I've officially been a Palmer Station resident for 5 days now! The ship left on Monday evening to head north back to Punta Arenas. It was definitely a strange feeling standing on the pier and watching the ship leave. However, I didn't have very long to spend thinking about this as it's traditional to do a polar plunge when the ship leaves the station. Jumping in the Antarctic water definitely erased any thoughts of the ship from my mind.
There are currently 33 people at Palmer, about half scientists- half support staff (station manager, administrative, instrument tech, power plant, chefs, boating coordinator, cargo and supply, etc.) Notice that I did not mention maintenace in that list. Very similarly to GMRI, there is no maintenance staff at Palmer. Everyone is responsible for helping to clean.
While it is light all day, I have not actually seen the sun since last weekend. In true Antarctic form, our weather has been overcast, windy and rainy all week. The typical wind the last few days has been around 20-25 knots (~23-29 mph) with gusts around 35 knots (~28 mph). However, we have had sustained wind speeds of 45 mph and gusts of over 50mph several times already.
There are several science groups here, each working on something different. As I mentioned before I'm in the microbial group, then there is a phytoplankton group, a zooplankton group and the birders. (Other groups are here at other times of the year as well.) Together, we cover all of the trophic levels in the marine food web in this region. All of us depend on zodiacs to do our field work. For safety reasons we can only use zodiacs when winds are less than 20 knots and if winds reach 25 knots they call back any zodiacs that are already out. Essentially, this ends up meaning that planning is very difficult. Anytime someone talks about doing field work it seems to end with the phrase "weather cooperating".
For my lab group, most of our field sampling involves collecting water samples. Ideally we go to two different places twice a week and collect water at 7 depths at each place. We're interested in the microbial activity in the water. There's several analyses we do with the samples. One thing we're interested in is how much microbial activity is going on. We measure this using radioisotopes. Leucine is an amino acid that is normally limiting for microbes. By adding a radioactive form of leucine to a water sample we can measure how much has been taken up by the microbes and therefore, how much activity there is going on. We also measure the abundance of microbes using flow cytometry. Flow cytometers work by shooting light beams through the sample and then based on the amount of scattering it can determine abundance of particles and some other properties, such as size.
I am also enjoying getting to see the wildlife around here! There's lots of birds, seals and multiple penguin species. A couple of gentoo penguins were hanging out around our pier this morning and an Adelie penguin was playing around our boat yesterday.
A gentoo penguin next to the pier