Thursday, October 28, 2010

What It's Like

Hello from Antarctica! This is my (Edgar’s) first post, and I would like to introduce my world down here to you and answer some of the questions I have received:

The Station itself

You can imagine Palmer Station as a very nice college campus with all the usual amenities, just a little bit more plush. We have a leather-couch filled lounge, a tv projector with hundreds of dvds, a work-out gym, a sauna, a hot tub, and a high-quality mess served by professional chefs. It’s a fairly good life.

From Adventures with my Aunt Arctica
(Palmer Station!)

Weather and Surroundings

The weather on station isn’t too bad, usually staying between 25 and 35 degrees. The major problem is the wind. Antarctica is surrounded by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), or a massive ocean current that moves in an unobstructed circle around the continent, allowing it to reach high speeds. It becomes even worse when it narrows down to the small space – the Drake Passage - between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula where we are. The effect on us is powerful winds sweeping over the station, creating the fun if terrifying situation where in my short commute from my dorm to the lab I have to tightly hold the railings and just barely maintain balance as the wind picks up my entire weight and scoots me along the path. It’s pretty intense, and awesome.

From Adventures with my Aunt Arctica
(The ACC)

Palmer Station is located on a peninsula jutting out from a massive, glacier-filled island. The glacier rises up from behind the station to about 1,000 feet high and extends for miles in every direction. We are on a tiny oasis that fortunately never ices over. We are surrounded by islands that form perfect breeding grounds for penguins and other birds, a topic for later blogs for sure.

From Adventures with my Aunt Arctica
(Palmer is on the second peninsula, and the glacier rises hundreds of feet from our backyard)

The Work

Alice and I spend most days in the lab running water samples through a flow cytometer and then adding radioactive isotopes and measuring microbial growth. The exciting, if exhausting, days are when we head out on the water to collect the samples. The first site, Station B, is only a couple of hundred feet from the station and is still protected by islands from the open sea. Station E, however, is 2 miles offshore and is subject to high waves, brutal winds, and intense seasickness. It has earned itself “legendary status” in the lore of American climate change science, according to my boss, the lead scientist for my project. Here is his take on Station E:

"When it's nice out, E is incomparable. You don't want to leave. When conditions are marginal, E really sucks. At least it sure does for me. I have many instances (more than 10) when I knew on the ride out that I would start throwing up as soon as the motor stopped. I have probably been sick there more than I felt good. Even so, I treasure those memories too -- sitting on the deck of [the boat] Wonderbread with my feet dangling over the side and the waves rocking my boots down into the water. Priceless. We have also had memorable trips taking the route through the islands because of wind or ice. I love that route. My most awful experience was in Nov or Feb 2006 when the winds were about 15-20, just low enough that the [boating coordinator] let us go (already a bad sign), and after a bone-jarring ride out, I threw up violently 25 or 30 times. I spent the entire ride back with my eyes closed just concentrating on not being sick again."

(My boss vomiting over the side of the boat.)

And yet he loves heading out. Scientists.

I had my own unfortunate adventure out at E. Upon arriving I immediately started to feel queasy, but following the directions of my mates I kept my mind off of it. That is, until Alice asked me if I could tow in the rope. I thought about it honestly, reflecting on the turmoil in my stomach, and realized I could not. That was it. With my mind now in tune with my stomach, I dove for the side and immediately emptied my stomach into the water, feeding the fish a half-digested omelet.

Not feeling too great, I just sat on the boat as the work finished up, not moving and therefore slowly growing colder and colder. By the time I was dropped off I was mildly hypothermic, had quit shivering, and needed to be near a fire and under many covers to warm up. It was not fun, and slightly terrifying. Next time I will bring seasickness meds and several extra layers.

I can tell you, after this experience, I definitely appreciate the determination, fortitude, and bravery of earlier Antarctic explorers, who did not have the same high-quality, warm, water-proof and insulated equipment that I do.

1 comment:

  1. hi edgar. thanks for sharing. wish i could come down and visit. camilo