29 April 2007

Work and Play

Since today was my one day off (we don't call them weekends, here we just say "day") I thought I'd write a little bit about work and play in Antarctica. Just like any other small town, we need people in critical positions to provide the infrastructure for all of us to be fed, housed, and generally extremely well-clothed so that science can take place. This means we've got a power/desalinization plant, a galley, a medical clinic, a carpenter shop, a communications shop, a computer network, a boating house, berthing areas, and a pump house, to name a few. Everyone here has a job, whether you're a scientist, or a carpenter's helper. What's very cool here is that no matter what, each and every Saturday we have House Mouse, which means that everyone has to draw from a hat to see what they're going to be cleaning, whether it's the lab, the kitchen, the mats, the bathrooms, or you name it. Being here at Palmer entails lots of cooperation amongst all of us.

To be continued...

25 April 2007

Dream Island and other locales

It's been a very busy time since my last post on 19 April. On the 20th we were deluged by not one, but 2 big orange boats, the LMG and the Nathaniel B. Palmer, which stopped in to drop off a science group and socialize for a bit. I went on board the Nattie B. to "acquire" (read: pirate) some equipment for one of our new science groups here, and got to see a couple of old friends who I've not seen in years. That night was spent being a good host and making sure none of the crew or scientists from the boat got into any trouble and that everyone had a good, safe time. It's like herding cats here sometimes.
The next day it was back to normal, whatever that means here. First thing at 8:00 I went down to our medical clinic for Trauma Team training. At this session we practiced phlebotomy.
I drew blood and inserted an IV for the very first time, but unfortunately my partner was Sara, who's got notoriously difficult veins to draw from. She was a good sport about it, and so I let her puncture me 4 times that morning. This will all come in very handy when I go to nursing school. At the end of the day I was called down to the pier area by roommate, Dave, who is a veterinarian from Santa Cruz, CA. He's a member of the seal group here, and he wanted to get some practice with his tranquilizer gun before going out to anesthetize seals. We set up a makeshift target, and I got to fire off a few rounds. Good fun. The seal group left on Sunday for a one week cruise aboard the LMG. They're looking to tag crabeater seals so that they can study their winter habitat use and foraging behavior, and Dave will assist by anesthetizing the seals and keeping them alive while the radio tags are applied.
On the 24th I embarked on a field trip to Dream Island with other members of our Ocean Search and Rescue Team. We needed to change out a survival cache, and since Dream is well outside of our normal boating area we turned it into an OSAR exercise and took two Zodiacs and eight people to familiarize ourselves with the area. The island was filled with lots of seals and cormorants, and we spent a half hour or so hiking around, even finding a cave that had been carved out of the solid rock by wave action ages ago.
Today we've got another visit by the Nattie B., which just a couple of days ago was assaulted by a glacier which calved and sent a 15' wave over the aft section of the boat. The entire aft deck was covered with huge chunks of ice, and the shipping container in the background of the picture below was dented in several feet. Due to the quick actions of the Marine Projects Coordinator on the boat, no one was hurt.

19 April 2007

Earth Day at Palmer Station

Hi All,
We celebrated Earth Day yesterday a few days early, because April 22nd will be a busy day here for arriving boats and such. Normally a group of us would go out to old Palmer Station and pick up trash and debris on Earth Day, but it's currently covered with a lot of snow, so instead our science divers decided to dive in front of our pier and collect debris. We had to postpone the dive for awhile as a leopard seal was hanging out in front of the station for a few hours. You'd be surprised how often things can fall overboard or were simply dumped in the water back in the old days. We found a large collection of old Coke bottles, lots of metal debris, clothing, a rather expensive looking camera, and other things. All told we brought up 250 lbs. of trash, and there's still a lot left down there.

14 April 2007

My Birthday

Just a short post to note my sixth birthday spent in Antarctica. Basically, we had a huge dinner of surf and turf, then a birthday cake appeared. It's fun having an entire station of 26 people help you celebrate. I'm really grateful for their presence.

12 April 2007

Kurt Vonnegut and Ice Nine

I was very sorry recently to hear about the passing of Kurt Vonnegut at the age of 84. Sometimes it seemed that he would live forever. I named this blog Ice Nine as it's my ninth deployment to Antarctica, and also because I read his book Cat's Cradle years ago, and the concept of Ice Nine was and is intriguing. Ice Nine is a form of water with a different structure than regular water. It is frozen solid at room temperature. Further, when it comes into contact with regular water, it causes the water to freeze into more Ice Nine. Given that 4/5ths of the earth's surface is covered by ocean, and that our bodies are mostly made of water, you can probably deduce that keeping the Ice Nine in a thermos where it can't come into contact with other water is an important plot element.

11 April 2007

Teams, teams, and more teams

While yesterday was used to take care of some much needed though routine activities, such as cleaning labs which are not currently being used and filing reports, today had a much more unique and fun activity: GSAR training.
GSAR stands for Ground (or Glacier) Search and Rescue, and after a morning spent learning how to tie knots, belay, and use prussic knots to climb out of crevasses, we were issued our boots, helmets, crampons and other necessities and then went hiking up part of the Marr Glacier to learn a bit about self-arrest. As in how to stop yourself when one of your climbing partners who is roped to you falls into a crevasse or begins to slide down a slippery slope. It's amazing how quickly you can gain velocity when you begin sliding down a slick glacier. So we practiced ways to put on the brakes using ice axes and crampons. Pictured at left are about half of the folks I will be staying with here at Palmer Station for the next 6 months who are all member of the GSAR team. Neglecting to bring a tripod for the camera, we quickly improvised a tripod using our ice axes and a glove. Kneeling (l-r) are Dan Simas, Phil Troska, and myself. Standing are Karen Malesky, Sara Russell, Dave Weimer, Rob Kummelehne, and Lana Cohen. A Motley Crue.
Because we have such a small population here at Palmer, we're all members of various teams in case of emergency. I, for example, am a member of the OSAR team (Ocean Search and Rescue), GSAR team, Spill Response Team, Trauma team, and last but not least one of the First Responders for the Fire Team. As I'm trying to get into a nursing school this year, Trauma team is my favorite, but when you get the chance to go out and play and practice with a group of fun peeps like this, it's double+good.

09 April 2007

Post Easter Seals

Hi All,
It's been a busy past few days, even though we had a two day weekend. We normally work six 9-hour days per week, but the first weekend of every month we get a two day weekend to recuperate, and do fun stuff like island hopping or just taking naps. On Saturday a group of us took a Zodiac over to Old Palmer Station, which was built in 196
5 to house the Navy personnel who were assigned to build the "new" Palmer Station where I currently reside. Our station was completed in 1968. All that's left of Old Palmer is the foundation and bits of debris, and the only inhabitants there are fur seals and lots of skuas. We walked around the ruins for a bit, then walked down towards Arthur Harbor to see the ice arch pictured below.

When I first came here to Palmer in 2000, the area immediately behind the arch was covered by the Marr glacier that you can see in the left background. It's since receded approximately 400 yards, and you can now boat on water and walk on ground which was covered over by a massive layer of ice just seven years ago. To me this is an amazing, first hand example of the effects of climate change. It's having a very profound effect on the glaciers, ice shelves, and wildlife all along the Antarctic Peninsula.
After leaving Old Palmer, we decided to ride out to Hermit Island, which is a really good place for seeing whales and other critters. However, on the way we spotted a group of seabirds congregating in and above the waters about 1 kilometer from station. We headed that way to see what the commotion was all about, and were amazed to see yet another Leopard seal attack! We floated around for a bit to watch the Lep devour its meal, and then headed on to Hermit Island, where we walked around for awhile and saw lots of seals, including a Weddell Seal which was kind enough to pause for a few photos on Easter Day.

04 April 2007

Dive Tending

How about this? You wake up in the morning, get some coffee and food in yer gut, then go to a meeting to discuss the possibility of two Antarctic divers being afflicted with nitrogen narcosis, or "The Rapture of the Deep". What would you do? This is a worst-case scenario situation here, but nonetheless it needs to be discussed and planned for, because anything can happen even when the best precautions are taken. After the meeting, I went to assist with dive tending for Chuck Amsler and Bill Baker, who went into the icy cold waters here near Palmer to search and collect specimens with which to conduct their research. Diving anywhere in the world can be somewhat risky, but here it's a different deal altogether. A leak in your dry suit can be life-threatening.

03 April 2007

Giant Petrel Chicks and The Grizzly of the Antarctic

The past couple of days have been filled with lots and lots of tivities. Yesterday the LMG left station bound for Puenta Arenas, Chile, and today, after a couple of meetings and logistics related things, I piloted a Zodiac out to Humble Island to do one of my new favorite things: Weighing Giant Petrel Chicks (affectionately known as Wooshies). As part of a long-term study called the LTER (Long Term Ecological Research), a group of 30 lucky Wooshies get the opportunity to be weighed every four days by a few enthusiastic human residents of Palmer Station. The Wooshies and their parents have become habituated to the presence of humans after 30 or so years of study, and this colony is one of the very few left on the continent that is actually thriving.

On a different note, a couple of days ago station personnel witnessed yet another predator/prey encounter between what I like to call the Grizzly of the Antarctic (the Leopard seal or Hydrurga leptonyx) and something that it was chomping on. It was hard to tell what was being chomped. Could've been a penguin. Might have been a seal. Hard to tell. But the Grizzly/Leopard was wallowing around for an hour or so playing with it's meal. Check out those canines!

01 April 2007

Happy April Fools Day!

Hi All,
I was going to do something very April Foolish today, but decided better, due to the chance of payback here on our little station. I've heard the stories. So instead, I worked on what was supposed to be my one day off each week. So the joke is on me. However, tomorrow, the Laurence M. Gould leaves for Puenta Arenas carrying back most of the remaining summer crew, who are all very happy to be going back home.