9 October, 1995

Monday, October 9, 1995

Good Afternoon everyone. We have arrived at Palmer Station on Anvers Island on the Antarctic Peninsula at about 1200 hours (noon) on October 8th. The station is located at 64.4 degrees south latitude and 64.3 degrees west longitude. We came via the Bransfield Straits along the peninsula from Station Copa and Station Arctowski. We entered Palmer via the Neumeyer Passage, the most remarkable piece of water I have ever encountered in my experiences of sailing, cruising, and travel. Words cannot describe enough the narrowness filled with ice and steep mountainous walls reminding me of photos of the summits of Everest, K-2, and Lotse in the Tibetian plateau. Huge, vast glaciers of ice rim the passage involuntarily forcing a person to focus their attention on the glaciers encountering the waters' edge waiting for calving to occur. The mountains are rimmed at the top with dark clouds, some that seem to flow like rivers over the summits and down the slopes to the waters' edge. The wind is blowing hard and the ship encounters the ice. The noise below decks echoes through the holds of the ship and I have taken the camcorder below to try to record the intense scraping and pounding of the ice trying to get inside the ship. There is no rising up of the ship and then falling as many films have presented icebreakers to us. The Polar Duke pushes through the ice, not over it. Aft at the stern, the ice sounds, if it is possible in your mind to separate it from the sounds of the ships' engines, like styrofoam balls being crushed or stepped on as the pieces make contact with each other. The stern of the ship gives way to a path that follows the Polar Duke telling us what our past has been. We cannot escape from the trail of broken ice and water twisting and winding through the passage behind us. Occasionally, open stretches of water are encountered where it seems, the wind lies in wait for us, blowing harder, until another area of ice closes the passage from ice wall to ice wall. I tried to get video of this area, but am concerned that the video shows no depth of field or the extreme contrast between water, ice, mountains, and Polar Duke. The only color here is the red of the Polar Duke.

As the sun rose over the summits of the peaks, which by the way, are only two to five thousand feet high, the clouds part momentarily and let rays of light like search beacons of the morning radiate out over the passage, out into space. High thin clouds are highlighted with rainbows of color and we come to the realization that these are the stratospheric ice crystal clouds that are one of he causative factors of the ozone hole along with the polar vortex winds and the chlorofluro carbons. (CFCs) As the wind blows, it is cold and when I videotape or take pictures, my fingers are not gloved, which causes heat loss and they become extremely cold and stiff. Videotaping takes time. We may be returning through this area soon and I will take more time for myself with this passage. Palmer Station is a small United States scientific outpost on Anvers Island, established in 1965 as a small biology outpost. It was named after Nathanial B. {Palmer, an American sealer who pioneered exploration of this area in the 1820s. By the way, I have one of Palmers' descendants in my chemistry classes back home. In the summer about 40 researchers and support staff are residents with approximately 10 wintering over. Marine biology and ornithology are some of the research fields that are studied at Palmer. A biology lab and aquarium are available at the station as well as a fairly well supplied scientific warehouse. The Polar Duke regularly supplies Palmer throughout the 12 months of the year.

It is blowing approx. 50 mph when we arrive and the glacier that greets you, upon entering the harbor, overwhelms the visual senses s it is not necessarily high, but it is wide. Extremely wide, like pictures you see in books. The inner harbor is ice choked, however, it is melting so we are not allowed to cross the harbor from side to side. I am, none the less, extremely disappointed as it looks safe to me. You understand I am sure, Roland M. The ship cuts a path to the small piece of gravel filled bulkhead that serves as our docking area. It will take approx. 24 hours to empty the ship of cargo and begin to set up our experiments on board.

After a 1300-hour brief safety explanation from the Palmer safety officer, 7 of us begin to climb the glacier behind Palmer Station upward as far as we can go. I have two layers of thermal fleece, Gortex wind pants and jacket, thermal insulated sorrels and wool gloves and a fleece hat. It is blowing and I am cold. The others begin to drop out and return to the station, however, I signed out till 1830 hours and I am not going back yet. The returning people would like the rest to return with them and you can imagine my reaction. After the "you only live once and I didn't end up here to return and not experience it and I am experienced in this kind of weather and I know what I am doing and I am not going back yet " speech, I and three others continue up. At least one of the others said he felt the same way. I am in heaven, a heaven that bonds the body to the environment, where the sound of the gusting wind and ice pellets drown out all external noises and you are left with your own thoughts and sounds of life and your body putting one foot forward. I am at this moment stress free and more relaxed that I have been in a long time, listening to myself become part of ice and snow, where each step you place, appears to go where it is suppose to and ridding yourself momentarily of the others in the party. Your steps are in tune with the ice, going only where they should, working my way up the to the end point where the flags are waiting to say "DO NOT CONTINUE, EXTREME CREVASSE DANGER". I have traveled another 100-200 yards by myself, leaving the other three members of the party below to take pictures. In this environment and from what I have seen, I will take this sign seriously as it is different than going around the "Road Closed" sign in Gig Harbor to find out why someone would put the sign in a location such as that.

The sky is beginning to close up in the late afternoon as it is about 1645 in the PM and we take pictures of each other and I shoot video, which is difficult in the wind. I took my Columbia three-piece layered parka, which has summitted Rainier and other small peaks in the Washington area and is very special to me, out of my REI pack (which I used as a luggage holder on the plan - a good idea). I had used the parka to wrap around the camcorder to protect it while I packed it and the REI pack on my back while climbing. I was trying to retrieve the camcorder but the coat got away from me in the wind and become a virtual un-tethered kit on the ice cap. As I stand there watching it disappear over the edge, I momentarily begin to chase it, trying to get my special coat that is part of me, and then I literally hear a voice say, "STOP! STOP!" and I do, resigning myself to the idea that I won't see that coat again. It is now traveling at least 20 to 25 mph across the ice disappearing over the edge. I am not a happy camper. I expected to leave my own minuscule mark in Antarctica, but not this way. As we descend, the others in the group inform me that they saw me running after the coat an in the howling wind were yelling, "no, don't go, George." As I stopped, they said it appeared that I had from my posture resigned myself that the coat was lost and I couldn't do anything about it. I will wonder if the voices I heard saying to stop were theirs or mine, as I don't want to think that in that situation, I wouldn't have thought clearly.

It is cold and beginning to rain. Rain in Antarctica is caused by the influence of the maritime air mass and Palmer's location on the Antarctic peninsula to the Bellinghausen Sea. It will get colder.

We have to make decisions as to where to go to sample the bacterioplankton we are going to collect. We have gone to the satellite-imaging hut at Palmer and looked at the latest ozone downloaded info. The hole is large but not deep, with an average low reading of about 200-230 Dobson units. It is a lobed affair, which tends to rotate around the polar areas. There is no predicting the location so we almost have to use gut or intuitive thinking about where to go to sample. That will be Wade Jeffrey's, the principal investigator's, decision to make. I think we should go southwest to about 65.30 to 66.30 degrees south latitude as it appears to be lower there, overall, that anywhere else, but the ice will prevent that from happening, I think. And I am not in a position to even be asked what opinion is, so I just sit and think. I propose we go outside into the Bellinghausen and them steam south turning into the ice periodically to check for open water.

The sea ice is an amazing phenomenon that occurs here as possibly the greatest seasonal event anywhere on earth. During the Antarctic winter, June, July, August, and September, the pack or sea ice grows to a size that is 7,334,000 square miles, nearly twice the land area of the United States and Canada in a layer no more than three fee. In late September, it begins to melt at a rate of 44 square miles per minute, yes, per minute. It is gone ore reduced to its minimum size by January. If any of you want to discuss this in your classes and the biological implications of this ice, there are two excellent arcticles, One in the Sciences, July/August, 1995, and Discover, August, 1995.

I think that I have written enough for now and if you have read this far, you are more than kind, as I realize my writing skills leave a lot to be desired. However, my friend Kevin says to write, just write, so that is what I am doing. I am beginning to think that real writers don't worry about writing, so my progression into this new endeavor is at least occurring. I guess that is why I am continuing to write, when moments ago, I said, that was all folks. It is for now and I will sign off from 64.4 south latitude and 64.3 longitude. We leave Palmer at 1300 hours (1 p.m.) today for, I do not know where yet


George Palo

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