January 6 – Preparing for science at Palmer Station, Antarctica

Post by VIMS Graduate Student Tricia Thibodeau

After a successful crossing of the Drake Passage we finally arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula! We lucked out and had a very smooth crossing and the Drake Passage was jokingly referred to as the Drake Lake among everyone on the ship. Hopefully, we’ll receive the same seas on our return voyage!

Our good weather continued to follow us along the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) as we arrived at Cape Shirreff to drop off two field biologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) field camp. The camp is specifically designed to study the seal colonies present in the region. Afterward, we continued the rest of our journey to Palmer Station passing through the beautiful Neumeyer Channel! It is extremely narrow, so at times we seemed to have a 360 view of mountains.

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We had a friendly greeting at Palmer Station as we arrived in port and then began to offload cargo. The Laurence M. Gould Research Vessel is the only ship that is an appropriate size (260 ft) to dock at Palmer Station. The other research vessel deployed to the WAP is too large to dock. In addition, there is no airstrip for airplanes so all food, trash, and equipment to and from Palmer Station must be distributed through the Gould. Our first of two days at port was primarily dedicated to delivering needed cargo to Palmer Station. The second day we loaded scientific equipment and supplies to use for our research on the ship.

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We had some fun as well in the evenings including a dip in the Palmer Station hot tub (best view in the world!) as well as a trivia night. We also got to hike up the glacier right behind the station a few times. It was a great opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise, as well as get yet another spectacular view! Last but not least, we got a zodiac tour of the surrounding islands and stunning views of a humpback whale, a truly memorable experience.

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A special treat for our VIMS lab was getting to spend time with recent VIMS graduate, Randy Jones. He is enjoying his first year as the Lab Manager at Palmer Station and was very helpful getting all of the supplies we needed for the cruise.

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Early on the morning of Friday, January 6th we departed Palmer Station to begin our science! We’ll discuss this in our next blog post so stay tuned!

– Tricia