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.

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