Cruising down the West Antarctic Peninsula

February 1, 2012 in Palmer Station, Southbound by Kaycee Coleman

The 2nd of January I stepped onto the RV Lawrence M Gould for the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) cruise.  It was hard to leave Palmer Station behind but the cruise promised further adventure down the peninsula.  The science that we do on the LTER cruise is similar to the science we do here at station, but the cruise is a sprint rather than a marathon.  While we go out in the zodiac twice a week to collect samples here on station, we collect samples and deploy senors on the boat two maybe three times each day for about a month.  On the Gould we have seabird researchers, a whale researcher, zooplankton scientists, bacteria scientists and of coarse us, the phytoplankton scientists. Together we can combine our science to get a better understanding of how the ecosystem on the West Antarctic Peninsula is changing, and how ecosystems further South might also change.  While the study on station allows us to look at one spot over a long period of time, the cruise allows us to also study changes from North to South and inshore to offshore.

If you have been following our blog, below you can read more about how we sent a Slocum Glider (RU26d autonomous underwater vehicle) from Palmer Station to the British base Rothera.  On the LTER cruise we got to go retrieve our glider at Rothera, and play our annual soccer match against the British on their air strip.  Last year we won for the first time in since we’ve been playing.  This year we were not as lucky, they trained hard and beat us 5-0, however it is still fun to be off the ship and get some exercise.

They were also nice enough to let us snowboard, ski, hike, and go in an ice cave at their base.


When we reached Avian island the seabird researchers Jen and Kristen (nicknamed the birders) made a camp and lived on Avian for 5 days while we continued to sample the seawater in the area.  Avian Island is the home of a flourishing Adelie penguin colony and several elephant seals.  On Avian the birders counted the penguins and seals and did diet sampling on the penguins to see how well they are eating.

During the cruise all of us were keeping an eye out on the bridge for whales for Ari, the whale researcher.  He was able to biopsy 30 whales and satellite tag about 6 humpback whales.  The satellite tags allow him to see where the whales are moving, and the biopsies allow him to sex and age the animal.  We were able to see several Humpbacks, Minkie Whales, and even Orcas! A few of us even had the pleasure of assisting Ari out on the zodiac, including our undergraduate Amelia.  Ari also kept track of the seals he saw, which lead us to find a Ross seal (rare to see) during the southernmost part of our survey near Charcot Island.  We were not able to make it all the way to Charcot this year because of the sea ice, but the cruise was both eventful and a success.  Yesterday we even had enough time to take a vacation in Neko Bay to officially step foot on the continent.  Neko is a popular tourist attraction for its Gentoo penguin colony and its great sledding hill.  Sadly I’ll be leaving Palmer tomorrow to head North, but Travis and his girlfriend Katie will be here to carry on our research until late March.


ru26d: The bear is in the igloo!

January 27, 2012 in Palmer Station, Southbound, Uncategorized by David Aragon

Hi All

ru26 The Bear is in the Igloo!

The Glider was pick up this morning, in the middle of a large patch of ice but the recover all went well and it is now sat out side the boat shed awaiting collection.



ru26d was recovered early in the morning, Saturday 1/21/2012 by the zodiac team out of Rothera.  Poor conditions, 40 knot winds, kept the recovery off on Friday.  We do not have pictures from the event yet but are still asking.

This completes an Antarctic international base to base AUV mission.  60+ days in the making.  A major landmark for polar research.  The vehicle performed  2500 casts at depths from 1000 m to 40 m.

Some mission highlights:


Sampling the northern grid & interesting Warm Spot

The northern grid receives relatively little attention.  We did our best with the time we had to try to get the glider to sample up there before sending it back down south along midshelf.


Visting Doug Martinson’s Mooring Locations for Good instrument Cross reference and possibly aiding the moorings gathering by giving it values outside of its location.


Ice Tongue

We tried to sample along the western Adelaide but some loose ice came out and we turned just in the nick of time!


Several days continuous sampling at the BAS Rothera RaTS study site.  We spent several days continuously sampling the British’s CTD cast location.  This data could be used by them to bridge the gaps in their data from just sampling from boat every week.


Thanks to all and a great success on the list for the Antarctic year!

ru26d : The Approach

January 20, 2012 in Palmer Station, Uncategorized by David Aragon

Avoiding ice, sea mounts, and uncertain conditions ru26d was sent onward to try and navigate all the way up to Rothera Station’s front door.  Luckily the winds did away with the ice.  However, ice still covered a deep route into Marguerite Bay, so we had to go the shallow route.  This happens to be the route the Gould will take when it comes and goes from Palmer.  Sticking to habit is safe down there when depths are uncertain.  Uncertain depths mean difficulties in glider piloting / planning.

Some sections showed depths as shallow as 40-50 m, followed next by 500 m.  Quite dramatic differences in only a couple kilometers.  The glider can handle depths as shallow as 30 meters but pays a huge price in power efficiency.

There were a couple ‘pinches’ we needed to navigate through and the glider did a very good job at that.

Once the water deepened inside Marguerite Bay, the glider picked up speed and began to overshoot its waypoints.  This caused a little scare in getting too close for comfort to Killingbeck Island and its sub-islands.  Quickly the glider was sent down away from the island on short single dives.  This helped it clear the danger and resume its track back to Rothera.

The water at this point was pretty deep, hundreds of meters, so keeping it in the tight spaces near Rothera wasn’t too difficult.  Overnight the glider was stationed at the BAS RaTS site where the British have been maintaining  since 1997:

RaTS in winter:

Contributing a short time series to their position could be helpful for them in resolving tides, as well as a good point to calibrate and cross compare multiple sensors.

As I type the weather is not great, 30 knot winds.  The glider is being brought closer to Rothera and should be < 1 nautical mile away (I am sure they can practically see it 🙂 ), helping chances for recovery in the poor conditions.  A call with the British will take place at 3:30 EST.  We hope to be able to recover!


Making the Run to Rothera (with a glider)

January 19, 2012 in Palmer Station, Uncategorized by David Aragon

ru26d (our deep glider outfitted with CTD, an oxygen sensor, and Fluorescence + Backcatter) was loitering outside the entrance to Marguerite Bay for almost 1.5 weeks.  We were waiting for the ice to clear enough to fly the glider all the way to the British Antarctic Survey’s base, Rothera Research Station.  For most of the deployment the bay had been iced in and only in the last couple weeks had there been openings, albeit them littered with ice.

Our deadline was hard set, 1/21/2012, the date the RV Gould would arrive to Rothera to say meet with their British counterparts.  We predicted just under a week for the entire transect into the base.  With the current date being 1/13, it was time to go for it.

Luckily the wind and seas gave us the right conditions to try our entrance.  North winds kept the ice south and enough summer melting and storms had passed to clear out much of the ice.

The glider was throttled back up to full speed and given waypoints through the entrance to the bay.  We alerted the British as to our plans and asked them for assistance in planning and recovery.  They obliged.

Polar explorers: Amundsen and AUVs

December 16, 2011 in Palmer Station by Travis Miles

The second half of November was a sunny, while not necessarily ice-free, contrast to the first. During the early part of November Low-pressure system after low-pressure system seemed to endlessly buffet our spit of land jutting out into Arthur Harbor. Winds whipped off the Marr Ice Piedmont cutting through the best of coats and relegating us to our warm offices and labs on a regular basis. As a high pressure ridged moved into the Drake Passage and extended down toward the Peninsula winds eventually abated and a long calm period set in with frequently blue skys and a balmy temperatures above freezing.

During this calm period we prepped and launched our first glider of the season RU26D . This AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) is tasked with a 3 fold mission. First it’s to set off to the north, collecting data along the old LTER grid, where we no longer sample. The second mission is to fly southward along the shelf-break, highlighting subsurface eddies, which we think might be carrying heat onto the continental shelf as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current essentially rubs up agains the shelf-break. Similar data last year was collected by RU26D’s older sister RU25D, which we deployed from Palmer Station and picked up with the LMG about a month later. RU26D is more suited to the task as it’s flying with Lithium Ion batteries, which can last for an extra month or two, as well as additional biological sensors that quantify phytoplankton chlorophyll as well as oxygen concentration and saturation. The third task for RU26D is more diplomatic in nature. We hope to reach Rothera, the British Antarctic Survey base by mid to late January and spark continued collaboration.

RU26D glider track and depth averaged currents

Other exciting events include our first tour ship of the year, The National Geographic Explorer, as well as the yacht Spirit of Sydney. The real treat was the crew on board Spirit of Sydney. As it is the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole Jorgen Amundsen, Roalds great grand nephew was on board re-tracing some of Roald Amundsens foot steps in the spirit of his explorations.


In wildlife news, we’ve had tons of crab eater seals visiting us lately. I managed to snap a few shots of the elusive critters while they were likely patrolling the area for some tasty krill snacks. Enjoy!

RU26D temperature in Celsius


The Spirit of Sydney


Crab-easter seals

Me with Jorgen Amundsen and a few other ocean explorers...

Stormy Days and Penguin Lays

November 26, 2011 in Palmer Station by Kaycee Coleman

In early November we had a stretch of a week or so where the winds were gusting at least 50 knots.  Needless to say, we were not able to get out and sample that week.  At the beginning of all the bad weather, the Lawrence M. Gould (LMG) came into port to drop off supplies and scientists.  Onboard were our sea bird team as well as two more Palmer residents.  The rest of the scientists on board were about to start their 20 day cruise studying Krill and Salps using acoustics on the West Antarctic Penninsula.  The LMG was able to get through the sea ice to dock, however the high winds prevented them from offloading cargo.  In order to get atleast half of the cargo off, all of us on station and on the boat assisted in hand carrying what we could off of the boat.  We used daisy chains (lines of people) to pass the items we could carry off of the boat onto station.  It was a great demonstration of what team work could accomplish, yet the larger items had to be left on the boat until they came back at the end of their cruise.

Adelie egg eaten by a Skua

The sea bird team consists of two scientist, Jen and Shawn. I believe this is Jen’s 7th year here at Palmer and Shawn’s first, but he has been on the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) cruise down here twice before so he’s very experienced as well.  The two of them were off to work as soon as the weather died down.  They patrol the local islands and monitor the sea birds.  A few of the birds they study are the Giant Petrels, Skua, Kelp Gulls, Gentoo penguins, Chinstrap penguins, and most importantly the Adelie penguins. The Adelie penguins are the poster children of Palmer Station.  Bill Fraser who is the leader of the sea bird project has been studying them for 20 years here at Palmer Station, and has witnessed their decline first hand.  You can read the book Fraser’s Penguins by Fen Montaigne if you are interested in this topic, its a good read. 

 Some of the reasons why the Adelie penguin is declining here at Palmer Station is because of the shift in weather becoming warmer and wetter shifting from a polar climate to a sub-polar climate.  The area being wetter is a problem because if the nesting sites are full of water and the eggs are sitting in puddles then they are not kept at a good incubation temperature and will die.  Additionally they are dependent on sea ice, and the sea ice has been declining here at Palmer over the last 20 years, despite the good amount of sea ice we have this year.  Krill are also dependent on sea ice and are a major food source for the Adelies.  If there is less Krill, less sea ice, and wetter areas for nesting then the Adelies have a hard time because they return to the same nesting and feeding sites year after year.  The Adelies are a polar species however the Gentoos and the Chinstraps are a sub-polar species, so since the climate is changing here at Palmer the Gentoos and Chinstraps are moving in while the Adelies are doing poorly.

One of these nesting sites for the Adelie penguin is Torgerson Island (Torgie), which we are allowed to recreationally walk on half of the island.  As soon as the birders were able to go out onto the islands they found Adelie eggs! They were here just in time for the egg laying to begin.  That weekend a bunch of us went out rec. boating to see the eggs.  There were also a few cracked eggs on the ground which is due to predation from the Skua.  One thing you have to be careful of when you are out walking on Torgie is to not disturb the Elephant (E.) seals laying on the island.  They are very large and if you startle them they can charge through the penguin colonies and crush eggs and penguins in their path. The Adelies are having a hard enough time as it is to additionally have E. seals crashing through their homes. In the pictures below there is a male E. seal with a torn nostril on the left, and pups on the right.

This picture on the right shows how penguins make chicks.  Jen told me that penguins have one hole for everything, which is called a cloaca. The male penguin hops on the female’s back and after a little beak tapping the two cloacas touch transferring the sperm to the female, nicknamed the “clocal kiss”, and thats how baby penguins are made.

There are also Crabeater seals turning up a lot around station now. We’ve seen them both on the sea ice and in the water.  We’ve even seen them in packs as big as about 7 or so swimming by. When they swim by in a pack it sounds like a pack of horses coming through because every time they surface for air they sound like a horse huffing.


 Additionally we’ve had a very large ice berg stuck in between the islands for most of this month, and it is still out there now.  When ice bergs hand around Palmer for a while they get a name.  A few of the scientists have been thinking about naming it Debbie Steinberg in honor of the Krill project leader.  Last year we had an ice berg named Mark Wahlberg sitting out near an island for about 6-8 months.

Here are some more pictures of Crabeater seals, E. seals pups, and ice bergs for your enjoyment.


Antarctican Birthday Sleding at Old Palmer

November 2, 2011 in Palmer Station by Kaycee Coleman

Humble Island view from Old Palmer

Halloween was Kim Bernard’s birthday, and luckily the weather was nice enough that night to go recreational boating.  Palmer Station is situated in the middle of about a dozen islands, a few of which can be used for recreational use.  Most of the islands we are not allowed to visit because of the nesting animals however Torgie has flagged areas that we can visit and there are a few where we are free to roam.  Torgersen island (Torgie) is interesting because that is where a decient amount of the local Adelie penguins nest, however half of the island is flagged off to see how humans directly impact their nesting and survival.  The island we chose to visit is Old Palmer, also known as Amsler island in honor of the Amslers (research divers who frequent Palmer Station).  Old Palmer is the site of the old Palmer Station which used to be a British station before we took it over.  There are no buildings left there but you can see the foundation of where the station used to be.  When you visit the islands you have to follow the Antarctic treaty which basically says if you alter an animals behavior then you are too close! 50 feet is about a guidline of how close you are allowed to get to the animals.  You have to be careful you don’t step on a nest or cause an elephant seal to charge through a penguin colony because the effects can be detramental. Beyond the animals, at this latitude we still have some plants and moses that you have to try not to step on.

However the reason we went to Old Palmer that night after dinner, was because of the giant sleding hill.  Rain pants and life jackets are perfect attire to wear for sleding, no sled required.

On our way home we passed Elephant Rocks where Elephant seals like to hang out.  There were two lage males one resting in the water and one on shore, as well as several females.  The Elephant seals can be so loud on Elephant Rocks that they can be heard all the way back on station.

Iced in, the Palmer Station March of the Adelie Penguins

November 2, 2011 in Palmer Station by Kaycee Coleman

Hero Inlet still covered in ice that hasn't broken up yet from the winter

The weather at Palmer Station has been against us this month.  In all of October we were only able to get out on the water to sample twice.  Between the sea ice and the high winds, we haven’t been able to leave station.  If the wind is above 20 knots we are not allowed to take the zodiacs out.  Additionally if you are already out on the water and the wind spikes up to 25 knots you must return to station because boating becomes unsafe.   High wind conitions are dangerous because your zodiac might flip over leaving you in the freezing water.  We have a Ocean Search and Rescue team (OSAR), however depending on how far away from station you are and when the last time you called into station was (by radio) , it might be a while before they realize that something is wrong.  That is why it is safer to wear survival suits out here while on the water rather than life jackets; your chances of surviving hypothermia in a suit is greatly increase compaired to a life jacket. 

The boat with the gray platform is our boat (Bruiser)

While the zodiacs can push ice out of the way and navigate around brash ice, there has been so much ice so tightly packed in that we cannot move.  We have been noticing that a lot of the ice is covered in ice algae which is exciting.  Since we cannot leave station we’ve been making up experiments using the ice algae to pass time.  Additionally we’ve been getting a few high chlorophyll values from the sea water intake, and we believe that these high numbers are due to the pump sucking up ice algae. 

Adlies marching across the sea ice

We are not the only impatient Antarctic inhabitants.  The Adelie penguins are also struggling to find open water.  We saw a troop of about 60 Adelie penguins marching across the sea ice in search of open water to find food.  They marched from Torgersen Island (nicknamed Torgie) to Bonapart point right out infront of station, about a half a mile walk.  Then they marched back toward Torgie and out toward Wylie Bay.  There were also a few small groups that got lost in Arthur Harbor. Penguins are rather clumsy when they walk so I can only imagen how hard it would be for them the walk so far across the sea ice, but when you rely on the ocean for food you have to do what it takes to find food.

Even though the sea ice kept us land locked, the winds were low for multiple days allowing us to go up the glacier in the backyard to see how far the ice stretched.  When we reached the top of the glacier I could not believe that the sea ice covered ever bit of water in every direction as far as I could see.  It would take a strong wind in the right direction for about a day to clear all of the ice far enough from station for us to go sample.  Even though the ice has cleared up enough for us to sneak out occationally, it doesn’t stay out for very long.

Pictures from on top of the glacier:

Sea Ice in Arthur Harbor

Sea Ice on the other side of the glacier

Sea Ice around the Islands

Across the Drake, a stop at COPACABANA, then onward to Palmer Station

November 2, 2011 in Palmer Station, Southbound by Kaycee Coleman

We’ve made it to Palmer Station, and while it is a bit icer and colder than last year most things are the same.  We’re set up in lab ten again, right next to the main entrace for easy access to the zodiacs.  It is also the biggest lab, so we have plenty of room to work on our Solcum gliders.

King Neptune granted us with another calm voyage across the Drake passage between Chile and Antarctica.  I was beginning to think that the Drake wasn’t living up to its reputation as one of the worst waters to cross; however the winter over crew leaving Palmer Station on the last boat had a rough crossing up to Chile, so it seems we made it to Palmer just in time to avoid some bad weather.

While we are crossing the Drake Passage we deploy expendable temperature and depth probes called XBTs.  That way we can monitor the changes in the Drake.  Usually the XBTs are deployed over the side of the boat out of what looks like a gun.  Once the probe reachs the bottom you cut the wire and the probe gets left behind but we get to keep the data.  Once we reached an area of high brash ice the boys got creative on how to deploy the XBT, here is a video showing their attempt. Deploying an XTB in High Ice

Sherpas moving supplies from the shore to COPAOn our way down we had the pleasure of helping set up the COPA field camp on King George Island again.  As some of you may recall last year that we helped put in COPA on our way down as well.  There are four penguin scientists who we dropped off at COPA.  The COPACABANA field station is unique because it has 3 penguin species (chinstraps, gentoos, and adelies) living together in harmony right outside their base. Here at Palmer we’ll only get two living together at a time depending on which island you go to. 

Surfers at work

Before we arrived at COPA, we divided into working groups to accomplish everything that needed to be done.  One group was  in the water nicknamed the surfers, they held the zodiacs in place when they came to shore and helped offload the cargo.  As seen on the left they are wearing water proof suits which kept them dry…unless if you fall in the water then you get some water down the front of the suit from the neck hole.  Another group was the sherpas, they transported the cargo from the shore to the station using sleds.  There were people on the boat putting the cargo in the zodiacs, people at COPA unpacking the cargo, and two zodiacs transporting the cargo back and forth. Josh and Travis were on the zodiacs, and I was a sherpa.  The field camp put in was better this year than last year mostly because of the weather.  The wind picked up from a little and it was still cold but the snow held off.  There was one benifit of it still being cold, in the summer there is a melt water “lake” in fron tof COPA which we had to cross to get to the station but with the temperature still low it was still frozen over.  We were able to accomplish the whole put in practically by lunch time, so we were able to enjoy a picnic that the cooks on the boat packed us on one of the sleds.  We left the four scientists with fond fair wells and hopes of a good season and proceeded on to Palmer station. 

Lifeboat in the water

On our way we also had a quick stop off at Duthiers point to repair a piece of science equipment.  Since the weather was nice Captain Joe decided to do a life boat drill.  It was neat to see the life boats in the water circling the Laurence M. Gould.  It was also reassuring that the life boats worked incase we ever actually needed to abandon ship.

As we arrived at Palmer station we had a large snow ball fight and then started to move cargo off the boat.  A week prior to our departure from the states, we had heard that the ice at Palmer Station was still thick enough to walk to the local islands. While it would have been amazing to see the station like that, the ice had all moved out by the time we arrived.  However the weather has been against us for this first week.  With winds from 30-50 knots, lots of brash ice, and multiple snow storms we were not able to sample yet.  However the time indoors allowed us to set up the lab and make sure that everything was running properly.  Additionally we were able to run all of our winter weekly Chlorophyll samples on the fluorometer.  Now we’re just waiting on good weather to get out on the water.

Here are some more pictures from COPA and the crossing down:

Southbound to our summer home in Antarctica

October 5, 2011 in Southbound by Kaycee Coleman

Punta Arenas

Yet again we’ve come back to Punta Arenas to rub the toe of the famous statue resting in the square for safe travels across the Drake, to head back to our summer home in Antarctica.   Currently it is spring here is Punta Arenas, Chile.  The town is spotted with puddles from days of rain, and a somber gray can be seen in any direction.  We’ve received our first sense of the cold having to stop back at our hotel for more layers and hats to stay warm, but we have to acclimate because it will not be any warmer where we are heading.

Traveling south was not as easy this time as it was last year.  Travis and I are returning again to Palmer, so as experienced travelers you would think we would have this down, yet everything seemed to be out of our hands. As  I’m sure several people can relate, our travel was riddled with delays and cancellations.  Originally we were suppose to leave Newark, NJ on Sunday however our flight was delayed so badly that we would miss our connecting flight.  So instead of spending the whole day in Atlanta, Georgia until the next flight to Santiago, a full 24 hours later, we were told to go home and come back tomorrow.  While it was nice spending another night in our beds we were raring to go having already said our emotional goodbyes, we unhappily had to repeat the process again the next day.

Once in Chile our track record did not get any better.  While our flight from Newark to Atlanta had arrived early, this was a curse rather than a blessing.  After going through the dilemma on Sunday, Travis and I made sure we had an early flight on Monday so that we would not miss our flight to Santiago, yet this meant about a 6 hour layover in Atlanta.  After several hours in the airport we were off again to Santiago.  This flight was not as bad except for the lack of sleep from sitting in the middle seat in the middle of the plane and exhaustion of hours spent in airports.  After this there was just one more leg and then we would be done.  However our flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas was also delayed by about an hour and switched to another terminal.  Once we finally arrived in Punta Arenas it was cold, raining, and we were all hungry and tired but relieved that there would be warm beds waiting for us.  The third member of our team Josh, my boyfriend, is traveling to South America today.  Travis and I are hoping that he does not have any of the troubles that we had, or else he might not make it in time to catch the boat.


The Laurence M. Gould (LMG) is the boat that carries us down to Antarctica.  It takes us about 4 to 5 days to reach Palmer Station from Punta Arenas, however this year we have the pleasure of putting in the COPA field camp again which adds on another day or two to the journey.  The COPA scientists were busily gathering and checking their gear this morning at the warehouse, a pleasure Travis and I will have tomorrow.  It’s important after months of planning, ordering, and sending supplies down here to make sure that they actually get on the ship and not get lost along the way.  After all, the LMG only comes approximately once a month and there are not any stores down in Antarctica in which you can purchase the missing supplies.

This morning Travis, Kim (krill scientist), Rex (research associate), and I had a meeting with AGUNSA to pack up our travel gear.  I would relate the experience to being a kid in a candy shop, only you’re a polar biologist surround by really warm clothes.  You want to grab at least one of everything, and as someone else finds a really padded pair of boots or a warm hat you want one of those as well.  Now that we are all suited up, with more friends and co-workers coming tonight the excitement is welling to start a new season down at Palmer Station.  More to come once we put in the COPA field camp and reach Palmer Station, until then we’ll try to stay warm and enjoy what Chile has to offer.

Kate Ruck rubbing the toe for safe passage (2009-2010 season)

The LMG at the dock




The seasons are changing, ice climbing, and an Emperor penguin!

March 8, 2011 in Palmer Station by Kaycee Coleman

Garz infront of the boats after a snow storm

The sunny clear days of December and January are rare now at Palmer.  We’ve had several bad weather days so far in February and March which hinder our ability to go out and collect water samples.  With high winds, rain, and occasionally snow, we’ve been stuck indoors.  One night the winds even gusted up to 70 knots! Luckily the bad weather did not affect our ocean acidification experiment.  We’ve just completed our third round of this experiment (once on the Long Term Ecological research cruise, and twice here at Palmer).  Spanning 12 days the experiment looks at how different carbon dioxide gas concentrations affect community composition and the health of the organisms in the water.  Samples from this experiment look at phytoplankton, bacteria, viruses, nutrients and more.  While the first experiment was a struggle working out all the bugs, the second and third experiment ran smoothly.

Giant Petrel chick

There are also changes in the wild life around station.  The majority of the penguins have moved out, heading south where more sea ice can be found.  The occational penguin you do see is molting (which looks like an animal with mange).  The scientists who study the sea birds around station not only study penguins, but giant petrels, skuas, and other birds as well.  Their concentrations have shifted to measuring the growth of the giant petrel and skua chicks by weighing them, and looking at the length of their wings and beaks.



Fur seal at Old Palmer

Additionally there has been a change in the seal population.  The surrounding islands have been invaded by fur seals, nicknamed “fur dogs” for their whimpering and growling.  Packs of 30 have been seen on islands.  This is an issue for Yuta, who studies Belgica Antarctica (the largest Antarctic land animal…a midge).  Currently Yuta is the only “Bugger” on station, so when he goes out to collect his bugs he’s harassed by the fur seal packs which can be rather aggressive. Fur seal behavior can be seen by clicking this video link-> MVI_5478


The most exciting guest we’ve had on station comes from Royalty…an Emperor penguin!  According to some of the people who’ve worked here for several years, this is a rarity to have an emperor visit Palmer.  The little guy was found near one of the tent platforms in the backyard.  He had a rather large wound of his back, but it appeared to be healed.

Lastly, the Glacier Search and Rescue (GSAR) team was nice enough to organize an ice climbing event for us on one of our days off.  A bunch of us marched up the glacier to a crevasse where GSAR had the ropes and climbing equipment set up for us.  One after the other we repelled down into the crevasse and climbing back out.  There was a convenient snow bridge in the middle where you could stand and check out the beautiful blues around you.

Kaycee ice climbing. photo credit Kelsey Ducklow

Crossing "ankle biters" outside of the flag line on the glacier. We're all tied together by rope in case anyone falls into a hidden crevasse.

Trip to Penguin Colony on Biscoe Point

January 26, 2011 in Uncategorized by Matthew Oliver

Folks seem to like penguins….so much so that we even made the front page of the University of Delaware website! Hurray! This shot is of the Adelie penguin colony on Humble Island. We had just deployed a satellite transmitter on one of the birds so we would know where to send the underwater robots (Gliders and REMUS’s).

University of Delaware Main Page

Remnants of the storm remain in the area and wind gusts are keeping the science boats at station today. Nevertheless, we did have a break  a break in the clouds and the sun came out. The warm sun made the Gamage glacier very active and I happened to get a great video of calving. Right place, right time.

We headed out to Biscoe Point to deploy another satellite transmitter on a penguin. The plan was remove the transmitter from a Gentoo penguin which had been at Biscoe Point since mid-night. The challenge is to find the tagged bird amongst the rest! On the way, a large amount of brash ice had surrounded Biscoe Point, so we had 1-2km if slow travel through the ice. Marc Travers (our boat driver and expert birder) did an excellent job snaking in between the large chunks. Outboard motors and large chunks of brash ice don’t mix well. Hitting a large piece of ice can leave you on a boat with a busted motor. That is why we carry an extra motor in every boat.

When we arrived at Biscoe Pt. we found that an Elephant Seal had climbed into one of the Gentoo Penguin nesting areas. If the penguin chicks are too young or unguarded by its parents, they can be easily crushed by these massive seals.

Southern Elephant Seal in Gentoo Penguin Colony overshadowed by Mt. William

Luckily it looked like the Gentoo chicks were old enough to avoid it. Occasionally a Gentoo adult would peck at the Elephant Seal’s thick blubber, but the giant beast didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all.  We made our way around the Gentoo colony looking for our tagged bird. She happend to be perched right on a rock preening herself where we could see her plain as day. The birders quickly removed the tag and she went back to her nest.

Penguin Chick Eaten by Skua Birds

Elephant Seals aside, the biggest threat to the chicks are Skua’s. These are aggressive scavenger birds swoop down and grab chicks right from their nests and make a meal out of them. There was plenty of evidence at Biscoe Pt. that the Skua birds had been active here.

Still, even with the ever present Skua, there were plenty of Gentoo chicks that were starting to look more and more like their parents. They are are starting to get their adult feathers. Their feathers are not waterproof yet, but they will be soon.

Gentoo Chick with Parent at Biscoe Pt.

The next step was downloading the dive information from the tag. This data will help us understand how deep the penguins are feeding. The dive data will help us properly analyze the data coming from the underwater Gliders and REMUS vehicles. The Birders are able to download and ready the tag for its next deployment in just a few minutes with a laptop computer in the field. These are amazing little tags.

Adelie Penguin packed with a satellite transmitter.

We walked around a small bay to the neighboring Adelie Pengin colony and were able to quickly identify an Adelie penguin that would be good for carrying our satellite transmitter. She was quickly tagged and released back to her nest. Her two grey puffy  chicks are just to her right. We will be watching the satellite data closely to find out where she is eating. Then, we will send our underwater robots to sample that section of ocean.  In a few days the Birders will head to Biscoe Pt. again to retrieve the tag, and thank her for her contribution to science.

Antarctic Storm Moves In

January 22, 2011 in Uncategorized by Matthew Oliver

Storm moves into Palmer Station

Our streak of excellent weather has officially come to an end with a large low pressure system in the Drake Passage.

The weather was even tough tough for the ever-working “birders” who were going to deploy a few satellite tags on penguins today. REMUS missions are cancelled for the day. That might be good since one sprung a leak on a mission yesterday. Only the gliders are out….which makes gliders an awesome platform for ocean science when the weather gets a bit “snotty”. They don’t complain and don’t get sea-sick. The “Blue-Hen” continues is mission mapping the foraging locations of penguins when even the penguins are too scared to go out! That means I get to stay home and peel garlic (very necessary for all the amazing food here).'s like the best thing you can eat when it is windy

Saturday is also the day we all clean the station and have a station meeting. I got to help clean the kitchen today. That was really nice because I totally miss cleaning the kitchen at home (no, not really). We also learned that hiking on the Gamage glacier behind the station is more restricted after a new crevasse opened up. Funny story about that…..Mark Moline found it by falling into the crack. He was fine, but it was a bit un-nerving. The GSAR (Glacial Search and Rescue) team changed the boundaries after they went and uncovered the full extent of “Mark’s Crack”.

The bad weather lets us do a bit of data analysis on where the penguins are foraging. The penguins seem to be keying off of the deep canyon off of Palmer station. This has been a working hypothesis from the “birders”

Finally, I’ll leave you with an awesome moon-rise over the Gamage Glacier. Pretty awesome sight.

Moonrise over Gamage Glacier

Penguins, AUV’s, Satellites: together at last

January 20, 2011 in Uncategorized by Matthew Oliver

Adelie Penguin Rookery

Adelie Penguin Rookery on Humble Island

Satellite tagged Adelie Penguin

Satellite tagged Adelie Penguin

Penguin swimming tracks near Palmer Station

Penguin swimming tracks near Palmer Station

Ballasting the Glider (Blue Hen)

Ballasting the Glider (Blue Hen)

Is it possible to follow penguins from space to understand where and how they are feeding in Antarctica? Absolutely!..but not without an excellent team from University of Delaware, Rutgers University, Polar Oceans Research Group, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The sequence starts with the “Birders”. The “Birders” are from Polar Ocean Research and they have been studying penguins in the West Antarctic Peninsula for years. The “Birders”, headed by Bill and Donna Fraser, head out to local rookeries to identify good penguins to tag with satellite transmitters. Finding the right breeding pair is key. The pair should have two chicks with both parents still around. Some chicks only have one parent, probably because one parent was killed by a Leopard Seal. We want to choose one of the parents, because we are pretty certain they will return to their chicks to feed them. This also helps in recovering the transmitter. If the bird does not return, the transmitter comes off during their natural annual molt cycle. Once a penguin is selected, it is gently fitted with a satellite transmitter. Special waterproof tape is used to connect the transmitter to the thick feathers on the back of the penguin. The penguins are remarkably calm during the process.  Once the tag is attached, the penguin is released back to its nest. The next part of the sequence is for the birds. The penguins head out to feed on krill and small fish in the area. Their tags relay their position information to ARGOS satellites and we get nightly updates. The Birders pass on their data to me nightly, and I filter and map the penguin tracks. I put them into Google Earth, so we can see where the penguins have been feeding. Then, through the magic of mathematics, we turn their tracks into predicted penguin densities. Based on these densities, we plan our AUV missions to intersect with the feeding penguins (Slocum Electric Gliders and REMUS AUV’s).  The first priority is to make sure the AUV’s are ballasted correctly. This means that they need to be trimmed with weights just right so they travel correctly under the water. We use small balances and scales to get the weight of the vehicle just right, then put them into ballasting tanks to make sure we did it correctly. The vehicles should hold steady just under the surface of the water.

Getting ready for the launch of the "Blue Hen"

Getting ready for the launch of the "Blue Hen" (M. Oliver and K. Coleman)

Once we have a planned mission, we head out in small zodiacs from the station to a pre-determined point. For the Gliders, we call mission control at Rutgers University (Dave, Chip, John) and let them know a glider will be in the water shortly. Once it is in, control of the glider is accomplished via satellite telephone directly to the glider. The glider calls in and reports data and position to mission control. We can see the data coming in live over the web, and in Google Earth as we navigate the vehicle to where the penguins are feeding. The gliders move by changing their ballast, which allows them to glide up and down in the water while their wings give them forward momentum. They “fly” about 0.5mph for weeks at a time!

Mark Moline with REMUS's

Mark Moline with REMUS's

In contrast to the Gliders, the REMUS vehicles are very fast and are designed for shorter, 1 day missions. Daily missions are planned around the penguin foraging locations. The Cal Poly Group (Mark Moline and Ian Robbins) have been launching 2 Remus Vehicles per day to map areas the gliders can’t get too. Like the gliders, these vehicles call back via iridium to let us know how they are doing in their mission.

MODIS Chlorophyll, Penguins, and Gliders

Glider Dances around Adelie Penguin Tracks in a sea of chlorophyll

Finally, we are getting satellite support from my lab at U.D. Erick, Megan and Danielle have been processing temperature and chlorophyll maps in near-real time to support our sampling efforts, as well as AUV operations up and down the West Antarctic Peninsula. Just today, we saw that the penguins in Avian Island (south by a few hundred miles) have been keying off of a chlorophyll front. RU05 was deployed by the L. M. Gould and will be recovered soon. All in all, it is a pretty awesome mission to track these penguins from space and AUV’s. We will see how the season develops!

Cruising down the Antarctic Peninsula

January 19, 2011 in Southbound by Kaycee Coleman

(This post is by Travis, but since they have limited internet on the boat I’m posting it for him)

The LMG leaving the Palmer Pier

So it’s been a while since I’ve gotten the chance to write. I know Kaycee has updated everyone to a lot of what’s been going on at Palmer the last few weeks. Here’s an update from those of us on board the Laurence M. Gould headed down the Western Antarctic Peninsula. We left station on January 7th and steamed out 3 hours to our first station. This may seem like a decent amount of time before station, but I assure you we were all in a mild state of panic trying to organize our lab, get our sea legs and orient ourselves to the ship and labs. Processing a station consists of a number of different activities. First, our group B-019 deploys the AC-9 cage (the same one we’ve been using from the Zodiac at Palmer all season). Second we deploy the PRR and PUV, which are essentially two instruments that do the same job as our HyperSpectral Spear, which broke back at Palmer, measuring the properties of light in the upper layer of the ocean, or Euphotic Zone.

After deploying these instruments off the ships stern Oscar rushes upstairs and watches the read-outs as the ship drops its Rosette over the side. The Rosette consists of a host of instruments such as a CTD (like the one on our AC-9 Cage), a fluorometer that estimates the Chlorophyll-a in the
water-column, PAR sensor to measure the amount of light available for photosynthesis, and 24 Niskin bottles, which we can close at whatever depths we’re interested in. This allows for us to bring water from any depth onto the ship and into our labs for analysis. Our group generally focuses on the upper 100 meters where the majority of primary production occurs. We collect the water and begin to filter it for a host of
properties such as Chlorophyll-a, pigments and Particulate Organic Carbon, all useful measurements in understanding how phytoplankton and primary production occur in the oceans upper layers. While we’re filtering the zooplankton group, which Kim is a part of, drops and pulls numerous nets from the stern A-frame. They collect and sort through hundreds of krill, salps, pteropods and the occasional fish for the next few hours. One station like this usually takes us about 5-7 hours to complete. We then steam to the next station usually 2-5 hours away and do it all over again. Needless to say, it’s a TREMENDOUS amount of work and sleep can be in very very short supply.

After performing our first few stations, we circled back around to the Palmer Basin where we spent 3 days doing what we call a Process Station. A Process Station is essentially the same thing as a regular station, but we do it over and over for 3 days seeing how things change over short time periods at a given location. Kaycee probably covered all the goings on with Gliders and Remus vehicles while we were doing the process station. I’ll just say we successfully recovered RU05 after it sampled around the process station for its mission. This recovery was no mean feat, as winds had spiked to 35-40 knots and waves were easily 6 feet high if not more. Oscar, Garz, the Electronics Tech Tony, and Marine Projects Coordinator Stian braved the epic waves in a Zodiac and pulled RU05 safely on board. I’ll be sure to post pictures of this that I took from the bridge as soon as we get a regular internet connection. Since the recovery we’ve steamed much further south and processed somewhere around 20 stations. We’re now sitting off Adelaide Island near Rothera, the UK base. We’re doing a second Process Station and will be heading into Rothera for some rest this weekend. I’ll detail our drop off of the birders at Avian Island and our walk-around at an abandoned Chilean base in future posts. For now though, just know we’re doing great, our spirits are high and the “sunsets” down here are some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. More later! Cheers from the Southern Ocean!


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