Journey To the End of the Earth (Well, Almost...)

Stories from Antarctica

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Leaving the Ice

I just finished my last House Mouse (saturday station clean up), and surprisingly, I didn't have kitchen duty. Now I just have 40 hours or so to sit around and wait for the ship to leave. I woke up today to calm water with blue skies and a bright sun shining over station. Interestinly, this is how I will likely remember Antarctica. Most days the white glacier is accented by black rocks amongst grey sky and water, but occasionally the sun comes out and the low-nutrient water shines a deep tropical blue, and the whole landscape changes from tones of grey to hues of blue. Deep blue ocean offshore, turquoise blue nearshore from the glacial till, light blue glacier with intense violet in the cracks. Simply amazing.

Before I came to Palmer I imagined Antarctica as a great white lanscape with almost no precipitation, and lots and lots of wind. The picture in my head was more of South Pole or McMurdo, with flat ice caps or sea ice stretching miles from the open ocean to the coastal mountains. But Palmer changed that view, located on one of the few spots of exposed land it is surrounded by water, ever changing weather and calving glaciers. The life is what strikes me most. Compared to other locations around the continent, this place is a Babylon (the hanging gardens are under the water though). Within our 2 mile radius we have seen humpback, minke and killer whales, crabeater, elephant, weddell and leopard seals, cape, storm, snow, and giant petrels, gentoo, chinstrap, adelie and king penguins, as well as starfish, rockcod, seaweeds, soft corals, ticks, midges, sponges, limpets, skuas, terns, and thousands of krill. The abundance here is awe-inspiring. This is Antarctica. It may not have storms with 200 mph winds (I slept in my tent during 60 mph, and that was enough), it may not get to -80 here (-18 C windchill was the coldest I heard), but as far as the things that make Antarctica unique and interesting, the Peninsula has got it all.

It will be hard to leave this place, but I checked off everything on my Antarctic to do list (from licking an iceberg to seeing a leopard seal attack a penguin) and I am ready to move on to the next adventure... ALEXINARGENTINA!!! Though all this nice weather makes me nervous about what is coming next week when I will be crossing the drake.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Samhammondus alexloweii

Part of the winter over crew came in on the last ship. Station population is 43, but it seems like much more than that. It is amazing the difference a few people can make in a station this small. It's great to have the new guys, though. They brought a lot of energy and excitement about their stay that will help us carry through to the end of ours. Thursday morning, the last ship north before mine left. Just a couple weeks now, and it is creeping up fast. For now we are grounded inside by a large storm (30-40 knot winds today) that is predicted to bring a couple feet of snow, but as of yet has only brought drizzle.

Yesterday Sam and I were doing the normal krill search when we spotted the only school of the week in a trough between two islands. More out of desperation and curiousity, we decided to try to catch the school. I figured we could come from the shallow end of the trough while letting out the line, catch the school and head back out to deep water while pulling it in. Only our winch is slower than I anticipated and we had gone over the school before our 120m of wire was out, meaning we had to turn around to go thru it. But as I turned, the wire became slack enough to let the net drop to the bottom before we straightened. Fortunately the bottom was sand and no damage was done to the net. Upon retrieving the net, we pulled up a codend full of benthic invertebrates, three krill and a little ice fish. Fascinated by the treasurechest we had unearthed, we brought our catch back to station to have the divers look at it. On the ride home we joked about what we would name the new species of fish we had found (Discoverus byfuckupus, alexus loweus, Samhammondus alexloweii). As we rounded the pier into the parking lot we found an ice berg parked in our spot, with an 11 foot Large Marge of a Leopard seal taking a nap on it. We pulled the boat out of the water immediately... The leopard seal issue was temporarily fixed by pulling the boats whenever not in use, but even in the few minutes that some of the boats spent in the water unattended, the Leopard seals nibbled on them. Spotting the leopard seal sitting on an iceberg in our parking spot was funny, because of the obvious irony, but also unnerving because not 5 hours beforehand 15 of us jumped off the pier right there when the Gould left the station for Punta Arenas. Later last night, Sam and I observed 5 other Leopard Seals around station. I guess we were fortunate to not have seen them earlier in the day.

So we unloaded our buckets of benthic creatures and showed them to the divers. This morning Jim McClintock, the echinoderm specialist of the group, came up to us regarding one very small (couple centimeters wide), very cute starfish. When we pulled it out of the bucket, the starfish was up on all five tiptoes, a position regularly assumed while feeding. But when Jim flipped it over to see what was for lunch, he found 200 larvae, the starfish wasn't feeding, but rather, it was brooding. Having never seen a starfish that small brooding, he immediately trashed his suspicions that it was a juvenile of a larger more common species and started to think it was an as-of-yet unknown species. So he took pictures of it under a microscope.

All the darker orange things in the middle of the starfish are little baby starfish.

Then sent the pictures to an echinoderm expert at the Smithsonian to identify the species, or confirm that it is, in fact, a new species.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Day of the Whales, 2007

Sam and I went out looking for krill yesterday to find the wildest day yet. Set in a perfectly still day with a high cloud ceiling and golden horizons, we saw almost every species of thing possible around here (unfortunately the only krill we saw was one swimming past our boat). As soon as we put the fish finder in the water we saw a school of krill, a couple seconds later a herd of crabeater seals shuttling between shore and the school. Then we heard fur seals playing on the beach amongst skuas and adelie penguins. We trolled over the school for a minute to get a feel for the size, but before we got the winch started, a pair of minke whales was spotted feeding off a near-by island, there must have been a bigger school there. Or maybe not, but we did get checked out by the minke's, who soon departed, leaving us staring blankly as our fish-finder blankly stared back. Then we saw a pair of humpback whales. They MUST be feeding on a big school. Nope, but we did get checked out by the humpies. And some gentoo penguins. So onward with our krillsearch. We found another school, and after evading a leopard seal, did a tow but only caught Thysaenoessa, gaudichaudii, and two dead krill. "How about the South Islands?" we said to each other. "Ok." But as soon as we got there, reports of multiple feeding humpbacks came from the area we just left, so we searched for a few minutes, then decided to head back. Along our way, there were two humpbacks floating at the surface...

So we killed the engine, the fish finder, and the 80's rock, picked up a paddle and slowly moved towards them. Then it seemed like we picked up speed and were getting too close, so I moved to the back of the boat to paddle in the other direction, but before I knew it, they had us surrounded. And they looked hungry...
But they were just curious...
Their awareness was incredible. The moved so slowly and elegantly, at one point they tapped the boat, but we didn't even move. They truly are gentle giants.
After what seemed like hours, they made a final wave with their big-ass pectoral fins, and swam away. Trying to brag over the radio, we found out a number of other people were having a similar experience (though not quite as cool) with 4 whales just north of us.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


I keep meaning to write a post, and then it's a week later. As time keeps on slipping slipping slipping into the future, the weather gets worse and we get closer to leaving the ice. Somehow I think I am mentally prepared to be back in a world with trees and grass, but not quite ready for taxis and smog. Yesterday I went on a journey, to find a fountain of legend. I trekked east of station to the foot of the glacier, armed with a pick (aka a big screw driver) and a container to harness the blood of the glacier. I walked along the ice edge until the gentle slope became a steep face, and occasionally tapped the wall with my pick like a syrup harvester would to a maple tree (I read that climate change is seriously affecting the syrup harvest, that relies on freezing temps at night and warm days in the spring. I can't imagine a world without maple syrup, nor do I want to...) . At first I saw a drip, but in filling the first container I sunk to my ankle in thick mud. Battling against the mudpit, I stabilized myself and saved my shoe. Then decided to move on. I rounded the corner on a narrowing stretch of land between the cliff to the water on my left and the towering wall of ice on my right, and there it was. Beneath an overhanging, soon-to-be-bergy-bit, was a flowing stream of glacier water. Carefully, I crept over the loose morraine to bottle the water. In a single 20 ml scintillation vial, I captured 10,000 years of history, locked in the ice. The entire era of the modern human and the development of civilization. The atmospheric changes since the last ice age. The algae and bacteria. All locked for eternity in a jar the size of a roll of film (remember those?). Then I went back to station and had some delicious pumpkin lasagna.

A few days, maybe a couple weeks ago, we were out looking for krill and I saw what looked to be like a pod of humpback whales flashing their pectoral fins. But as we got closer, we realized it wasn't a pod of humpies, but rather a pod of killer whales. Unfortunately, they were heading the opposite direction from the boating limit and we had to stop before we got too far outside of it. We watched as the 20 or more whales (spread out in a strange pattern) slowly swam northward. Then, behind them, we saw two humpback whales, travelling the same direction. Tempted to follow, we realized we had forgotten buckets and had to go back to station before we could catch any of the huge school of krill we were seeing on the fish finder (yes, we really do work, all these other things just happen in the meantime). On our way back, we saw two humpbacks really close to one of the islands, one very small one, the other only slightly larger. When we got closer, the larger of the two pinned the smaller one against the shore and turned on it's side, creating a wall between us and the small whale. This strange behavior, both from these two whales and the ones we saw following the killer whales (and possibly a little bit of imaginative daydreaming), led us to the conclusion that the killer whales tried to eat the small humpback, and the other ones chased them off and were protecting the baby. But we didn't see an attack. And no killer whales since.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Pictures, cuz I'm Lazy.

We have had to pull the zodiacs everynight since a visiting yacht's zodiac got eaten by a leopard seal.
A really cool iceberg.

Walking into the sunset, Hermit Island.

Garbage bag sledding on Hermit Island, it's bumpier than it looks.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

3 minutes a day

Hungry Leopard Seal, frightened fur seal.
A decent sunset.

It is getting darker now. The sun sets 3 minutes earlier everyday. It is much more noticable than I thought it would be. The weather is also changing. Although it has been calmer in the last two weeks, we have had snow every night for the past week or so. No accumulation yet, but many morning snowball fights and hot tubs in the falling snow (which is awesome). The krill are abundant, times are good. It is definately the end of the season though. In order to spice up our daily routine, Sam and I are trying various additions to the boat: travel guides, we put the antenna up the other day to change the landscape (?!?), and speakers. I think fur seals really like Steve Miller, a couple came to check us out during Jet Airliner. But left us shortly after the Darkness came on. We must have rocked their socks off...

A new group arrived last week, they study chemical defenses in sponges and algae. Seaweed and stuff. They collect their samples by scuba diving, and I'll get the chance to dive tend. Ever closer to diving in Antarctica, but not quite there. The biggest issue with diving around here is the Leopard seals. These guys have this underwater microphone that plays a siren when turned on. This is an upgrade from the old Leopard Seal Warning Device (a scuba tank and a hammer). Untested, this could prove to be an interesting experiment. Seems almost like a Far Side cartoon "Unaware that their new siren imitated the Leopard Seal mating call, the divers unknowingly swam right into the seals den." Or something. I can see their chubby faces and wide eyes as a herd of randy, drooling seals charges them.... In all seriousness, the dive tending position should offer a welcome break in the daily schedule.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

When animal's attack

That thing by the boat is a Leopard Seal. An 8 foot, 600 lb leopard seal with red eyes and huge blood stained fangs. The seal had been chasing us for about 20 minutes by now. At this point, I thought he was getting too close for comfort and sped up. The seal aggressively followed. We couldn't go too fast until the fish finder was out of the water, so Sam (the guy in the picture) went to pull it out. But as he did so, he stepped on the fuel line, and the engine died. I'm imagining the scene in Jaws where the boat is sinking and the shark comes over the stern, mouth open, and eats that one dude. Julie just happened to be recording video during that moment, but I can't figure out how to put that up on the blog. Then I got angry and tried to eat the seal.

He must have felt threatened by this display, because he left shortly after.

Later that day we did some island hopping and went to a really cool island that has some infamous Skuas. The highlight of the trip was a full on sprint back the boat, hitting the ground dodging dive-bombing skuas. There were times where I was laying in a crack and I could feel the wind wake of the bird bomb on the back of my neck as it passed by. We haven't seen any krill in a week, but things remain interesting.

Once I was strolling...

I was once I was strolling one very mild summer's day, when I thought I'd lay myself down to rest in a big field of glacial morraine. I lay there in the sun and felt it caressing my face as I fell asleep and dreamed. I dreamed I saw a concert by stars of movies. This really blew my mind, the fact that me, an over-fed, flannel clad, krilling gnome, should be invited to hear these classic grooves. But there I was. MMmm. I was taken to a place, the yacht of a microsoft king. I stood in his studio, getting the feelin, in front of all kinds of tequila. There was reposados, silvers, anejos, gold ones. Out of the middle, came a waitress. And she whispered in my ear, something crazy. She said "Take a shot, and dig that band..."

And dig I did. I dug that band like a post hole. We shuttled out to the yacht in our zodiacs, driving by all 416 feet, two helicopters, to the back of the ship. We got off and entered an interior compartment that housed a 63 foot yacht and a replica submarine (This compartment floods, so you can drive the boat out of the yacht). This is where we were issued white slippers (I got new socks cuz my feet didn't fit in the slippers) before we headed up to the studio. The stairs wrapped up around a pair of functional, 7-story guitars. We walked down a wood-finished hallway past Chihuly molded glass guitars into the studio, were handed a glass of champagne, and told to wait for Mr Paul Allen. WIth pleasure! He came out, introduced the band and shot right into Stevie Ray Vaughn's "house is a rockin'" and I can tell you that yacht really was. If there is one thing Palmer station does better than anywhere else, it's have a good time. It helped that the band was incredible. The fourth song in was Led Zeppelin's "When the levee breaks" and the driving bass drum of the intro made the clouds part, showering the glacier and the surrounding mountains in a golden light. At this point the champagne and tequila were flowing (I found my new favorite, a Sauza anejo, I think the commemoritivo. So smooth). Then Mr. Dan Aykroyd came out, grabbed a harmonica and started into "Born in Chicago." And all this time I thought he was Canadian...

I woke up the next morning remembering what seemed like a dream about a tour of selected areas of the ship (I'm afraid this post will get deleted if I mention the things we saw, apparently crew's families dont even get that tour. But the glass bottomed lounge was worth mentioning), and sitting in one of the nicest rooms I have ever been in, a music studio no less, watching Dan Aykroyd and Paul Allen jam while drinking great tequila straight from a recent port of call in Mexico, and looking out the window to see glacier's and mountains in Antarctica. Some things, like God and the limit's of the universe, the beginnings of life and the bigfoot, are beyond comprehension and require an element of faith to believe. That night last week has joined their ranks in enigmaty.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Giant petrel

This giant petrel has a satellite transmitter taped to its back, and Brett is trying to retrieve it. In order to do so, he puts a wooden egg next to the Gipe (said Jeep, birder term for GIant PEtrel) and the bird has such a strong instinct to protect the egg, it will sit on it while Brett takes any measurements/removes the transmitter. It is impressive because these birds probably have a 4 foot wingspan and a beak that looks like the barrel of a 9mm handgun that could easily take off a finger, if not 3.

The Gould came back from the research cruise tuesday. we had a big party with live performances from a bunch of people, including some Canadians from the Spirit of Sydney, who are down here studying Killer whales. Then I guess a few days went by, cuz it's Saturday. All I really remember from them was giving a presentation about coral reefs and Dominica. The presentation went very well, and it seemed like people are really interested in that type of research. So that was cool.

Paul Allen's 4 hundred and something foot boat will be here on tuesday and, apparently, it is carrying Dan Akroyd. I don't get it either, but it will be an interesting visit.

Penguin Wranglin'

Corralling Penguins in my issued Penguin-shit-proof suit. Check out the penguin right below my right leg, he has a badass afro. All of the penguins with white chins are this year's hatchers. They are losing their down and preparing to take off from the island.
I don't know who's freaked out more, me or the penguin...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What Day is it?

Just when things slow down enough to where I have two days in a row of thinking "I'm bored," things pick up again. This weekend we had two yachts in, one Australian, one German. The Aussies hung out for three nights, learning Kubbs, drinking, having a good time. Sunday we broadcasted the Superbowl live from Denver via slingbox. It was very cool that we could watch it over the internet, but was like watching distorted videos on youtube. It still didn't take anything away from Prince's performance. No one particularly cared who won (I just wanted not chicago), yet we had a big party with brats and wings, aussies and germans. Full house for the whole game. That was a lot of fun.

Then monday I went out to the Prinsendam (the ship that was supposed to come in last week but got rocked by back-to-back 60 foot waves in the Drake, they were still cleaning up the damage when they arrived here on monday) to sit in on the Q and A. Much better questions this time... I also got a tour of the engine room, waste treatment, laundry room, kitchen and crew quarters. Not quite a massage, but cool nonetheless.

When we got back to station, the birders needed help wrangling penguins. This might have been the funniest thing I have ever seen. The fledglings are leaving the nests (only a month after hatching) and the birders are measuring the size of the individuals getting ready to go. So we head down the beach and surround a group hanging out by the water. Armed with flagged bamboo poles and fishing nets, we corraled them into a ball and captured thirty to weigh and measure. Try to imagine 6 people running after 80 foot and a half tall penguins, all of them screaming and flapping their wings (people too). Insanity. After that we pick up the penguins by the wings (they are superstrong little creatures, really cool to hold one) take a beak and wing length measurement, stick them in a bag to weigh them.
There's Nikki blocking off the water. And a bunch of 1-2 month old penguins.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Let it Blow, Let it Blow, Let it Blow

The wind has been a consistent 20-25 knots since yesterday, and after getting our wet asses handed to us by the waves yesterday, we are grounded today. This same storm system was responsible for a couple of injuries on the Prinsendam, a Holland America ship, just a couple days ago. The ship was supposed to come by today, but huge seas in the Drake turned them around soon after leaving coastal waters. The cancellation of the ship and stormy weather here means lots of time to sit around and blog. I think this is where blogging goes bad- A lot of people with a lot of time and unlimited access to the internet. I'll avoid the rambling and stick to pictures.
Wilson's storm petrel doing its little dance. My guess is they feed on microzooplankton, and the dance is part staying right on the surface and part stirring them up so it can pick them out. Picture taken by Glen the school teacher.
Bird feeding on krill. This is what it's all about.
Picture of Katie and I getting ready to tow for krill. This and the last picture are from when Glen came out with us. Doesn't it remind you of the Birds? It is kind of similar, only these birds don't eat your eyeballs, they just punch you in the head.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Rainy day off, what do you do? Play scrabble! I found a couple willing participants, then kicked their asses in the best game (Fluke) of my life. Final score was 334. But I lost the next game...

Also, check out this week's issue of the Antarctic Sun. I made it in the paper. There is a section where I think more or less everyone in the USAP gets to answer a question. It's kind of fun.

On the subject of Blue Whales, I have heard that they feed along the Peninsula, but it is rare to see them, especially nearshore. One of the captain's of the research ship has been working here for more than a decade and has only seen one. Minke and Humpbacks are common around here, Killer Whales occasionally move through the area. I think Finn whales feed around here but are also extremely rare.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pax Antarctica

This week actually felt like a normal week, making it the longest week so far. Not because it is a bad week, I think only because I have settled into a routine as FTL. I also started sleeping in a tent in the "backyard" (the rock outcrop between station and the glacier). Earlier this week I had an amazing experience lying on a rock, watching the glacier calve. As I was watching, the tide started to go out, carrying a field of brash ice at first so slowly I thought it was an optical illusion, but soon currents of loose ice formed around bergy bits. Then a giant reptilian head peeked over one of the bergs, disappeared and returned on a nearby chunk. It was a leopard seal looking for a meal or possibly a flat piece of ice to nap on. All the while I was sitting on my chase-lounge-esque boulder, sipping my corona, watching the colors change over the glacier as the sun set behind me. Truly, as the bilboard says, living at the speed of corona light. The whole experience was so peaceful, so zen like. I felt as if I were part of it all, enlightened? And wednesday was taco day... It was a pretty good week.

More pictures.

Group from the Rotterdam. Can penguins get elephantitis?

Princess' helicopter landing in the backyard.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Us pulling up to the Rotterdam. Not the best picture, but at least you can get a feel for how huge the ship is.

View of the Lamier from the Crow's Nest Bar. The channel is in the middle of the pic, just above the string of lights.

This is Dwayne. He is a Green Rockcod that has learned faces at the surface mean krill. Not only is he a huge hit with the tourists, he is fun to hang out with.

Check out Glenn is here as part of an education outreach program, there is a slide show of us sampling for krill on there. Seems like a neat website.

It's a pleasure to meet you...uh... your Royal Highness

British people joke about Americans not knowing how to address royalty, but in all honesty, why would we? It's not like we ever get the chance to meet a princess or anything. Oh wait, I did! Even after being told, and practicing for half a day, when it came down to the moment when I shook Princess Anne's hand, I still had to stop and think about what I was saying. I also think I did a little bow while I was concentrating on not saying "Your Majesty." Anyway, she had some very good questions about krill to which I had some even better answers. So good in fact I think I am now 10th in line for the throne... More impressive (to me at least) than meeting the princess, is meeting an Olympic Athlete. Princess Anne competed in the 1976 games. I don't know how she did, but it's still pretty cool.

This was saturday. Friday I had the opportunity to take a day cruise on the Holland America cruiseliner Rotterdam. Fort some reason the picture posted crooked and I don't know how to fix it, so just tilt your head until it's right side up. The picture also didn't turn out very good, but it gives you an idea of the size of the ship, and if you look closely, you can see the people lined up along the entire starboard side of the ship. We were celebrities.

We were welcomed onto the ship by thousands of Grandparents saying "Oh, now you can have a hot shower and some real food." Apparently we live in igloos and eat polar bears... But the food was good. And I had a double scoop of french vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone. And a few free beers. And some whiskey in the Crow's Nest (possibly the coolest bar I have ever been to) courtesy of an Arizonan named Karen. Everyone was so fascinated that I knew anything about the environment there, they were all offering me there granddaughters in exchange for a mini lecture. A nice gesture, but I had to decline.

We cruised through the Lamier Channel. A 1/4 mile wide passage between the continent (I was within a couple hundred feet of it) and some island. On either side, the mountains rise straight from the sea to 2-3,000 feet, making for spectacular scenery. The channel itself is full of penguin colonies and seals, glaciers and icebergs. After we went through the channel, I sat in on the first of two Question and Answer sessions of the day. 8 of us sat on stage in the Queen's Room (the two-level Auditorium) in front of 600 people to answer questions about global warming, holes in the ozone layer, and alien insects. It wasn't until after the session, when we brought out individual krill that I got to tell people about the science we are doing here. My favorite statement was "If it weren't fer global warming, we would be living on an iceball circling the closest star." After a few seconds of stunned silence, the woman facilitating the Q and A session stepped in and said, "There's not much you can say to that." Boy was she right... Aside from a few drama queens trying to stump the scientists, everyone was really welcoming and excited about our work and experiences, leaving me with a good feeling about the direction the cruise ships are going with Antarctic cruises; where the science and environment are the tourist attractions, and connecting the scientific community with people who wouldn't normally associate with it is the goal.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Open Ocean

The LTER cruise runs a high density sampling grid in a 10 x 20 km area south of Palmer Station. They do acoustic transects searching for krill between water sampling stations for Chlorophyl and bacteria. Usually they launch Rubber Duke I from the ship and use it to collect krill in the area. Fortunately for me, there was a bit of a goof this year (from my perspective the whole cruise has been one big logistical CF, though they are getting sampling and experiments done) and put the zodiac on top of one of the containers on deck, meaning they must use the large crane to launch it. But, they can only use the large crane in dead calm water because it makes the ship too unstable. Rough water = no Rubber Duke I. What did they do? Call Rubber Duke III!!!

Our rendezvouz point was about 8 miles due south of palmer station in the open ocean. About halfway there we decided to do some fishing (a practice run) and caught a fair amount of krill. While tooling around here I saw one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. A Wilson's Storm Petrel was dancing across the surface of the water. The way it moved looked like an old film, in that there were slight pauses between movements. Wikipedia doesn't have a good picture of it, but these are amazing birds. I was also surprised that we could stop randomly and immediately mark krill on the fish finder, I would soon find out that is nothing unordinary. We bucketed the krill and set off to pick up Langdon from the R/V LM Gould. My first attempt in pirateering.

The pick-up goes smoothly and we head off to the coordinates of the last transect. We troll for well over a mile, following a dense school of krill the whole way. This is about the time the seas pick up. On our way out to the Gould, we were rollercoastering over 8-10 foot swells and pretty smooth water, but the wind came up and kicked up a nasty chop that was soon followed by 12-18 foot swells (where did that mountain go...oh it was just behind that wave...). Our boat is 18 feet long. Just adding to the excitement of the day.

We had 3 successful tows in the next 3-4 hours, then had to chase down the Gould to drop off Langdon (an example of the CF-edness of the cruise, they were unwilling to lose an hour in driving to Palmer to safely escort us back and pick up Langdon in calm waters, and thus required us to come to them. Remember that there are choppy 15 foot swells and 20 knot gusts...). So we set off after the Gould, which is doing 4 knots about 2 miles away, while we can barely manage 8 due to waves and wind (This is sounding like an algebra problem). Eventually we catch up to them at a turn (when they slow to 2 knots), and have our chance to board. So I maneuver the zodiac in between the acoustic transducer (which is still hanging off the starboard side of the Gould) and the stabilizers. It was just like parallel parking a suburban in Seattle. Except we are all moving forward and up and down over 18 foot swells. At the water line in the picture above, there is a black anti-fouling paint below the surface. In the trough of the wave, I was eye level with that orange-black interface; at the crest, I was looking down at the deck. I shit you not. I almost shit myself. Especially when I saw how close the deckbox on the zodiac came to catching the edge of the deck on the Gould, but I won't go into that... Amazingly, Langdon stood there calmlywaiting for his chance, and then stepped off onto the ladder. We quickly drove away and it was all over. UNTIL THEY CALLED US BACK TO DROP OFF OUR EMPTY GAS TANKS AND WE HAD TO DO THE WHOLE THING AGAIN!!!!

It was all worth it though. We saved the cruise many hours of fishing, avoided a few disasters, and had a lot of fun surfing waves on our way home. We even had the unpleasant opportunity of getting a nosefull of whale spray (smelled like low-tide bottled with a fart). The adventure gave me a new perspective on the environment I'm living in and served to confirm my love for the ocean. It was a truly amazing day... And the Antarctic Experience I was looking for.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Oh yeah...

I forgot about adding to that last post. We had a really exciting day of sampling with the most krill I have ever seen. We were driving over the school for about 3/4 of a mile in one direction. There was a large section where our fish finder was solid red (the color of a dense school) from the surface to 38m. Being a fisherman used to staring at a blank screen, this was one of the happiest moments of my life. The feeding whales within 50 feet of our boat only added to that exhilaration. I got two words for that experience- "Yeeah boy-yee!!"

Anyway, the lounge is a large room lined with books and dvds of series and all types of movies from Anaconda to The Saddest Music in the World (but no Jaws or Jurassic Park?!?!) on floor-to-ceiling shelves. There are about ten recliners and couches arranged in stadium seating around a 6 by 9 (roughly) projector screen tv. This excess is necessary for our wednesday night science lectures, of course. On top of all this there are bean bags and comforters for general use.

This is next door to the bar, which is stocked wednesday and saturday by the users, so there is always plenty to drink, and always a good variety. We have our natural beer cooler outside (though it is slowly getting too warm to keep the beer at the ideal temperature. I feel a global warming rant coming on. It is summer, and I have only been here once so I don't have much to compare this weather too, but I have seen the glacier recede a couple feet since I have been here and more than six since November. It is a terminal cancer patient (as Dr. Sascha Steiner termed the bleaching reefs in Dominica, but it is appropriate here as well). Calvings are a natural process of glacial advance, but the number and magnitude occuring on the glacier behind station signify abnormal activity (like glacial retreat). And they just aren't building during the winter. Some people can blow global warming off as a temporary natural fluctuation in climate, and who knows, maybe it is part of a natural oscillation, but it is obvious that what is happening is happening faster and to a greater degree than anything our records have shown, and that is something that cannot be ignored. I don't mean to say global warming is why our beer isn't as cold, just to clarify. It is summer after all... But average temps have risen 6 Deg C here in a relatively short period, so who knows.), that is without a doubt the most beautiful walk-in fridge in the world. and plus there is a pool table and a computer connected to everyone's music through the network, so it's a pretty cool place to hang out. Did I mention there is a disco ball? But, the picture isn't loading...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

99% of My Time

Same old shit, different day. Going out into the Southern Ocean sampling for phytoplankton on a calm day. More humpback whales playing within 100 yards of the boat (four of them to be exact, I think at least one was a baby). More Giant Petrel Fly-by's. Glacier calvings and leopard seals. *Yawn* I thought this place would be more exciting... Yust Yoking. This place r0x0rz.

I realized that I haven't posted pictures of the places I spend most of my time: Rubber Duke, The Lounge and The Bar (Not necessarily listed in order of importance). So here ya go.

That Adelie Penguin thinks Rubber Duke (#66) is pretty fly. And she is a head-turner. This 5,000 lb (fully loaded), $100,000 (fully loaded) monster can do a thrilling 22 knots (you guessed it, fully loaded). I can't wait to take it out at the end of the season after we take the box and all the equipment off. Zodiacs are frickin amazing boats and that's all I gotta say. I was a little distracted by the penguin and cut out part of the boat, but I like that picture, so here's another one.

This picture shows the guts of the boat. Our gas-powered winch that streams wire at 18-20 meters/minute (motor under black box under rubber duckie, that thing is so loud I can hardly hear myself think when it's running. I believe an electric winch is on next year's christmas list), our 750 um 1 meter ring krill katcher, our acoustic transducer convincingly disguised as a leopard seal, and my favorite part, the 75 horsepower Yamaha four stroke engine. She purrs...

It's dinner time, I'll post pictures of the bar and lounge later.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Gratuitous Penguin Chick Shot

Those little food bags are so friggin cute.

And they are literally food bags. You might not want to hear this, but the birders brought in a dead one the other day and I watched them cut it open... It was all stomach! Just a big furry bag full of partially digested krill. Click on the picture to see if full size.

The MFin FTL

We spent the week preparing for the LTER cruise, which departed today after two days of stressed hussle to get all the sampling equipment on the boat and ready to go. The ship left this morning at 11, meaning I am now the Field Team Leader, and three people are now sharing the work of three labs that, up until today, had been done by 10 people. I was thinking about how the 12 hours on, 12 hours off schedule on the ship would wear on you, but it seems like we might be having a lot of days like that here on station as well. It's going to take a lot of hard work, but I am really looking forward to the next 5 weeks. It will mean a lot of time in the boat (Yay- Yay!), and learning a few new techniques used by the primary production (measuring chlorphyl produced by and nutrient uptake and cycling in phytoplankton) team and the microbial guys (girl) (who are studying the role of the bacteria in carbon cycling as well as community diversity). Variety is the spice of life, right?

Part of the ships departure was saying goodbye to good friends and new family. Even though I will see many of them in a week (The R/V Gould returns to the area for a high density sampling grid, and I will be driving Rubber Duke out to meet them and help in the sampling) and the rest of them in a month, saying good-bye is never easy. The station atmosphere will change a lot in this transition as well, the dancers left, but a new group of buggers has arrived. They study (arguably) the only truly terrestrial organisms in Antarctica, a tic that feeds on penguin blood, and a midge that feeds on penguin shit. They must be an interesting group...

One other really cool thing involved with this LTER cruise is the release of an Automated Underwater Vehicle (AUV) that will cruise down the Antarctic Peninsula diving between the surface and 100m (I think) gathering various oceanographic data that is streamed in real time to Rutgers university and around the world via the internet. Visit to read about the project and see the data as its collected!! These AUVs are pretty incredible and are leading a new era in marine science. There might be a whole lot more about this subject, but I'm not sure if I'm at liberty to talk about it right now. That's just how cool it is, I mean, the page is even called "cool." How cool is that? All joking aside, it is pretty cool....

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year, Baby

There is a tradition at Palmer Station that the youngest person on station dresses as Baby New Year on New Year's Eve. This year, I am the youngest person. That means I got to wear the depends. That means I got to prance around the Antarctic nearly naked. That means embarassing pictures of me are plastered all over station (well, I guess only one of those is from New year's...). But, damn, was it funny.
Our New Year's Carnie Prom turned out to be a great event. We had beer, dancing, kazoos, champagne, singing, more beer, a 6'3" baby, carnival games, beer fights and basically a whole lot of people having a kick ass time. I even managed to survive until 5 a.m. in order to be with my special lady for New Year's, Pacific Standard Time. New Year's day was nice too, because we got the day off and I spent all of it sleeping through movies. Good times.
One of the Holland America cruise ships was in today. There are more people on that one ship than the entire scientific community and support staff in Antarctica. Crazy. I was supposed to go answer questions after the science lecture, but went out krilling instead. Too much work to do this week. But another one will be here in a couple weeks, so I expect to get to lecture 600 people on that one (2 sessions of 6oo or more people, to be correct).
Anyway, the holidays have come and gone and in a week I will be field team leader. No more days off for a few months.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Whale, I'll be...

Here's a whale of a tale... So we were out searching for krill on a beeeautiful sunny Antarctic day, with little luck in the morning. We took turns driving, napping, watching crabeater and leopard seals hauled out on the ice when we say a flock of birds feeding out by the boating limit. As we approach, I see a dorsal fin slide thru the water, then a spout. This ain't no stinking minke! There were three humpback whales feeding on the school. Two adults and one baby. It was an amazing thing to watch. They were sitting at the surface feeding, but would occasionally make a deeper dive, flipping their tales up in the air like in the picture. Frickin incredible.

Then we followed the birders out of the boating limit to see if we could find krill at biscoe Island, about 7 miles SE of station. But we didn't. So we'll just have to chalk that one up as a successful sightseeing trip (we did get krill from the school the whales we feeding on, so it wasn't a total loss). Judging by the amount of krill around, and the amount of penguins around, and the amount of seals around, I don't think this will be the last post about whales. They're Here!!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Leopard Seals and Stormy Weather

"The wind is out of the east at 21 knots, gusting to 29 knots," the robotic voice of the weather station read over the radio as 7 foot swells tossed the Rubber Duke up and down and up and down. With the outboard turned hard over into the wind to stay on course, the intrepid biologists made careful adjustments to keep the acoustic transducer in position in order to save the transect. Not the wind, not the rain, not the ocean spray or 23 degree windchil could prevent them collecting their data.

If anyone ever wrote a story about this field season, I think there would be something in it like that. Who knows, maybe research action will be the next big thing in literature. I mean, look how huge chick lit is, and that stuff is boring... Today was crazy. A storm front was moving in while we were doing our hydroacoustic survey, with wind gusts over 30 knots. At the bottom of the swell, I couldnt see over it. But our zodiac, the Rubber Duke (named after one of the original research vessels that serviced Palmer Station, the Polar Duke) handled it with ease. Those boats never cease to amaze me. As frustrating as it was to try and stay on course heading into high winds like that, today was fricking awesome! We were surfing the swells in a boat roughly the same size and weight as my Monte Carlo. I can't honestly say that i've done that before. And we finished both our transects without any problems.

Here's a pic of that huge leopard seal. Ok, I'll admit I didn't take this one. This one is from national geographic. I can just imagine what that penguin is thinking right now... "Did I close the garage door?"

That seal needs some dental work. But check out the teeth. That weird tri-tipped, interlocking shape has evolved to allow the seal to take in a large volume of water and krill and spit out the water, thus retaining the krill. I heard that Leopard Seals feed mainly on fish and krill, and that penguins are a rare treat. This just hours before I heard over the radio that one was killing a penguin, so who knows...

This is the picture I took. You can't really see her smile, but it's there. She doesn't look nearly as threatening as the one above. It was incredible to be that close to something that could chomp my head just as easily as it could that little penguin. She wasn't nearly as impressed with us.

And a Chinnie that thinks he is a scientist. Don't worry any of you animal activists, noone violated the ACA, this penguin jumped in the boat on his own will, and got out without human intervention. He wanted to drive, but hadn't done boating I and II, so we had to refuse.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! This picture is our family portrait taken at the sunset this morning. Then we started It's a Wonderful Life at 0045. I don't know who's idea that was, but because of it I didn't get to bed until after 3 (for the 3rd night in a row, this christmas thing down here is a crazy 4 day dance party...). Like no other Christmas I have ever had, this is shaping up to be one of the more interesting. And it's not over yet. Tonight is the much anticipated gift exchange where people have spent many hours sawing, sanding, welding, drinking guinness, and drawing, gluing and cutting to create the best gift. Mine can hardly compare, but it is wrapped in tinfoil, so at least it's shiny. One of the best things about Christmas here is it is supposed to be 2 days off, tho we still had a lot of work that carried over into yesterday, and a little today. Science doesn't sleep, and apparently it doesn't get days off either.

On my "day off" yesterday, a few of us took a boat to DeLoca Island to hike around. DeLoca is a really cool island because it's like a huge rock jungle jim. Plus there are a some nesting Antarctic terns, skuas and one giant petrel that make for some interesting siteseeing. Like the sight of seeing someone get booted in the back of the head by a dive bombing skua. I took this picture before napping on a rock, in the sun, in Antarctica.

After we left the island, we drove by the Bahia Paraiso, a 400 something foot Argentine naval ship that ran aground and sank about 15 years ago. The side of the ship sticks out of the water, even though it sank in 60 feet of water, and a number of penguins were hanging out on it (both Adelie and Chinstrap). We stopped to check them out, when all of a sudden, a chinstrap missile launches out of the water straight towards me, but bounces off the side of the zodiac. Then he made two more attempts to board us before giving up. For some reason those guys really like to ride in zodiacs... Then, possibly the high point of the day, we went to see a huge (like 11 feet long) Leopard Seal. Later that day the birders saw one attack and kill a penguin. Wild place. And it will only get wilder. The krill are here, the schools are getting bigger, and that can only mean the whales are on their way. We spotted more Minke whales the other day, but no sign of the humpback or killer whales that come through here. So in the meantime, we will stay busy sampling.

It's time for eggnog. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

This is the Krill Team. That is Langdon Quetin on the left, he is the PI. Kelly Moore in the middle, me on the right. We are nothing but the work horses of B-028 (That's our grant number).

Summer comes to Palmer Station

Yes, Julie! It is the summer solstice. The actual solstice (marked by the time when the sun is at its farthest point from the equatorial plane. In practical terms, this means it is the farthest north (In June) or South (in December) along the horizon, thus the reason it is light all the time here right now) is at 7:22 PM eastern time. I think there is a planned polar plunge, so long as that Leopard seal isn't in the area...

I have been avoiding the science that is going on around here, partly because I didn't know about it all, and partly because I'm lazy. But, I have some time to krill, so let's get it on. LTER (Long-term ecological research) is a international research program that monitors ecological changes over a long time scale (What? no....), up until the Principal Investigators proposed the Palmer site, nearly all of this work was terrestrial, with the only exceptions being a couple of freshwater lakes. The palmer LTER was started in the 80's (just like me) by 4 groups- bacteria, phytoplankton, krill and birds. Basically the food web as far as Palmer is concerned. Of course seals, whales play an important part in the ecosystem, but many of them travel through the area during the summer and make year-round monitoring difficult.

By breaking the ecosystem into parts, it is possible to analyze each piece on its own and as part of the whole. We are all asking the same question (Whatsit eating? How fast does it grow?) but in our different ways. Us krillers are using a really cool technique that I am just beginning to understand, to look at how much it's eating. Lab experiments have shown a correlation between the feeding rate and the whole body flourescence (Throw the little guys in acetone to dissolve out photosynthetic pigments, shine light on pigment loaded acetone, measure difracted light to give some measure that indicates how much was ingested. we kn0w the feeding time, we know the size of the creature, we know how much was ingested, we calculate a feeding rate. Neat stuff). Now we are taking this to the field, trying to correlate this ingestion rate that we can calculate from the creatures we catch to the amount of phytoplankton in the water, which we can measure. Some of the details of this might be off-limits, because this is a new technique and we are the only ones doing it. Apparently nobody else is looking at krill on the scale of a school (which can be huge!! we found one yesterday that was about 100 square meters, though they can stretch on for kilometers. Think Macy's day parade full of krill rather than humans.), which makes us the shit.

Enough science, I gotta put my shoes on for a fire drill...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Let's do the time warp

I made it through the first month! Err, wait, was that the first week? Maybe the first day, since it hasn't gotten dark yet? Whatever the case, I made it! And it has been great. I am settling into our sampling routine. We had a couple very successful days of krilling, couple unsuccessful days of hydroacoustics, but I am figuring out the process, so that's good. We do a series of experiments, measurements on each catch. Length frequencies, Length weight ratios and molting experiments, etc. Gotta love that lab work...

Station life is very comfortable. Other than my bunk bed. They somehow managed to pack a cylindrical XS (extra short) twin two feet from the ceiling and 8 feet from the floor. I feel like a fat guy trying on a wetsuit two sizes too small everytime I get into bed. From the 3 story free ascent up to the balancing act on top, there is never a stable moment until I strap myself down between the sheets, lock my feet under the foot board and cranium against the headboard. Perhaps there is a reason the bars on either side of the bed are 65 inches apart (i'm 74.5 inches long, to paint the picture), so the user can lock himself into place. Just one more reason I miss my queen sleep number. And flannel sheets.

The NSF has an arts and writers grant that reserves funding for arty things. We are fortunate enough to have a glass artist here on station using ice to create molds for glass. His name is David Ruth (apparently he has known Dante for a long time (Small world, eh?)). It is fascinating to see what he has and is doing with molded glass. And easy to see how his previous work brought him to sea ice. Cool stuff.

2.5 weeks until my krill team leaves on the LTER cruise, thus making me Field Team Leader and solely responsible for all of the krill research conducted at the station for the rest of the summer!?!? That will be interesting. And sad to see them go. Sunday is our day off, so I'm gonna make like today and take off.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Sea was Angry that Day My Friends...

I made it to Antarctica. Unfortunately, it's not as cool as I thought it would be. The landscape is really bland. Just white snow on top of black rock. Grey water. Grey sky. Actually, the contrast between the exposed rock on the jagged and very tall mountains and the snow makes for a stunning landscape. The other noteworthy thing about the landscape is the scale. Nowhere else have I been where I have felt so miniscule. One day I was sitting on Queen Anne Hill, looking at mt. rainier and I was thinking to myself how that was the only unaltered feature of the landscape. All the forests had been cut down, replanted. City was built by us. The sound is polluted and full of boat traffic. But there was mount Rainier, standing alone, just as it was 500 years ago. Thats how this entire continent is. It is pretty incredible. And yesterday was nice and sunny, probably in the 50s. Blue sky, blue water, blue ice.

My travel down was pretty uneventful. Doesnt make for a good story, but it didnt stress me out either, so that's ok. The Drake crossing was reasonably calm too (Only 10-15 foot seas). I almost got sea sick once after I ate too much at dinner (The food was D-licious.) and didnt stop feeling nauseous for the rest of the trip. But didnt puke...

Then they let me drive the 290 ft Research vessel LM Gould. I couldnt believe that. I felt better after having taken control of the ship that had been making me feel like crap all week. I saved everyone's life by steering around an iceberg that had taken a kamikaze course towards the bow. Then we partied.

Today we got word of a feeding frenzy near the station, ran to the boat and sped out to see if we could find any krill. Sure enough we did. A huge swarm. Lucky us. This was after the "Polar Plunge," a station tradition in which anyone interested can strip down and jump off the pier as the ship is departing. So I got to go swimming like I had hoped. The water was pretty cold tho...

Interesting animal sightings: Leopard seals, Minke Whales, some other kind of seal, lots of peneguins, and, of course, Krill.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Moments before departure

YEAH BOY-YEE!!!! That's me, ready to go to antarctica now that I have my thermal knitted beanie (by Lisa) and my weather-proof hat and UV-filtering Glacier Glasses courtesy of the Meridian gang. Now if I could only get my bag under 50 lbs...

Friday, November 03, 2006

Testes, Testes...1, 2, 4...

Hokay, so here's my blog. This is the test entry for my Antarctica blog. Here you will find pictures of me, stories from me, sounds from me (?), maybe a joke or two. Actually probably many jokes... starting with an Antarctic corruption of my favorite.

So there were these two penguins, sitting on Anvers Island in Antarctica. One of them looked at the other and said, "It's freakin' cold here, mang." The other one looked at him and said, "Holy shit! I talking pengiun!!"

This is my Antarctic blog, so some info on Antarctica. I will be a Palmer Station on Anvers Island for four months studying the ecology of Antarctic Krill (Euphasia superba). I suggest for looking this things up. Occasionally I will motivate myself to place the link myself, so all you have to do is click rather than click, type. Click Here.