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UAB in Antarctica

The LMG left the dock around 9:15 AM on February 10. The boat was rocking quite intensely at first, so I decided I would put on my scopolamine patch that night. The patch is good for three days, and we were scheduled to reach the infamous Drake Passage sometime on the morning of the 12th.

After lunch, we mustered in the lounge for a fire drill and safety training. We boarded the impressive lifeboats and toured the labs. It was amazing to see how everything from trash receptacles to centrifuges had been secured to ensure lab safety on the ship. In the afternoon, we donned float coats, sea boots, and fisherman’s gloves to practice climbing up and down a ladder.

22 foot long orange bean-shaped lifeboat capable of totally encasing 44 people secured in cream-yellow cradle

Between safety trainings, a small group of us stepped out onto the deck for some fresh air, and to our surprise, we spotted some small, fast, black-and-white animals zipping through the water right by the starboard side of the boat. Could they be penguins? No (though we did see penguins later). Tiny orcas? Not quite – they were actually Commerson’s dolphins. A few of us, myself included, had never heard of them before, let alone seen them. Unfortunately, they were too speedy to catch on camera that day, but I felt that just getting to see them was a unique privilege.

I spent the next couple of days chatting with my fellow LMG passengers, breathing in the sea breeze, reading the poetry books I’d brought, and working on some of my own poem drafts. On Sunday night, despite getting everyone to stay off the wifi, we experienced technical difficulties attempting to stream the Superbowl on the TV in the lounge. Eventually, someone pulled up just the audio and people started playing board games. I retired to my stateroom, as I needed to get up early the next day.


Most of us had signed up in groups of three for two 4-hour shifts for the Drake survey. I had chosen the 8:00-12:00 shifts. At certain time intervals during each shift, an expendable bathythermograph (XBT) was launched and nutrient samples from the water were collected. The XBTs are essentially probes that measure the temperature of the water as they sink down towards the ocean floor. Water samples collected from that same area can be used to measure salinity. This information can be used to determine the relationship between the depth and the density of the water, which in turn can help improve the accuracy of sonar since density affects the speed of sound travel. Below a computer screen displays a plot of the temperature and depth data gathered by XBTs.

Five colored vertical lines angling down to left on a graph depicting temperature decreasing with increasing depth

As luck would have it, the Drake itself was uncharacteristically calm. Even so, the ship rocked enough to make me a tad bit seasick on occasion, despite the scopolamine. As Addie mentioned in her post about her journey south , I can’t imagine being on the Drake at its worst without medicine.

On Monday, I noticed the Sunday crossword was taped to the wall near the galley. Throughout the course of the day, we each tried to fill in letters whenever we passed by it. Anna, our Marine Project Coordinator (MPC), was our crossword-solving MVP.

As I write this post, it is Tuesday, February 14 – Valentine’s Day. Diane, one of our Marine Technicians (MTs), passed out chocolates this afternoon after we mustered in the lounge to watch our last safety video on the cruise (there are surely more to come for those of us staying at Palmer). I have repacked the majority of my belongings in preparation for disembarking, as we are due at Palmer on the 15th.

As my journey draws to a close, I reflect on all that has led up to this moment. Even just a year ago, I could never have imagined I would be sailing to Antarctica, let alone calling it my home for three months. I will miss the friends I have made on this journey, and I miss my friends in Birmingham already, but I know I’ll make even more friends at Palmer and that my time there will be incredible.

Orange sunset lights the blue flat calm waters of the South Atlantic as a full moon peaks through a wispy band of clouds above the horizon’s glow

I cannot wait to join Team UAB in Antarctica, meet all the people at the Station, and see all the fantastic aquatic critters!