Helping the birders get fledgling weights. These young ones will soon set out on their own.

The Adelies are finally flying (or swimming) the coop! Over the last few months they’ve gone from eggs, to cute chicklets, to awkward teenagers (see below) and are now ready to forge out on their own in search of food.

Everyone goes through an awkward phase.

Oh, and we held baby Giant Petrels…these birds can live for over 50 years and frequently fly 1000’s of miles in search of food. They’re also some of the most uncoordinated walkers on the planet.

baby Petrel and momma Petrel

And the Fur Seals, much like big curious flippered dogs, have arrived. As the most sea-lion like of the seals, they are the most active. However, they’re also pretty fast and agressive and have been known to chase people.

Fur Seal modeling for us

We have one month left at Palmer. It’s going by so quickly! Until next time, T & K

A not so lonely continent

When I first thought of Antarctica, I thought of it as an empty landscape where you’re cut off from society and only see a few people over the months. This is false. Palmer station is visited by approximately 12 medium to large cruise ships (medium being ~200 people and large ~2000) each season. Not to mention numerous sailing yachts and other vessels which stop by on short notice. We’ve had everything from ski mountaineers, teenagers doing winter semesters at sea, spanish researchers, 3D IMAX film crews, politicians, actors, musicians and tall ships (aka  pirate-esque ship).

Hopefully in 2013 we’ll have a small section in a 3D IMAX movie called ‘Wild Antarctica 3D’ written and directed by this guy: http://www.jonbowermaster.com/

Probably our highest profile visit was on one of the National Geographic cruises, which was hosting the Climate Reality Project. The group, lead by Al Gore, included Richard Branson, Ted Turner, Tom Brokaw, Tommy Lee Jones, Jason Mraz, Jill Bolte-Taylor, Sylvia Earle and a host of other foundation leaders and dignitaries, including one of Nelson Mandela’s cell mates.

Al Gore and friends!

Another group that visited us was a group of Norwegians with the great grand nephew of Roald Amundsen. They came on the 100th anniversary of Roald reaching the South Pole.

Amundsen's crew visits the glider lab.

One of the coolest experiences was a visit by the Bark Europa, a 3 masted tall ship that continually sails around the world. They let us climb up in the rigging, to show us how they take up and put down the sails. They supplied us with harnesses that had two clips that we could attach to lines.  This was useful when you were sitting still or had reached your climbing destination but it was essentially impossible to be attached while actively climbing.

Bark Europa - the closest we'll get to becoming pirates.

Katie made it to the top of the fore mast!

In January it seems like Arthur Harbor is constantly filled with wayward seafarers. While some days it can be a lot of work to entertain these guests, in the end we’re all visitors on this strange continent and we love the new faces and conversations that enrich our lives down here.

The Spirit of Sydney takes up short residence in Arthur Harbor.


– K & T

Adelies, Gentoos and Chinstraps oh my!

A couple of chinnies chilling. The grey fluffy things are chicks.

I’m sure everyone already knows that penguins are cute. Here are a few pictures to back-up this general stereotype (Left)

50 penguins following our zodiac:

There are three types of penguins that frequent the Palmer area. Adelies are essentially the natives. They are solid black on their head and black and white on their bellies, typically what you think of when you think ‘penguin.’ Adelies have been in the Palmer area for quite some time, but their populations here have been dwindling here over the past decades (90% down in 30 years!). This is mostly due to a decrease in sea ice, which they rely on for feeding.

The new neighbors are the Gentoos and Chinstraps. Gentoos are by far the most curious of the bunch. They have a characteristic orange beak and love to follow us around in the zodiacs. Chinstraps can be identified by their crazy squawk and, well chinstraps (creative naming I know).

Now, like we mentioned before, penguins are cute. It is delightful when they venture out solo and waddle around station. It’s fabulous when their curiosity gets the best of them and they follow us around while we’re sampling.  Most all of you clearly understand their charm and appeal and requested that we break international treaty and smuggle back a personal penguin.  However, they are also a number of other things besides cute. Stinky, poop covered, and loud.

Yes, all that red is literally a mountain of poop....

Penguins ATTACK! look at those crazy eyes

Penguins jumping into the water-cute. Penguins in isolation- cute. Penguins en masse- thousands of penguins in a rookery- crazy. When you think of penguins, crisp black and white, you never imagine how incredibly loud and dirty they can be. Beaks tipped back, eyes bugging, and SQUAWK!

We’ve provided you with a small sampling of the beautiful song of the penguin. Though I only have two squawking penguins in this video, imagine what this sounds like when a Scua swoops in, or when they just all decide to sing along.

We may not be able to bring back a penguin, but we’re getting pretty good at imitations. If you’re lucky, Travis might even wear his penguin onesy pajamas and squawk for you.

Maybe if we crouch down low enough, they won't notice we're here.

Gone Birdin

Recently I got the opportunity to go birding with Bill Fraser, a scientist who’s been studying seabirds in the Palmer area for over 30 years. The trip was probably one of the highlights of being down here. Since Bill has all the correct permits and we got put on his permits I was able to get as close to any of the birds as he ever has. A chinstrap colony with fledgling chicks was one of the highlights. 

Bill and I spent the afternoon riding over to Dream Island, a tiny island about 6 miles from Palmer. It’s apparently home to one of the older colonies in the area, which has probably been there for over 600 years. Bill picked up a few rocks that had been rubbed smooth. He explained that Krill eat diatoms (which are essentially phytoplankton made of silica, or glass) and penguins eat krill, so over the years the rocks had been rubbed smooth from well…penguins defecating little bits of glass in the same spot for 600 years. Penguins are constantly losing cute points…

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While the penguins were cool to see, the mission of the day was actually related to the Brown Skua’s  over on Dream. Skua’s are some of the top predators on the Antarctic Peninsula, feeding on penguin chicks and eggs. There are four breeding pairs over on Dream and one of the Skua’s needed to be banded. We set off up a steep slope of loose shale and skree climbing up to the nest. The Skuas generally ignored them until they crossed a seemingly invisible fence. One foot over that line and the pair of Skuas sprang to life, squawking and swooping. Bill was quick to react calming capturing the unbanded male and passing him off to me to hold. I quickly learned why you don’t wear decent clothes out birding as the skua pooped on my jacket pants and gloves…Lesson of day… birds = poop. These birds are also much stronger than they appear, frequently breaking free and biting anything within reach, gloves, hands, jackets in a flurry. After a minor snap onto Bills hand, the tag was on and the Skua was off to tend to it’s chicks again.

Finally Here- the journey and life at Palmer

It takes a week to get to the bottom of the earth. After three months of pining for Travis, five months of anticipation, and seemingly forty-seven different visits to sporting goods stores, I was ready to go. The day after Christmas I set off on my expedition. I flew St. Louis, Miami, Santiago, to Punta Arenas, Chile.  A quick, very windy, day and half of getting issued gear and exploring pass and we board the boat—the Laurence M. Gould.  The LMG is the ice strengthened research vessel that transports us all down to Palmer Station and then carries on floating around the peninsula on the Long Term Ecological Research cruise as it has for 20 years.

I see land!

Once on the ship I had a lot to learn. Starboard, Port, Aft, Hold, Bridge, Galley. The toilets are “heads”. My room was a “berthing van”. Besides being generally clueless amongst a team of scientists and shipmates, the journey brings other challenges. The four-day trip to Palmer through the Drake Passage is infamous for being a rocky ride. Everyone loads up on seasickness pills and patches and spends their days watching bad movies on couches that slide across the floor with every ship tilt and generally just tries not to vomit. I am proud to say I was among the hearty and barf-free.

Finally comes the day we arrive at Palmer. After days at sea, surrounded by only water and the occasional whale, penguin, or porpoise, I awake surrounded by giant ice mountains. Welcome to Antarctica.  We’re like a tiny industrial intruder in secret blue alternate universe. The best description I’ve heard of the ice is “frozen windex” that is exactly what it looks like.  I stood out on the bow hour hours as we slowly, tortuously approached station.  And there it was, like a little coastal village, Palmer Station, Anvers Island, West Antarctic Peninsula 64W 64S. 

This is the darkest it gets here.

Palmer Station is a U.S. research base and it is nice.  The deceptive blue corrugated steel exterior is a perfect cover for our relatively luxurious (as compared to my usual grad school life) inside existence. We have a bar, a gym, a lounge, arts and crafts, Frisbee golf, a sauna, a hot tub made out of a fishtank, and three meals and two snacks prepared for us everyday. What more could you possibly want? Myself and the other 41 people currently living here (some Raytheon staff, some scientists) have a community that works together, plays together, and runs like clockwork.

Don’t fret, your National Science Foundation tax dollars are put to good use. We don’t just sit around and play with penguins. We do work, really.  As you can see from Travis’s links, there’s a lot to be done. While not reading about urban planning from my uninhabitable continent, I’m in the field, ie. the middle of the ocean. When we’re out there on a zodiac and the weather turns, being pelted by ice bullets and surrounded by 15 foot swells, let’s just say it’s… cold. You feel kinda like a badass, but mostly just cold.

Our fearless leader (Travis) weathering the storm on a glider deployment.

Back from a field trip, posing infront of an iceberg in the harbor.

Now that we’ve finally sat down to write this blog and gotten up to speed, stay tuned for more adventures from the life and times of Travis and Katie. We’ll try to keep it interesting.

The 3 month countdown at the bottom of the world.

Last year I spent 4 months in Antarctica as part of my dissertation work. I’m part of the Coastal Ocean Observation Lab at Rutgers University and am working with the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program down at Palmer station on the Western Antarctic Peninsula. This location is one of the fastest warming places on the planet, with  an increase in average winter air temperatures of 6 degrees celsius over the last 50 years or so. My group in particular studies how phytoplankton in the region are affected by increasing ocean temperatures affect the local ecosystem. Field research down here can definitely be challenging.We take out 20 ft. rubber zodiacs with wooden platforms haul back water samples and drop a suite of sensors in the water at least twice a weak, in some of the worst weather conditions imaginable.

Zodiacs in the parking lot


We also deploy autonomous underwater vehicles or sea-faring robots to collect data for us, outside of the Palmer 3 mile boating limit during all sorts of weather conditions.

AUV with Mt. Williams in the background.

After such a good year last year I decided to sign back up for 6 months this year, from October through March. The deal with my advisor was that I’d only spend 6 months down here if Katie could join me for the last 3 months. So, in September I moved all of my stuff into the basement of my apartment, packed my bags and set off once again for the southern ocean. You can follow some of the science work we do here: http://coseenow.net/rucold/

The first 3 months down here were amazingly productive but fraught with some of the worst weather and ice conditions that have been seen down at Palmer Station in the last 20 years. October and November had only a handful of days where we could actually take our boats out. A week or two prior to us being on station scientists could actually walk out to one of our sampling stations on the ice, cut a hole in the ice and sample the water by dropping bottles and instruments through the hole. Weather and ice improved a bit at the end of November and into December, allowing us to deploy our first few underwater robots, which has now worked its way all the way down to Rothera, the British Antarctic Survey base about 300 miles south of Palmer Station.

December, while beautiful has been tough both this year and last year. It’s been my second year in a row away from family on the holidays and it’s the third month of being here in a small tight community of abou 30 to 40 people. We do a pretty good job of putting together a big christmas dinner, decorating and making handmade presents for a gift community gift exchange. This year I put together a mix pack of some of the home brew beer we’d been making on station. The countdown to Katie coming on January 2nd, while already underway became even more important and exciting.