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Chuck Amsler, Ph.D.
Mission Co-Investigator

Diving in Antarctica: initial preparation

Journal By C Amsler

Posted On 3/1/2004 11:26:13 AM

Diving here is such an important part of what we do that we’ll be writing about it throughout the season. So this is just the first of a series of journal entries about all the things that go into our scientific diving operations, or "dive ops" for short.

In my first journal entry, "Preparing for the Expedition," I talked about the dive preparation we have to do before we even leave Birmingham to come to Antarctica. But when we are here, a lot of thought and effort goes into each day’s dive or dives too.

Each night I think through what our dive priorities need to be for the next day. Sometimes that is easy. This past week, our primary goal was to get the substrate experiment set up and deployed in the field. Anne is telling you about the specifics of all that in her next two journal entries. So a couple of days, including this past Wednesday which was one of if not the most beautiful weather days we’ll have here, we were too busy in the lab to even go out diving.

However, days of not diving when the weather is good are few and far between. Usually my evening thoughts (or discussions with Jim and/or Bill when they are here as we make these decisions as a team when so) involve going through who in the project needs what collected in the field and how pressing that need is. We also have to determine who we think can dive and who can dive tend the next day. Lots of days individual team members’ experimental schedules in the lab limit or exclude them from being able to go into the field on a particular day or time of day.

Whatever we think we want to do the next morning, however, can’t be final until then. The weather is so unpredictable here that in reality, our plans aren’t really final until we have completed them. Our group meets every morning at 8:00 to coordinate the day’s activities. One of the first things I do when I get to the my office (a small room with a great view shared by three of the Principal Investigators who are on station now) is to look out the window. In addition to seeing what the weather is in general, I pay particular attention to what the seas are doing. I use binoculars to check out how big the waves are that are breaking on rocks and small islands in view of the station. Dive ops are scheduled based on what the weather and seas are looking like then. But a decent weather day can turn in to a bad one in minutes. Storms come in so quickly.

Where are James Spann or the Weather Channel when you need them? :^) Not here. We have an infrared satellite image of the area that is updated every hour or two. We also have a barometric pressure map (isobaric analysis) of the antarctic area that is updated about 4 times per day. For local conditions, we have an automated weather station that feeds into software that constantly displays the past 12 hour history of a number of important parameters. The most useful are average and gust wind speeds, wind direction, and barometric pressure but it also shows the air temperature and dew point. Other than what we see out the window, we have to do our own weather forecasting based on those. (And looking out the window usually works better in the short term!).

So, based on all that, we make our plans. Then we get ready to go diving! Stay tuned...


TitleFromClick here to change to descending sortDate Posted
Re: Diving in Antarctica: initial preparationDonovan Murphy3/1/2004 2:14:15 PM

Dr. Amsler:

I hope all is well there. I have 2 questions. Who actually runs Palmer Station (NSF, NOAA, etc.) and is it staffed all year? Thanks and take care.


From C Amsler, Posted On 3/1/2004 2:14:16 PM

Hi Donovan! The station is funded by the National Science Foundation. They have ultimate authority on all aspects of its operation but day to day administration is handled by a contractor, Raytheon Polar Services Company (RPSC). It is definitely staffed all year. During the winter, a bare minimum population is about 18 but as many as 28 to 30 people could be here if a big construction project is ongoing (as much construction and building maintenance as possible is done in the winter because few if any scientists are here then; science never stops though as there are a number of important experiments that run all year long but are taken care of by RPSC science technicians).

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The researchers completed their expedition in May 2004. Feel free to search this site for their archived journals and responses to questions.

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