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9 March, 2000

First full day at Palmer Station; School and Diving

Question 19: What season of the year is it here on the Antarctic Peninsula? What is this season like?

The L.M.Gould left this morning for its 10-day science cruise around the mid-peninsula area for the groups of oceanographers on board. TEA Cathy Roberts is with them.

Today we started off on the fast pace that will stay with us the whole time we are on station. Since there were problems getting internet and email access from the Gould while at sea, I will be posting the other journal entries that have been piling up on my computer over the next several days. Be sure to check out all the things we have done already! Now the science starts more seriously.

Before we can get out into the field actively diving and collecting, we all have to take some quick classes to orient us and keep us safe in the local environment-- Boating 1, passengers, Islands and Boating 2, drivers. We also need to do a check-out dive with all of our gear close to the station. We got through Boating 1, Islands and the first dive today. If the weather cooperates, Boating 2 will take place tomorrow morning.

Boating 1 is primarily concerned with making all people aware of the procedures for going out in boats (sign-out board, take 2 radios, float coat with beavertail attached, at least two drivers on board, etc.) and the dangers inherent in the unpredictable weather in the area (risk of hypothermia, problems caused by high winds, what to do in the event of several types of emergencies). Since the weather can change very quickly and we can be 2 miles away from the station, one of the possible emergency situations is getting stuck away from the station in extremely bad weather. This is covered in the Islands course.

The area around Palmer Station has many groups of small, rocky islands. The majority of them have survival caches on them. A cache consists of three 30-gallon blue plastic barrels that contain food, water, tents, sleeping bags, stoves and other useful gear. Each of the boats also has a bag of emergency gear. There is enough tasty food for four people for over a week, then sea rations (hard biscuits) for several weeks after that. We practiced setting up the type of tent that is in the barrels and lighting the WhisperLite stoves that are included. They told us that usually one group each season gets into a situation where they have to use one of the caches. They haven' t had one used yet this year, so keep your fingers crossed that we won't be the first! After lunch, the weather was still too windy to go out for the Boating 2 course so we concentrated on getting our dive gear up and going. We split into two teams so there would be three diving and three helping. We dove from the station dock area on Hero Channel. It is more sheltered than most areas but can get quite deep. My group got into the water before dinner and took a 20 minute tour of the close area. After I added more weight to my harness (now that I have 40 lbs. I don't bob like a cork anymore), we went to a depth of around 65 feet making a circular sweep around the boat mooring area looking at the invertebrate and plant life. Besides the many limpets, macroalgae and starfish, I saw a beautiful octopus. It was about 25 cm long and a mottled orange color. It swam away from us as fast as possible. The limpets tend to be pink/purple/white in color and the algae goes through reds, oranges and greens. It is very colorful under water. While we were down, a small iceberg floated up to our put-in/take-out site so we had to be careful exiting the water!

The second group got into the water after dinner. It only sleeted on those of us waiting on the shore a little bit. Fortunately, neither of our groups saw the leopard seal that had been cruising by the boats earlier. Apparently they like to chew on the ends of the Zodiac boat pontoons. When I was going back up to my room after cleaning up the dive gear, I spotted one lounging on an iceberg in the bay on the other side of the station.

Answer 18: The Hero was the original supply ship for Palmer Station and the US Antarctic Program on the Peninsula.

Leopard seal basking on an iceberg at a distance (the way we like it!)

In the water (I am the one with the bright pink snorkel) getting ready to submerge.

Our first dive!

The R. V. Lawrence M. Gould leaving Palmer Station for its research cruise.

Islands course: Dr. Katrin Iken pressurizing the gas for the stove.

Islands Course: Putting up a clip system tent.

Rinsing off gear after our successful first dive! Andy Mahon is on the left.

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