Hi everyone, from Palmer Station!
It is hard to describe how wonderful it is here. I have been especially awed by my first glimpses of Antarctic wildlife- and I didn’t have to wait long to see Antarctic fauna- as I was unpacking in my room, an Adélie penguin walked down the road outside my window!
Kate and I have been busy learning about life here, setting up our lab space and dive equipment, meeting everyone on station, and of course seeing our first Antarctic seals, penguins, seaweeds, and marine invertebrates. However, one of our first priorities was a boating course. Everyone at Palmer Station takes this course before they are able to use the station zodiacs, and most people on station enjoy getting out in the boats to take recreational trips to the nearby islands or to see the beautiful scenery and wildlife from the water.
Our first morning at Palmer Station, we met with Ryan, the boat operations manager. Before we could learn about boating, we had to learn how to use the camp stoves and set up the tents that are stored in survival caches located on every island in safe zodiac boating distance off Anvers Island. These caches are placed on the islands in case a boating group is unable to return to the station, primarily due to weather. The weather here can change rapidly. Storms can arrive with little warning, and winds can rise from 20 to 60 knots in less than 10 minutes. Although we are careful to check the forecast before we plan our trips, I’m sure everyone understands how weather can surprise you. So it’s very important to know how to use the survival gear in the caches in case what we intend to be a short boating or dive trip turns into several hours or a night spent on one of the islands.
We then talked about what to do in a person overboard situation. The water temperature here stays pretty constant between -1 and 1° C. The first minute or two in water this cold is an extreme shock to the body. Immersed in water this cold, a person has only about 10 minutes during which they are capable of purposeful movement. Around 10 minutes after immersion, hypothermia sets in as blood is pumped away from the extremities to the core in an attempt to keep the vital organs warm enough for metabolism. It’s extremely important to get the person back into the boat as soon as possible. However, haste can lead to accidents, and running someone over with the zodiac is not helpful. Therefore, it’s best to take it slow approach in the zodiac to your overboard person and remember that the person has at least those 10 minutes before hypothermia causes serious problems. All the boats are equipped with warm “space blankets” and sleeping bags, and though she did not actually go overboard, we practiced wrapping Kate up like a burrito, which we would do after removing wet clothing in order to re-establish her body heat.
Then we were ready for the really fun part (not that a Kate burrito is not fun!): learning to drive the zodiacs. It can be slow going if there is a lot of brash ice in the water, but the day of our boating course the water was clear, and we could take the zodiac up to top speed as we navigated throughout the small islands around the station. I had never driven a boat before, and working the tiller of a zodiac is honestly one of the most fun things I have gotten to do in a long time. I really can’t wait to get some more practice! We also spent time learning to land the zodiac, tie it up, and deploy the sea anchor.
To wrap up our boating course, we practiced a real man overboard situation. I got to put on a full survival suit and jump into the water! It was relaxing to float in the icy cold water, protected by my waterproof suit, bobbing up and down with the waves and watching the clouds move as Kate and Ryan looped around to pick me up. I didn’t want to get out! Here is a tip though, if you are ever in the same situation: the wrists of the survival suit do NOT seal like our dry suits do, so keep your hands out of the water if possible. Trying to swim is not a good idea if you don’t have to ?. When icy water started trickling up my sleeve, I was not opposed to being dragged back into the zodiac…
It’s time to get back to work. We have a full day of diving and research ahead of us. There is a lot of brash ice today, but otherwise it’s a beautiful day for a dive and for a boat ride!