandi (waste specialist extraordinaire), and I) were quickly impressed by Quijote’s surprisingly spacious and cleverly designed deck and below decks living areas. Fede designed and basically built Quijote in his back yard, we even got to see pictures of the whole process unfolding. It was very impressive. After a tour, Quijote’s crew followed us back to Palmer Station for a tour of our home. It seemed only fitting after they had so generously opened their home to us.

During the tour of station, not dissimilar to the one described in Maggie’s last entry, I asked the crew what they had learned from their trip so far. The number one thing was the importance of flexibility. If you are interested in more of their adventures, they are chronicling their voyage at http://www.syquijote.com, they even describe their visit to Palmer Station.

Following the mutual visits between Quijote crew and Palmer station residents, the weather turned cloudy and blustery. That brought our next visitors. We got two at the same time. One was a giant iceberg that anchored itself just off a rocky spit near the dock called Gamage Point. JulieVisitors2The other visitor was the cruise ship Ushuaia, an Argentinian cruise ship, and the last cruise ship scheduled to stop by this season.

There is a great outreach tradition here at Palmer Station and as such, passengers from the Ushuaia were invited to come to Palmer Station for a tour to learn more about the scientific activities here. We got to meet folks from many of the groups, with a wide variety of backgrounds while we were working on setting up our apparatus for microcosm ocean acidification experiments (LOTS more on that later…). Folks from the groups asked lots of great questions!

Tours of station are given by a lot of science support folks. All tours end in the galley, which is transformed into an information center, with posters describing all of the science that goes on at Palmer throughout the year (and includes trays brimming with the station’s famously delicious brownies). This is also where we showcased in make shift aquaria some of the benthic (things that live on the ocean bottom) organisms we have been collecting. Included for viewing were both macroalgae (seaweeds) and invertebrates that are common around Palmer Station, such as some small red algae, snails, isopods, and brittle stars (to name a few of the critters).

JulieVisitors3This visit was a very different from that of the Quijote. I am always impressed by how well organized everything has to be to ensure that 150 people get a chance to get a good feeling for all of the work that goes on here. There was a lot less structure to the visit when there were only 4 people to coordinate. Visits are always high energy and educational experiences, not just for our visitors but for those folks like us living here at Palmer. This becomes a particularly prominent and important part of Palmer Station life during the Antarctic summers (because that is when the cruise ships can make it down here safely).

That brings us to the end of the week. All of our visitors have now departed, well all except those icebergs. They are continuing to slowly move so they get a closer view of Palmer Station. Our new iceberg neighbors certainly add new character to our regular view.

On Saturday we will have our JulieVisitors4last visitor for the week. The HMS Protector will be stopping by. The Protector has stopped by several times so far this season and has been helping with updating surveys of the waters around Palmer. It should be another interesting visit. So as you can see, we are lucky to not be as isolated as many of the other Antarctic research stations and get to share our research here with a wide variety of adventurers.

UAB in Antarctica’s initial days on station were a frenzy of unpacking science gear into labs and tossing personal gear into an assigned dorm MaggiePalmerSignBoardroom while simultaneously packing and prepping for our dive cruise time on the Pt. Sur which was described in Chuck’s last entry. It was a hectic stretch and everyone was ready for our first official day off since leaving Punta Arenas. Sunday morning until 1PM is the project’s weekly “day” off (yes, fuzzy math). Team members took the opportunity to finally get settled and comfy in their rooms and for first-time Palmerite Kevin Scriber, the opportunity to fully explore his new home.

It seems fitting at this time to acquaint readers with Palmer Station. This tour is free not only because it is virtual. Palmer is one of three U.S. permanent research facilities in Antarctica. The stations are maintained by the National Science Foundation (NSF) which is in large part funded by tax payer dollars. In that sense Palmer is supported by U.S. readers like you – thank you!

MaggiePalmerBioLMGOur tour begins in the BioLab Building close to the icy water and just beyond the Laurence M. Gould tied up at the dock in the included image. The main floor is where the majority of the science labs are and where our team can be found most hours of the day and no doubt as we get into full swing many hours of the night.  Up a set of stairs leads to the second floor and the dining room/lounge that opens out onto the centrally-spanning deck. Opposite, away from the window- lined deck, is the center of the station’s people power – the kitchen where our two chefs cook up high energy, yummy meals three times a day six days a week. On Sunday we freely feast on leftovers or cook and clean up for ourselves.

Another key and vital aspect of the BioLab second floor is the Communication Center (comms). When we are out in the zodiacs, we keep in regular contact with the station via the comms tech who monitors our basically walkie-talkie traffic (no cellular towers down here to use phone). AND, the comms guys (some years gals too) maintain the station computer server, our ready link to the world. Palmer does indeed have internet, even 24/7, but all 35 (24 male, 11 female) of us share basically one household-worth connection. Hence, pleas from Palmerites to family to not send gigabyte images of cute cat antics!

Topping off the BioLab are 11 two person bunk bedded rooms. All the black enamel rooms doors double as canvas for a small head profile of a local bird species hand painted beneath the room number plate. Chuck and I have a skua on our door, Kevin’s has a blue eyed shag. (Stay tuned for more on local birds.)   Also on the floor are His and Hers rooms – each has a single shower but His has two sinks, Hers has one. An eternally running (8am-9pm) pair of double decker washer-dryers are also on this top floor. Scientists living in BioLab joke about having a short commute to work – just down two flights of stairs!

Kate and Julie live in a building further from the water and dock GWRso have a longer and outdoor commute. That building is wittingly called GWR - the letters stand for its function garage, warehouse, recreation. I guess in the original planning and naming of the building recreation included free time in one’s bunk. The big garage door seen in the image accommodates one of the station vehicles – no not cars - but monster wheeled heavy equipment – a massive bucket loader or one of two SkyTraks (essentially a mobile crane for lifting zodiacs out of the water or craning cargo-laden pallets around).

The first floor of GWR also includes warehouse (W of GWR) storage of any and all items to keep the station running – including spare parts for the two primary diesel generators that live on the ground floor providing the station’s mechanical power. PalMart opens twice a week selling toiletries, Palmer souvenirs (resident family Christmas gift items), snacks, and beverages.

Most mornings, before our team’s work day begins with an 8am meeting, I trek to GWR and climb the stairs to the top floor corner gym. I like to start my day with a bike ride to work, treadmill hike or row to lab on the assorted gym toys. Next, I’ll ease open a patio door on the harbor side, step out of the gym onto the deck and head to another patio door while taking in the vista of the distant Antarctic Peninsula slide open the door leading to the lounge. Kate and Julie share a room (just numbered, not bird profiled)overlooking the harbor and are among a small group of yoga enthusiasts who meet regularly at 7am in the lounge to stretch and limber up for the day ahead. Sometimes we use the really big screen tv.   So the second floor is responsible for the derivation of the R in the building’s name.

Another important building for our project is the Aquarium Building, conveniently tucked behind BioLab. A large white garage door allows easy PumphouseAqBldgCarpHottubaccess to its numerous large capacity aquaria and our project’s paired maze of tubing, mini-aquaria, carbon dioxide cylinders, etc. for our ocean acidification experiments. Believe me, you will read much more about this in future entries! Kevin's corner room, the window just left of the Aquarium Building peak,  overlooks all this. 

Nearby the Aquarium Building, perched over the waters of Arthur Harbor with two large pipes extending below the water, is the pump house which supplies the liquid nourishment of the station. Some of the seawater pumped up from the harbor goes back to GWR and the desalinators to provide our drinking water. Some of the seawater goes station plumbing so we can flush toilets. A lot of the seawater goes straight into the Aquarium Building to keep the critters we collect and put in aquaria cold and happy. Between the pump house on the deck is the station’s hydro-therapy tank (hot tub) to keep station personnel warm and happy. The evening we returned from the the Lemaire I treated myself a short dip in the tub, soaking in the quiet and magnifiecent glacier view as the moon rose above it. 

Our tour ends back near the dock at the dive locker and boat house building. In the foregroundQuixoteDiveLocker of the final image is the (non-metered) parking spot for one one the SkyTraks. What is normally not included in this view, which is from the BioLab room Chuck and I share, is a yacht tied up in up Hero Inlet.   Also, the Inlet is often not covered with the thick topping brash ice visible. The crew of the visiting yacht hosted several visits from station personnel and the zodiac bumping through the brash ice included lucky project members Julie and Kevin. Julie is planning on writing  about her visit to the yacht and other ship visits this week in the next post. In the meantime, hope you enjoyed your complimentary tour of UAB in A’s home away from home Palmer Station!

Oh – for live time viewing of the station check out the Palmer webcam: http://www.usap.gov/videoclipsandmaps/palWebCam.cfm


GroupAscoseira-verysmallI suppose that anyone who has once been with a hero would always want to be with one again. From 1968 until 1984, Palmer Station and US Antarctic research on the Antarctic Peninsula was supported by a beautiful 125 ft. in length, wooden research vessel called the Hero. Maggie sailed on the Hero during her first two seasons at Palmer in the early 80s and I was at the ship's decommissioning ceremony in California in 1984. You can see more about the Hero at the Hero page on PalmerStation.com.

The Hero was replaced by the Polar Duke, which I sailed on my first season here in 1985-86 and then by the Laurence M. Gould which just transported our group down to Palmer. Both were and are much more capable oceanographic vessels, but for some things like diving, whale research, field camp support, and similar "low tech" missions, a smaller vessel like the Hero was equally as good. In fact for getting close to shore, the 14 ft. draft (how deep the hull extends below the surface) of the Hero was even better. So lots of us in the US Antarctic science community have been hoping that there would be enough demand to justify another vessel of that size for Antarctic science.

PtSur-verysmallEnter the Point Sur, which is a member of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) main (everywhere-but-Antarctica) research vessel fleet. The Pt. Sur is based out of Moss Landing Marine Lab in California and is very similar to the Hero in size, being 135 ft. in length and having a draft of only 9 ft. This year NSF decided to have the Pt. Sur come to the Peninsula as a test. The groups working here were able to submit requests with justification to use her during this test year, and our group was fortunate to be selected.

In our normal work from Palmer Station, we do our diving from rubber Zodiac boats that we launch from the station. The maximum distance we can safely go from the station is a bit over two miles. That gives us access to lots of small islands that are wonderful places to collect and do experiments, but we are always in the market for an opportunity to compare what we find here to places further away. On a couple of occasions over the years, the L.M. Gould has had some open time that we were allowed to use to do just that.

FalseCapeDivers-verysmallIn early March 2010, our group had such an opportunity to make some exploratory dives from the Gould in the Lemaire Channel, which is about 40 miles east of Palmer. The Lemaire is possibly the most beautiful spot on the entire Antarctic Peninsula if not the continent as a whole, but that is not the reason we have wanted to get back there to dive ever since. When we were there, we found a most unusual macroalga (seaweed) that was so special that we have been looking for a way to get back and study it further.

In the system that people use to classify organisms, the highest level is considered to be the Domain. There are only three (Bacteria, Archaea, and ours, the Eukaryotes). Next comes Kingdom, although just how many there are an how one defines and organizes them are in a state of flux. Below that comes Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. There are lots of genera with only one species and some families with only one genus and species. But I know of only one Order with only a single species. That is the brown algal Order Ascoseirales with the single species Ascoseira mirabilis, which is found only here in Antarctica. Although Ascoseira is a large brown alga, like the other large brown algae here it is not technically a "kelp" but is very much kelp-like in appearance.

KevinLemaire-verysmallWhen we were in the Lemaire in 2010, we found a very unusual form of Ascoseira. Unlike the normal form, it has a very long stipe, which is the term in an alga for its "stem" or "stalk". This unusual form has been reported only once before, in very brief passing with a photograph in a paper by my colleague Dick Moe, who is at the University of California at Berkeley. That was our quarry, and as you can see in the group photo of us back here at Palmer with one of them, we were successful.

To have that success, we packed up our dive equipment including 16 scuba tanks on Wednesday afternoon and loaded it all onto the Pt. Sur. At 7:30 on Thursday morning we boarded the ship for the four hour trip over to the Lemaire. Not too long after lunch, we were motoring our Zodiac up the Channel to our first dive site.

What makes the Lemaire so beautiful is that it is a very tight channel with sheer vertical rock cliffs that rise straight up for over a thousand feet. Those cliffs extend very deep beneath the surface too, at least for our normal maximum depth of 130 ft. When we drop into the water a few feet from the cliffs, we are already in very deep water.

JulieAscoseiraUW-verysmallAlong the underwater cliffs are the unusual Ascoseira. We made counts of its abundance at three sites and Kate took underwater photographs of it (including the one here) in addition to measurements of its photosynthetic ability with a special instrument we have for that purpose.

We returned to Palmer first thing on Saturday morning and spent the rest of the morning cleaning our dive gear and doing initial processing of the Ascoseira we collected. Julie will be doing some biophysical measurements of those unusual stipes and we will be preserving some of the algae to deposit in permanent taxonomic collections at various museums and other academic institutions.

Beautiful place. Successful science. Great team effort. As the saying goes, it is "good work if you can get it." I'm very lucky to be here with these wonderful people doing these exciting things. Good work indeed.