Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy thanksgiving!

Happy thanksgiving, from the bottom of the planet. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Rec Hut

Dress warmly, take a wander up the hill on station, head into the backyard and go north.  Dodge around some of the radio antennas, be mindful of any loose rock or deep snow, and if you hike far enough in the right direction you'll come to another one of the tiny treasures of Palmer Station.

The Recreation Hut ("Rec Hut") has been around in some form for decades now; this current iteration was built in 2010 after the old one was deemed too moldy and rotten, and torn down.  It's a simple little structure, perhaps seven feet long and five feet wide, enough room inside for two or three people to sleep comfortably on a plain wooden floor.  There's no electricity, no heat, and the station's wi-fi doesn't reach it.  It's perfect.

The Rec Hut is basically for light camping; it's where you can go if you need to get away from station for a night, or if you've got a special friend you need some alone time with, but don't want to go through the hassle of finding somewhere to pitch a tent.

The usual blend of Antarctic ingenuity and craftsmanship went into this; much of it was built with scrap wood and whatever materials that we had around, but with the same attention to detail that is such a hallmark of this station.

The interior is as simple as the outside; just a couple basic shelves in the corner, and windows on the ocean and glacier side to give spectacular views to fall asleep to.


Looking out the main window, over Arthur Harbor to the Marr Ice Piedmont.

It's well into spring here and there's very little in the way of darkness even at 2am, but it hasn't warmed up yet.  The night we spent out here was the coldest ever recorded in the month of November, dropping to just 1.4F. We keep a few inflatable sleeping pads and sleeping bags in there, but on nights as cold as this it's usually advisable to bring a couple more from station. Wrapped up in two sleeping bags on three sleeping pads, and dressed warmly under all that, it was a very pleasant night.  Now that the population on station is getting higher and quarters more cramped on station, the Rec Hut is prime real estate, and you've got to reserve it usually a week in advance.  I'm scheduled to go out there again this coming Saturday night; let's hope it's as clear and beautiful as it was on my prior night out.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


On a day like today, it would be a crime to have lunch indoors. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The sweetest prize of all

Another Saturday, another Housemouse; the weekly ritual where the station shuts down and everyone picks a chore out of a hat to help clean the place.  Every week is like playing the janitorial lottery; will you get stuck on kitchen duty?  Or luck out with GWR Bathroom?  Or maybe, just maybe, will you score the best house-mouse assignment of all?

Today, after three seasons on the ice and countless housemouse drawings, I finally won.

It's the ultimate luxury; watching everyone else scurry around with mops and rags, while you quietly slink back to your room for a nap.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What a place this is.

What a marvelous, strange place. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fake multi lingual

We took advantage of the nice weather today to start painting the handrails around station; this required posting warning signs so people wouldn't go getting themselves all painty. 

Some day, they'll learn that it's not a good idea to put me in charge of posting signs. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Another day, another record

Last night plunged past the November cold record that we set two days ago, dropping down to -17c (1.4f) on a clear, calm night.

This hasn't helped our ice-in situation at all; the LMG is still 2.2 miles away, and unable to get into station.  They did try again today; in three hours of bashing, they made it half a boat length closer.  No one is sure what's going to happen next, but baring some kind of drastic change in the weather, I have a feeling they're turning around and heading for Chile in the next couple of days.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

And they're stuck

We just set a new record for Palmer Station; the lowest ambient air tempeture ever recorded in the month of November.  Last night saw the thermometer drop to -13.6c, (~7f), and in this month we've never seen a tempature that low since they build the station in the 60s.

These temperatures, in combination with steady winds out of the south, have extended the sea ice to levels and thicknesses not seen in years.  By this time of year it's usually completely thawed with nothing but open water, and at worst the occasional flow of brash might come through.  But all the weather systems have conspired to keep us fully iced in.

Even from the roof of GWR, one of the highest points on station, you can't see any open water

This is causing many problems for our science groups; the majority of the science that goes on here relies on our fleet of zodiac boats to get us out into the archipelago to collect samples and data, but none of that can happen when the sea ice is this solid. But even more problematic are the issues it's causing for our orange link to the world, the LMG.

They left station last week to do some seabed sediment coring in the area, thinking they were going to tie back up this weekend before departing for Chile, taking the very last of the winter-over crew out with them.  But the ice is proving more than a match for the ship; they've spent two days ramming their way through, making an average forward speed of just 0.1mph.  They have gotten closer; as I type this they're 2.2 miles away from station.  But they haven't been able to make any forward progress in the last four hours, and we just got the news that they've given up for the night.  No sense in burning thousands of gallons of fuel when it's not getting them anywhere.

The plan as we've been told it is for them to stay where they are for the next day or two, in hopes that the situation changes in a way that will allow them to get through to us.  Either some warmer weather moves in, or the winds shift to be out of the north to blow it out, or maybe a good swell will come in and break it up a bit.  But come Monday, if it doesn't look like they're going to be able to get into station and tie up, they've got to turn around and head back to Chile in preparation for the next cruise.  This is going to leave five people stranded here on station who were supposed to go north with it; one of them has been here since April and is beyond anxious to get home.

I don't know what to say.  This has been a really weird year so far, and I don't think it's going to get less so anytime soon.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Antarctic Engineering

The LMG returned last week, bringing us more summer scientists and supplies, but it didn't bring us any summer weather.  For almost a week solid the temperatures have been in the teens and single digits, we've gotten a couple more feet of snow and some days the wind hasn't ever dropped BELOW 40mph.

All of this has put a damper on how much work we can do outside.  Many of our larger construction projects, such as our new boat ramp and boat storage areas, can't be done when the weather is this poor as it's too dangerous to try and swing chainsaws around in 50mph wind gusts.  We've been finding/inventing projects that can keep us busy indoors, which is giving us a chance to finally getting around to fixing many "little things" that have gotten pushed by the wayside.  Much of it has been very useful, but a few of us have been resorting to sorting screw salad to keep busy.

We finally got a break in the weather a couple days ago, when the wind died down and the sky cleared up, and we could get back outside.  One project that's been on our plates for a while now is the bulk fuel tank renovation, but before that happens we need more information about the current state of the inside of the tanks (Specifically, where the welds and some supporting hooks were).  For obvious safety reasons we couldn't go inside the tanks (fumes, confined space, etc), so we needed to come up with a way to photograph all the sides and edges of the tank roof through the access port, without going inside.

This is where we enter Antarctic Engineering mode; building something incredibly functional out of whatever random stuff you can find laying around.

My camera tripod's neck was inverted and modified to accept a 3/8" eye bolt, which was holding an apparatus we built out of two pieces of conduit, some scrap wood, and a segment of fiberglass hand railing.  The slightly smaller diameter conduit was slid inside the other and attached to a bar mechanism with an action sports camera on the far end; by sliding the smaller pipe in and out of the big pipe, we could pivot the camera up and down and the end of the boom to allow us to see everything we needed to.  The counterweights hanging on the end balanced it very well; they're actually from a pressure gauge calibration kit, but they work perfectly.

The camera was bolted to the far end of the boom, and zip ties and a flashlight provided all the light we'd need.

The best part about modern cameras, especially action-sports cameras such as this, is that they've all got integrated wi-fi.  A few clicks has the camera streaming live footage straight to a tablet or smartphone in the vicinity; even through it's waterproof case, the tablet then offers full control of the camera, allowing us to sight with it, and take pictures and videos of exactly what we wanted.

We bundled up, got all of our fall protection stuff on, and headed up the hill to climb up on top of the bulk storage fuel tanks.

Clipping off to the anchor points

Dispite the sun being up and it being "warm" by Antarctic standards, it was still very cold standing around on top of the tank getting everything positioned.  When it's ~10f, even then 15mph breeze sucks the heat out of you.  I was grateful for my fleece-lined pants, and the scraps of foam that we'd brought with to insulate us a bit from the cold steel.

Some last-minute modifications were made to allow us to lower the boom sideways into the access hole, and then level it out once it was in with the orange webbing.  The thick steel of the tank was quite effective at blocking the wi-fi singles from the camera, and Sean had to hold the tablet at arm's length inside the tank, while the I moved the boom around per instruction from him.

The whole rig worked incredibly well; we were able to get nice clear shots of all the edges of the roof and supporting members, and all with a rig cobbled together in about an hour from whatever we could find in the shop.