Palmer Station: The Nickel Tour at No Charge

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