Monthly Archives: November 2014

All Aboard!

This post is from Pablo:

The last day on land before tomorrow’s departure of the Palmer has passed in a flurry of activity. Yet more boxes were unpacked; yet more equipment was set up and tied down. The prospect of high seas flinging delicate and irreplaceable equipment at equally delicate (though eminently replaceable) students meant that the quality of the tying down was closely scrutinized. Some people’s rope-work was efficient and secure, others? knotsomuch.


Another major endeavor of today was moving the science teams into their cabins. Just as the inevitable chaos resulting from giving an ordered list to a group of scientists subsided, the extreme-weather-gear arrived on the helo-deck. These collections of boots, hats, jackets, base layers, gloves and waterproofs were procured yesterday from the dockside warehouse, with clothing assigned to people in sizes statistically indistinguishable from random. Each set of gear had been packed into a duffel bag, with the boots strapped to the outside. We arranged ourselves in a line (in order of scientific competence) and passed the duffel bags along, fireman style. By the time they reached the end of the line with Ian at the bottom of the stairs most of the boots had detached from the outside of the bags, due to a combination of poor initial attachment and the velocity at which the bags reached Ian. This led to a lot of confusion, but eventually everyone ended up with the correct size of boots, and some even had one for each foot.


There was also the all-important introductory briefing, in which the First Mate took us through the safety considerations on board, including the evacuation procedures. This involved a trial donning of Gumby survival suits, which are as flattering as they are easy to put on. They are essentially neoprene onesies adorned with extra flotation flaps, whistles, lights and sewn-in gloves. You can tell if you have put on your survival suit correctly if you can neither see nor breathe easily, and feel as if you would definitely become acquainted with the floor long before you ever made it to the door, let alone into a lifeboat.


Fortunately we were allowed to remove the Gumby suits before touring one of the Palmer’s lifeboats. Otherwise our passage through the lifeboat’s hatch would have been like pressing gummy bears into a coin slot. While not exactly a cheery vessel, the lifeboat seemed reassuringly robust and well equipped. Good thing too, since it could take a matter of weeks to enact a rescue mission to Antarctica.


I’m not saying that this is in any way connected with the extended talks of sea-disaster mitigation, but a lot of people seemed to find reasons to pop back to shore immediately after the briefing. Several of us strolled along the front, glancing up furtively at low, grey clouds rushing by on the ever-chilling wind, which seemed to be rising to the drama of the occasion. Just as we reached a point to look back on the Palmer, the sun dipped under the cloud-deck, setting our vessel’s orange hull aglow. Cameras clicked for a while, but then we just stood there, listening to the ocean and wondering what it held for us over the coming weeks. Next to us, perching on the remains of a ruined wooden pier, cormorants shuffled their black and white bodies to make room as their compatriots swooped in. We watched them, and they stared right back at us; one bemused, wind-ruffled gaggle regarding another.

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Last Day in PA!


The whale tail statue which greats visitors on the dock


Today was a busy day of setting up the labs and tracking down the rest of the equipment. In the labs we are starting to tie things down, so that when the ship is rocking and rolling in the waves all of the equipment will stay safely on the tables. We also moved into our cabins! Always exciting setting up your home away from home. The cabins on the Palmer are all really nice, they even have windows! That may sound super obvious, but many research vessels have the cabins below the water line, and so without any windows.

Less exciting, but still important, was safety and IT training. For two hours we learned about keeping safe aboard the ship, staying in keeping with coast guard regulations, and being conservative with the very limited internet resources in Antarctica. The highlights of training were trying on the gumby survival suits (emergency neoprene hoodie-footies that make you look like the clay-mation character Gumby), and exploring the inside of the emergency escape vehicle. On the subject of limited internet – please don’t be offended if your comments don’t appear right away – we love getting comments, but may not be able to spam check them all once our internet connectivity is minimal.

Parked at the same dock as us today are two ships a Brazilian Antarctic Research Vessel and  the Stella Australis – a cruise ship taking tourists around Patagonia.


Stella Australis – even a brief glance shows how different a tourist ship is from a sience ship.


This evening we went for one last walk to stretch our legs on shore. We made sure to stop in the central square, and rub the toe of the noble savage seated at the base of the monument to Sir Frances Drake. Rubbing (or kissing) the statue’s toe is traditionally said to bring good weather on the Crossing of the Drake Passage.


Sir Francis Drake’s statue atop his podium – notice how shiny the toe of the noble savage is


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Questing for boxes!


The RVIB NB Palmer this morning

Today was our first day working aboard the ship, and was a busy one. Top priority is making sure that everything which should be on board is on board.  This is made more complicated because some things are shipped from our university, some we order to ship directly, some are from USAP central purchasing, and some have been sitting in a warehouse in Punta Arenas since the last cruise. So, today we attacked mountains of boxes will our many pages of inventory lists – checking everything off.  It’s a fun quest, opening up so many boxes which were all carefully packed to protect their contents shipping around the world. It was also a largely successful quest – out of hundreds of items to load on board, there’s only a handful left to check on tomorrow.

Michelle and part of the mountain of boxes we unpacked and inventoried today.

Michelle and part of the mountain of boxes we unpacked and inventoried today.

Another important task of the day was picking up ECW – USAP speak for Extreme Cold Weather [clothing]. ECW is all of the heavy warm and water proof clothing and extra layers we need to stay warm in Antarctica. The sorts of clothes many of us would have no reason to own, and which are very bulky to travel with. So it’s great that we can just borrow a set of warm things, and return them in a month – so much easier and cheaper than everyone having to buy their own and then bring them back and forth.  We try on everything to make sure it fits – everything from long underwear, to work pants, to jackets, to hats.

Regina, Ian, and Iain at ECW pick-up

Regina, Ian, and Iain at ECW pick-up

Tomorrow we move aboard the ship for real (tonight we are in a hotel), and will get to set up our lab space!

Lunch break at Lomito's - the best sandwiches in town!

Michelle and Eddie (plus the hands of Iain and Ian) at lunch break at Lomito’s – the best sandwiches in town!

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Punta Arenas!

Most of the science party for NBP1410 is now safely arrived in Punta Arenas after their various journeys! We are very much looking forward to getting to work on the ship tomorrow, but for tonight, all there was time for was dinner.


Flying into Santiago


The Chile penguin in the USAP office/lounge in the Santiago Airport


The team enjoys dinner together at Los Ganaderos in Punta Arenas



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I am writing this blog post from the same place I wrote the last blog post – Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The flight to Santiago last night was cancelled, apparently due to mechanical difficulties with the plane. So, Caitlin, Gabby, and I, got sent to an airport hotel, and booked on the same flight the next day. It’s very frustrating, since I was looking forward to Punta Arenas, and have lots of work to do, almost none of which can be done from Texas. We made the best of it though, and after a good night’s sleep went out to explore!


Our first stop was a hike in River Legacy Park. The park is beautiful, with circuitous trails traveling between nobly trees and low shrubs. Walking along admiring the trees we almost tripped over a wild armadillo! We saw a few more armadillos on the rest of the hike as well. They are amazing creatures, so well adapted to their habitat, with hard exteriors, and long noses for rooting in the leaves. It was really special to me getting to see these animals in the wild.

After our hike and some lunch, we headed over to the arboretum, and explored the tropical rainforest greenhouse, complete with fruiting coffee and chocolate trees, and plenty of flowers and ferns!


Now we’re back at the airport, with high hopes for Punta Arenas on the morrow!


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The Adventure Begins!

I am writing this blog post en-route to Punta Arenas; the adventure is begun! Due to the weird world of airline ticket pricing, we’re not all traveling together, instead in ones, twos, or threes, we’re making our way through multiple US airports, and hoping to meet up in Santiago, Chile. One group is visiting Philly and Miami, another Charlotte and Miami, and I get the tour of Washington DC and Dallas Fort-Worth airports.  Our bags are full of clothes, and the last minute science gear that for various reasons wasn’t shipped along with the rest. So rolled up in my hat are a bag of krill counters, and tucked in behind the laptop are 2 clipboards and a small net.


Ted, Maria, and Mary with our carry-on gear in T.F. Green Airport

It’s been a long day, with another long travel day ahead tomorrow. I wasn’t the only one of our group up late last night and early this morning with last minute things. Packing and readying for a month in Antarctica isn’t easy, but that was done, what snuck up on me was getting ready to disappear from the “real world” for over a month. It’s amazing how many little things you have to do as a functional member of society, like paying bills, cleaning house, taking care of your car, and sending holiday cards. They all just sort of happen in the normal course of life – but when you’re trying to get a month or more’s worth done in advance, it is more time consuming than I’d estimated.

With arrival in Punta Arenas imminent I’m looking forward to little favorite things in my favorite Chilean city. The super market, Unimark, near the dock has a bakery, which makes these square bread rolls with little holes on top that pull apart into layers and are so delicious. Other’s in our group are looking forward to a sandwich and cerveza at Lomit’s, a local establishment just off the main square with great sandwiches the size of paving stones! Many of us have only been to Punta Arenas in the winter, so we’re curious to see it in the summer, see if the parks and promenades that are almost empty in winter are bustling in the long summer days!

Most of all though we are looking forward to getting on the ship, and getting our equipment set up and tied down for science!

In less than 24 hours, assuming all goes well, we’ll be there!

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194 years since the first American sighting of Antarctica

Nathaniel B Palmer

Captain Nathaniel Brown Palmer

This week marks 194 years since the first sighting of Antarctica by an American.  Captain Nathaniel Brown Palmer, after whom the research vessel we use is named, was a sealer, based out of Stonington, Connecticut, where you can still visit his house, less than an hour’s drive from our university.  Captain Nat, as he was called, was a successful sealer, and on a previous journey in 1819 had helped to bring in a cargo over 8,800 seal skins. Seals were valued both for their skins, and for their oil in the US at that time.

Nathaniel Palmer House

Nathaniel Palmer House in Connecticut


In 1820, Captain Nat was in command of the sailing sloop Hero, a small tender ship able to explore areas close to shore and seek out new rookeries to exploit. The voyage so far had been successful, as they had captured many seals in the South Shetland Islands. In November they headed south, as the summer was approaching, in search of new rookeries which might not have been hunted yet.  Sometime this week, various sources report the 16, 17, or 18, the Hero came along the Antarctic coast. They sailed along the coast for several days, but since they were more interested in seals than in science or geography, they did keep particularly good records, and finding the area had fewer seals than the South Shetland Islands, headed away to the north. In part because records were poor, it is unclear who first sighted the continent, with James Bransfield, William Smith, and John Davis also being claimed as the discoverers.

You can read more about Captain Nathaniel Palmer here.



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Come hear about krill in person!

Hello blog readers! We would like to cordially invite you to a couple of research presentations about our Antarctic projects coming up the Monday (November 24) of Thanksgiving week.

At 1 pm Alison will be giving a presentation about the krill and some of the other organisms we collected on the cruise:

“Distributions and Interactions in Three Groups of Small Polar Marine Organisms”

This talk is about 40 minutes, and is part of the defense of her PhD Dissertation

At 3:30 pm Mary will be giving a presentation about some of the observations of krill with the underwater camera:

“In Situ Quantification of Winter Vertical Distributions of Antarctic Krill As Seen Through a New Stereo Camera System”

This is a shorter talk, about 15 minutes, as part of the weekly student seminar series. In this week’s seminar, in addition to Mary’s talk, there will also be short talks about phytoplankton, marine geology, and marine chemistry.

Both talks will take place in the Coastal Institute Auditorium, on the Bay Campus of the University of Rhode Island, in Narragansett. These are research talks, so although if you’re not a scientist you may not know every word, I think you will still understand them, and hopefully find them interesting. And of course, questions are always welcome. Come to either or both, visiting the campus beach and library, or a walk to the nearby historical South Ferry Church could fill the gap in between. We hope to see you soon!

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Counting down to Antarctica & some fun facts about the ship

Less than a month until we sail off the dock towards the frozen south! There’s still plenty of planning and preparations underway, and we’re also busy working on the results from the last trip.

Today though, I thought I’d give you some fun facts about the Research Vessel Ice Breaker Nathaniel B Palmer, the ship we will be working on:

• The Palmer is 308’ (94m) long and weighs 4,800 tons.
• The ship’s draft, which is how far below the water line the bottom of the ship is, is 30’ – taller than a 2 story building!
• The highest point where you can be on the ship, in the Aloft Observation Station, is 80’ above the water surface – taller than a 7 story building!
• The Palmer has 4 engines, with a total of 12,700 horsepower, which is 195 times as much power as my car!
• The Palmer generates its own electricity, up to 4.63 million watts – enough to run nearly 4,000 hair dryers simultaneously!
• The steel which makes up the Palmer’s hull is a special low-temperature allow safe to -75 F (-60 C).
• The ship contains 14 miles of pipe of various kinds, and 511 miles of wire – enough to string from Boston, MA to Washington DC with some to spare!

You can find out more about the NB Palmer here.

RVIB NB Palmer in Andvord

The RVIB NB Palmer on a beautiful day in Andvord Bay

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