Science for Everyone

Travel Log: Caitlin Cleaver, "Life at Palmer Station"

Approach to Palmer Station

Palmer Station was established in 1965 and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year! It’s located on Anvers Island (latitude: 64.7 S, longitude: 64.0 W) halfway down the Antarctic Peninsula and is one of three U.S. Antarctic research stations. The campus is relatively small with three main buildings and a series of shipping containers used for storage of waste, science equipment and other supplies. The main building houses the Bio Lab on the first floor equipped with a flowing seawater lab, two environmental rooms where the temperature can be manipulated and maintained for different experiments, and dry lab space. The galley and administrative offices are on the second floor while the third floor serves as a dorm. The GWR building provides a first-floor garage, shop, and doctor’s office while the second floor has dorm-style rooms, a lounge, small bar and gym. The Terra Lab is another lab space where terrestrial and atmospheric work takes place. The overnight capacity is approximately 45 staff and researchers. The majority of activity takes place in the summer months – November through April; however, 15 or so staff typically winter over and some research is done during that time.

From my time here, it seems as though it’s a tight-knit community where everyone is in good spirits, gets along well and are passionate about their work here. They host different activities throughout the week including drawing classes, yoga, and evening science talks. It definitely reminds me of our community on Hurricane.

This week, we were fortunate to have three science talks, each highlighting a researcher who traveled with us from Punta Arenas on the Gould. The first was the Terra Lab Open House on Tuesday evening. We were given a tour of the facility and shown instruments that are used for the different long-term monitoring efforts underway. These include monitoring air quality, seismic activity, weather, and the Palmer Deep water mass. The latter is being done in an attempt to better understand the potential connection between upwelling and the location of penguin colonies. It’s thought that the penguin colonies thrive in areas where upwelling is occurring, which increases the productivity and, in turn, increases the amount of food available in that particular area – pretty cool! We also heard from two Boston College research scientists who are setting up a new system of antennae in Palmer’s “backyard” to monitor interactions between the ionosphere and other layers of the atmosphere. Apparently, when the earthquake hit Japan and caused the Fukushima disaster, they were able to measure the impact in the ionosphere – basically, the earthquake creates a ripple effect that manifests as a tidal wave in the ocean and also creates a similar result in layers of the atmosphere.

On Friday night, Dr. Waller and Jay gave a shared talk about Cold Corals in Hot Water. Dr. Waller talked about the importance of studying deep sea corals and how little we actually know about the deep oceans. Jay continued with an explanation of the experiment and the analysis methods that will be used. After the coral discussion, an associate scientist (Dr. Colleen Hansel) from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute talked about her research with reactive oxygen species (ROS) and in particular, an instrument they will be using to measure ROS during phytoplankton blooms as part of the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) effort. Very little is known about the positive and negative effects of ROS. It’s thought that they may contribute to coral bleaching, harmful algal blooms, and other negative events; however, some preliminary work in the marine realm is showing that there may be a bit more to all of this. Colleen is working to figure out who is producing the ROS’s and when. 

The LTER project here at Palmer is one station within a network of 26 LTER sites in the United States, Tahiti, and Puerto Rico.  The research focus on each site corresponds to the particular ecosystem in which the station is located. Here, the focus is on the polar marine biome, “including sea ice habitats, regional oceanography, and terrestrial nesting sites of seabird predators.”

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