Home Sweet Antarctica

We made it!  Greetings from the pier at Palmer Station, Antarctica.

The last few days have consisted mostly of sitting around in the ship’s lounge (my eyeballs are going to explode if I watch another movie) punctuated by one action-packed morning at Copacabana.  Copa is a tiny two-room beachfront hut, whose only neighbors are several hundreds of penguins.   Arctowski, the Polish Antarctic station, is a few miles away by boat.  Talk about social paradise, eh?  We dropped off the four researchers who will be staying at Copa until February, spent several hours hauling their food, equipment, and propane up the beach by sled, rewarded ourselves with a beer, and headed back to Mother Gould in our Zodiacs (small, inflatable motor boats).  Check out this wacky cloud that blew over us at the beach:

In the foreground is a crew with one of the Zodiacs.  The Gould is that dark spot on the horizon underneath the wacky cloud.

Last night was about the stormiest we’ve seen — gusting 50 with heavy snow and ice — and this morning at 0800 we arrived at my home for the next four months.  My day is full of orientations and training meetings, but I really can’t complain because there are icebergs and penguins in my back yard.

Ice in sight

We just crossed over 60 degrees South latitude, and are seeing ice for the first time!  I don’t care how many times I come down here… sea ice never gets boring.  It’s hypnotic, watching it rise and fall with the waves, listening to it scrape and slush against the ship’s hull.  For now it’s just brash ice – the remaining chunks of broken-up pack ice and crumbled icebergs – but by this time tomorrow we’ll be well into berg territory.  The weather right now:  air is just above freezing, the water is just below freezing, and there’s so much fog I can barely see the stern of the ship when I’m standing on deck.

hazing photo, and new summer adventures

Just to keep the ball rolling on this ol’ blog, here is a hideous photo of me on board the Gould:

And because I know you’re wondering:  that is a squid in my mouth.   The hazing ceremony for crossing the Antarctic Circle for the first time via boat includes activities like “Bobbing for Squid.”  Good times.

In other news:  I’m headed out to Spain in two weeks (for an astrobiology course), before  I return to Canada to work with the Pavilion Lake Research Project again this summer.  So stay tuned!

03:05, January 11th

Days tend to run together on board ships. Down here this has been
especially true, since the sun never sets. Here’s a recap of my last day:

0030, January 10th: on the back deck of the Gould.  The back deck is
barely five feet above the water, so waves are constantly coming over the
railing and sloshing back and forth across the deck as the ship rocks.
It’s foggy and wet.  We’re waiting to deploy the “Mocness,” a fancy
plankton net with nine several-meters-long, automatically-closing nets, a
fluorometer, and a number of other gadgets.

0200: half sitting, half napping in the electronics room, waiting for the
net to come back up.  It’s still 1500 meters below the surface.

0245: back on deck, wearing waterproof bib pants and a “float coat” (a
lifejacket/parka hybrid). The Mocness is surfacing.  We hook it to an
enormous crane, haul it on deck, and begin unloading the contents into
buckets.

0330: huddled around the buckets, picking plankton out of the
near-freezing water.

0445: BED!

0750: drowsily grab breakfast and climb the stairs to the bridge, where
everyone has gathered to try spotting the sediment trap, which has been at
the bottom of the sea for exactly one year. Usually I’m only on duty from
1600-0400, but today presence is mandatory for the sediment trap recovery.
 At 0800 a button will be pushed, the trap will float to the surface, and
the first person to sight it wins 50 dollars.

0803: Rick and I spot the trap.  I win 50 bucks.

0830: The next hour is spent hauling the giant trap, along with its radio
transmitter and floats (which look like enormous yellow hard hats) on
deck.  The back of the ship opens up to more easily drag equipment aboard.
 Some of the marine techs have to tether themselves to the deck to keep
from falling in as they operate the crane.  Waves keep rolling on deck.

0930: a few of us are decked out in foul weather gear, scrubbing mud,
hydroids, and other sea gunk off of the old trap and floats.  The swells
have picked up to about 15 feet.

1030: I’m on deck mousing shackles for the new sediment trap which will be
sent down for another year.

1230: lunch.

1300: BED!

1600: in the “rad van” (a trailer which has been bolted to the back deck
to contain all radioactivity) getting some samples ready for the
scintillation counter, which will determine the radioactive content in
about 90 tiny vials.

1730: dinner.

1800: I try running on the treadmill.  This proves pretty difficult with
the 15-foot swells.  After being thrown into a wall, I opt for the
stationary bike instead.

2000: in the MT (marine tech) shop helping Dan build stairs for the
birders, who we are going to leave on an island for a few days to study
penguins. Why do they need stairs on an island?  Beats me.  Miraculously,
I survive the evening without chopping a single finger off with a power
tool.

2330: midrats (“midnight rations”).  This is always my favorite meal of
the day.

0005: seven of us climb into the bunk of an unsuspecting marine tech, who
has overslept.

0130: there’s not a lot of science going on tonight, so three of us are
back on deck scrubbing stuff.  The sky isn’t exactly dark, but thanks to
the fog it’s an eerie shade of purple.  A few petrels are bobbing in the
ship’s wake.

0305: BED.