Learning the Landmarks

Antarctica is a lot less dangerous than it used to be, when people like Ernest Shackleton explored it in the early twentieth century. But it’s still cold, windy, powerful, and very far from help. The U.S. Antarctic Program takes great precautions to keep people safe. At Palmer Station, where almost all the work is done from small inflatable zodiac boats, we do almost all our work within a safe boating limit that extends about 2.5 miles from the station.

Within that limit are islands, glaciers, penguin colonies, giant-petrel nests, cormorant cliffs, leopard seals, whales, krill, and more—pretty much everything scientists are interested in studying. But occasionally we need to go outside that 2.5-mile limit. For example, in the next few days we will need to journey to the Wauwerman Islands, south of here, to do some maintenance on a radar site.

In this post, we’ll acquaint you with a few of the landmarks we’ll be referring to, both within and outside the boating limit. Click through the slideshow to see them, and use the maps below the slideshow to see where those landmarks are in relation to each other.

Our Outpost on Anvers Island Weather Without WarningConvergence at the Boating LimitA Short Commute to the PenguinsWhere the Sea Meets the GlacierCormorant IslandThe Restless Energy of the TidesThe Sun Sets in the SouthEmergency Tent Practice

Try This: Use These Maps to Find Landmarks

map of landmarks around the Palmer Station boating areaThe Boating Limit and Its Landmarks
On this chart you can see the roughly 2.5-mile boating limit (thin red line) surrounding Palmer Station. Look back at the slideshow and try to match Loudwater Cove, Station E, the Outcast Islands, and Cormorant Island to the points on the map. It takes about 20 minutes in smooth ocean conditions to make it from the boating limit back to Palmer Station. With Antarctica’s fierce, changeable weather, it’s risky to go outside the limit.
map of Palmer Station area showing Joubin and Wauwerman Islands

The Bigger Picture
To see where we’re headed in the Wauwerman Islands, we need to zoom out a little bit. (This map is from Google Earth—the imagery is a patchwork of satellite photos and maps; that’s why the backgrounds don’t match.) When we leave Palmer Station for the Wauwermans, we’ll be headed to the red dot south of Palmer Station. At a later date, we’ll also need to take a trip to the radar site in the Joubin Islands to the west. Each site is about 10 miles away from Palmer Station, and we’ll wait for really calm weather before we attempt to go that far.

Palmer Station locator map showing Drake Passage and Tierra del Fuego

The Wide View

It can be hard to keep straight exactly where along the Antarctic Peninsula we are. In case you’re having trouble, here’s a reminder of where in the world we are (also from Google Earth). We’re near the end of the Antarctic Peninsula, at the southern end of a fairly large island called Anvers Island. We’re about 700 miles from the tip of South America.

Map credit (top map):
United States Antarctic Program. 2013. Antarctic Specially Managed Area No. 7: Palmer Station Arthur Harbor. Environmental Research & Assessment for the United States Antarctic Program and the US National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs, Washington, DC.

This entry was posted in Mission Blog and tagged , , , , .


  1. Sally McGuire January 16, 2015 at 8:58 am #

    Thank you so much for the maps, I really appreciate them. All your posts have been most interesting and informative, I’m going to be sorry when you guys go home. Stay safe!

  2. AnnaMarie January 16, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    I am one of Mrs. Hester-Fearon’s 8th grade students. I would like to know : Are there any other safety precautions you take to stay safe in Antarctica? It has been a pleasure reading your Mission Blogs, and I am certainly excited to learn more. Thank you for reading my comment, stay safe!

    • Hugh Powell January 16, 2015 at 7:12 pm #

      Hi AnnaMarie – We do take a lot of precautions. On boats we always wear float coats that work like life jackets, so if we were to fall overboard we would float. Each person also carries a radio so we can check in with Palmer Station and let them know how we are doing. We also typically have a satellite phone as well, so if we needed to we could call anywhere. On the boats each person carries a drybag with extra clothing, hats, food, and hand warmers—those are the main safety precautions, but there are more. Thanks for asking, and I’m glad you’re enjoying this project. – Hugh

    • Shuja January 16, 2015 at 9:24 pm #

      HI i am one of Mrs Hester Fearons 8th grade students and i would like to know how do phytoplankton blooms effect and ecosystem?. And how are phytoplankton classified?. Your blogs have been very informal and you guys take very cool good pictures .Stay Warm

    • Hugh Powell January 26, 2015 at 10:02 pm #

      Hi Shuja – great questions. I asked Dr. Matt Oliver and Dr. Kim Bernard. They said that phytoplankton blooms are basically the foundation of the food web in the waters of Antarctica. They are like the grass that grows in North America and feeds everything from rabbits to cows. So they have a huge effect on how much other life survives in the water. Dr. Oliver said that phytoplankton have a very complicated classification. Many different kinds of microscopic organisms have developed the ability to do photosynthesis, and many of them are almost completely unrelated to each other. When I first asked Dr. Oliver how you classify them, he said, “How much time do you have?” and laughed. But don’t worry – there’ll be a class you can take in college that will sort it all out for you 🙂 Thanks for the great questions – Hugh

  3. Ruthie Thode January 16, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

    I think it’s interesting that you are in Antarctica. It is so cold not that I know come experience. How do you stay warm? What do you eat?

    • Hugh Powell January 17, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

      Hi Ruthie, It’s actually warmer at Palmer Station right now than it has been in much of the U.S. That’s because it’s the middle of summer here and the sun is up for most of the day. We stay warm by eating plenty of food, drinking water to stay hydrated and wearing windproof clothing with several layers underneath. We have a couple of good chefs who cook meals for us at Palmer Station. They make lots of great dishes, both regular and vegetarian. For example, this week we’ve had dishes like broccoli-cheddar soup, Thai green curry, pork ribs, chili dogs, tortilla soup, asparagus lasagna, and other good meals. Also, freshly baked cookies! Thanks for asking – Hugh

  4. Katie Pickett January 16, 2015 at 11:25 pm #

    We’re so enjoying your blog…able to get an idea of where and what in the heck our daughter Erin is doing down there! Mahalo!

  5. Ashley O January 18, 2015 at 11:08 pm #

    i am one of mrs,hesterfearons 8th grade students. i would like to know, why the penguins live in extremely cold tempratures? also, how do they stay so warm? Great job on the mission blogs! stay warm!

    • Hugh Powell January 22, 2015 at 6:02 pm #

      Hi Ashley – The penguins around here evolved in the cold climates of Antarctica and the subantarctic region. To them, these cold temperatures are normal and the summer temperatures around the eastern U.S. would probably feel intolerably hot. The gentoo penguins that are becoming common here evolved in the slightly warmer latitudes of South America and the islands north of Antarctica. They don’t do as well in extremely cold temperatures as the Adelies. But as the climate warms this part of the world, the gentoos are moving down the Antarctic Peninsula, following the conditions that they do well in. Thanks for asking – Hugh

  6. Garrett January 19, 2015 at 9:11 pm #

    I am one of Mrs. Hester-Fearon’s 8th grade students. I was curious as to whether or not you had to familiarize yourself with this 2.5 mile range before arriving for Antarctica. If you were already familiar with this area, have you discovered anything new or interesting now that you are down in Antarctica that you hadn’t already known about? Thank you for your time and I hope you make it home safe.

    • Hugh Powell January 22, 2015 at 5:55 pm #

      Hi Garrett – Some of us, including Dr. Josh Kohut and Dr. Matt Oliver, have been to Palmer Station before and were already familiar with the landmarks in the boating limit. The rest of us have had to learn with the help of the others. The scientists are discovering lots of interesting facts from their research, such as understanding the local surface currents, water conditions, and krill patterns in much greater detail than has ever been explored here before. Thanks for asking and for reading our blog – Hugh

  7. Garrett January 21, 2015 at 10:10 am #

    I am one of Mrs. Hester-Fearon’s 8th grade students, I was curious as to whether or not you had to familiarize yourself with this 2.5 mile range before arriving to Antarctica? In other words have any of the landmarks moved slightly? I am interested in looking at all your photos and post on the blog. Thank you Garrett

    • Hugh Powell January 22, 2015 at 1:41 am #

      Hi Garrett – The rocky landmarks – the islands and shoals have not moved. The things that do move are icebergs as well as the leading edge of the glacier that sits behind Palmer Station. Because of the quickly warming climate, the glacier edge has moved back, away from the station, by about a quarter mile in the last 30 years. Thanks for asking – Hugh

  8. Collin January 21, 2015 at 9:25 pm #

    Is there ever one day where it is kind of warm, or is it mostly always cold?

    • Hugh Powell January 22, 2015 at 1:26 am #

      Hi Collin, It’s actually quite a bit warmer here than it has been in New Jersey the last couple of weeks, I believe. Each day it’s been around 32 or 35 degrees Fahrenheit—and the last couple of days it’s been around 40. Tonight it’s not even snowing – it’s raining. Thanks for your question, and I hope you’re staying warm! – Hugh

  9. Caleb January 28, 2015 at 12:33 am #

    What you guys are doing is very interesting and informational. This project has taught me a lot and I appreciate it. Thank you.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By This Is Life at 64 Degrees South on January 22, 2015 at 1:18 am

    […] still trying to get to the Wauwerman Islands to do some work on the radar station there, but once again today the weather did not quite […]

  2. By Safety First in the Outer Islands on January 23, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    […] they’re only 10 miles away—closer than a drive to my favorite dinner spot back home—they lie across a stretch of water that’s open to ocean swells and high […]