Lost and alone in the fridged Antarctic sea

January 12, 2011 in Palmer Station by Kaycee Coleman

These last few days have been hectic with several successes an one loss.  We’ll get the bad news over with then move onto the good.  Last night in an amazing feat, Matt and I finished preparing RU-21 to be deployed.  Dave Aragon, the glider technician at Rutgers, figured out our software glitch with help from Peter Furey from Teledyne Webb Research. RU-21 was unique to our fleet because it had two science bays fitted with an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP), backscatter pucks, and a CTD.  Usually our gliders only have one.  The plan for RU-21 was to go out to the Palmer Basin and search for krill layers using the ADCP while the Laurence M. Gould (LMG) did net tows to find out what zooplankton were in the water.

deployment of the REMUS

This research would be valuable because you could confirm how accurately the ADCP was looking at krill layers, and fill in data gaps where the ship did not tow with the glider data.  We pulled all the strings we could to go out after boating hours and as far as we could safely go in order to get RU-21 to the Gould in time.  Ru-21 did her first dive, then her second.  All seemed well so we headed home proud of our accomplishment.  The next morning we awoke to bad news that RU-21 did not call back after her 200m dive.

Matt decided to accompany the REMUS guys (Mark and Ian) out this afternoon on their deployment.  Luckily the REMUS was able to retrieve data around the Gould, so part of the autonomous underwater vehicle mission was a success.  Matt brought along a freewave to see if there was some possibility that the glider might be floating near by, but there wasn’t any luck.  As time ticks by, the probability of RU-21 being alone in the depths of the Palmer Canyon is increasing.  There’s still hope that if she is underwater she’ll blow her weight and come back up, or if shes floating she might float back to us, but the possibility is low.

The slow decent down

The slow decent down

Another glider that  having trouble was RU-24, deployed early Monday morning.  The sea was flat and the sun was out after a long stretch of gray weather.  It could not have been a better day for a deployment.  Matt, Ian, Mark, and I all went out to station E to throw RU-24 in the water.  We watched her initial dive, then watched her sink for the second dive then headed home for lunch.  Note that we did not hang around to see her surface again.  As we got home Dave called and said that RU-24 did not call home after her 10  minute mission.  Distraught we ate lunch in a hurry and went back out with a freewave to search for her.  After about an hour or so running a line between her last GPS point and where we predicted she would float due to current, we gave up the search and went home.  Our spirits were down as we figured the worst.  As we got home the second time, Dave called again, and informed us that RU-24 had blown her weight and was back on the surface.  We suited back up in our bright orange clumsy survival suits and made the trek back to station E.   On the horizon, there she was, tail in the air! It was a glorious sight, but a rather embarrassing position for a gilder to be in.  We scooped her up and brought her home.

RU-24 after it blew its weight

It seems that her buoyancy pump in the front (that takes in and pushes out the water to go up and down) got stuck in the open position.  This means that RU-24 took in the water in its nose and sunk, but could not push it out to come back up.  She sunk down to 90 meters!  Eventually when she realized something was wrong she ejected the emergency weight in her tail and came back up, and waited for us to save her.  RU-24 might be out of commission for the rest of the season because of the broken pump, but we’ll see if we’re able to fix it.

Furthermore, after this long day, Matt’s glider UD-134 was waiting for her turn to shine.  That night we went out again and deployed UD-134.  So far she’s doing excellent, swimming around the Palmer Basin following penguin tracks and gathering data.  Additionally, Travis, Garz, and Oscar on the Gould successfully recovered RU-05.  They will be taking RU-05 with them to be used further south.  RU-25 is still making its way down for the traditional US vs. British soccer game held at Rothera when the Gould visits.  Below is a picture of some of the glider tracks shown in Google Earth to see where exactly our gliders are.  If you have google earth and are interested you can track our gliders as well by downloading the KMZ files on our website.

Image on google earth zoomed out a bit to see RU-25's progress in relation to its point of deployment

A close up on google earth of the glider activity in the Palmer Basin, RU-05 and UD-134 are next to eachother. This was RU-21's last known position

New additions to the Antarctic Robot family

January 10, 2011 in Palmer Station by Kaycee Coleman

Sorry for the delay, we’ve been busy getting ready for the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) cruise on the Laurence M. Gould (LMG) for the month of January down the Antarctic Peninsula.  Travis and Garz left on the 7th to join Grace Saba and Oscar Schofield on the LMG.  We had to pack up a lot of the lab and Grace’s experiment to be run on the boat, replacing filter rigs and finding other odd thing for me to use in the lab in their absence.  Luckily, I’m not alone in the lab.  Matt Oliver from the University of Delaware has joined me bringing a glider with him to join our happy Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) family.  Additionally Mark Moline and his technician Ian brought down two REMUS which we will work with in conjunction with Matt Oliver to take a better look at where penguins are foraging.  The lab has been transformed, with gliders lining all of the bench space.

RU-25 launched out at Station E with Mt. William in the background. photo credit: Carolyn

In December we deployed a glider, RU-25, for a two week mission around the Palmer area to test its performance. After successfully completing its mission RU-25 was brought in the lab, cleaned up and sent out again for its main mission traveling south. RU-25 will be leading the way, prior to the LMG,  down to Rothera, the British Antarctic Survey base on Adelaide Island.  The mission is crucial because it it helps with international relations, fills in scientific gaps where the research cruise might not go, and helps the LTER researchers make decisions on where to sample.

RU-05 was also launched yesterday.  RU-05’s mission is to meet the LMG at their first process station to be recovered and deployed further down the sample line by Travis.  With RU-21 and RU-24 close to being ready to launch, as well as UDel’s glider, we’ll soon have several gliders swimming around Palmer this week.  This sampling effort will also be strengthened by the addition of two REMUS (Remote Environmental Sampling UnitS).

The REMUS is different than the glider because it has a propeller, while the glider is buoyancy driven.  This way they have more control of where they want the AUV to go, yet having a propeller uses more batteries.  This means that a REMUS can only stay out for about 11 hours.  Another advantage of the REMUS is that it can travel about 5 knots while a glider can only travel around 0.5 knots.  Using both in conjunction with each other should give us plenty of data so study the surrounding area.

Preliminary results of our Chlorophyll A biweekly sampling efforts.

Additionally, last month we finally found the time to run all of our Chlorophyll A samples for the season thus far.  The graph to the right demonstrates the Chl. A at the surface of the water column plotted against time.  Our preliminary results show that for the most part there are higher levels of Chl. A at station B than at station E.  This could possibly be due to the fact that station B is closer inshore and is located close to a penguin colony, which could cause a higher inflow of nutrients from dust and penguin feces for the phytoplankton to live off of.

by Garz

Cruise ships, Krill apple pie, and now shes a Rock Star

December 8, 2010 in Uncategorized by Garz

Hello again,

The team on the National Geographic Explorer balcony with Palmer Station in the background.

First off, the National Geographic cruise ship, the Explorer, was amazing.  The vessel carried 140 tourists that came in waves onto Palmer Station raiding our gift shop and devouring the brownies Diane and Beaver left out for them.  We moved around some tables and made a little show room in our dining area where station science folk could meet and greet the eager tourists.  We had a wide variety of people asking all sorts of questions.  A memorable question to one of the our female bird scientists was, “Why would a young woman like yourself want to stay on this station for so long?” hinting that being down here would hinder her fitness of finding a mate.  Most of the questions we were asked were about our gliders, they were a hit.  Kaycee stood by our poster and fielded many questions for the better part of the afternoon.  After the tourists left station, those of us living here were invited onto the ship for a tour.  Many of us jumped at that opportunity to head over to the cruise ship, including Kaycee, Travis, and I.  When we arrived they ushered us into a large open room with 140 pairs of eyes staring at us; we were all a bit overwhelmed.  We introduce ourselves one by one before being asked questions from the audience.  Later, when we finished the question and answer part of the evening,  our group was given a tour of the ship.  This floating hotel was gorgeous with many plush amenities, including a sun room where one could have a hot beverage and read a book or be served a light lunch.   Looking upon Palmer Station from the ship’s bow, the front of the ship, gave such a different perspective of our home.  Especially with the bright sun and blue sky that day, we had an amazing view (and a couple really good pictures).  After our time was up, we invited the staff of the ship to come over for a party where the station’s band was played for them.  The Explorer’s crew doesn’t get many chances to unwind so they all seemed to enjoy a little time off the boat and received a free show while they were at it!  Since then, we have received another visit from the Explorer Monday with a different set of passengers as well as the Kapitan Khlebnikov, a Russian polar tourist ship today.  Unfortunately, Travis, Kaycee, and I have been too busy with science to speak with these tourists, yet there are several other chances this season to talk with excited tourists about our science.

Thanksgiving dinner table all ready for us!

Now, for an update on how the holiday actually went down here at Palmer Station.  The night before thanksgiving, several of us were helping out in the kitchen with the army of pies that would be presented the next day.  I chose to make an apple pie with a twist.  Since we are in Antarctica we chose to cut out shapes of penguins, krill, and multiple other shapes to make the pies more exciting.  With the addition of a beautiful hand made krill (made by Kelsey Ducklow) on the top of our masterpiece, krill apple pie was born.  We pushed all the tables together in order to create a warm family feel for the Thanksgiving meal.  We also decorated the galley to make it more festive.  People came down to dinner dressed to impress.  Some women brought out dresses, while the men were wearing button down shirts with khaki pants.  I decided that I wanted to wear a tie so I made one out of my napkin and shoved it between two buttons on my polo shirt.  It served a dual purpose; great for cleaning my mouth when needed and stylish too!  The food was laid out buffet style with many of the traditional Thanksgiving food groups.  This included turkey and stuffing, both prepared two different ways.  Before long people were running over to the dessert table tearing into an assortment of pies and other tasty treats.  After we all finished being gluttons, everyone pitched in with the clean up and put the tables back in their places.  Then, as a community, almost everyone walked over to the lounge to watch a movie before the inevitable food coma could set in.  Although the celebration lasted one night, the leftovers (especially the pies) lasted a few days.   All and all it was a good holiday and I am looking forward to celebrating more on station when the Palmer family can  sit down to enjoy good food and good company.

Recently, we had an influx of new residents on station in the form of journalists and a poet.  The National Science Foundation (NSF), the organization that funds our work down here, has a program that brings down journalists every year as well as a separate program that selects a professional artist.  These new residents will live on station for two and a half weeks, finding inspiration and stories to take home with them to share with the rest of the world.  The four women have alternated helping different science groups sample out on the zodiacs and learning to conduct science in the lab.  They have been blogging themselves and have written about some of our work.  Kaycee’s picture is front and center in a Nature Magazine blog post about our ocean acidification experiment, which Travis will describe in our next post.  For those that don’t know what Nature is, it is one of the two most prestigious science journals that anyone could get published in.  Basically Kaycee is a rock star now, or at least we tell her that anyway.

Below I have the links to blogs from the three journalists and the lead scientist who runs the journalist program:


Antarctic Tourism

November 25, 2010 in Palmer Station by Kaycee Coleman

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Here at Palmer we have the privilege of having visitors in addition to the visits from the Laurence M. Gould.  There are about 8,000 tourist who visit the West Antarctic Peninsula, and out of those, 1,500 visit Palmer Station during the summer season.  Last week we were visited by the Lautoro, a Chilean Navy Vessel.  The crew of the small cargo ship got to come off and tour the station, and in return to show their gratitude they hosted a barbecue on their back deck for us.  Despite the small language barrier, it was a great way to unwind and meet new friends.

The crew of the Lautoro and the Palmerites

The Lautoro outside of Palmer Station in Aurthor Harbor


In addition to the Chilean Navy, we also have cruise ships that stop by.  Today we are being visited by the National Geographic’s Explorer ship. The ship holds about 148 people, so the tourists will be coming off in waves by zodiac to get a guided tour through station, a meet and greet with the scientists, and of course a trip to the store to buy trinkets for loved ones.

Some of you might be wondering what we do for holidays down here.  Since we are a very goal oriented, hard working society, holidays are usually not celebrated on the actual holiday but the weekend of the holiday.  However, even though we are not celebrating on the actual day that does not mean that our celebration is hindered in any way.  We’ve all been pitching in this week to help make food for the Thanksgiving feast.  Just to give you an idea of how amazing this feast will be, there are about 32 people on station right now and there will be about 18 different kinds of pies.

In other news, we have had some minor sampling issues.  Our beloved spear (the hyperspectral radiometer) has stopped working.  Travis tried his hardest to fix it, but the problem is beyond our capabilities, so the spear is out of commission.  In addition, Travis and I spent days on end trying to figure out what the issue was with a leaky deep glider.  The glider was not holding a vacuum, and without the vacuum we cannot put it in the water without complete confidence that it will not end up full of water at the bottom of the ocean.  For days on end, we clean all of the O-rings, even ones I didn’t even know existed, and changed any plugs that could be leaking air.  Finally yesterday the problem was found in the science bay located in the middle of the autonomous underwater vehicle.  The backscatter puck in the science bay is used to estimate the clarity of the water by measuring the amount of light bounced back at the sensor by particles in the water.  It appears that the BB2 backscatter puck may have been over lubed.  This is an issue because instead of keeping a good seal, over lubing an o-ring can hinder the seal and allow water or air to enter the inside of the glider.  Futhermore, in this cold weather climate, extra o-ring lube can harden, hindering the seal.  However, the problem appears to be solved and the vacuum on the glider is hanging at a reasonable rate (about 7 psi).  This is good news because we plan on deploying this deep glider next week when three journalists arrive on station.  Its mission will be to patrol the canyon just outside the boating limits of Palmer Station to gather science information like conductivity, temperature, salinity, and depth.

Travis, Garz, and I working on the glider (RU-25) trying to find the leak

Dirty O-ring seal on the backscatter puck

Fun, farewells and friends

November 14, 2010 in Palmer Station by Travis Miles

I’ve started and stopped this blog post a number of times now. It’s been a really difficult one to write. Antarctica is an amazing place, the beautiful mountains, vibrant life and the raw power of the weather and nature here are truly humbling. On a daily basis I see things I never imagined I’d witness.

An elephant seal and its pup lounging on Torgeson.

The LMG came back in with a new group of scientists and some old friends from the ships crew last week. Garz and I decided to take our friends on the LMG for a quick tour of one of the local islands. We took 3 round-trips on a zodiac shuttling people and back forth to the nearby island, Torgeson. Torgeson is an island frequented by the LTER birders. It’s home to a massive penguin colony and the occasional elephant seal. Torgeson has an important project going on with regards to human impact on penguin colonies. There are green flags spitting the island in two. On one half humans are allowed to walk around and view the wild life paying strict attention to how far the Antarctic Treaty allows you to get close. The general rule is that you if you affect an animals behavior, i.e. it looks at you or reacts to your presence, you’re too close. On the other half of the island tourists aren’t allowed. This is an ongoing study to see if the penguins and nests on the human impacted side develop any differently than the human free side. It was a  beautiful trip and we happened to stumble upon an enormous elephant seal just begging for a photo opportunity.

A penguin colony on Torgeson

As I mentioned, the LMG came back in and this is where the blog post has been difficult. We’ve spent the last month here essentially seeing the same faces everyday. We’ve built amazing friendships and essentially lived with this group of 30-40 people as a close knit community. We watch movies together, work together, dance, laugh, do dishes, clean and generally rely on  each other for everything. I’d have to say that one of the most amazing things about being down here is the community and the people. The excitement of seeing the LMG pull back into the pier was palpable. They bring us new shipments of fresh fruit and vegetables, mail and more science equipment in addition for the opportunity to share new stories with some of the same people who dropped us off here just a month ago. The whole event is also bittersweet. After seeing them pull in to the pier the realization that some of our friends had finished their stay and would be going home became a reality. Jenna who Garz, Kaycee and I met in the Dallas airport on our way down had finished her project and would spend the next few days packing up her gear and getting her travel organized. She was an amazing person to spend the first month here with, always able to initiate some sort of ridiculous situation that would end in waves of laughter. Kim also departed on the LMG, our first week here she broke her wrist in a freak punching bag accident and is required to go see a specialist in Punta Arenas. We’re all crossing our fingers that she’ll be back again on the next boat. Things look positive, but it’s still been incredibly difficult seeing her go. The other group heading north were the ‘Wasties’ or essentially waste management employees for the US Antarctic Program. They do an amazing job managing all of the waste station produces, regular, hazardous and even radioactive (our group uses some radioactive tracers to measure phytoplankton productivity, in the lab). They do an incredible job of keeping Antarctica clean and minimizing our impact on the region. The ‘Wasties’ are also an enormous amount of fun, and we’re definitely sad to see them go as well. Last but not least Johnny, our instrument tech, was changing over as he had been here since last May. I can’t say enough about how helpful he’s been repairing something we’ve managed to break on a literally daily basis, with little to no complaint. I can’t imagine how we would have gotten anything done over the last month without any of these people.

Me, Garz, Kelsey, Kaycee and Jenna on Torgeson with Palmer and the LMG in the background.

Despite how difficult these departures have been, we also gained a few people and hopefully some new friends. Carolyn took over Johnny’s position as instrument tech and we’ve already put her to work by blowing a few fuses on our zodiac ‘Bruiser.’ We’ve gained a new ‘wastie’ Jed, and a few new members of science. Carolina from Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) will be carrying on Kim’s Krill experiments over the next month. Chris from University of Hawaii and Jen from Arizonia will be part of a group new to LTER that is looking for how viruses can impact the Western Antarctic Peninsula ecosystem.

After all these changes it’s easy to forget to mention how science has been going. Despite the generally terrible weather we’ve fought through and collected a tremendous amount of data. We generally get out to the offshore station, E at least once a week and we’ve been getting to station B 2 or 3 times a week. All but one of our lab experiments are up and running and, ‘knock on wood’ all of our field instruments are working. I can’t ask for much more than that, and I’m looking forward to posting some preliminary data up here in the next week. It looks like theres the start of the first summer phytoplankton bloom at station B and the birders have seen their first penguin eggs laid. This place is alive and changing and it’s good to be here witnessing it all.


by Garz

In the name of SCIENCE!

November 1, 2010 in Uncategorized by Garz

Kaycee laid out  in the last post some conditions we have been struggling to sample in, and this time I would like to take that one step further and really introduce our science equipment and what we plan on doing down here this season.  Please feel free to comment with any questions on this post considering it is a little science heavy.  I promise to  answer any and all questions as soon as I get a chance to do so.

An example of a profile we would use to determine what depths to collect water

As soon as we get out to either Station B or E, we start getting our light measuring instruments ready.  We are interested in how deep the light penetrates into the water column.  This is important because phytoplankton (the microscopic plants in the water) need light for photosynthesis, and depending on how much light they receive  can affect the amount of food they produce for themselves.  Phytoplankton are at the bottom of the food chain.   Without these tiny ocean plants, the larger aquatic animals would eventually starve.  Luckily phytoplankton are abundant in the ocean, supporting aquatic ecosystems.

An underwater picture of the spear as it is falling

By deploying our bio-optic instruments, we can see what the light profiles look like, which helps us to determine at what depths we want to collect water.  Bio-optical comes from the words biology and optical (referring to light), so together it is a term for measuring light that help us learn more about the biology in the water.  We have two of these instruments out on our zodiacs.  First is the Spear (as seen on the left).  It may look like a weapon but it is completely harmless.  When we place the spear into the water, it elegantly drifts down through the water, measuring depth and optics as it sinks .  It has two light sensors on the left and right sides,  one which faces up toward the surface and the other faces down as the spear dives.  It can also read backscatter, which more or less tells us how clear the water is, over the depth.

The other instrument that we use consists of multiple sensors all attached to a cage, thus we call it “the cage” (seen on the right).  We lower the cage using a winch off the side of our zodiac (Bruiser) because it is heavier and was not designed to free fall like the spear.  The cage can measure light absorption in addition backscatter.  Absorption tells us the color of the water over the depth.  The third component that the cage measures is Attenuation.  With the other two light properties of absorption and backscatter, we can figure out what is causing the different colors and clarities in the water column.  Both of these instruments have a CTD on them, which measures temperature and how salty the water is at any given time.

After we use these instruments we have to attach collection bottles, which we call niskin bottles, to the winch and lower them to depths that we picked looking at the profiles from the spear.  These niskin bottles have openings at both ends that close at depth, trapping the water inside.  It can be challenging hanging off the side of a rocking zodiac trying to attach and lock each bottle into place, but it is a risk we take for science!  After we have them at the particular depths we want, then we are ready to close and collect the water.  We do this by attaching a weight to the top of the cable to throw it down as hard as we can.  As the weight slides down the line, it will trip the first bottle and cause another weight to be sent down as a messenger to close the next bottle until it reaches the last bottle.  After all the bottles have been set off , we bring them back to the surface, take them off,  and put them in a rack.  As they sit in the rack, the bacteria group (that shares the water we use) starts to filter the water from each niskin bottle for their own needs.  After this, they fill up gallon sized brown plastic bottles with the rest of the water for us to use later.

Travis and I noticing an issue with the cage as we were doing a test

On a good day we would do this routine twice starting out at Station E then heading in to do Station B before returning home for a late lunch.  If all three of us (from the phytoplankton team) are out in the field we will all eat a quick lunch then run down and start the second half of our sampling day.   If only two of us go out, then the third usually starts the lab work as soon as the zodiac gets in and maintains the flow until the other two who went out eats and warms up.

The lab work consists of us filtering the seawater we collected for a few things.  When we filter, we run our water through a small (roughly 1 inch  in diameter) glass fiber filter that collects most of the small microscopic phytoplankton in the water.  We can then run those filters through machines later to see the properties of the phytoplankton.   The different pigments we filter for can tell us what type of phytoplankton was in the water when we sampled.  We also test for productivity by letting water sit overnight in bottles that we spike with non harmful radioactive Carbon.  The amount of that radioactive carbon being used in photosynthesis by the critters can then be measured, telling us how active and productive the waters are.  Filtering isn’t the most glamorous job, but it is very important for the science we do down here.

In the future we have a few other things we plan on doing including an experiment dealing with ocean acidification and how increased carbon dioxide will effect the biology down here.  We will be setting up this experiment relatively soon and you will surely hear more about it later.  This experiment will be consuming a large amount of our time down here for the next month and a half, so we hope it runs smoothly.  The other big part of our project will involve gliders.  These autonomous underwater robots can collect information about the water while gliding along.  They are an amazing technology and we will  definitely explain more about these guys in the weeks to come.

That’s all for now, but again if anyone has any questions please feel free to post.  We would love to talk about any of our science and any of the other things we do down here!

Windy Sampling Efforts

October 27, 2010 in Palmer Station by Kaycee Coleman

Boating map with the stations that we sample at

Our sampling efforts started off with a bang.  Travis described the storm we had to brave to get home during boating 2, but the weather still threatens our science.  We’ve only had a few opportunities to go out this October thus far, which seems to be a reoccurring theme over the last couple of years.  Our sampling plan is to go out Mondays and Thursdays to get water samples (including throwing our electronics in the water) at both station B and E, and then any other boatable day we will try to go out and throw our electronics in at station B.  This way we will have as much data as we can to strengthen our time series.  Once Travis was able to get our electronic instruments up and running, Lily (the boating coordinator), Travis, and Alice went out to test the spear.  A few days later, Travis, Alice, and myself had an opportunity to get out to station B, yet the winds picked up and sent us home.  So, the next time we went out Travis, Kelsey, and myself tried to go to station E but the brash ice was so thick seemingly JUST around where we wanted to go, so we abandoned hope at E and turned around to sample station B.

Travis, Alice, and Lily coming home from testing the spear on a nice day

A few days later, our next sampling attempt was to go to station E, which borders the boating limit close to 2 miles from station.  We threw in the spear, sent the AC-9 down, and retrieved our water samples; however, the winds picked up.  Leaving station E we decided to make an attempt for station B since it was on our way home and close to Palmer.  I forgot to mention that there was a great deal of brash ice restricting our mobility, so we decided to take the back route through.  Shortly after our departure the weather turned for the worst.  Lily the boating coordinator called us on our radios informing us that the winds had risen to 27 knots and we needed to get home.  The zodiacs are recalled home when the wind reaches 25 knots, and boating when the wind is over 20 knots is frowned upon because it can get dangerous.  Kelsey was bravely driving us home but the winds were blowing just in the right direction to send waves flying into the zodiac to soak everyone, especially the driver and the people at the bow.  Half way home Kelsey and I switched out so that she could warm up, while Travis and Alice were navigating around the Islands trying to find the best way home.  Travis and Alice even saw a whale on our way home, but the excitement was lost because of the cold, wet conditions we were faced with.  Once we got close we had to go through the ice field outside of Palmer, our last obstacle until we were safe and warm at home.

Now Bruiser, our boat, has his advantages and disadvantages. While he has a very powerful motor, the platform that holds the winch, restricts the drivers view; especially from ice, which of course can do plenty on damage if you hit it at the right angle and speed.  The person at the bow is crucial when there is ice out because they can direct the driver where to go to avoid large chunks of ice.  Once we got through and reached the parking lot at palmer everyone ran in to get warm and dry, out of the cold.  We carried as much as we could as we ran inside and came back for the larger things later once we could feel our fingers and toes again.

Garz bringing the spear on the boat, Travis at the bow, and me driving (photo credit Kim Bernard)

Now this wasn’t the last time the sea had caused us troubles.  Yesterday was both a victory but also a struggle.  Alice, Eddy, Garz, and Travis were feeling ambitious and tried to make it to both station E and B, for the first time in the season.  As they set out on their quest, Kelsey, Kim, Tracey and I got Wonderbread ready (another zodiac) for Kim’s krill trawling.  Now you might recall Kim has broken her wrist, so this was Kim’s first day out and she was super excited to go out and catch some critters.  Krill catching didn’t go as well as planned but it was still a success.  While we were finishing our trawling we heard the Plankton Gang call in to Station to say that they were skipping B and heading home.  Since the winds were still below 10 knots Kelsey and I knew that someone must’ve gotten sea sick.  As we pulled back into the parking lot we found out that Eddy was violently ill, shivering and vomiting.  Station E’s swell from being close to open water had taken its toll on yet another scientist.  Garz wasn’t feeling well either, but the three of them decided to go on to station B anyway to complete their mission, after dropping off Eddy of course.

Because we are all still getting in the hang of completing all of our tasks as quick as we can, I decided to jump ship and join the Plankton Gang to help out.  After hopping on Bruiser we were off!  With such drive we completed both stations, something that has not been done this early in the season in the last couple of years. The support that we have for each other on the boat is something really to be proud of.  Its easy to see how Palmer becomes such a tight community, because out here, these are the people you need to rely on in time of need or to support you when times get rough. There are only about 30 people on station, and without a good support network while out in the field through radio contact, there would be a big struggle if things were to go wrong.

Me hanging onto a piece of ice during man overboard drills (photo credit Lily Glass)

Getting Settled In

October 21, 2010 in Palmer Station by Travis Miles

The RUcold team has been spending the last week or so getting settled in here at Palmer Station. We’ve weathered plenty of storms, said goodbye to some friends on the R/V Laurence M. Gould (LMG) , who brought us down here and started making some new ones on station. Just about everything here seems to be dictated by the weather, winds can jump drastically in minutes and recede just as quickly. It took about 2 or 3 days ( they can seem to run together at times) to offload the LMG and another few days to unpack. Setting up a lab in Antarctica is by no means an easy task. The logistics and organization involved are mind boggling. At one point there was next to no walking room in our lab. I think Kaycee almost drowned in pipette tips at one point. Saying goodbye to the LMG was bittersweet. As it pulled away from the pier it seemed surreal that we were now essentially stranded on the southernmost continent of the world, all in the name of science.

Kim about to "Polar Plunge" with the LMG in the background

The feeling only lasted a few seconds at best. It’s a tradition that as any ship leaves the pier at Palmer, all the newly dropped off (and usually a few other salty tenants) leap from the pier into the frigid Antarctic waters for a quick Polar Plunge. As weather windows are hard to come by I was scheduled to start boating training at this time and hadn’t planned on participating, which I had very very mixed feelings about at the time. Fortunately, like I mentioned earlier, the weather has a hand in every facet of life here. The winds happened to rise to about 25 knots minutes before the polar plunge and all boating activities were suspended. Lilly Glass, the boating coordinator quickly ran up to me and Alice, a member of the microbial biology group from Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, and informed us “boating is cancelled, there’s still time! JUMP!!!” We both quickly stripped off non-essential clothing and threw ourselves into the icy waters below. I had heard many stories of what this would feel like and had a lot of apprehension coming up to the moment. To me it wasn’t necessarily painful, but it was like an instant numbness washed over my body. Climbing the ice covered metal ladder back up to the pier may have been the most difficult aspect of the whole event. After a quick sprint through the snow Alice and I were joining the rest of the group in the outdoor hot tub, which has an amazing view of the glacier and bay behind station.

The post-polar-plunge warm-up

Post-polar-plunge things have started to get into a bit of a routine. We’ve had a number of meetings regarding station life, gotten used to doing dishes and cleaning with the rest of the 30 or so inhabitants here at Palmer. I’ve been spending most of my time reassembling our optical equipment, particularly the AC-9 and Spear. The AC-9 pulls water through a dark housing and shoots a light from one end into another. Across this path light attenuation and absorption is measured at multiple wavelengths. By knowing the optical properties of seawater we can say something about the material in that water whether it’s from different pigments in phytoplankton or other particles scattering light. The Spear is so-named because well it looks like a giant spear with wings at the end, I’m sure I’ll have pictures of it later. Mounted on the Spear we have an upward looking light attenuation sensor, a downward looking sensor as well as an optical backscatter and conductivity, temperature and depth sensor. We can measure a host of water properties from theses sensors including salinity, density, temperature, fluorescence (from chlorophyll in phytoplankton) and light properties similar to the AC-9. There will be more later about how these properties are important for studying the oceans and Antarctica in particular.

Myself, Lilly, Alice and Kaycee doing boating training.

While here we’ve had ample opportunity to see some of the wildlife. Penguins are truly amazing creatures in the water, and equally hilarious creatures on land. Two VERY large elephant seals were lounging on a nearby island during our groups boating training and we’ve all had many seabird sightings. The first leopard seal sighting was today during Garz’s boating training session. I can’t wait to see my first one, though I hope it’s not too up close and personal. Also as the last part of our boating training we did man overboard drills. Kaycee volunteered to be the helpless victim and suited up into a gumby (survival) suit. We have plenty of photo evidence of her hugging a large chunk of ice while waiting for Garz and I to scoop her from the water. I’ll be sure to get the pictures from Lilly and post them later on.

The only word that seems to accurately describe working here is ‘surreal.’ I cannot believe I’m here right now, and I’m genuinely amazed to be doing work here. I hope there’s plenty more to post here in the next few months, we’d love to hear your comments and questions, science or life-in-Antarctica related!

The view from my room on station...


by Garz


October 17, 2010 in Southbound by Garz

After almost 4 full days of a rocking ship filled with 40 people fidgeting and waiting to do something we finally reached the first stop of our luxury (if cold, wet, and cramped conditions are now considered luxurious) cruise.  The Copacabana field station is located on King George Island which is part of the South Shetland Islands around the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula.   It is a sub-polar ecosystem populated by 3 species of penguins, elephant seals, fir seals and some other  sea birds.  We had  four people on the boat we needed to drop off at the camp for a 6 month stint to do research.  Also, it was nice to see land once again even if it was a mixture of white and brown (snow and rock), but there happened to be much more white than brown this early in the season.

Sherpas carrying supplies back to the Copa field station in the background

Friday evening we rolled up to the island and with binoculars we could see the little field station.  The wind was blowing strong enough to keep us at bay until the following morning.  That night Travis and I  happened to be up on the bridge hanging out with the mate on duty, and out of the blue we received a radio call from the Polish station on the same island.  They called in and asked us if we would join them to celebrate a birthday.  Our ship was invited to a Polish birthday party in Antarctica!  Unfortunately, we had to decline with the business first mentality, but it sure would have made for interesting blogging if we had made it there.

The following day after lunch the wind was calm enough to send people over and start loading the supplies of the four crazy people that are going to live on the island.  Everyone on the ship had to help out even if we were heading to Palmer Station.  The R/V Gould had two zodiacs, small inflatable boats, that were going to be transferring supplies from the ship to the helpers on the island.  Those helping on land had been given the option to be a surfer, a sherpa, or a sorter before we went out.  The surfers would catch the zodiacs that were coming into the shore, maneuver the boat to keep the front, or the bow, facing the waves, which could flood the engine if a wave crashed over it, and then help unload the goods from the zodiac to the sherpas.  The sherpas would take the supplies from the beach and haul them up a little hill and then another few hundred feet to reach Copa field camp. Once up the treacherous hill of loose rock sleds were used to haul the supplies about 100 meters to a cluster of shacks used for a base camp.  The sorters, were inside the camp unpacking things, taking  inventory and setting the place up for the four soon-to-be inhabitants.

Surfers doing our job holding the boat in place

Travis,  Kim, myself and a few others were surfers braving the rocky terrain and  ice cold water splashing us in the name of science!  A few of us wiped out and were engulfed by waves and/or slipped on the rocks walking to shore letting in some water into our rubber suits.  Let me just say there is nothing pleasant having water roughly 32 degrees farenheit touching your skin.  Kaycee was a sherpa working her tail off moving all the supplies up to the camp and back for three hours straight.  She definitely got her work out in that day.  Meanwhile when Travis and I weren’t playing in the wash, we were busy freezing our fingertips off waiting on shore.  I found out that there was a pinhole in my “waterproof” gloves pretty early and had to tough it out the entire time.  I generally like the cold, but hypothermia just isn’t for me.

After everyone finished our jobs we said our goodbyes to the fearsome foursome staying, and traveled back to the ship to rest and resume the trip to our final destination … Palmer Station.  All in all it was a great experience, but I was ready to start my new life in Antarctica where I will call home for the next 6 months.



Crossing the Drake Passage

October 15, 2010 in Southbound by Kaycee Coleman

On the 6th of October we began our journey from Punta Arenas down to the Antarctic, braving harsh winds and fearsome seas in the name of science!

The LMG Rolling while the weather was still moderate

The Drake Passage is notorious for rough seas, and since the crossings for the last two seasons have been calm, we knew our luck would run out eventually.  With a forecast of 35-40 knot winds we embarked, seasickness medicine in hand. If you ever find yourself in rough seas on the Laurence M. Gould (LMG), I recommend going up to the bridge or out on the back deck to watch the ship list.  Attempting to walk down the hallways becomes difficult, but watching others fly to the opposite side of the hall as the boat rolls is entertaining.  Eating and sleeping can be challenging as well, but there are special placemats in the galley that help to keep your food from flying across the table, and sides on the edge of the bunk beds to assist in keeping you in your bed while you are sleeping.  Although, it doesn’t hurt to pile up your bags on the floor beneath your bed just incase the sides can’t contain you, or to stuff a lifevest in bed with you to wedge you snugly in.  Boat life can become rather boring in transit because there is not much to do besides watch movies, eat, sleep, read books, stare out the window etc., but the LMG does have a sauna and gym which is a plus.  However, in rough seas running on a treadmill is impossible as well as dangerous.

Me deploying an XTB in the Drake

While transit can be like a vacation, we also had some science to do after we passed through the straights of Magellan and entered the Drake Passage.  Expendable Bathythermographs (XBTs) are probes deployed over the side of the ship that record the temperature and depth as they sink to the sea floor.  We threw one probe overboard approximately every half hour over a two day span receiving a time series of temperature profiles in return for our diligence.  While XBTs are simple to deploy out of what looks like a large gun, we do not recover them.  Therefore, there is an ongoing joke on the LMG that eventually you will be able to walk across the Drake with all the XBTs we have deployed over the years.  The XBTs are used to map the distribution of water masses and fronts; this information will help us to track changes in the Drake Passage. Even though we had some rough weather, the overall crossing was a success.  The XTB temperature time series ran smoothly (we had minimal dysfunctional probes), and we were all able to reach the COPA station safely.  All together we spent 6 days on the LMG, reaching Palmer Station on th 12th of October.

Heading South

October 14, 2010 in Southbound by Travis Miles

Things are heating up down in the southern hemisphere and the Rutgers Long Term Ecosystem Research (LTER) group is migrating south to start another Antarctic summer sampling season. Garz and Kaycee are returning this year and I’m the newbie of the group. My main focus down here will be deploying, servicing and recovering underwater robots or Gliders. As a group we have a lot of exciting experiments planned including high CO2 culture experiments, continued bio-optics sampling and water collection (We’ll do full features on each of these topics later in the season)!

Our path to Punta Arenas

Getting down to Palmer Station is by no means a simple task. It’s taken months of planning, buying gear, getting physically qualified, shipping equipment and developing new research topics. With all of this prep work it seems a little ridiculous to say our journey south began on October 2nd at Newark airport; our adventure really began months ago almost immediately after the last field season ended. Regardless, I met Kaycee and Garz at the American Airlines check-in with two massively over-packed bags in tow (It’s not easy packing light for 4+ months in Antarctica). After some all-to-short goodbyes to our families we were off for a 24 hour trip to the opposite end of the world.

We met up with Jenna, a student from Virgina Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) in the Dallas airport. Jenna isn’t part of the LTER but she’ll be doing some important research checking for the source of pollutants found in seabirds. After the overnight flight into Santiago getting through customs was a bit interesting. Jimmy, a travel support agent met us as we got off the plane and quickly ushered us from line to line, herding us like exhausted cattle to our bags, through security and back into another terminal. Everyone was generally pretty nice but at times it seemed like pure chaos with lines forming and disappearing almost at random. Lucky for us Jimmy always seemed to be magically in front of us. We met Kim, a post-doc also from VIMS, in the Santiago waiting area. She’ll be researching zooplankton as part of LTER using net tows, lab experiments and she’ll also be pulling data from one of our glider missions looking at krill layers with an acoustic instrument, which I’ll talk about in later posts.

The Gould and Palmer in Punta Arenas

The first step off the plane in Punta Arenas was a bit jarring, coming off a warm week in New Jersey it was a drastic change. It’s spring in the southern hemisphere and soon to be summer here at Palmer Station. The next 2 days were spent at the Raytheon offices tracking down all of the equipment we shipped, getting fitted for cold weather gear, moving onto the ship and enjoying some of the local food and drinks.

Kim rubbing the statues toe for luck

There’s a lot of history in Punta Arenas, we stayed at the Jose Noguiera hotel, which is attached to a bar where the explorer Shackleton planned two of his voyages to rescue his men who were trapped after the vessel Endurance sank from being iced in and crushed. Punta Arenas is truly an amazing city, which feels like its right at the edge of the world. I look forward to spending a few days here when I head north at the end of the season. After a lot of hard work searching through cargo and calling back and forth with Oscar, Tina and Grace at Rutgers we finally rubbed the statues toe for luck in the town square and  boarded the Laurence M. Gould, prepared to set sail deep into the Southern Ocean.

~Travis Miles

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