A Morning at Palmer

Photos from UAB in Antarctica group on Flickr, related to this post
By Chuck
Posted on 03/13/10

“What is your day like?” That is a question we get asked by folks at home fairly often. So my post this time will tell you about how my day begins.  Perhaps in a later post one of the others in the group will do the same for comparison. I’m sure that you will be reading about the evening “ritual” kitchen clean up called GASH. And certainly about the different activities that go on throughout the day in between.

    Most mornings I wake up to the sound of songbirds.

    Yes, songbirds.

    No, there aren’t.  Although there are lots of birds in Antarctica, there are no songbirds here.

    Because I am the Station Science Leader this season, Maggie and I get to live in a dorm room that is a little bit bigger than the others and has a few more accoutrements. One of those nice accessory items that the room came with is an alarm clock. Since it was already there, when we moved in I decided to use it instead of the one I’d brought. (When Maggie sleeps inside she wakes up on her own earlier than I do; she does not need an alarm.) I didn’t notice that it was an “environmental” alarm which, in addition to the jarring buzzing noise I was expecting, has several natural sound settings. Unbeknownst to me, it was set to “songbirds.”

     At home in Alabama,  we live in a wooded area, and so I often wake to the sounds of songbirds there. But that first morning here when I woke to the sound of songbirds I was quite befuddled. I realized right away that this was not right but could not understand what I was hearing. Of course, it so happens the alarm clock sits in front of our one window in the room. So I got up and stared confusedly looking out the window.

    After a few moments, I realized what was going on. But that noise is so effective at waking me up by being so out of place – while being less jarring than the buzzing alarm noise – that I’ve kept using it. I still wake with something of a giggle each morning, remembering that first time.

    Even without the songbird surprise, looking out the window in our room is still pretty much the first thing I do every morning. That is because the first decision Jim and I need to make is what our dive operations (“dive ops”) will be for the day.

    The weather is relatively unpredictable here, and although we get a weather forecast each day for that day and the next, one really doesn’t know what the weather will be like until you wake up and look. Even if it isn’t windy, the height of the waves and the direction they are coming from makes a big difference in where we can dive.

    Although we often know what we’d like to do for dive ops the evening before, we really can’t make firm plans until the morning. And even then, things can change so much that afternoon dive plans might need to be canceled or changed.

    Maggie and my dorm room is one floor up from the galley (cafeteria) and my office. Normally I grab a glass of juice and head down the hallway to my office, stopping in the weather room. All the weather information is available on the internal station web site, but it is all there for display at once in the weather room. I can see what conditions are and have been, and along with information like the barometric pressure trends, that can give some clue as to how things might be going. I can also see what the cloud and barometric pressure patterns are like across the region and how they have been changing, which helps too.

    Even with all those data, there is no substitute for looking out the window. The main science office has a nice window view that allows me to see the harbor area right off station (Arthur Harbor to be exact) and some of the islands that we dive around. The ones that I can see from the window are part of the northern-most group that we refer to as the “north islands” (pretty clever name, huh?).

    One part of the north islands is not really an island, but rather a shoal called Killer Whale Rocks. It is a little further out than the bigger (real) islands and so has virtually no protection from waves in any direction. And because it barely sticks up out of the water, I can see the waves crashing on it from any direction. I call it my “surge-o-meter” because “surge” is the name for the motion a diver experiences on the bottom which is caused by waves.

    For the past few days, we’ve had an iceberg stuck in Arthur Harbor that blocks my view of Killer Whale Rocks from the science office. I can still tell a lot about the waves from the things I can see, but it is always nice to have the info from my surge-o-meter.  So even if it is the north islands where we’d like to dive, I need to walk up the hill to the top of the station building area to see it.

    That area at the top of the hill the station sets on also gives me a view of the other group of islands we dive on. We call these the “south islands” (again, very original, right?). I can only see the closest of the south islands from there, but it still tells me a lot, including how much ice there might be that will slow us up should we want to head that way.

    All that information in hand, Jim and I can finalize plans for the day’s dive ops. We need to get that done in time for our daily 8:00 AM meeting.

    Except for Sunday, when we meet to start the work day at 12:30, each day starts with a group meeting at 8 AM. Because our work, particularly our dive ops, take coordination from most – sometimes all – of the group, everyone has to start the day knowing what the schedule is.

    Breakfast ends at 8:00 so that is a good time to meet. We meet in the galley, and folks are often finishing breakfast as the meeting begins. Most of the group gets there early to chit-chat and work together on the New York Times crossword puzzle. Each morning, multiple copies of that are printed (the station has a subscription) and is a favorite morning activity for lots of folks here.

    The meeting usually starts out with the dive ops: who is diving, who is tending (helping the divers). Does that work for everyone’s research plans for the day? What time works best to start? (Sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 is typical). Then we talk about anything else that all or most of the group need to discuss that day. Then like a football team breaking huddle, we get up and head off in different directions to our “positions” for the day. And the “play” (work day) begins.

 

Comments

  1. Re: A Morning at Palmer
    Posted by Terri Schoenrock on 03/14/10

    Thank you. You make it all sound so ordinary, when what you are all doing is so extraordinary!!!!

    I am very happy to hear that Kate has crossword lovers with her.

  2. Re: A Morning at Palmer
    Posted by Phil Gabbard on 03/14/10

    Great post. I didn't realize there were so many personnel stationed in Antarctica.

    Do you stay throughout the year?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 03/15/10
      Thanks! Most of the group and I will be here until early June. But the station has people working here all year round.

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