Here in Birmingham, if we run out of some laboratory supplies at UAB, we just put in an order with a supply company. For many things, we will have what we need in a few days or at most a week. Things are not that easy in Antarctica.
For Antarctica, we have to plan ahead for all our supply and equipment needs months before we leave for “the ice.” Some standard laboratory items are ordered through the company that the National Science Foundation contracts to run Palmer Station. For other, more specialized items, we need to order them ourselves and ship them down.
For the things ordered through the contractor, we have to provide them with a detailed list of what we need many months ahead of time. Normally this list is due in mid-April for our field season that starts ten months later in the middle of the following February. This list is very detailed right down to the number of boxes of laboratory wipes (kind of like Kleenex) or number (and size) of laboratory flasks that we will need. It helps that we have done this many times before, but it is so important that Jim, Maggie, and I spend a great deal of time making our list and checking it (more than) twice.
We also have to tell the contractor how many boxes of equipment and supplies we will be shipping down ourselves. We send them to the contractor’s central freight facility in California and the contractor puts them into shipping containers headed to Palmer. Most of those needed to be in California in early December. For some things like frozen chemicals that needed to be shipped to Chile (where we will get on a ship to Antarctica) by air, we did not have to get them to California until mid-January.
April, December, and January. Those are a long time ahead of when we arrive at Palmer Station on 17 or 18 February. But with excellent help from hard-working folks at the contractor, we will see all of the equipment and supplies when we sail into Palmer and begin our research.
Back here in Birmingham, we have the kind assistance of an excellent staff at the Birmingham News. Check out their story on our expedition!:
University of Alabama at Birmingham team to study Antarctica's nature