Antarctic Fox
The log of Rachel and Kevin Fox's trip to the Antarctic Peninsula in the Summer of 2008-9
Day 3: Palmer Station Visit
December 28 - Palmer Station, the Antarctic Peninsula

The United States runs three permanently manned research bases in Antarctica. The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is the most well known, and McMurdo Station on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf is the oldest (founded in 1956), and largest, with a peak capacity of over 1,200 researchers and support personnel during the Summer, shrinking down to an overwintering crew of around 180.

Much cozier than its bigger brothers is Palmer Station, and it was with no shortage of admiration and respect that we accepted Palmer Station's invitation for dinner and a guided tour. In turn, we invited the current station staff of twenty-four for a tour of our ship.

While about twelve large ships and a handful of smaller vessels visit the station each summer, most of these visits involve either a few of the scientists going on board the large ship to give a lecture about station life and the work that goes on there, or several groups of tourists getting a walkthrough of the station and an informational lecture in the station lounge.

Welcome to Palmer

Welcome to Palmer - We arrive at Palmer Station, Antarctica for our tour. We have also been invited to dinner which we are very excited about. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Tour Buddies

Tour Buddies - Daveen and Barack about to tour Palmer station. Barack penguin came with us photoshoot support of Barack Obama in Antarctica (kind of a tradition to bring some kind of Obama paraphernalia to appear in photos when Alan and Daveen travel - you can't see it but Barack penguin is wearing an Obama shirt. You'll see this better in a few other photos). - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Pulling in to the station on the zodiacs, we were greeted by Rebecca the station manager, Paul, and Amber, an instrument tech and part-time tour guide. We started out with the regular tour, albeit a little faster because there were only a dozen of us. We quickly found ourselves situated in the station's lunge for their research presentation. Picture a room about 30' by 20' with no fewer than ten cushy loveseats and a handful of recliners, and walls completely covered with bookcases housing hundreds of DVDs.

Walking into this den of communal entertainment, you immediately get the sense of just how long and dark the winters here are.

Rebecca and Paul gave us a nice overview of the work being done at the station, ranging from studying the growth patterns of the local Gentoo penguins to autonomous underwater gliders that roams the sea for weeks gathering data on phytoplankton dynamics.

After the lecture we went to the adjoining rec room (sooo hard to get off comfy warm sofa!) Pool table, dart board, bar, and a really cool model bi-plane constructed by one of the residents out of Guinness cans. Talk about recycling!

A Couple Movies to Choose From

A Couple Movies to Choose From - Just one section of the movie selection at Palmer Station, Antarctica. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Air Guinness

Air Guinness - An airplane hanging in the Palmer Station (Antarctica) rec room. Made by one of the occupants completely from Guinness can and bottle pieces. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Guiding Hand

Guiding Hand - This is Amber. She is the instruments tech at Palmer station and our tour guide. She never set out to be a tech but over time she taught herself what she needed. Now she keeps Palmer running ship shape. She was a really awesome tour guide! - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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As we toured the station grounds, going through the labs and outbuildings, we learned a lot about the station's research activities and how they maintain an small an environmental footprint as possible.

Even more interesting than the technical goings-on of the station is the way the people who live and work there shape it, cast themselves upon the station's environment. Everyone who works at Palmer has their reasons for doing so, and those reasons are often far broader and unique than the scientific research they're doing. We got the impression that a lot of them steered their lives deep to the south to be part of something bigger, to simultaneously 'get away from the world' while cherishing their new, smaller world of their own making.

It's telling that while most of the people at Palmer have college or advanced degrees, most of them are doing scientific work unrelated to those degrees. The implication is either that being here is the goal, or that the passion that drives people to these fields is one they've discovered later in life. Either way, it feels like this is what makes this a more creative and compelling environment than a weather station or an oil rig.

Rest & Relaxation

Rest & Relaxation - The deck off the recreation room at Palmer station, Antarctica. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Relaxation with a View

Relaxation with a View - Kevin tests out a couple of the Adirondack chairs overlooking the nearby water and snow pack. A completely serene place to relax at Palmer Station, Antarctica. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Walking the grounds feels eerily like playing Myst. The light never changes, the elevated walkways give the same feel of a slightly alien open world with constraints, and if you're by yourself the only sound you hear is the gentle lapping of the water on the island's rocks.

Myst

Myst - A myst like view of Palmer station, Antarctica. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Pieces of Palmer

Pieces of Palmer - Some of the Palmer Station buildings through the hall windows of one of the main buildings on the base. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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No Smoking Penguins

No Smoking Penguins - Smoking is a bad habit for penguins too! - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Piping Antarctica

Piping Antarctica - Working parts to keep Palmer Station, Antarctica running smoothly. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Amber Explains

Amber Explains - Amber, the Palmer station Instruments tech and our tour guide explaining about the operations of Palmer Station, Antarctica. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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A Few Pipes

A Few Pipes - Checking out Palmer station, Antarctica. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Walkway Maze

Walkway Maze - The view walking around Palmer Station, Antarctica. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Hot Tub - Cold Ocean

Hot Tub - Cold Ocean - View from the hot tub at Palmer station, Antarctica. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Tanks

Tanks - Some of the tanks and supplies used by researchers here at Palmer station. Also a display tank in the front with some of the local sea life. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Starry Octopus Blue

Starry Octopus Blue - One of the display tanks that shows a few of the many underwater animals native to Antarctica. Scientists study these and more here at Palmer Station research base. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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You have to want to get here to be here, and it shows up all over the place. The hand-made signs, the colloquial names stenciled on to cargo containers, the traditions passed down from one team to the next, and the people who choose to stay here, year after year, shepherding in the new teams as they reminisce about the old.

The Bird House

The Bird House - This is the private residence of the long time penguin researchers at Palmer Station Antarctica. Love the decorations!! Most people at Palmer have rooms in the main buildings but these veterans prefer the easy access to clean up after returning from the messy penguin colonies that this location provides. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Flam - Corr

Flam - Corr - I loved the labeling around Palmer station. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Bat Cave

Bat Cave - One of the storage sheds on US research base Palmer Station. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Volatiles - Fire Pull Box

Volatiles - Fire Pull Box - All the interesting buildings at Palmer Station, Antarctica. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Mysty Pipe

Mysty Pipe - Some of the photos in Kevin's set of Palmer Station Antarctica reminded us of playing the game Myst. This valve wheel too gave me this impression. Made me want to walk up and turn it to get the water running to the right water way so that the door to the next amazing area would open and let me through. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Antarctic Reefer

Antarctic Reefer - Sara poses with the reefer cargo box. Reefer in this case actually means that its a refrigerated box. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Foxes in Palmer Station

Foxes in Palmer Station - Group photo of us at Palmer station. Left to right: Peng, Paulyn, Noah, Patricia, Kevin (me), Rachel, Ingrid, Heather, Brian, Sara, Daveen & Alan. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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This is where they keep the Science!

This is where they keep the Science! - Storage and research buildings part of US research base Palmer Station. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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The best gift shop in the Antarctic Peninsula is manned by Myrna, a charming woman who was new to Palmer but has ample Antarctic cred, having worked for the last sixteen years at McMurdo and South Pole stations. She considers this her retirement job! We were really impressed by the offerings in that 15 x 20 foot shop. Unexpectedly, we were able to bring home a few mementos from our trip!

Antarctic Gift Shop?

Antarctic Gift Shop? - That's right, Palmer station has a gift shop. We had not known this and hadn't left much room in our bags for souvenirs, but we made due and picked up a few memories besides our photos. Myrna (behind the counter) was an amazing person to talk to. She has spent many years in Antarctica including time at McMurdo station and South Pole station. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Eating with the Palmer team was a rare and special honor. When so much of your life is open to gawking visitors, it's natural to erect literal or social boundaries around parts of your life, defining those regions that are open for all to see, question, and document, and those that are your own, where you can let down your game face and be at home with yourself. The galley is behind that metaphorical curtain and dining with the Palmer folk taught us more about what it's really like to live on the station than a dozen powerpoint presentations.

Palmer Dinner

Palmer Dinner - Chatting after dinner with our new at Palmer station made us a wonderful meal! Back table: Jeff (palmer) and Rob (our naturalist). Middle table starting in the back left continuing clockwise: Martin (our captain), ? (Palmer), Amber (Palmer), Our Chef Engineer (we keep forgetting his name), Brian (Fox group), Sara (Fox group), Lou (Palmer). Front left: Alden (Palmer). - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Antarctic Menorah

Antarctic Menorah - Handmade menorah in the dining room on Palmer Station Antarctica. We were traveling through Antarctica over Christmas, Chanukah and New Years and we celebrated all three! This menorah was built on the Palmer base for their celebration of Chanukah. The great people at Palmer station were very gracious and invited us to have dinner with them. It was awesome! - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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At dinner we struck up a conversation with Alex, the principle investigator on the Slocum Glider project, and he invited Rachel, Noah, Patricia and me down to his lab to see for ourselves. The Slocum Glider is an amazing 12-foot underwater torpedo-like craft that runs for days on D-cells. It uses changes in ballast to float and sink, using its fins to glide forward with each vertical transit. When it hits the surface it gets its position via GPS and radios the information it's gathered, then descends again to gather more data. The simplicity and efficiency of the device is staggering, and it was awesome to just banter with Alex about his work and life on the station.

Alex at Work

Alex at Work - Alex is the principal investigator of the phytoplankton and bio-optics components of the Antarctic Long Term Ecological Research (LTER). He is at Palmer station doing testing with his glider, which is unique in design allowing it to be placed in the water to collect samples and take readings at great depths and be easily retrieved by the research in a zodiac boat on the surface. Check our these links for more about the glider and a video showing it in action and Alex's research. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Breaking It Down

Breaking It Down - Alex explains how his gliders work. Check our these links for more about the glider and a video showing it in action and Alex's research. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Glider Ride

Glider Ride - Alex posing with Barack penguin and his gliders. Alex is the principal investigator of the phytoplankton and bio-optics components of the Antarctic Long Term Ecological Research (LTER). He is at Palmer station doing testing with his glider, which allows researchers to collect water samples easily. Check our these links for more about the glider and a video showing it in action and Alex's research. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Elvis is into Christmas

Elvis is into Christmas - A bust of Elvis decorating Alex and Zib's research lab at Palmer Station Antarctica. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Warm Me Up

Warm Me Up - Glove and boot warmers available for use by the people of Palmer Station research base. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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We invited the station personnel back to our ship for a tour and to hang out. Over half of the 24 Palmerites came out and we talked about everything under the Sun and several things that weren't, as we heard stories of life overwintering at South Pole Station, where the temperature can get to 100 degrees below zero and joining the 300 Club is a rite of passage.

What was most amazing to us was the sense of normalcy and equality. I mean these are Research Scientists and Intrepid Souls, working on an Antarctic Base. They're Awesome, while we're just tourists coming to visit. But it didn't feel that way at all. They told us about their lives and were sincerely interested to hear about ours. We showed wedding photos and heard stories about the paths they took to Antarctica. It was interesting that a fair number of them lived, if not nomadic, certainly spontaneous lives. Several of the folks we talked with didn't really know where they would go or what they would do after their turn on the station was over, while others were sure that they wanted to come back in whatever capacity they could.

Antarctic Party People

Antarctic Party People - After a great tour, visit to the gift shop and a great dinner with the people of Palmer station, we invited everyone back to our boat for a little party to get to know each other better. This is a couple photos patched together to show our living room on the Hanse Explorer and our little party of Fox explorers and Palmer station crew and researchers. These people are incredible and we heard some amazing stories about their experiences at McMurdo station and South Pole station as well as Palmer station. I'm actually considering looking into trying to go back to Antarctic maybe to assist at Palmer for a few months. Not sure if it will happen, but I really like the idea. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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We talked with Wendy, the cook at Palmer who has worked at all three bases over the last 10 years, and learned to cook on the job (and she learned well! Dinner was delicious), knowing only that she wanted to get to Antarctica however she could.

Lou was eager to hear about our trip on the Herc. She flies gliders and works on gyroscope support for the Cassini space probe, and helped make the Kepler planet-hunting telescope a reality. It's due to launch on March 5th, 2009.

Antarctic Chanukah

Antarctic Chanukah - After an amazing dinner at Palmer Station we invited everyone there back to boat for a little relaxation and getting to know each other better. We were all celebrating Chanukah so here Ingrid, our cousin and Elizabeth (Zib) from Palmer station say the evening prayer and light the candles. It was great to all be able to celebrate together. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Meeting Wendy

Meeting Wendy - Wendy is totally awesome. She is currently the chef at Palmer station but also have amazing stories from her time at South Pole station including stories about her induction into the south pole 300 club. Wendy is incredibly funny, I just loved talking with her. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Orange Becomes Him

Orange Becomes Him - After midnight Paul and the last of the Palmer station crew take their leave of us. In the mud room of our boat we are saying goodbye to new friends. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Palmer People

Palmer People - Saying goodbye to our new Palmer friends as they load into the zodiac to head home to the station. (Jon, Zib, Paul and Kevin) - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye - The last of our Palmer station visitors head back to the station. There are all amazing and incredibly interesting people. It was an honor to get to know them. (Rob, Zib, Paul, Kevin, Alex, Phil, Rebbecca, Jon). - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Last Glimpse of Palmer Station

Last Glimpse of Palmer Station - Its after midnight in Antarctica when our Palmer station visitor head back to the station. We arrived at Palmer station for our tour at 3:30pm. It was a long day full of penguins, bule eyed shags, icebergs, beauty, research, incredible people and a series of amazing experiences. By the way, there is some contrast added to this photo, but this is really about how light it was this night at midnight in Antarctica. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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We knew when we set out on this trip that we could expect ice and penguins, but the rest would be a mystery. Tonight was exactly the kind of unexpected but thoroughly awesome experience we hoped for in general, but could never predict in specific. In this vast expanse of water in all forms, we found an island of concentrated warming humanity, with goals, ambition, and shared adventure. It gave us a mirror by which we could see our own wonder at this place, and I think Rachel is already trying to plan ways that she might be able to take a turn summering at Palmer Station.

Read the next chapter: Day 4: Icy Penguins


Table of Contents:

Introduction: Telling the Story posted Jan 10, 2009

Day 0: Positioning posted Jan 12, 2009

Leaving, on a jet plane posted Jan 12, 2009

Day 1: The Herc posted Jan 15, 2009

Day 1: Penguino posted Jan 16, 2009

Day 2: Chicken posted Jan 17, 2009

Day 2: Leopard posted Jan 19, 2009

Day 2: Snow Day posted Jan 22, 2009

Day 2: Shipwreck posted Jan 26, 2009

Day 2: Totally Tabular posted Jan 27, 2009

Day 3: Gentoo Cute posted Jan 29, 2009

Day 3: Lichen Shag Glacier posted Feb 3, 2009

» Day 3: Palmer Station Visit posted Feb 9, 2009

Day 4: Icy Penguins posted Feb 11, 2009

Day 4: Adelie Awesome posted Feb 15, 2009

Day 4: Leopard Seal Attack posted Feb 17, 2009

Day 4: Kayak posted Feb 19, 2009

Day 4: Vernadsky Station Visit posted Feb 23, 2009

Day 4: Vernadsky Sunset posted Feb 25, 2009

Day 5: Antarctic Circle posted Feb 27, 2009

Day 5: Polar Plunge posted Mar 5, 2009

Day 5: Mouth of The Gullet posted Mar 13, 2009

Day 5: Ice Camping posted Mar 18, 2009

Day 6: Flamingos on Ice posted Mar 20, 2009

Day 6: Mountain Climbing posted Mar 24, 2009

Day 6: Ice Textures posted Mar 26, 2009

Day 6: Antarctic New Years posted Apr 2, 2009

Day 7: Crystal Sound Icebreaker posted Apr 9, 2009

Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 1 posted Apr 17, 2009

Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 2 posted Apr 21, 2009

Day 8: Bird Watching in the Fish Islands posted Apr 23, 2009

Day 8: Icee Day - Part 1 posted May 5, 2009

Day 8: Icee Day - Part 2 posted May 11, 2009

Day 9: Port Lockroy - Base A posted May 20, 2009

Bonus Chapter: Baby Penguins! posted May 21, 2009

Day 9: Antarctic Humpback Whales posted June 3, 2009

Day 9: Dallmann Butt Sliding posted June 11, 2009

Day 10: Birthday Whales posted June 23, 2009

Day 10: Hannah Point Part 1: The Birds posted July 15, 2009

Day 10: Hannah Point Part 2: Elephant Seals posted July 22, 2009

Day 10: Deception Island - Part 1: Walking on the Moon posted Dec 11, 2009

Day 10: Deception Island - Part 2: The Martian Chronicles of Oz posted Dec 15, 2009

Day 11: Emperor Penguins posted Jan 8, 2010

Day 12: Black and White and Pink All Over posted Aug 4, 2011

More chapters posted every few days...



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