New Life on Station

Photos from UAB in Antarctica group on Flickr, related to this post
By Philip
Posted on 04/17/07

As my Elachista spore settling experiments incubate and spores hopefully begin to germinate, I would like to switch gears from my last entry, which focused on my research and discuss the station-wide effort, compromises, and excitement that a port of call by the research vessel Laurence M. Gould (LMG) to Palmer Station entails. 

The Laurence M. Gould arrived yesterday to drop off supplies, a new batch of staff and scientists, and to load a number of mill vans for transport back to civilization.  Some of these containers hold cargo to be shipped back to the States, while others contain waste to be deposited in a Chilean landfill.  These mill vans weigh over 1000 kilograms when empty.

As you can imagine the transfer of these enormous and packed containers from the Palmer Station pier to the LMG is not a walk in the park.  The transporting process began last week when staff in the Logistics Department such as Cathy Jean Borowsky, and Red Mathison, whose jobs entail monitoring and loading the incoming and outgoing supplies and waste of Palmer Station, were moving crates and boxes into the mill vans on the pier.  This in itself is not an easy task.  Crates are lifted with a heavy-duty mobile lifting device called a Skytrak.  This is dangerous due to the small pier and lack of maneuverability.

The Logistics folks completed the mill van loading process the night before the arrival of the LMG. So when the vessel arrived the crew of the ship and the staff at Palmer were on the same page and the crane lifting began almost immediately after the successful docking. 

Both Palmer Station staff and the crew of the L. M. Gould are integral in the lifting, loading and unloading of materials to and from station, not to mention the docking, and tying off the 265 ft vessel.  Captain Marty of the LMG told me radio communication between the Gould's crew and Palmer Station staff is key to a successful docking.  Nonetheless, these folks are so used to this docking, loading, offloading process, they were not the slightest bit put out when our dive team asked them the cease their lifting so that we could return to Palmer and park the zodiac without risk of injury.

Besides supplies coming into Palmer Station, a new batch of great people arrived yesterday.  As opposed to the last docking, when I arrived, this voyage held more scientists than Palmer Station staff.  Before this cruise arrived, Palmer Station's population was only 24 people with just one group of scientists -- us.  After the debarking of the new occupants, station population has increased to a much more crowded 39. 

With the orientation and zodiac boating class out of the way, the new scientists began unloading personal equipment and setting up their respective labs.  One of the new groups is led by Dr. Dan Costa of the University of California of Santa Cruz.  They are in the midst of a multi-year monitoring of the different seal species along the Western Antarctic Peninsula.  They attach transmitters to seals to monitor the areas they occupy i.e. depth, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and conductivity of the waters they inhabit.  I wish they could tell us where the leopard seals were at any given time during our diving operations.

Dr. Bruce Sidell of the University of Maine heads the other group that arrived at Palmer Station.  They are studying the physiological adaptations of  unique Antarctic fishes.  Hopefully we will be able to tell you more about both the Sidell and Costa group in future posts.

Although everyone at Palmer Station is exited as new people and supplies arrive, it means those who did not have a roommate (me) now have another occupant in a tiny living area, although I have not heard any complaints in that department (and incidentally am happy with my new roommate).  The new arrivals excited the chefs more than anyone else.  They were so pumped to see new, fresh fruits and vegetables that the fact they now had an extra 15 mouths to feed was of no concern. 

When I talk to folks here at Palmer about their time in Antarctica, a few have told me they have worked as staff or scientists at the other two USA Antarctic Stations.  Almost unanimously they tell me that Palmer Station is by far the best US Station to spend a few months or even a few years.  They explain that this is the only station where everyone really knows everyone else due to its small population and size. 

As I watched the LMG dock yesterday I wondered if that intimacy would dwindle as station population grew.  The amount of extra work folks here at Palmer are demonstrating to help the new arrivals get situated and feel at home ensures me that this family grows, not dissipates.   

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