Hello from Palmer Station!
Living and working in the comparatively mild climate of the West Antarctic Peninsula, one sometimes forgets just how harsh this continent can be. Case in point: This afternoon’s weather.
In the four days since the Laurence M. Gould dropped us off here, we’ve enjoyed fair conditions: While we received some significant snowfall overnight, the days have been dominated by mostly sunny skies and winds less than 20 knots (1 knot = 1.15 miles per hour).
This allowed those of us who had just arrived to move into our new accommodations on station, and afforded the ship’s crew ample opportunity to offload food and cargo. Since the Gould departed, those of us who disembarked — 15 scientists and one support staff member — have spent the past few days attending various orientations and (re)acquainting ourselves with the base. Many of the scientists also used the weekend to begin experiments or simply set up the laboratories where we’ll work for the next few months.
But the weather changed this afternoon in less than an hour. A storm coming in off the Bellingshausen Sea brought 50 knot winds and driving snow to Arthur Harbor, an abrupt reminder that we are setting into temporary lives on a thin peninsula that juts many hundreds of miles into the Southern Ocean.
Whereas the storms and severe winds that characterize interior Antarctica are controlled largely by continental weather patterns, weather on the WAP — that’s West Antarctic Peninsula — is largely defined by a series of low pressure systems that dance endlessly around the Southern Ocean. Periods of fair weather are simply the breaks between lows. While the Peninsula itself has some relatively large mountains, there is no significant land to the west of the station to impede the onset of these systems. (See Google Earth image at the bottom of the post.) This is an oversimplification, of course, but it helps to explain how the weather here can go from fair to fierce in no time flat.
As far as science goes: While ice conditions are not nearly as severe as they were two years ago, there’s nevertheless enough ice in Hero Inlet (chart of the local area here) to keep us off the water for the time being. In the meantime, we’re hoping to get out onto the remaining sheet of fast sea ice (“fast” means the ice is attached to shore) to sample the waters underneath.
In my next post, I’ll introduce the members of the scientific team from Columbia University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Rutgers University, with whom I’ll be working most closely over the next few months.