Point of Departure

The Nathaniel B. Palmer (left) and Laurence M. Gould (right), at their pier in Punta Arenas, Chile. The "LMG" and "NBP" are the two chartered research vessels of the U.S. Antarctic Program.

The Nathaniel B. Palmer (left) and Laurence M. Gould (right), at their pier in Punta Arenas, Chile. The “LMG” and “NBP” are the two chartered research vessels of the U.S. Antarctic Program.

The Laurence M. Gould leaves for Antarctica in 25 minutes, and I’m trying to reconcile my current situation with the largely incongruous activities of the weekend prior to my departure. Now as psychologically distant as their physical location, these undertakings included two seasonal activities appropriate to early fall in the Northeastern United States: In a small town in upstate New York, I assisted with preparations for the slaughter of four dozen chickens, while in in the very warm waters of Vineyard Sound, Massachusetts, I fished at dusk one evening for bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix). T-shirts and shorts made comfortable early fall attire for these outdoor activities: Sea surface temperatures back home in Massachusetts hovered somewhere in the vicinity of 21°C, or 70°F, while air temperatures remained a seasonally normal 65°F or so.

The LMG's flow-through seawater system, with data shown here for Punta Arenas, Chile.

The LMG’s flow-through seawater system, with data shown here for Punta Arenas, Chile.

Now, just four days later and 6,625 miles to the south in Punta Arenas, Chile, the Gould’s real-time flow-through water monitoring system indicates the water here at the pier (latitude 53°S) is just shy of a frigid 4°C. Scientifically, that’s 10,663 kilometers (or 5,758 nautical miles) almost exactly due south of life of a week ago; I find am just as far away psychologically as I join a group of scientists and support staff from across the United States on a four-day voyage to Palmer Station.

“Palmer” — and aboard the Gould — is where I will spend the next four and half months carrying out research as part of the Palmer Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) study. Once we arrive, I will be living and working (as scientists say, “doing science”) at one of the three permanent U.S. research stations on Antarctica. I will be one of between 50 and 60 researchers and support staff who keep the station running on behalf of U.S. taxpayers for the sole purpose of scientific research. In addition to my work on the LTER study, I will also be conducting a series of my own experiments and collecting samples for my own research project. (For some basic information now on both scientific endeavors, see About the Project. As the weeks go on, I’ll also be writing much more about our research at Palmer, starting from a fundamental point of departure for those with a limited or no background in marine science.)

The voyage from Punta Arenas (the southernmost major port in Chile) will take us roughly four days. We’ll travel out to sea via the Strait of Magellan, then down the east coast of Argentina and across the notorious Drake Passage. Once within sight of Antarctica, we’ll take the “inside passage” to get to Palmer Station — that is, a route between the mainland of the Antarctic Peninsula and the archipelago of islands that unfolds for hundreds of miles along the Peninsula’s western side.

In the coming months, I hope you’ll join me here on the Internet as I share some unsolicited thoughts about science, life in the field, and work on the earth’s cold seventh continent. As long as the satellite link remains open, I’m also excited to answer your questions about the research we’ll be performing, or about any aspect of life on station or at sea. I promise to answer every honest inquiry with an honest answer.

Until next time.

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