Last Friday about 30 members of Palmer station, including all of our science team, departed Palmer Station to go visit Vernadsky Station further south in the western Antarctic peninsula. Vernadsky, a station operated by Ukrainians, is named after Vladimir Vernadsky. He was a famous Ukrainian scientist who is considered a founding father of several scientific disciplines including biogeochemistry and radiogeology.
Vernadsky Station was originally a British Station named Faraday. Constructed in 1947, Faraday was one of the oldest stations in Antarctica. In 1961 it was revamped and construction was completed on the nine buildings that currently comprise the science facility. In 1996, the British base of Faraday was transferred to Ukrainian control and renamed Vernadsky.
The trip, which started in the evening, took us through the Lemaire Channel and further south to the Argentine Islands. The Lemaire was especially beautiful, a scenic voyage between to sets of snow and ice capped mountains. It is easy to see why this channel is also known as Kodak Alley. Along the route we got to see many species of seals as well as a large assortment of penguins.
Once we reached Vernadsky, we departed for the station on zodiacs and were immediately greeted by a welcoming party onshore. The staff there was very friendly and hospitable. They ushered us into their dining and immediately offered us refreshments to warm us after the small boating trip.
The Vernadsky staff was happy to see us and prepared to answer all our questions despite the language barrier. I was impressed that most of the station could speak English well despite its infrequent use there in Antarctica. By the end of the visit, several members of the Ukrainian station were speaking conversationally to us while the most Ukrainian we picked up was “thank you” and “cheers.”
Several different staff members gave us a full tour of their facilities. Their station was remarkably similar to Palmer Station. They had a spacious dining area and kitchen along with several smaller labs, a medical bay, gym, bar, and living quarters. They do not have SCUBA diving operations at Vernadsky this year, so there was no dive locker, and the boat house was much smaller. However, as an extension of the gym, the folks at Vernadsky had constructed their own soccer pitch outside. Although snow and ice covered, they still manage to organize a daily game.
The scientific work done at Vernadsky though was a bit different. Not too much biological sciences occur at Vernadsky, although some scientists worked on fish and phytoplankton of the local area. Mostly though, they dealt with atmospheric science and the study of the ionosphere. This is similar to what goes on at Palmer Station’s Terra Lab.
Another fascinating area of Vernadsky was the bar, which has its own story. The bar, appropriately named Faraday Bar after the former British station, is so named because it was built by members of Faraday Station one winter. Apparently, several British carpenters were sent down with a bunch of wood reserves to fix up the stations pier over the winter but decided instead to use the wood to build an authentic English pub on station. Although this was not a popular decision with their superiors, Faraday Bar is still considered one of the finest on the continent.
After an hour or two of touring and socializing, staff members from both Palmer and Vernadsky stations traded some patches, stickers, and clothes and posed for several group pictures. Vladimir, Vernadsky Station’s cook, presented us with a cake and several mini-speeches were given. The atmosphere was joyous and there was definitely sense camaraderie. Overall, it was a successful interaction between two isolated Antarctic communities working under different flags but with similar goals of scientific exploration. In this International Polar Year, it was a rousing success for polar sciences.