Day 15 (Monday 26th February): Palmer Station, U.S. National Science Foundation Base, Anvers Island, Antarctica
Nestled at the foot of the highest mountain in the region and at the Southern end of Anvers Island is the US Scientific Station of Palmer. This is our destination for the morning.
07:00 Breakfast will be available
08:00 Two leaders from Palmer will come onboard "Ushuaia" to brief us
08:45 Commence our visit to the station. We will go ashore in groups of 12, every ten minutes
12:00 Lunch is served
13:15 Eight to ten members of the station will come on board for a Q&A session
14:00-18:00 HB sessions
19:00 Dinner is served
The buildings of Palmer station were built on the South West coast of the comparatively large Anvers Island in the 1960s. The island was named in honor of American sealer Nathaniel B. Palmer (in fact, there is a ship with this full name). In 1820, he was part of the first group of Americans to see Antarctica (third overall) while trying to find new rookeries. The early prefabricated wooden buildings at Palmer station have since been replaced by the blue structures seen today, The station superseded Britain's Base N (1955-1958), which is no longer in existence. Palmer is quite a small station, accommodating approximately 40 at most and only about 24 people in winter. When we visited, it was very busy. The visiting dive/ecology team of scientists had just arrived, plus there was change-over from summer team to winter team (there's an overlap of key members of staff to ensure good communication). Unlike a lot of bases, Palmer is accessible year-round by ship with a visit for resupply scheduled around every 6 weeks. However, only 12 (non-government) ship visits are permitted annually to avoid disruption to research - and we were one of them!
Randy Jones the lab manager was one of the two leaders who came on board before we were allowed to disembark. Randy supports the research teams. He told us about the U.S. Antarctic program funded by the NSF (National Science Foundation). They fund around 150 grants per year, usually grouped into three categories: Research for fundamental knowledge of the Antarctic continent; Research on Antarctica's role in global systems and Antarctica as a platform (E.g. telescopes). Part of their work hosting these 10-12 ships a year, is to contribute to their science communication, education and outreach program. October to April marks their summer season `(so we were near the end). During the summer season they do a lot of work around the local waters and islands. They hosted 22 science projects this season, with three scheduled over winter. The chemical ecology team were there now, looking at marine natural products and benthic sessile organisms (i.e. sponges). Projects vary greatly and include Polar entomology (Antarctica's largest land animal - the wingless fly!!) to fish physiology (rock cod, ice fish). They also operate Palmer Long Term Ecology Research (PLTER), often looking at the whole ecosystem. The program has been running for 27 seasons, looking at everything from ice cover to species diversity.
Palmer station has Adelie penguins, although they had fledged around two weeks ago. It is recorded that in the 1970s, there were zero nesting pairs of Gentoo penguin (historically sub-Antarctic), however, as a result of climate change, they have been moving further South (commuting with Adelie penguins for space and food). This season they recorded 3800 nesting pairs of Gentoo at Palmer. Perhaps the most inspirational part of this introduction to life at Palmer station was meeting Jess Walkup - the base commander (and female base commander at that!). She has wintered three times in Antarctica and two of those were as base commander. It takes a talented leader to be the person in charge in such an extreme and remote location for those extended periods of time.
It's quite odd going somewhere as remote as the continent of Antarctica and meeting up with someone you know. The last time I had met up with Bill Baker, who's a professor in Tampa, Florida, was on the sunny island of Crete, Greece at the European Conference on Marine Natural Products and on a baking-hot day. At that meeting, we had both discovered that we would be in Antarctica at the same time, however, I was unsure if our ship would visit the Palmer Station. Palmer Station was the fourth (out of five) of the research bases we would visit on our expedition. Palmer station is the United States base run by the National Science Foundation (NSF). I have known Bill since my PhD days (the world of marine natural products is fairly small). For a very long time, he was the only person I knew that had ever been to, let alone worked, in Antarctica. Bill has been to Antarctica almost annually for the last 30 years, the first 20 at McMurdo Station (also a U.S. base) aka "Mac Town", due to it's size and population. For the last 10, he has been based at Palmer. Bill has spent his career focused on the ecology and natural products chemistry of Antarctic sponges, while based in Florida wearing Hawaiian shirts and sandals. On this note, I've never seen him wearing a jumper. Bill was part of a team of visiting scientists in the "drive team / chemical ecology" group. When I visited, they had only arrived a few days before and were still getting set up. What are the chances of all that working out? Since starting my own research group in Scotland, I've not only started working on Antarctic bacteria, I have a PhD student (Ally) who worked in Bill's Florida-based group for two years and a postdoc (Sylvia) who did her PhD with Bill.
HB sessions involved aligning our vision and values, working on our visibility and visibility strategy (identifying our goal, audience, message and platforms). We also worked on 4MAT-ing our message to build a meaningful dialogue.
An entire evening of humpback whales, watched them for hours, there must have been about 40 of them swimming all around the boat feeding
Everyday my bed got made up, the staff are so amazing, friendly, kind and attentive. Emma the penguin (Discovery Dundee) always got located in the cabin and put on my pillow. Every single day!