Palmer Station Archives - 2019
The Journey South
May 16, 2018
I wasn't sure what to expect when I boarded the plane in Denver, but I lucked out with a spot at Palmer Station.
This is my first season on the Ice and incidentally my first article for this newspaper. I've had many firsts on this trip: my first time in South America, my first ocean crossing, my first trip away from home for longer than two weeks, and of course my first time in Antarctica. Initially, I felt a lot of anxiety, mixed with excitement, about coming to the "frozen continent." I spent the past five years working on the 18th floor of a building in downtown Chicago. Here at Palmer Station, surrounded by glaciers and wildlife, I'm not sure I could've wound up somewhere more different without leaving the Earth's surface.
Traveling here was intense. After arriving in Punta Arenas, Chile, we dove right into preparations with safety briefings and orientation at the warehouse. The day before departure we moved onto the ship. We were told it would be a rough crossing; the Drake Passage, which separates South America from the Antarctic Peninsula, can be home to some treacherous seas. But, by Poseidon’s trident, we made it across safely in relatively calm waters.
Once on station I spent part of my first week here recovering from "dock rock," a kind of reverse sea legs where it seems that everything is still heaving back and forth. When the station wasn't moving, I was absorbing as much information about station operations as humanly possible: orientation, safety briefing, training session and repeat. I loved every minute of it. I felt a bit of imposter's syndrome at first, but that rapidly subsided as I didn't have the spare time to think about it too much. I settled in quickly and made myself at home.
Working as an IT systems administrator has kept me busy, but my off hours can be just as full. On my first day off, several of us boated over to nearby Amsler Island for a hike and I saw my first elephant seals. Really, it was more of a pile of elephant seals. They were as graceful and elegant as you would imagine. That description of course is quite tongue-in-cheek. It sounded like a middle-school locker room mixed with the smell of early morning manure with a bit of seafood while driving through farm country.
On another day off, while training with the search-and-rescue team, I got the chance to see more wildlife. After hiking with the team for 45 minutes over the glacier behind the station, I saw my first Gentoo Penguin colony in the wild. I was grinning ear to ear for most of that hike. I love penguins. I could have spent the entire day there just sitting and watching as they glided out of the water onto, the beach and pecked at each other over the best puddle sized pool to hangout in.
However, my favorite nature outing so far was the chance to see giant petrels up close. I joined a science trip to weigh the chicks on Humble Island. I helped write down the weights as the researchers weighed the chicks. A very important job of course since it's not science if you don’t write it down. Seeing how those turkey-sized birds peck at each other, I'm not sure I would be interested in weighing them myself.
Towards the end of the month, the research vessel Laurence M. Gould returned to station for the first time since my arrival. They brought with them some of our supplies, a science group with krill samples and some "fuelies" for a month-long project to clean out one of our fuel tanks. It turned out not to be your run-of-the-mill port-call. One of the main cranes on the ship malfunctioned, throwing the offload into tumult. Plans changed on an hourly basis all the way up to arrival. The krill experiment on board the ship had to be shuttled over on the station's small landing craft and the rest of the supplies was unloaded using the station's loader. It was an all-hands-on-deck day and the amount of cooperation, collaboration and teamwork that went into this port-call was incredible. I am proud that I could be a part of that.