Palmer Station is tucked into a harbor on the southern end of Anvers Island. She’s a small station, just a few blue and gray buildings perched over the harbor of dark Antarctic waters. Watching over her, looming on an incomprehensible scale, millennia of encrusted snow form a glacier that covers most of the island. It only takes a little hike up the glacier to see one of the most spectacular panoramas of the hemisphere.
The view is dramatic - in the middle foreground, mountains burn pink and orange from the low-hanging afternoon sun. July is austral winter here – that means we’re in the coldest and snowiest part of the year, as well as the darkest. When the sun does make it out, it heavily rolls right along the horizon for just a few hours a day.
The colors of the mountains are offset by the deep blue and grays of the Southern Ocean which is full of waiting icebergs like tall ships in harbor. About center in the panorama are the few tiny buildings of palmer station, which are completely dwarfed by the icebergs sitting next to them, those tinted in an even more impressive marine blue.
Then, to the right of the picture is the edge of the glacier we’re sitting on, which butts into the ocean and looks just like a postcard.
How did we get here?
I’m documenting my travels through Antarctica as part of an early career training course taking place in Palmer Station, Antarctica…in the middle of the Antarctic Winter.
15 Students, our instructor, and our TA, are holing up against the cold and darkness to learn how science is conducted in the most remote place on earth. I’m cataloging our journey through written and auditory journalism in collaboration with an ongoing podcast project I help run known as DIYbio.fm. This stories are being produced on sight in the field: in snow, on boats, in remote research stations, so it won’t be that studio quality sound you’re used to. But you’re going to hear the voices and sounds of the experience as they really are. Over the next few weeks, you’ll be hearing interviews, history, and hopefully some new knowledge as we capture the science, the sights, the stories of the people and the places – right where it all happens, at the bottom of the world.
(As a disclaimer, none of this production is associated with the program’s organizing institution, nor my home institution. This is a project in DIY journalism, and in no way reflects the opinions or party lines of the US Antarctic Program. A second disclaimer- by the time this audio is being published, DIYbio.fm won’t be ready yet – so don’t go looking for it. I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s ready).
So back to that question: how did we get here?
The simple answer: by ship.
So let me introduce you to the US Antarctic Fleet. Or, more specifically, the icebreakers of the National Science Foundation’s US Antarctic Program.
The elder sister is the R/V Nathaniel B Palmer, built in 1992, and her companion ship is the R/V Gould. Those letters at the beginning of the ships names, they stand for “Research Vessel”. Sometimes you’ll see the letters “ARSV”, which stands for Antarctic Resupply and Survey Vessel. That name says it all: these ships are responsible for ferrying crew, scientists, and supplies around the Southern Ocean and Antarctica for science and logistics. They bring the fresh vegetables into station, and collect the samples along the way, carry people to and fro.
The eponym of the R/V Gould is Laurence McKinley Gould, an American geologist who known for his exploits at both poles. The Gould is especially important to Palmer Station. Unlike McMurdo or South Pole which are frequently accessed by plane, Palmer is almost exclusively serviced by the R/V Gould. And if you’ve been on station for a month, the Gould is probably a welcome sight – if not for fresh faces of new scientists and support staff, then for the coveted ripe fruits exported from Chile. Trust me, it’s a cause for celebration.