Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas

Palmer Station (Wed., 5/13/09) – More than just a port for the Gould
by -- May 14th, 2009

Palmer Station is home to quite a bit of science year round, mostly of the geophysical sort.

Palmer Station is a wonderful place.  I’ve really enjoyed spending a couple of days here while we catch our breaths, analyze some of our tag data, mingle with some new faces, unwind a bit, and recharge our batteries.  We’ve been heavily utilizing the espresso machine; thoroughly enjoying Eric and Will’s fabulous cooking and baking; frequenting the self-serve bar & lounge complete with dart board, pool table and big screen TV; and taking every opportunity to hike the glacier, explore the surrounding islands on the small boats, and workout in the gym.

(79) Palmer Station Head Cook, Eric Cooper

Palmer Station Head Cook, Eric Cooper

A lot of people have asked me what I eat here.  I usually say food.  But I’m sure what they are really wondering is where we get our food supplies, how it’s prepared, etc.  When not out to sea, the R/V LM Gould lives in Punta Arenas, Chile.  There, the Gould and Palmer purchase all their food in bulk.  You can imagine that it takes a lot of conscientious planning and inventorying to stock a ship and research station for months at a time.  Let me assure you, they do an excellent job.  The shelves are amazingly stocked with every condiment, type of cereal and spice you can think of.  Each time the ship visits Palmer, they deliver their supplies, groceries and otherwise.  Produce is the most celebrated delivery, dubbed “freshies,”and everyone gets very excited to eat green lettuce and fresh veggies.  Needless to say, we eat unbelievably well both on the ship and at Palmer Station, and we all greatly appreciate the amazing cooks.  No cooking and no [or at least minimal] cleaning for two months!

At Palmer Station, the galley is immaculately clean.  Each day, 3-5 people living on Station sign up for GASH (Galley and Scullery Help, carried over from the NAVY, originating in 1925) to clean the kitchen and dinning area after dinner.  Throughout the day, everyone helps out cleaning up and putting away dishes as needed.  Everyone working here at Palmer is extremely skilled and very good at what they do.  Many of them wear many hats, and always a smile.  It is such a pleasant experience staying here for a few days.  I asked a couple of the fish biologists on our cruise, who are spending more time at Palmer than out to sea in order to conduct their experiments, how they like it here.  Irina (from Germany, but most recently Alaska), said, “I love it here.  I never want to leave.”

Today at the 3pm coffee break, Colin and I decided to visit the TerraLab to learn about some of the ongoing geoprocess projects.  (Each day at Palmer Station, there is both a 10am and 3pm coffee and yummy (usually freshly baked) snack break, and everyone partakes, it’s great).  There, we met Research Associate Neal Scheibe.  Neal is the glue that keeps 12 projects [you’re reading this correctly; one man juggling 12 major experiments!]  going for a variety of Universities and Institutions such as Stanford, UCLA, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and IMG.  Neal was interviewed by Oprah via Skype last week.  I was so impressed, as I’m sure Oprah was too, that I asked him to blog with me today.  I hope you enjoy learning about just a few of the amazing experiments conducted here at Palmer as much as I did.  Oh, did I mention that Neal, originally from Indiana, has the most spacious office per sq. ft. on the continent?  With multiple windows on every wall?  It’s true.

Without further adieu, here’s Neal:

(61) Bird's eye view of Palmer Station

Bird’s eye view of Palmer Station, Arthur Bay and the "backyard" (aka the glacier).

The Laurence M. Gould came to Palmer Station a few weeks ago, bring
fresh supplies, fresh food (we call them “freshies!”), and fresh faces.
For most of that time we have had the fishing group here until just a
couple of days ago.  Then we swapped fish scientists for whale
scientists.  After getting to know one group of new people for 10 days, then we suddenly have a whole new set of strangers wandering around again.  A couple of days from now it will change again.  ‘Tis the way of things here, things are in constant flux.

While the boat was out seeing dozens of whales each day, we had a crazy week of our own here on station.  An unusual opportunity came down the pipeline from the NSF.  The Oprah Winfrey Show was requesting to do an interview using Skype.  Through a long, strange series of events it came down to myself and Dr. Bruce Sidell from U. of Maine being put in front of the camera.  We didn’t know all of the details of how long we would be talking or exactly what questions they would be asking, so it was a little nerve-racking to prepare for.  A lot of behind the scenes work went into the whole production, mostly on the part of our IT department which had to make sure the network connection was going to be ok as well as getting set up for an outside chat using a laptop.  It seemed to go off pretty well, with a good view of the glacier behind us.  I don’t think either Bruce or I messed up while talking, though we’ll have to see how things look when the show airs in a couple of weeks.  Hopefully we were able to shed a little light on the ongoing science here at Palmer.

(65) Neal being interviewed on Oprah last week from Palmer Station

Oprah interviewed Neal Scheibe from Palmer Station and Dr. Bruce Sidell from the University of Maine via Skype last week.

So back to the normal day to day business.  As mentioned, Palmer Station is home to quite a bit of science year round, mostly of the geophysical sort.  It is the biology that really makes life interesting here. Scientists come to study the seals, penguins, whales, anti-freeze-containing fish, krill, petrels, plankton, ahh, the list goes on and on.  My job, as a research associate, is to maintain all of the “little” projects that are left running long after the boat leaves. TerraLab is a triangular building perched above the rest of Palmer Station.  Housed inside are a dozen year-round science experiments and one half-year-round Antarctican.  The science includes:  a GPS receiver, a USGS seismic station, two air sampling stations (one for Scripps and one for NOAA), two weather station monitors from U. of Wisconsin, the
Stanford VLF receiver, a Terascan system for downloading satellite images, a magnetometer from UCLA, a WHOI webcam (4 views around Palmer), the NSF’s UV monitor, and the International Monitoring System (IMS) radionuclide detector.  There is also a tide gage and a salinograph, which are housed in the other buildings.

(60) Satellite imagery of the ice cover around Palmer Station

A satellite image of the ice cover around Palmer Station on April 25, 2009- the day we first arrived (courtesy of NOAA).

After trying to encourage the new people on station to come visit TerraLab using a plea on our whiteboard* to no avail, I encountered Lindsey and Colin and convinced them to visit to my home on the hill. So I gave a quick and dirty tour of TerraLab to Colin and Lindsey later
in the day.  I went around to each project and explained a little bit about each one as I went.  The satellite imaging can be pretty nifty for finding sea ice while the ship is out looking for whales.  Chirps, crackles, and whistlers are always fun to listen to on the VLF (very low frequency), and checking out the current weather (40 knots!) are always fun.

(62) Current weather at Palmer Station for Wed., May 13th

50+ MPH gusts!

 

 

These are sounds the VLF makes- this instrument records all the lightening strikes all over the world! It’s a useful tool to track storms.  listen here >

It gets lonely at the top (of the hill), so it’s always nice to have visitors.  Now I’ll have to see how I can lure, uhm, entice more people to come see the views here.

For more info about some of the science happening here at Palmer:
Seismic
Weather
NOAA
Scripps
VLF
Magnetometer
IMS

(59) The Palmer Station white board from Wed., May 13th

The most effective way to communicate with others at Palmer Station: the whiteboard, located in the galley.

*It’s probably worth noting that at Palmer Station, the whiteboard is

THE way to communicate things to the entire station.  Word gets around

faster than email, plans are firmer than writing it in stone, decrees

are more official than a court order, the whole presentation is more

colorful than the second half of The Wizard of Oz, and anyone can use

it.  It beats having to actually talk to people.

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Ben
    May 14, 2009

    TerraLab, Oh My GASH!

    Wow, impressive community there with traditions and all-around talented folks!

  2. UMO '68
    May 18, 2009

    Black Bear and Duke Blue Devil Reign

    Can’t believe the connection between my UMO alma mater and my Dukie daughter’s on this awesome whaling venture. It’ll be great to see Oprah’s Skype interview with Dr. Sidell and Neal. I’ll fill a stein and “shout ’til the rafters ring.”

    Mom PV

  3. Jackie
    May 19, 2009

    Oprah

    Be sure to tell all of us groupies back home when the Oprah show will air!

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