Punta Arenas to Palmer Station

We arrived at Palmer Station last Thursday morning after a particularly long trip down from Punta Arenas. Depending on the weather the trip across the Drake Passage and down the Peninsula to Anvers Island typically takes about four days. This time however, the Laurence M. Gould had science to do and a NOAA field camp to put in at Cape Shirreff on Livingston Island. This was a particularly welcome event as it gave us an opportunity to get off the boat and get a little exercise unloading 5 months of supplies for the NOAA science team.

Since arriving at Palmer Station the activity has been nonstop. In addition to lab orientations and water safety training there is the seemingly never-ending job of setting up our lab and getting instruments up and running. Yesterday evening following the weekly station meeting we did manage to go for a short ski on the glacier out behind the station. I’m glad we did because today the weather took a real turn for the worse; winds are gusting to 55 knots and strengthening. This is a real concern for us because wind strength and direction are the primary determinant of the presence and condition of sea ice in this area. As I wrote in my previous post we are hoping for sea ice to be either very solid, so we can sample from it or clear out completely, so we can get the zodiacs in the water. We’ll have to wait until the storm passes to see what conditions are like but very likely it will be neither!

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A derelict steel-hulled sailing vessel beached outside of Punta Arenas (taken in 2013 on my last trip to Antarctica). Before the Panama Canal opened Punta Arenas, located on the Strait of Magellan, was an important stopping point for ships sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific. Today the city is best known as the jumping off point for cruise ships (and research vessels) heading to Antarctica, and as an access point to Chile’s Torres del Paine.

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A moderate swell breaking on the side of the Gould as we leave Tierra del Fuego behind. Overall it was an extremely mild crossing of the Drake Passage, which didn’t prevent me from getting sick (as per SOP).

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As we crossed the Antarctic Polar Front the weather got noticeably colder. Here, sea spray freezes on one of the Gould’s spotlights.

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A welcome diversion was the NOAA field camp put-in at Cape Shireff. This included such antics as raising (sans crane) a four-wheeler from a bobbing zodiac onto a six-foot high snow berm. Don’t ask me how it was done; I was there and I’m still not sure. In this photo you can see the Laurence M. Gould in the background and a zodiac bringing in another load of supplies.

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The Gould picks its way towards the pack ice. I’ve only been on two ships in sea ice and the experiences couldn’t have been more different. Back in 2009 I sailed in the Arctic onboard Oden, a powerful Swedish icebreaker. We smashed ice a meter thick and more day and “night” (it was summer) for six weeks straight. The Gould is a different sort of animal. It isn’t a true icebreaker and, if winds and currents conspired against it, could become trapped in rafting ice. Moving the Gould into even thin ice is a a delicate process.

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Science in action! There were two science parties conducting research on the way down. One is studying the distribution of krill in the Drake Passage. The other is studying the response of deep water corals to ocean warming. Here graduate student Caitlin Cleaver from the University of Maine washes corals freshly collected from 700 meters deep. The corals were transported live to Palmer Station for further experiments.

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Yesterday morning the Laurence M. Gould raised its gangplank and departed Palmer Station.

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Jamie and Colleen take a break from lab setup for a hike on the glacier behind Palmer Station (seen in the background).

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Today started calm with grey skies, conditions deteriorated with astonishing speed after lunch. Within just a few minutes winds went from a study 20 knots to gusting to 55 knots (63 mph).

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