Palmer Station is as you know is relegated to the deep south, Antarctica – a remote and harsh continent. On occasion this far outpost of temporarily displaced humans seems neither remote nor distant from ‘civilization’. We are fortunate to have technological bridges to the real world (24/7 internet, WiFi, etc) plus all the comforts of home: recliner chairs, hand held remotes, a monster big screen tv AND a cinema-sized popcorn maker!
Like most stateside homes nowadays, Palmer Station’s digital information flows through a T1 pipe. Like your’s at home, our connection is direct and high speed, delivering its bandwidth at a whopping speed 1.5 Mb. Unlike your’s (probably) Palmer’s pipe needs to deliver water, aka bandwidth for massive science and logistic files not to mention personal computing use for 45 members of the household! So as you can imagine, bandwidth is a precious commodity and tightly regulated.
That partly explains why the station does not receive television broadcasts. However, viewers can stay abreast of their favorite shows if the program is available in legal downloadable format. Usually the episode is available after the original tv airing which is often a day or two later. Tough to not talk to stateside fans who may want to reveal the solution to a cliff hanger!
Our friendly IT guys insist that downloads of videos or music, which require a lot of water or bandwidth to deliver, be done late in the evening when the use and demand on the system is at a low. And with special usage tracking software IT knows who is using the bandwidth when and how!
On occasion, permission has been granted to use a good bit of the station’s bandwidth and receive a live broadcast over the internet. This year such events have included the Super Bowl and the opening ceremony of the Olympics – both of which I watched in Alabama. Earlier this week permission was granted for another major event to be streamed live: the NCAA basketball finals.
You may recall from one our of group’s Flickr photos that both Ruth and Chuck are Blue Devils – both were undergraduates at Duke University. With the assistance of IT wizard Jeff Otten, the big screen tv in the lounge was our live link to a stadium in Indiana. Well sort of – despite numerous incantations and varied potions of software tweaking, Jeff could not make the video materialize smoothly in real time. The glitch must have been on the broadcaster’s end. We were able to get fine audio and see sporadic live action. We consoled and resigned ourselves in our overstuffed recliners and sofa, Ruth made popcorn and we enjoyed a victory - mellowed by the less than exciting coverage. Antarctica is a harsh continent after all!
Peer to peer contact like Skype is not normally sanctioned by NSF for security reasons and as it also drinks up a lot of the station’s internet bandwidth. Use for outreach purposes is available but requires special permission. UAB in Antarctica yesterday was granted such privilege and as such 7 April 2010 may go down in (our project’s) history as UAB in A Media Blitz Day! Three television stations in Birmingham throughout the morning hosted not only team member Jim McClintock in person but also, via the wonders of Skype, members of UAB in Antarctica live from a specially equipped laptop computer in Palmer Station science leader’s office. Once again our digital deity Jeff Otten lent a powerful and present hand to divert much of the waterstream (bandwidth) and send forth our messages of greeting with viewers at home. For a short time, videos of each network interaction are available for viewing. The links are:
The fourth and final Skype with a station in Huntsville took place in the afternoon. That footage is not yet available but do see the image at the right of the Palmer Station ‘studio’ with Chuck, Kate, and Jeff sharing a laugh of relaxation before show time!
Technology also greatly enhances our science at Palmer and recently our diving. UAB in Antarctica Media Blitz Day was foggy weather-wise. Going out on the water in fog is never a good idea. By afternoon the fog has lessened but we still did not want to go far from station for a dive. Alan had been curious to try a spot adjacent to one of our best collecting sites. He based this desire on his study of a map of bottom depths generated by a previous Palmer science project.
The PRIMO Project in 2005 did extensive shallow water soundings using special sonor technology and generated a colorful map of the water depths or bathymetry, around Palmer Station. A cropped and tailored portion of that map is shown at the right side of the page. Alan noted a similarity in the way the water depth changed abruptly around our known site off the tip of Norsel Point and a spot further southeast, closer to Palmer. On the bathymetry map notice how quickly the red band appears at the tip of Norsel Point – meaning that the bottom drops rapidly, forming a vertical wall and an ideal home for benthic invertebrates, not algae.
So off Alan and I with tenders Ruth and Rex zodiaced while Kate and Chuck Skyped with Huntsville. At our new dive site, Ruth lowered the zodiac’s technology toy, a depth finder, and we confirmed the existence of a narrow ledge at about 40 feet that dropped abruptly to 120 feet. In splash Alan and I and down we headed into the unknown - - - paradise!!! A sheer wall extending football fields in either direction greeted us covered with waving pencil-thin soft corals, dotted with large vase sponges and in between a rich and varied assemblage of beauties! At one point I looked upward, my gaze including a large vase sponge and I had a flashback to an incredible dive on the Bloody Bay wall in the Caymans – only colder. ;-)
Alan and I are anxious for Chuck to see this with his own eyes and then share it with you with the station’s underwater video camera. So check our website soon for video footage of this spectacular site. My cliff hanger! Yeah – fun with technology!!!