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.
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.
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: