Palmer – (Fri., 4/24/09) – We Survived!

Today was another beautiful day on the Drake with winds between 10-20 knots, and seas at 3-4 meters. Apparently rubbing the big toe of one of Magellan’s friends on the statue in Punta Arenas does provide good fortune to those embarking on the journey south. Thank you weather gods and thank you “Drake” for taking mercy on us. We survived!

With such nice conditions a few of us spent our time up on the bridge looking for wildlife. We were rewarded with our first whale sightings of the trip: four humpback whales, one fin whale, and one unknown. We also saw a few new species of birds today including Antarctic terns, Antarctic petrels, and black bellied storm petrels. Surprisingly, we also saw a cattle egret. According to Wikipedia, cattle egrets can be found in the warmer parts of every continent except Antarctica. Hmmm, this guy must be lost.

Today we also continued assisting with the XBT surveys. These surveys are aimed to look at the mixing of water within the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). Normally warm water sits upon colder water but in the ACC the water gets flips and the colder, denser water sits on the warmer water. This project is trying to figure out the point/location at which this changes. The project is also looking at the mixing of the colder Antarctic water with the warmer Pacific and Atlantic waters, and when/where this mixing occurs. The project is in its 6th year and has provided great insight to the currents in the deep south.

Finally at around 2pm today land was spotted. We made it! We sneaked right through the South Shetland Islands and entered the protected waters of Antarctica, stomachs intact. Tonight we will continue our journey to Palmer Station traveling through the Gerlache Strait. Palmer Station is located on Anvers Island (64.77° S 64.05° W) and is Antarctica’s only U.S. station north of the Antarctic Circle. It was named after Nathaniel B. Palmer who was one of the first three people (and the first American) to see Antarctica on November 17th, 1820.

A few of us have been introduced to the board game Settlers of Catan. It’s best described as a combination of craps and monopoly and is a popular game with the science crew. Basically you have to trade one of four materials (wood, brick, sheep, and wheat) to build roads, houses, settlements and cities. It’s a quick way to make friends by trading resources they’d need but a quicker way to make enemies by cutting off roads or settlements. It definitely adds some excitement and competition at night.

As for the rest of the evening, we are all anxiously awaiting our arrival at Palmer tomorrow and the wonderful view we will have upon daybreak. Palmer Station – here we come!