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UAB in Antarctica

One might think with 12 trips to Antarctica under my belt, and a 13th looming in mid-February, that preparation for our UAB scientific research in Antarctica would be down to a “science”. However, nothing about traveling to, and living and conducting research in the remotest continent on the planet is “simple”.

About a year ago logistical plans for this upcoming field season got underway with the development of our SIP (Support Information Packet). This phone book sized information packet requested by the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs and their polar subcontractor, Raytheon, requires tedious hours preparing long lists of supplies to be purchased, equipment to be procured, boats and diving equipment to be secured, and applying for international permits that will allow us to transport our marine algal cultures across continents.

Recently we received a response list to our SIP and my research colleague, Chuck, spent long hours cross-checking both lists to ensure all our research requests had been met. His efforts were “rewarded” with the detection of several items that were missing or that needed correcting! The importance of this cannot be underestimated given that once one arrives at Palmer Station there are few opportunities to replace any missing or forgotten materials as everything must come down very slowly by ship. No Fed Ex!

Approximately six months ago our UAB Antarctica research team (myself and my Research Assistant Maggie and Chuck and his doctoral students Craig and Philip) received bulky medical packets from Raytheon Polar Services. Enclosed were various lists of required medical tests, vials for blood and urine samples, etc. Visits to our local doctors and dentists ensued and once again I found myself being poked and prodded, well beyond the norm of any 51 year old male in the greater Jefferson county region. Happily, within several months we all received our medical clearance for travel to Antarctica. In “ice language” we were now “PQed” or “physically qualified” for deployment.

At about the same time our initial medical forms arrived we also were asked to fill out our deployment paperwork. Here we provided prospective dates for air travel to and from Chile, cruise deployment information, hotel and roommate requests for both travel and our long stay at Palmer Station. Do you snore? Reads one prospective roommate question.

Our airline tickets should arrive any day now. Final preparations are abuzz. Our suitcases at home are being dusted off. We fly commercially from Birmingham to Dallas, then a long overnight flight to Santiago, Chile, and an immediate transfer to yet another 3 hour flight to get us to Punta Arenas, Chile, our final destination. An extra day in Punta Arenas is built into our the travel schedule to allow for lost baggage to catch up and our cold weather clothing to be issued before boarding the Research Vessel (RV) Gould for the 4 day crossing of the Drake Passage. But first, before boarding ship, as always there is a necessary visit to the large statue of Magellan in the center of the town square. Here we each touch and gentry rub the toes of the Fuegan native at Magellan’s side in a time honored tradition to ensure a safe return to Punta Arenas. Some are also known to pray for calm seas. Something I may consider on this my 13th trip to the ice.