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Antarctica 2001 Bulletin Board




From: WOW! Moderator
Posted: 10/11/2001 at 12:00 p.m.


Welcome to the moderated bulletin board for the 2001 WOW! expedition to Antarctica. Please use the feedback form below to submit your questions to the team members.

Please note that answers on the bulletin board may be delayed 24 to 48 hours, due to the nature of satellite-based communications with Palmer Station in Antarctica.

Because of these communications delays, all questions will be posted to the site on a "first-answered" basis.
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From: Steve Peters (Kevin's dad)
Posted: 10/18/2001 at 3:30 p.m.


How long can the divers stay in the seawater off Antarctica?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 10/22/2001 at 4:00 p.m.


Antarctic divers have been known to stay underwater for up to an hour at a time. However, due to the extreme cold water, most antarctic dives last about 30 minutes.
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From: Randy
Posted: 10/22/2001 at 12:15 a.m.


Do penguins gather in flocks, and if so do male penguins become agressive when other male penguins move in on their territory?

Also, how can microorganisms survive in such cold temperatures?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 10/22/2001 at 4:00 p.m.


Penguins are very social birds and certainly spend time in groups. Some species are more territorial than others, and may be so regardless of their sex. Adelie Penguins, for example, often build their nest with small stones, and are well known to steal their neighbors stones when possible! If caught in the act, they are aggressively chased out of the nesting territory of their neighbor.

Some microorganisms in Antarctica are able to survive very cold temperatures by harboring antifreezes. Others that live on the Antarctic Peninsula, do not require antifreezes as the weather is considerably warmer. Microorganisms in Antarctica are abundant and exploit many different habitats, including marine, terrestrial, and even enolithic (living within rock).
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From: Krista Ramsey
Posted: 10/29/2001 at 11:50 a.m.


Dear Dr. McClintock,
I would like to ask you a few questions. How cold does it get in Antarctica? What is the hottest temperature recorded in Antarctica? I am doing a report on Antarctica.
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 10/29/2001 at 3:00 p.m.


Dear Krista,
The coldest temperature recorded in Antarctica was recorded during the middle of the antarctic winter (our summer here) at Vostok, a Russian antarctic station. I believe the recording was approximately 140 degrees below zero! I am less sure about what the hottest temperature is that has ever been recorded in Antarctica. On the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula, located just below the tip of South America, one might expect summertime temperatures that are well above freezing, perhaps as high as 60 degrees farenheit or slightly warmer. Good luck on your report on Antarctica!

Warm wishes,
Jim McClintock
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From: A. Ayers
Posted: 10/28/2001 at 12:30 p.m.


I am so pleased with your website. I thank you for taking the time to include our kids in your expedition. Alabama so often forgets about the education of our children. Thank you for your consideration! My daughter is a budding scientist (geologist!) She enjoyed your Web site very much! I look forward to reading about future experiments and discoveries.
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From: Charles Amsler, Ph.D.
Posted: 10/31/2001 at 7:30 a.m.


Thanks! We all very much enjoy bringing this fantastic place to you through the UAB WOW! Web project.
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From: Sara
Posted: 10/26/2001 at 8:15 p.m.


How can seals find prey without being seen and how do they know when their prey is going to dive so they can attack it?
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From: Charles Amsler, Ph.D.
Posted: 10/31/2001 at 7:30 a.m.


Mostly the seals are faster than their prey. A main food item of many of the seals, including even the leopard seals, is krill. These are small, shrimp like animals that are one of the key species in the pelagic ecosystem (that is, for ecosystem up off the bottom in the water column).

Other important prey for some species are squid and fish. The leopard seals eat penguins and other seals sometimes, although krill are more important to them over the course of a whole year. Although the leopard seals are pretty fast, a lot of their hunting of penguins and other seals involves taking the other animals by surprise. Also, they tend to take the weaker animals. Newly fledged penguin chicks, for example, constitute a large part of the penguin portion of their penguin diet.
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From: Steve Peters (Kevin's dad)
Posted: 10/23/2001 at 9:27 p.m.


Tell us about the leopard seals — I understand they can be quite dangerous. How do you protect yourselves?
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From: Charles Amsler, Ph.D.
Posted: 10/31/2001 at 7:30 a.m.


Leopard seals are certainly a constant concern when we are diving. They are unpredictable and include seals that are the same size as divers (or larger) as part of their diet. I am only aware of one incident where a diver in Antarctica has actually been bitten by a leopard seal and that was just a nip on the foot while she was getting out of the water. They are known to bite the pointy, stern end of the rubber pontoons on zodiac boats at the Palmer Station boat dock, however.

We always keep an eye out for leopard seals before we get into the water and dive somewhere else if one is spotted. If one is seen by folks in the boat during a dive, we have a special signal that tells the divers to get out of the water immediately (we put a tank over the side and hit it with a hammer; the sound carries very well underwater). So we protect ourselves by doing everything we can not to be in the water with them.
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From: Amos Smith
Posted: 10/23/2001 at 6:43 p.m.


I have a couple of questions:

#1 Why do some sponges have spicules made of silica and others are made from calcium carbonate? Is it due to the temperature or where they live?

#2 Do sponges have any natural predators?

#3 How do sponges protect themselves?

Thank you for your time!
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From: Charles Amsler, Ph.D.
Posted: 10/31/2001 at 7:30 a.m.


Amos Smith asks, "Why do some sponges have spicules made of silica and others are made from calcium carbonate? Is it due to the temperature or where they live?" The difference is genetically based with the sponges that make the two different types being in different taxonomic groupings within the sponges.

Amos asks, "Do sponges have any natural predators?" Certainly. Depending on the location in the world they are eaten by fish and by a variety of invertebrate animals. In Antarctica, their main predators are sea stars. In many parts of Antarctica, sponges are the dominant organisms covering the bottom and the interactions between them and their sea star predators is very important in determining the structure of entire communities.

Amos also asks, "How do sponges protect themselves?" Sponges can protect themselves physically by using spicules (small, often sharp structures within their "bodies"). But not all sponges make spicules and not all predators are deterred by them. Another important way that sponges defend themselves is chemically, using compounds that make them taste bad to the predators. That is what we are here in Antarctica studying.
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From: Hall-Kent Second Graders in Mrs. Hellmers' Class
Posted: 10/23/2001 at 12:36 p.m.


We are eagerly following your research trip on the web site. We especially like the many interesting photos. We have several questions.

Ashley: How many miles do you travel by plane and boat to get to Palmer Station?

Taylor: How long an air supply do divers have?

From the entire class: Is there a safety line attached to divers? Do divers always work in pairs?

Following your expedition will be a fun way to learn about scientific research and Antarctica!
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From: Charles Amsler, Ph.D.
Posted: 10/31/2001 at 12:36 p.m.


Ashley asks, "How many miles do you travel by plane and boat to get to Palmer Station?" According to our airline confirmation, we traveled 6,829 miles in the air getting from Birmingham to Dallas to Santiago to Punta Arenas. With layovers in Dallas and Santiago plus a couple stops between Santiago and Punta Arenas, that took about 24 hours. I don't know how many miles we travel by boat from Punta Arenas to Palmer Station but the trip isn't direct. From Punta Arenas we work our way east through the Straits of Magellan to the Atlantic side of South America. We then sail just east of straight south to a point on the Antarctic Peninsula about a day north of Palmer Station. That is where we are right now as I type this. Now we'll head south southwest, winding our way between some of the islands off the Peninsula for protection from the stormy seas. There is supposed to be a lot of ice near the station that might slow us up but if it doesn't slow us up much we'll arrive at Palmer about 4 days and a few hours after we left the dock in Punta Arenas. This part of the trip along the Peninsula is the most beautiful part and I can't wait!

Taylor asks, "How long an air supply do divers have?" That depends on a number of things including how deep we dive and how big the air tanks are. The deeper we go, the more compressed the air is when we breath it because it has to be at the same pressure as the water around us. Otherwise it couldn't fill our lungs. We usually only spend the first few minutes of a dive at the deepest depths (between 100 and 130 feet) and often don't need to go that deep at all. So most or all of any given dive is relatively shallow. When we do go deep at the beginning of a dive our 95 cubic foot tanks will have enough air for 40-45 minutes or so. Those tanks are bigger than most divers use and if we stay shallow, there can be enough air for over an hour in the water. However, because of the cold we rarely stay in the water longer than 40 minutes. I did spend over an hour in the water at Palmer once, but that was many years ago.

The entire class asks, "Is there a safety line attached to divers? Do divers always work in pairs?" We always dive in buddy pairs (sometimes trios) and don't use safety lines. When we are on the other side of the continent diving at McMurdo Station we are diving through holes in the ice but the water is so clear (250 to over 500 feet of visibility) that we can always see the dive holes. Safety lines are unnecessary there and so actually not as safe as going without since they can get tangled on things. At Palmer Station we are normally diving in open water from zodiac boats, so can come to the surface anywhere we want.
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From: Monyka Weaver
Posted: 10/31/2001 at 11:08 a.m.


Dear Dr. McClintock and Research Team,

Congratulations for your research, it is so exiting and with many possibilities that utopias can become realities.

Well, I just wanted to say hello, keep up with your great efforts, and work. Last, I would like to know how deep you are diving? Are you using a normal tank of oxygen or are you using a special mixture? (I understand that Nitrox is commonly used to stay longer in the water, and I read that you can only stay 30 minutes or so per dive, however, I wonder if is necessary because the temperature) What is the main family of organisms that you are studying? Are you contemplating in developing a drug for specific disease? If so, which disease?

Thank you very much and enjoy as much as you can the splendorous view!
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/1/2001 at 1:07 p.m.


Dear Monyka,

We dive to depths up to 130 feet and we use normal air mixtures. While there has been some nitrox diving done in Antarctica (this does lengthen the time one can stay underwater), this requires a very special training and supervision. Actually, the limiting factor on dive length in Antarctica is not air supply, but rather the cold. Most antarctic divers can last only about 30 minutes in the water before getting too cold to function adequately.

The main type of organisms we are studying are a group of marine invertebrates that are sessile (non-moving) or sluggish and that lack protective shells. These organisms include sponges, soft corals, nudibranchs (naked snails), among others. These organisms are vulnerable to predators and many have evolved chemical defenses. We have recently expanded our research to include marine plants.

We work with the National Cancer Institute and the UAB Cystic Fibrosis Center. Much work remains to be done to determine whether these hold promise for drug development.

Thanks for the insightful questions and your support for our research team!
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From: Hall-Kent Second Graders in Mrs. Hellmers' Class
Posted: 11/6/2001 at 6:59 p.m.


Dr. Amsler,

We enjoyed reading your journal entry titled, "On the Ice — But Not Through It." We have some questions about your experience.

Jonathan: Did it make a loud noise when the ship rammed the ice?

Rebecca: Did the ship shake when the captain did the back-n-ram? Did anyone get hurt? What did it feel like?

Jalen: Did you see any wildlife while waiting on the ship?

Entire class: Will your delay change your research plans in any way? We're glad you finally make it to Palmer Station!
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From: Charles Amsler, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/7/2001 at 10:35 a.m.


Jonathan asks, "Did it make a loud noise when the ship rammed the ice?" There is a fair bit of noise as ice passes along the sides of the ship, kind of a low pitch grinding noise. But it is not really loud most places on the ship and you get used to it and hardly notice after a while.

Rebecca asks, "Did the ship shake when the captain did the back-n-ram? Did anyone get hurt? What did it feel like?" Certainly no one got hurt. The ship is designed to be able to do this procedure and it is perfectly safe. In all things on the ship and on station, safety is the first and most important consideration. The ship shakes a little when the bow hits the ice but since it is already shaking a bit from brushing along the ice on both sides it can be really hard to tell exactly when the ship hits.

Jalen asks, "Did you see any wildlife while waiting on the ship?" Lots! We saw both Adelie and Gentoo penguins in abundance, lots of crabeater seals on the ice flows, as well as a few leopard seals. There were lots of other birds too, particularly cape petrels (a.k.a. cape pidgins) when we were further north around Deception Island. We don't see nearly so many of them around Palmer. There were also a few minke whales sighted from time to time. They are fairly small and head quickly away from the ship so good views of them are tough to get.

The entire class asks, "Will your delay change your research plans in any way? We're glad you finally make it to Palmer Station!" Thanks! It is really good to finally be here. The delay will hurt a little but we'll adjust. More important is the unusually heavy ice cover. That is changing the timing of some of the experiments we are planning and is going to make collecting more difficult. But we'll adjust and make the most of the resources we have. Working down here, you have to expect the unexpected and make the best of it. We will.
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From: Caroline Vinson and Mom
Posted: 11/3/2001 at 8:41 a.m.


We are very glad you are including us in your journey to Antartica. I am in first grade. I want to ask you what is your favorite animal? Why do you like it? Have fun and be very careful. Thank you for answering my question.
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From: Margaret Amsler
Posted: 11/8/2001 at 4:15 p.m.


Hi Caroline and Caroline's Mom!

My favorite animal (above the water) is a bird called the blue eyed shag. I think it has the prettiest eyes, they are a vivid sapphire blue. This bird also has a knob of bright yellow at the base of its bill. So the face is quite colorful! The shag is a type of cormorant, a swimming and diving bird. It is elegantly long necked and sleek to make diving for food easier. Blue eyed shags eat fish they are able to catch when underwater. Maybe that is another reason why they are my favorite animal that I can see above water. Most of the other birds and seals in Antarctica eat krill, a shrimp-like crustacean. I studied krill for many years and am quite fond of them. Krill are my favorite underwater animal. Maybe if I am lucky enough to see a blue eyed shag underwater it may become my favorite animal above and below water! I will let you know if I get dive with a blue eyed shag!
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From: Winston
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:16 a.m.


How did penguins first get to Antarctica?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Winston,

Penguins have a very old evolutionary history (this means they have been on the earth for many many years). Paleontologists believe that they originated in the tertiary period millions of years ago. They used to be even more common than today, with at least 25 species, one of which was thought to be huge, with individuals five feet tall and weighing up to 200 pounds! Today we find 17 species on our planet, and most do not in fact live in Antarctica. They are however only found in the southern hemisphere (the one that sort of breaks this rule is the Galapagos Penguin, found only on the Galapagos Island near the equator). The most likely route of origin by which penguins got to Antarctica is from South America, across the Drake Passage, a relatively short distance.

Hope this helps answer your question. It was a great one!

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Jock
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:19 a.m.


Have penguins ever been able to fly and, if so, why did they stop flying?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Jock,

Penguins likely evolved millions of years ago from birds that had the ability to fly. Over long periods of time penguins evolved into birds that used their wings for swimming rather than flight. By doing so, they have been able to exploit a lifestyle in the food-rich waters of the oceans of the southern hemisphere. Their feathers have become very small and stiff, and at the base of each feather there is some soft fuzzy material that helps provide a layer of insulation to help keep them warm by trapping a layer of air. Their wings have essentially become paddles that can propel them through the water at great speed. I have seen them swim so fast that they shoot right out of the water and up on to the sea ice!

Cheers from the cold south!

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Stewart
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:15 a.m.


Where else do penguins live besides Antarctica?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Stewart,

There are lots of places that penguins are found other than Antarctica. These include New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands, Chile, Argentina, and Australia. Note that they are all in the southern hemisphere.

Maybe someday you will visit all these places and get to see and learn about their watery worlds! Bye!

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Gabriel
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:14 a.m.


We are reading Mr. Popper's Penguins in which penguins are trained, is it really possible to train a penguin?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Gabriel,

I imagine that it is possible to teach a penguin some basic tricks. However, I do not believe they have the intelligence level of a seal, dolphin or whale, marine animals more commonly used in marine animal parks to entertain tourists. I have been surrounded on occasion of groups of emperor penguins who appear to most inquisitive and curious about these strange tall penguins wearing red coats and talking to one another!

Hope you enjoy the rest of Mr. Popper's Penguins!

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Kevin
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:12 a.m.


Do penguins live at the North Pole and, if so, what kinds of penguins are there?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Kevin,

Penguins are not found living in the northern hemisphere, including the north pole. A long time ago (1938) there was an experiment done where penguins from Antarctica were taken to the northern polar region (the Lofton Islands off the Norwegian Coast) and left there. They survived for only 20 years. It would not be a good idea to try and do this again as we have learned that there are other birds (Auks) in the arctic that fill the niche that penguins do in the southern seas. We would not want to make the auks unhappy!

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Elena
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:10 a.m.


How long have penguins been in Antarctica?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Elena,

Penguins have been in Antarctica for many millions of years. The numbers of penguins in Antarctica are thought to be expanding due perhaps to a decline in the numbers of baleen whales due to hunting. Baleen whales eat krill (little shrimp) just as penguins do, so when there are fewer whales there is more food for penguins to eat, grow, and multiply.

Hope you are learning tons about penguins! Maybe someday you will come to Antarctica and see them in person. Hope so!

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Hannah
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:08 a.m.


How did penguins get their name?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Hannah,

This is an obvious question and I am afraid you have stumped me on this one. I do know that the scientific names of the different groups of penguins are generally based on their amazing swimming and diving abilities. I would not be surprised if the word "penguin" has something to do with being a very talented swimmer or diver too.

Cheers!

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Graham
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:07 a.m.


How many babies do penguins have and what time of year do they have them?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Graham,

This depends on the species of penguin that you are talking about. Some lay their eggs in the spring, hold the eggs on top of their feet or sit on them to protect them until they hatch, and raise their chicks during the summer months. One notable exception is the Emperor Penguin, which lays its egg during the late fall and then the female presents the egg to the male who protects it throughout the most miserable winter months on the planet. Meanwhile the mother penguin swims off to spend a warmer winter elsewhere! She returns at the end of the winter and takes the egg back from her mate just before it hatches! How is that for a change of pace!

By the way, most penguins have one chick, or very occasionally two chicks, per year.

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Nathaniel
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:06 a.m.


What types of sounds do penguins make to talk to each other?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Nathaniel,

Penguins make wonderful strange noises. Sometimes they sound like they are forlorn and sad, and other times they are excited and happy. They bob their heads about when they are talking, and they flap their wings and bellow when they are being aggressive. It is not possible to imitate their noises using words, so you will just have to go and visit the penguin rookeries yourself someday to see what 150,000 penguins sound like in unison. Let me tell you, it is a pretty special experience.

Do you ever wonder what they are saying to one another?

Best wishes!

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Alexandria
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:03 a.m.


Why do penguins lay such big eggs?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Alexandria,

Penguins have to lay big eggs because they literally "put all of their eggs in one basket!" This means that because they have only one baby, or at most two, then they must invest a great deal of energy in the egg to ensure there are plenty of nutrients and energy contained in the egg to make a healthy and happy chick. Their investment in the egg does not end when it hatches, as most penguin chicks are entirely dependent upon their parents to be fed krill (little shrimp) or fish.

Good question!

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Andrew
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 9:02 a.m.


Can you tell how old penguins are by how they look?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


Dear Andrew,

One can get a sense of the general age of a penguin from looking at it. First off, chicks are easy to tell as they are small and obviously still learning the ropes. Middle aged penguins are the hardest to tell the age of, as they all look pretty much alike. Once a penguin gets old it starts to look frayed and slow in moving about.

Most scientists who study the ages of penguins put numbered bands on their wings or legs so that they can follow them throughout their lives. This is an excellent way to make sure you know exactly how old a penguin really is! By understanding the ages of penguins we can learn about their life styles and how best to protect them from harm in the future.

Neat question. Cheers from Antarctica!

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Tara
Posted: 11/9/2001 at 8:37 p.m.


Hello, just wanted to let you all know that I enjoyed your journal entries and hope you write more of them. I have a few questions:

1. What time zone are you in? Did you have bad jet lag after your trip?

2. What kind of training do you need in order to do cold water diving as opposed to regular diving? What kind of physical conditioning do the divers have to have?

3. How many hours of daylight versus darkness do you get? Are you far enough south that the sun doesn't set during the Antarctic summer?

4. Is it hard to adjust to living at the station? And then again when you get home, is it hard to adjust to being back in the "real world"?

Thank you for your time.
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From: Charles Amsler, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/12/2001 at 4:38 p.m.


Tara asks, "What time zone are you in? Did you have bad jet lag after your trip?" For simplicity we use the same time zone as Chile, where we are supplied from. That is only three hours different (later) from Birmingham although when the US was on daylight savings time and Chile was on standard time, the difference was only an hour (i.e., we were on the same time as the east coast of the US). We don't have the kind of jet lag you get traveling east-west with major time changes but we are always really tired after traveling the 24 hours or so it takes between the time one leaves Birmingham and arrives in Punta Arenas, Chile.

Tara also asks, "What kind of training do you need in order to do cold water diving as opposed to regular diving? What kind of physical conditioning do the divers have to have?" I'm going to be doing a journal entry on our dive training sometime in the next few weeks. The short answer is yes, you do need some additional training although it isn't onerous. Everyone who comes here goes through medical testing and being in good shape aerobically is indeed important for the diving.

Tara asks, "How many hours of daylight versus darkness do you get? Are you far enough south that the sun doesn't set during the Antarctic summer?" Right now, we are getting a few hours of true darkness at night. By the time the austral summer solstice gets here (around December 20th), it will be light all day although the sun will, technically, set. The latitude at which the sun won't set then is called the Antarctic Circle and is at 67 degrees south latitude. We are at 64 degrees 46 minutes south. The sun will sink below the horizion but not so far that it actually gets dark. Essentially, we'll go straight from the beginning of sunset to the end of sunrise.

Tara also asks, "Is it hard to adjust to living at the station? And then again when you get home, is it hard to adjust to being back in the 'real world?'" I'm going to ask Kevin to write a journal entry about that because it his first time here and so the difference between here and the "real world" is probably most dramatic for him. I really don't have a hard time adjusting either here or at home. For me, they are so very different that it really is like being in two worlds. When I'm here, this world seems "normal" and when I'm at home, that one does. But I'm sure that either lifestyle would seem radically unnatural if experienced in the other place.
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From: Hall-Kent Second Graders
Posted: 11/6/2001 at 7:10 a.m.


Dr. McClintock,

We enjoyed reading your journal entry about teamwork and how so many people play an important role in making your research trips possible. What first got you interested in biology and research of marine life in Antarctica? Was there a person that was your role model? Good Luck with your research!
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 11/15/2001 at 8:21 a.m.


Dear Hall-Kent Second Graders,

Please accept my apologies for taking so long to reply to your question. Sometimes communication in Antarctica is tricky, and this past week I was traveling aboard ship and out of e-mail contact. I am so pleased you enjoyed reading my journal entry about teamwork. It really has been the key to so much of what our research group has accomplished over the years in this remote continent. I got interested in biology quite young as I grew up with a keen interest in nature. My home town was Santa Barbara, California, and I remember not only the creek filled with frogs and turtles near our home, but many days spent combing the beaches and tide pools of the Pacific Ocean. These early experiences wet my interests in biology.

After some careful thought I would have to say that there were three teachers that were role models for me during my earlier years, and they remain so even today. The first was an English literature teacher I had in high school who sparked my interest in reading and literature, and who was a mountaineer. The second was a professor in college who taught me that science, in this case marine biology, can be terribly exciting and satisfying as a field of study. And finally, my advisor in graduate school was in every sense of the word a true scholar, who taught me much about being a research marine biologist, and importantly, also an effective teacher. To these individuals I owe a great debt of gratitude. You students will also have your role models in the years to come. I hope they will urge you to follow your heart and pursue your dreams. Thanks for your wishes of good luck. Our research is going great down here in Antarctica!

Best wishes,
Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Randy
Posted: 11/28/2001 at 9:03 a.m.


I just read Kevin's article on GASH-ing. I was wondering what type of septic system is used for the dirty dish water, etc.
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From: Kevin Peters
Posted: 11/28/2001 at 1:44 p.m.


Dear Randy,

Thank you for sending me my first question. I did not know the answer to your question until I did a little investigation around the station and got the answer. After the food and water is sent through the "Baby Grinder," it is then sent to the macerator. All of the human waste from the toilets and other sinks is also sent to the macerator. The macerator then grinds all of this up and expels it out to sea. Any bacterial microbes from our waste is killed within a few feet of leaving the pipe in the water due to the extreme cold temperature of the water. The tidal action then disperses the waste away from the station and it does not affect the area in the least. All lab and other hazardous waste is stored in barrels on station until it can be taken away to be disposed of properly in the United States. Thanks for the question!

Kevin
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From: Cindi
Posted: 11/30/2001 at 11:36 a.m.


Kevin, what have you learned with regard to the strength of the seaweed you have been studying? I know your hypothesis was basically strength versus survival. How many different types will you be comparing? Also at what depth are these species collected? How are these diffent to the ones located near me on the gulf coast? Thanks.
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From: Kevin Peters
Posted: 12/1/2001 at 5:00 p.m.


Hey Cindi,

With regard to strength of the seaweed, I have found out that this is quite variable. Some species only require me to add 40 grams to break through, while some of them are actually requiring over 3.5 kilograms to break through. My hypothesis is that the tougher ones have less chemical defenses than the fragile ones since they put so much energy into structural defense. I am hoping to have enough data on 40-50 species for when I write my paper. These species range in depth at which they are found from right at the surface down to 130 feet. Our divers have been doing an excellent job of knowing which species I still need and getting them for me so that I can have complete data sets.

Comparing these species to those found along the Gulf Coast, the communities of algae are much richer down here. We do not know if there is a difference in the toughness yet, but that is part of the reason that I am doing this work right now. Thanks for the excellent question.

Kevin
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From: Dr. Rob Svensen
Posted: 12/1/2001 at 12:07 p.m.


How cold is the weather? Is it a dry cold? Usually at anything below zero, it doesn't matter. Good luck!
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 12/5/2001 at 10:00 a.m.


Dear Rob,

Greetings from the the true south! Your question about the weather is one that many of our readers on the WOW! site wonder about. As we are located on the Antarctica Peninsula — jokingly referred to at times as the "banana belt" of Antarctica — our temperatures are comparatively moderate. You may be aware that Vostok, the Russian station in the central plateau of the continent, recorded the coldest temperaure ever recorded on earth — somewhere well below -100 degrees F.

But here at Palmer Station, temperatures at this time of year (late austral sprint) are hovering right around freezing, sometimes a few degrees above or below. It is definately cold enough that the abundant precipitation is coming down as flakes or sleet. We have had some very strong wind episodes, during which the wind chill factor really sets in, and the wind chill is well below freezing!

You are absolutely correct that it is a "dry cold" that we deal with here. It is not quite as dry here on the Peninsula as it is further south, but dry nonetheless. We all are dependent on chap stick. As you hinted in your question, when the air is so dry the absolute temperature doesn't seem to have as dramatic an effect, and this is true. I find that with the proper amount of clothing, working in these temperatures is quite comfortable. I find moist cold, like on a foggy day on the beach in San Francisco, much more bone chilling than the very dry cold here. But, I would be remiss to try and dismiss the temperatures here as "comfortable" ... after all, we are in Antarctica and it is COLD! Just yesterday, covered in salt water spray while working out of a small dive boat, with the wind blowing, and hours passing, I returned to our station chilled to the core! Thank goodness for hot tea.

Cheers,
Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Bryan Elementary 5th Graders in Mrs. Ledlow's Class
Posted: 12/4/2001 at 7:41 p.m.


Thanks for bringing Antarctica into our classroom by allowing us to follow your research expedition through the WOW website. We have learned lots of interesting things. We have some questions.

How is electricity made at Palmer Station?

Is the ocean the main source of food and shelter for the animals of Antarctica? Are there any living things that thrive solely on land?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 12/5/2001 at 8:09 a.m.


Dear 5th grade students of Mrs.Ledlow,

Great questions! We make electricity here by burning diesel fuel. The fuel is brought to the station in a big ship once a year. It is pumped from the ship in a big hose to one of two large storage tanks. From there the diesel fuel flows to the power facility where there are two large 6 cylinder diesel engines. These are known as CAT 3406 diesel engines and each can generate 250 kilowatts/208 volts of power. The best way to think about this is to imagine that each engine could power a large semi truck.

The reason there are two engines is that one is always running while the other is being serviced. If a fire were to destroy the power facility (fire is a big danger here in Antarctica) then there is a smaller emergency generator in another separate building. This engine would generate enough electricity to support the people here until a rescue ship could arrive (it takes about five days to get a rescue ship here).

The generators burn 1800 gallons of diesel fuel a week. But that keeps us all warm, keeps our food cold, runs our scientific instruments, and even our large screen TV! In the future it may be possible to develop solar power and wind power here to help provide electricity. Both wind and sun are in large supply (except of course the sunlight is reduced during the winter months).

The ocean is indeed the main source of food for animals living in Antarctica. There is really not much for animals to eat on land here, except on occasion, each other! Those animals that live solely off the land would really be restricted to a few insects that have managed to make Antarctica their home.

There are also microscopic animals that live in freshwater in Antarctica. Most of these have very short life spans because the only time the water is not frozen is during the summer.

Recently, scientists discovered a lake buried thousands of feet under the polar ice plateau of Antarctica. They are planning to sample the water in the lake to study the very special microbial life that is likely to be found (sort of like finding life on another planet). But before they drill into the lake they have to very carefully decide how to best do it without contaminating the lake with microbes that might be on the drill! They will discuss this for five years before drilling. That is how important it is!

Hope you find these answers interesting! Thanks for writing and thanks for sending down Bryan the bear.

Cheers,
Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Ari in Mrs. Hellmer's Class
Posted: 12/7/2001 at 1:40 p.m.


Exactly how does communication reach you in Antarctica?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 12/10/2001 at 8:09 a.m.


Dear Ari,

Communications here occur in several different ways. In the old days they actually relied primarily on ham radio operators to facilitate communications. There was a satellite phone available for emergencies or important business, but at a cost of $10 a minute it did not get used much. What followed next was access to a satellite that is in an orbit that allows a window of opportunity each day for communications. Right now our window is from 10:30 in the morning to about 5:30 pm in the evening. We also share time with the south pole. This satellite connection also allows internet connectivity, thus your ability to read this message from me.

There is also what they call an iridium phone that accesses a series of satellites that allow 24 hour connectivity. This is my favorite phone. The only drawback is that you have to be outside to make a call where there is no interference. Sometimes standing in a snow storm to call home is a challenge!

Next year they will be installing a communications system that can talk to a satellite that is available at all times. You will be able to e-mail or call at any time of the day with excellent connections and at a very reasonable cost. Modern communcations will then have arrived at Palmer Station.

Cheers,
Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Ginger
Posted: 12/12/2001 at 9:50 a.m.


Our fifth grade class here in Alton, IL have been enjoying following you on this site. Are there medical doctors stationed with you? If so, what type of procedures are they able to perform? Have you ever had to send someone home from being seriously ill?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 12/19/2001 at 6:43 a.m.


Dear Fifth Graders in Alton, Illinois,

How marvelous to receive your questions from Illinois! I am so pleased that you have all been following us during our expedition to Antarctica. Yes, we do indeed have a station doctor here. She is a well trained medical doctor who graduated from UC Berkeley, and has special training in surgery in addition to being a family practitioner. I was just chatting with her a few minutes ago about the broad scope of her activities here at the station. She does everything. She is a dentist, nurse, anesthesiologist, pharmacist, gastroenterologist, eye wash checker, fire alarm checker, and water quality inspector, just to name a few of her jobs. She loves her work and it shows. If someone were to get seriously injured here, the course of action would be to stabilize the patient and then get them back to South America or the United States as quickly as possible. This would require at least a week by ship, or in a dire emergency it is possible that an air rescue could be launched that could transport someone back to South America in about one day. It is possible to land small ski planes called twin otters on the glacier behind our station. Medical evacuations from Antarctica are not uncommon, and many have occurred over the years. However, Palmer Station has not had a medical evacuation during the two seasons I have visited. Thank goodness!

Thanks for your great questions.

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Steve Peters
Posted: 12/14/2001 at 11:37 a.m.


Is there something indigenous ONLY to Antarctica that visitors like to bring home as a memento of their visit to the continent?

Steve Peters (Kevin's Dad)
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 12/19/2001 at 6:43 a.m.


Dear Steve (Kevin's Dad),

So nice to hear from you and get a chance to answer your question. Kevin, our intrepid graduate student, tells me that you, his father, are an Antarctic enthusiast. I know you would have enjoyed the afternoon Kevin and I spent yesterday on Torgeson Island, home to well over several thousand gentoo penguins. Let it suffice to say that Kevin and I shot about 8 rolls of film in an hour. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and a special day that Kevin will certainly remember forever.

Now to your question about removing indigenous objects from Antarctica. Actually the Antarctic Treaty is pretty firm on this issue, and prohibits visitors from removing any animal, plant, and yes, even rock, materials from Antarctica. Scientists, of course, can get the necessary permits to allow them to make collections and bring them home to study. While this may sound silly, I believe that a strict preservationist ideology is sound policy for this global scientific arena.

The research stations pretty much all have small stores that sell t-shirts, posters, and other Antarctic memorabilia. Happily, this seems to satisfy the collecting genes of both Antarctic tourist and scientist alike (not to worry, Kevin has loaded up on these items for his family, and you are definitely in the loop)! Oh, and we must not forget photographs. Visitors to Antarctica usually collect these by the hundreds, and in some cases, thousands.

Cheers,
Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Questions from Hall-Kent Second Graders
Posted: 12/14/2001 at 2:12 p.m.


We have loved learning more about Antarctica! We kept a list of questions we have, and we hope it will not take too much of your time to answer them.

Eddie: Do you see any large icebergs near Palmer?

Julian: Do you seen lots of krill when you dive?

Randarius: We know that in some countries krill is used as food. Have any of you eaten krill while in Antarctica?

Ryan: Are leopard seals very fast in the water? What is their favorite food around Palmer Station?

Erica: Have you found any marine plants or animals your group has not seen before?

Aubrey: We've read how fire safety is very important in Antarctica. What do you have to do differently from what you would do at home? Do you have fire drills?

Julian: Are the penguins afraid to come near you on land or in the water?

Aldria: Is the snow wet enough to make a snowball or build a snowman?

Tamzid: What do you do for fun or to relax?

Antonio: How will you spend Christmas?

Thank you for sharing Antarctica with us. We wish we could be there, but this has been the next best thing to a field trip. Thank you!
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 12/19/2001 at 6:43 a.m.


Dear Hall Kent Second Grade Students,

Happy to hear from you this fine Antarctic morning! Here are the answers to your questions:

Dear Eddie,
I have spotted some large icebergs near Palmer Station. Maybe about the size of a very large house. Now by ice berg standards this is not huge. Sometimes "ice bergs" can be the size of a small state, like Rhode Island! These are formed when a large sheet of the ice breaks off the continent. We also see glacial ice bergs here at the station quite often. These are formed when big chunks of the glacier "calve" off with a loud CRACK! They usually break up into smaller pieces when they hit the sea, and then float by the station. Many of these are a gorgeous deep blue color.

Dear Julian,
We just saw an underwater video made by several krill biologists working here. They showed us hundreds of little krill living and feeding under the sea ice. They eat little plants that grow on the ice. Sometimes our divers see krill when they dive, but not the big swarms that occur further offshore. These krill swarms can literally be several miles across. This makes baleen whales very happy.

Dear Randarius,
Krill apparently do not taste very good. Japan is the only country I know that fishes for krill in Antarctica. They make a powder out of the krill and use it as a food supplement. So, nope, we have never tasted krill.

Dear Ryan,
Yes, leopard seals are very fast in the water! You can sense that you are just a visitor in their world when you enter the water here. They swim circles around our divers! Their favorite food around Palmer are krill, fish and penguins.

Dear Erica,
Yes, we have found some species of marine plants and animals that we had not found here before. Antarctica is full of surprises and every trip we find something new. It makes doing science here very rewarding and exciting.

Dear Aubrey,
Fire is indeed a big concern here. If the station burns down we have to wait 4 days to be rescued by ship. The buildings are built so that if one burns the others will not catch fire, so we will have a place to live and work until a rescue ship arrives. There are fire sprinklers in the ceiling, lots of fire extinguishers, and all the staff here have to go to a special fire school in Colorado for a whole week before coming here to live and work. There are also occasional fire drills.

Dear Julian,
The penguins are not at all afraid of people. They will even walk right up to you sometimes. Maybe they think you are a very big penguin?! In the water, they swim by our boats in big flocks, bobbing up and down out of the water as they "fly" by!

Dear Aldria,
Yes, the snow here is usually wet enough to make snowmen or snowballs! You can even make a snow angel is you feel like it! Some of the people here like to ski on the snow covered glacier behind the station.

Dear Tamzid,
For recreation, we have lots of movies, a pool table, hiking and skiing, trips to the penguin covered islands, and games. There are quite a few people here that like to knit, and they often sit in the living area around the pot bellied stove and knit. The knitter in our group is Maggie, who is knitting a sweater for a penguin that lives in Australia. There is a species of penguin in Australia that sometimes get oil on its feathers and needs to be kept warm while it recovers. Maggie is going to ship her sweater off to the penguins when it is done!

Dear Antonio,
We have already had some Christmas celebrations here at Palmer Station. But we will actually be aboard a big ship in the Drake Passage on Christmas day. I know the ship cook will be making us a special Christmas meal, and I am sure everyone, Chilean, Phillipino, and American, will in a sense, become a Christmas family for the day.

Dear Mrs. Helmers and her students,
I wish you all a very merry Christmas from Antarctica! May it be filled with much joy.

Dr. Jim McClintock
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From: Marion in Pennsylvania
Posted: 12/19/2001 at 10:45 a.m.


How are leopard seals dangerous?
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From: James McClintock, Ph.D.
Posted: 12/20/2001 at 7:45 a.m.


Dear friends in Pennsylvania,

Leopard seals are top predators in Antarctic waters that feed on krill, fish, penguins, and even small seals. They are very aggressive and domineering animals. I can speak to this personally having encountered a number over the years in their own environment. When encountered they circle in tighter and tighter circles, and they are not afraid to dart quickly at a person, only to turn away at the last second. When I was working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica in the late 1980's I met a British explorer who told me about walking along the ice edge one day when suddenly a large leopard seal leaped out of the sea and grabbed him by the leg attempting to pull him in the water. He resorted to using his mountaineering walking stick to convince the seal to let go (he did not wound the seal). He continued along the ice edge another short distance and the same leopard seal came out of the sea again, and the whole episode repeated. Here at Palmer Station tales are told of leopard seals routinely attacking the pontoons of our dive boats, and several divers have had close encounters. Not too long ago divers here used to carry long sticks in the water to fend off these seals. Our divers have chosen not to use them. This year we have had two close encounters with leopard seals. In one instance I was driving the boat and had to quickly recover two divers that had made it to the rocky ledge of a nearby island, having spent 20 minutes underwater working their way very slowly up a rock wall keeping the seal under careful view. A second encounter occurred right in front of the station, where two divers had only just plunged in to the water when a very large leopard surfaced almost in their midst. They reentered the boat rather quickly if I do say so myself! The good news is that to date nobody has ever been seriously injured by a leopard seal, and they are likely just very curious about people. Nonetheless, safety protocols are wise to enforce, particularly when pertaining to very large beasts equipped with very sharp teeth.

Cheers,
Jim McClintock
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From: JoLynn
Posted: 12/21/2001 at 3:00 p.m.


WOW! (no pun intended) Chuck, that was a fascinating account about your close encounter with the leopard seal. It made me feel that I was right there with you, wondering if we were going to make it to the top intact! Have you been able to collect as many samples as you had hoped to? Besides getting up close and personal with a leopard seal, are there any striking differences in terms of research between this trip and your trip last "summer?"
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From: Chuck Amsler
Posted: 12/26/2001 at 2:00 p.m.


As far as sample collecting, we've been able to get most of what we wanted and pretty much all of what we've really needed. I think that we are pretty lucky in that regard. One big difference in field operations between this time and last is that we've had to deal with a great deal more ice (and if you've read our early season posts, you know that it was a GREAT DEAL more then). So much more of our collecting has been restricted to areas right around the station. Fortunately, we've discovered a number of new (to us, anyway) spots that have provided a fairly rich diversity of collecting opportunities. Another big difference is that we've put a lot of time, particularly over the last month, into underwater experiments that are set up right off the station near our seawater intakes. I'm hoping to write my next journal entry about that project but it has meant making quite a few to install and maintain an experiment rather than to collect organisms for bioassays and chemical extractions. We are certainly still making more collecting dives than experiment dives, but last year collecting accounted for nearly all of our underwater work.
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Maggie's Journal: To Everything Its Place
Maggie's Journal: Wrapping Up at Palmer Station
Maggie's Journal: Happy Belated New Year
Jim's Journal: Antarctic Science Snowballs
Maggie's Journal: Christmas in Antarctica
Chuck's Journal: Home Alone
Student Journal: A Different Christmas

Expedition Journals and Articles

Bulletin Board for Questions and Answers

UAB Department of Biology

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QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"Our ship cut through the twelve-foot waves and fifty-knot winds of the midnight Drake Passage, bucking hard, first to the right and then the left, coupling these sideways motions with wave-generated surges of movement up and down."
- James McClintock, Ph.D.
READ THE ENTIRE JOURNAL ENTRY....



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