Saying goodbye to Palmer

Well, the month has gone by and it’s already time for me to leave Palmer Station.  The RV  Lawrence M. Gould (the letters RV stand for Research Vessel) arrived to load up all our cargo and today about 15 people will leave the station to go back to Punta Arenas, Chile.

Do you remember the pictures of the Gould that Ms. Bayko shared with you at the very beginning of my trip?  It’s a big orange boat that brings us from Chile, in South America, to Palmer Station Antarctica.  It’s also the ship that takes us back to Chile.  Here is a picture of it at Palmer Station in May 2011 when there wasn’t as much sunlight.

In fact lots of sailing ships and cruise ships visit Palmer in the summer from all over the world!  They even get to come on land and visit us on station.  Look at this little sailing boat, only 50 feet long and carrying only 12 people that was able to make it across the Drake Passage, the open ocean from the tip of South America to Antarctica.  The Drake Passage is a dangerous part of the ocean and some of the stormiest and most adventurous sailing waters in the world!

We also had a scientific ship, the National Geographic Explorer come and visit us carrying around 300 people interested in environmental sciences.  They wanted to learn more about Antarctica and its environment, animals, and station life.

The largest ship I have ever seen here is the Crystal Symphony in summer last year, January 2011.  It had 1500 people on it!!  It was a luxury liner and very different, much more stable in the ocean, than a little sailing boat!

Which ship would you prefer to visit Antarctica on?  Have you ever been on a ship?  What about the Cape May/Lewes ferry?

Well, this will be my last post for some time.  I will say Bon Voyage to you all.  I hope you have enjoyed following me on my adventures in Antarctica. Can’t wait to see what list of words you guys come up with for our activity.  See you guys when I get back to Delaware!

Diving in freezing cold waters!

Hi everyone!

A special post about the pier divers we have here on station.  The divers group is made up of three guys, Steve, Rob, and Jack, who are working on fixing the pier at Palmer station so that our boat can come back to get us.  They all have at least two decades of diving experience in cold water.  Cold water diving is different than diving in Delaware and of course, very different than diving in the tropics!  Because the seawater is below freezing, the divers use a “dry suit” which is water-tight and keeps them completely dry.  Here is Steve helping Rob with his suit.

The suit has pipes running into it, and hot water can be pumped into the pipes to keep the divers warm while they work under water.  If they were diving with a wet-suit, they would not be able to stay in the water more than 15 minutes before they froze!  With this heated dry suit, they stay in the water for 4 hours!  Here is Rob heating up the water to be pumped into the suit.

The drivers are fixing the pier because it it broken.  They not only have to be master divers, but also welders so they can patch up the metal on the pier.  Here is Steve putting on his diving suit and helmet, which is also very heavy and water tight.  The helmet has headphones built into it so that the diver in the water can communicate with the other two team members who are on land.  Below that, Steve is in the water welding two pieces of metal together with a flame.



The divers take turns doing 4 hour dives!  Sometimes they get bumped by big chunks of ice and … even leopard seals! Leopard seals can be very aggressive so when they see one, the divers get out of the water FAST!

Another time, an elephant seal comes to visit the dive shack while Rob and the other divers are getting suited up.  What a curious guy!

Have any of you ever been diving before?  I took diving lessons in Delaware last year and got my SCUBA certification.  Maybe I will even take special lessons to learn cold water diving in the future!

All these pictures were taken by diver, Jack Baldelli and I am grateful to him for sharing them with all of us.



Young scientists and crew at Palmer

There are so many young people at Palmer Station doing all kinds of amazing things, from science to cooking!

Do you like to operate robots?  Well meet Travis Miles.  He is a graduate student at Rutgers University in New Jersey who uses underwater gliders called “Remotely Operated Vehicles”  (ROVs) to study the ocean.  These ROVs can measure the temperature, salt content, and many other things about the ocean.  They can also follow around penguins that other scientists put electronic tags on!  They are very useful scientific tools.

In these pictures, Travis is in a red shirt talking to a group of film-makers who are filming a non-fiction movie about Antarctica.  The yellow thing is an ROV.  How exciting to be in a movie doing science!

Another scientist here studies small marine animals called krill.  Krill are a very important part of the food web because all the penguins and many of the whales that live in the west Antarctic Peninsula feed on krill.  Kim Bernard, a scientist from South Africa who works in the U.S., catches these krill in nets while out in the Zodiac.  She brings them back to the lab and puts them in an aquarium, which you can see on the right.

Krill are really cute looking, they swim very quickly and eat lots of algae from the ocean.  Kim is trying to understand their patterns of migration and other people in her lab are looking at how much nutrition they offer penguins and whales.

The science at Palmer would not work very well without the amazing crew here to support us.  Nandi Kovats does two jobs at Palmer, both managing the waste from station and hauling heavy things like Zodiacs around with the Skytrak machine.  He has been to Palmer for many seasons in a row.  Doesn’t the Skytrak look like fun?  The wheels are huge!

We eat amazing food at Palmer station.  Marci Levine is from Colorado and realized she wanted to be a chef a few years ago.  She has also been a chef at McMurdo, another American Antarctic research base!  She and our other chef, Francis, make deeeelicious food for us to eat!

We all become good friends living and working as a team on the same station.  In one week our boat leaves Palmer Station and I have to say goodbye to all my friends.  I will miss them all so much!


Here come the penguins!

Hi everyone!

Thank you so much for the great Skype session yesterday!  You all asked really great questions and I was happy to see everyone raising their hand.  In fact, I want to talk about some of the questions you guys asked.

Somebody asked me, where are all the people on station?

I didn’t know this yesterday, but looks like a lot of the scientists were out on the Zodiacs collecting samples!  That’s why there weren’t very many people in the labs.

A second question was, why are they called Mustang suits?

“Mustang” is the name of the company that makes the suits.

Another question was how big was the elephant seal? 

My answer for that wasn’t accurate.  One of the scientists on station said he measured that the seal was 10 feet long (I told you guys 8 feet) and that he weighed probably around 1000 pounds!!  That is HUGE.  He didn’t look that big but I didn’t get very close to him.

Now let’s talk about another animal that lives in the west Antarctic Peninsula region: The Penguin.

You guys have already seen this picture of the Adelie penguin colony:

But two other types of penguins also live around here, the Chinstrap and the Gentoo.  The physical differences between the three penguins can be seen in this great photo, taken by a student here, Luke.

The Chinstrap is on the very left.  Chinstrap penguins have a black line across their chin, that is where they get their name.

The Gentoo penguins are the only ones in this region with orange beaks. They are easily distinguished from the other two.  This Gentoo came onto station and was just walking around, so I took a picture.

The Adelie penguins (on the far right of the three-penguin picture) are black and white.  They need sea ice in the winter to rest on and only in the summer do they go to islands to lay their eggs.

Because the west Antarctic Peninsula region is getting warmer, the winter sea ice is melting.  It’s becoming harder and harder for Adelies to find ice on which to rest.  The scientists here who are studying the penguins, say that every year there are less and less Adelie penguins because they need sea ice to survive.  That is so sad because they are so cute!

Thanks for your questions yesterday!  Bye for now!

Bacteria breathing in the ocean

I’ve been doing a lot of sampling for my own experiments at Palmer Station and studying how bacteria “breathe”.  In fact, “breathing” is a good word because the seawater bacteria I study are breathing almost exactly like we are!

Humans breathe IN oxygen gas and eat food (which is a type of organic carbon) to make energy so we can live.  Some of this carbon we are breathing OUT as carbon dioxide gas.  Here people are eating lunch at Palmer and breathing out carbon dioxide.  Both oxygen and carbon dioxide are invisible gases in the air around us.

Bacteria in the seawater are eating up organic carbon (like pieces of algae or other dead plants and animals), and they breathe out carbon dioxide.  The main difference between us and bacteria, is that bacteria in the seawater in Antarctica are living at below freezing temperatures!!  How do they eat and breathe in such a cold place?  That is part of what I am studying.

Here we are in the Zodiac, collecting some seawater on the sea covered in ice.  My friend Alice is siting on the very edge of the boat collecting a bottle filled with seawater. Eddie, another student, keeps the boat steady.  Alice is so brave!

I collect some water too, by pumping liters of  it into a carboy.  It’s difficult to move around with a Mustang suit and I have to hold the carboy between my legs.  All three of us are students studying bacteria in the seawater.

When we try to drive home, big pieces of ice get very close to our Zodiac and each one makes the boat bump!

There are a MILLION bacteria in every DROP of seawater.  So I get lots of bacteria in the water we collected.  Here I am in the lab in my lab coat, setting up experiments.  I am feeding the bacteria different types of organic carbon to see which one they like best.

I get to use a microscope to see all the cool microbes swimming in the water. Do you remember the definition of a microbe from my first blog post?  Here is a picture of seawater bacteria after I stain them with a fluorescing blue dye. Aren’t they pretty?

I hope my experiments work!

Also, guess who we found hanging out on station yesterday?  Yup, an elephant seal!  It had crawled onto the pier near the boats and was sleeping.  When I went to take a picture, he opened his eyes but still didn’t move.

He lifted his head and growled a little bit when my friend Zena went to take his picture.

Male elephant seals can be very aggressive sometimes.  They are territorial which means they don’t like other seals coming into their space.  But this seal seemed really lazy, like it ate too much and just wanted to sleep!  He didn’t wake up all day and night.  Finally this afternoon he woke up and he flopped away into the water.

I love working in Antarctica.  I get to see so many cool things!  See you guys soon!


Bugging with the Buggers

The largest land animal in Antarctica (land animal meaning it spends its whole life only on land and not in the sea) is an insect!  Sure, seals and penguins are big, but they spend most of their time in the water and so they are called marine, or ocean animals.  This insect that spends its whole life on land is called “Belgica” (pronounced Belle- gi -ka).  Belgica larvae are tiny, just 4 millimeters long!  Can you measure that with a ruler?

One of the science groups at Palmer is studying how these insects can survive the freezing cold winters, covered in snow.  I got to go out with the “Buggers” group yesterday and collect some Belgica with them.  Here they are, all ready to collect bugs!

We took the Zodiac boat to Cormorant Island and it was a beautiful sunny day!  We collected the Belgica by looking under the moss and rocks and scooping them up with a spoon into plastic bags.  Here you can see my friend Natalie, looking for Belgica.

The view from the island was beautiful.  Our boat is tied up to the rocks on the right of the picture and you can see icebergs floating on the water in the distance.  The orange stuff in the picture is our Mustang suits, which we left near the boat because they are hard to walk around in.  You can even see a small penguin colony on the rocks.

This was the first time that I have seen a penguin colony up close, I was so excited!!  I had to get a picture with the penguins.

These penguins are called Adelie penguins. They are black and white and have funny beady eyes. The grey ones in the picture are actually baby penguin chicks. They are very cute and feathery but make a lot of noise!

I had a fun time adventuring with the Buggers.  What a fun group of scientists!  I can’t wait to see you and talk to you all on Wednesday!





Let’s go boating!

At Palmer Station, boating is one of the most important activities.  Because the station is located on an island, boats are the only way to get on and off the station.  We use boats to collect samples for science or to explore other islands just for fun.  The scientists use rubber boats called Zodiacs for travel.

Before we can go boating, we have to take lots of safety classes in case our boat gets lost or stranded in the ice!  We need to learn how to use a GPS, an instrument which tells you exactly where you are in the world so that someone can rescue you if you get lost.

We also have to learn how to pitch a tent …

…and use a small gas stove to make food in case a storm strands us on the island.

Finally, we are ready to go boating! In the coat room, me and a few other scientists put on bright orange suits called Mustang Suits. They are very thick and warm to protect us from the wind or freezing cold spray from the sea. They also protect us from the freezing water if someone accidentally falls in.

We also have to take a waterproof bag with extra clothes and some food and water in case we get stranded.  Here I am preparing my bag with extra thick gloves and a warm hat to protect my ears.

We pile our equipment for sampling into the boat and push off from the shore!

Sometimes there are big chunks of ice floating on the water and we have to drive the boat very slowly. Two scientists in a boat next to us are collecting their water samples.

Today we saw a Crab-eater seal while boating! It was sleeping on an ice floe and catching some rays of sunlight. We drove the boat by him very carefully to not wake him up.


Boating is all about being safe and having fun! Do you have any questions about boating at Palmer Station?

Greetings from Antarctica!

Hi everyone and greetings from the southern-most continent!

My name is Mrina and I am a graduate student at the University of Delaware. For my Ph.D. research I study bacteria and other microorganisms, also called microbes, that live in polar oceans. What are microorganisms? They are tiny living cells that you need a microscope to see, you can’t see them with just your eyes. Bacteria are found in every environment like soils and oceans and most of them are harmless to humans. Bacteria in Antarctica thrive in conditions like freezing water year-round, no sunlight in winter, and sometimes complete ice cover on the surface of the water! My project is to study how the bacteria thrive in this environment.

Here is a picture of the station from the boat that takes us there. Can you see the tall icy glacier in the background and all the people wearing orange waterproof suits in the front? Click on the pictures to see the larger version.


Palmer Station is an amazing place to study! Everyday I wake up to see towering blue glaciers, mischievous penguins, majestic elephant seals, and beautiful floating icebergs. The station is located on an island called Anvers Island and only 45 people can live and work here at the same time. It’s the smallest of three United States research stations in Antarctica (the other two are called McMurdo and South Pole).

All kinds of scientists come here to study all kinds of life, from the many bird species to the plants that live on the bottom of the ocean, from the tiny Antarctic fly to the bacteria in the water. This blog will follow some of the amazing life and science that happens here at Palmer Station. I will post plenty of pictures and I hope you will all follow along in my grand adventure and someday have exciting adventures of your own!

Feel free to send me your questions and I will do my best to find the answer!