Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dorian Bay and Palmer Station. Friday, November 20.

7:00 wake up call. In the zodiac to go ashore by 8:15. Step off the ship into the zodiac with horizontal sleet and snow in your face. 28 degrees F, wind gusting at 30 to 45 MPH. We’ve had great weather until now--actually overdressed for our outings yesterday. Today, that isn’t a worry.

Dorian Bay has a Adelie penguin colony, a former small British station (now a “refuge hut) and a Argentinian “refuge hut”. The Argentinian “refuge hut” has a large Argentinian flag painted on it’s side. The “refuge huts” seem to be the way nations with claims to Antarctica (put in “abeyance” by the Antarctic Treaty 50 years ago) to “tweak” the noses of nations with competing claims (the British and Argentinean claims overlap).If you knelt down on the snow or laid on the snow you could avoid most of the wind and just watch the penguins. Best way to describe the difference in the behavior of Chinstrap Penguins and Adelie Penguins was provided by one of Steve--one of Lindblad’s staff naturalists on board: “Chinstraps are on speed; Adelies are on quaaludes.”

By the afternoon, we have reached Arthur Harbor to visit the Adelie penguin colony on Torgersen Island and Palmer Station, the smallest of three U.S. Antarctic Program research stations in Antarctica.

Torgersen Adelie colony: More time to just watch the behaviors. This time in pleasant weather--32 degrees and almost no wind. Also, five sleeping Elephant seals. The elephant seals open their eyes, stretch their flippers, scratch, and go back to sleep. This is also the site of a 30 year research project to determine of well-mannered tourists have any impact on penguin colonies. Half of the island is totally off limits to tourists and any other researchers. So far, the research has shown no impact. Just to my eye--clearly not a scientific study, the penguins are so busy dealing with their breading that they totally ignore the dumb tourists.
Palmer Station: ( Only twelve cruises are allowed to tour Palmer Station each summer and they have invited our cruise to tour (not surprising--more on that later). Before we go to Palmer Station, the Palmer Area Director and
Palmer Science Director come on board and explain what they do. The very short version:
Palmer Station is a place to conduct scientific research. A lot of earth science and biology research is conducted there. The station is funded by the National Science Foundation and researchers apply to conduct research and are chosen through a peer review process.
After the tour, there is a coffee and brownie reception in th
e Palmer staff dining area. Talking with one of the scientists, we express some interest in his research and are immediately invited to tour his lab. Really cool. They have developed “gli
ders” for remote sensing.
These are small semi-autonomous vehicles that can carry sensors and send back data. (for example measuring water temperature and Oxygen content at various depths over a 100 mile section of ocean.) They are about six foot long, one foot in diameter cylinders with short central fins and a control tail. They are powered by “a bunch” of standard high output D cell batteries. When the glider surfaces, it uses the antenna at the top of it’s tail to call home using the Iridium satellite phone system, downloads data and location (it uses the GPS satellites to determine location) and uploads its next set of instructions.Much of the staff of the Palmer Station is invited onboard for drinks and dinner and to attend the evening lecture. It’s not surprising that Lindbland/National Geographic has such great relationship with Palmer.

Daily Wrap-up: We get a short presentation by the nature staff (I’m just going to call them that--even though they include expertise in geography, history, geology, meteorology and climate) summarizing what we’ve done and seen in the last two days and adding some perspective. This one included some video they had taken earlier in the day using the Remote Operating Vehicle they have on board. Great video of the Antarctic Ocean floor from one site we visited--with all kinds of strange creatures.

Neil Armstrong: Did I mention that we were cruising with Neil Armstrong? After dinner he gave a presentation on “Random Thoughts on Discovery” about the importance of discovery and tying the Apollo program to the James Cook’s voyages of exploration and the early explorers of Antarctica. Fantastic talk--from notes with NO powerpoint crutch.
The staff at Palmer Station were really excited that he toured their station--they even staged a staff photo with him. The ship stayed at anchor to allow them to stay on board for Armstrong’s talk.

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