At the southeastern tip of Anvers Island on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula is Palmer Station, a smattering of ramshackle buildings sitting on the rocky outcrop at the base of a large glacier. The station is named for Nathaniel B. Palmer, a highly skilled sealer famous for braving the southern seas in a forty-foot wooden boat. The United States claimed that he was the first to sight the mainland of Antarctica. However, there was a bit of competition for firsts between Great Britain, the U.S., and Russia. The Russians claimed that Thaddeus von Bellingshausen, searching for land near the pole, first saw the continent. The British claimed their Edward Bransfield to be the first. However, this three-way spat appeared to be more posturing for ego's sake than a close examination of the facts. A careful reading of Palmer's log reveals that the much-touted passage presumably describing a journey between Deception Island and the continent was actually a description of the journey between Livingston and Deception Islands. Ah, well, it was a nice thought. It is also interesting to notice that Palmer himself never claimed to be the first. Bransfield was the first to chart a portion of the mainland, but he didn't actually see it until three days after Bellingshausen (who, incidentally, encountered Palmer's ship in the fog during the sealer's journey to Deception Island). So the Russian claim is valid at last. Unfortunately, Bellingshausen had not found the good harbors he had sought in higher latitudes to boost Russian trading prospects, so his return home was little-noted.
During the austral summer, the Palmer Station compliment is in the vicinity of 37. This figure shrinks to 11 during the austral winter. The surrounding area harbors large numbers of elephant seals and penguins. The station can only be reached by sea, which entails a four-day journey across the infamous Drake Passage from Punta Arenas, Chile. Twin Otters used to fly into Palmer and land on the glacier until one crashed there, and the pilot was killed. Speaking of crashes, the station sits on Arthur Harbor, resting place of the Argentinian cruise ship Bahia Paraiso. The six-hundred-foot ship was sailing out of the harbor when it gashed its hull on a rocky outcropping not shown on the crew's charts. All were rescued, although wave action sent the ship and its two twenty-million-dollar helicopters to the harbor floor, upside-down.
Just a minor additional note about Palmer: the food is fantastic and the hospitality out of this world.
One of the biggest research activities taking place at the peninsula is the Long-Term Ecological Research Project (LTER), spearheaded by the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara . The project explores all aspects of the oceanic ecosystem with the intention of getting the big picture. For example, hydrographers study the currents, which carry the krill, which are studied by the marine biologists. The krill are the mainstay of the southern food chain. Chemists and microbiologists study the chemicals in the currents left behind by tiny marine animals that moved on to other locations. Bird studies are also performed in the area. Common flying birds are the black-browed albatross, pintados (also called cape petrels, cape pigeons, and checkers), snow petrels, blue-eyed shags (also called Imperial shags), and skuas, to name a few. There are also chinstrap and Adelie penguins.
The area also has a large number of All-Weather Stations (AWS's) which send data to satellites that can be retrieved when a satellite image is processed. Such data contains windspeeds, barometric pressure, air temperature, and a number of other useful pieces of information. These stations are maintained by the University of Wisconsin.
Palmer Station and the AARC
The satellite facility at Palmer Station sits in building T-5 farther up the hill than most of the other buildings, and getting back and forth to it during a storm can be an interesting experience. A technician from Raytheon Polar Services runs the SeaSpace TeraScan equipment used to collect and record the data. A pass is collected roughly every hour-and-a-half from both NOAA and DMSP satellites. The data is written in a TeraScan format to HP DAT tapes. Earlier 60m tapes held roughly 20 passes, but recently, they switched to 90m tapes, which hold up to 35 passes. The raw original data is then shipped to the AARC, which ingests the lists of satellite passes from each tape into the computer and stores the tapes for researchers' usage. The tapes are then copied for researchers, or small requests for selected passes can be fully processed and either ftp'd or written to tapes.
The earliest data available for Palmer Station is August 3, 1989. (McMurdo Station, located on the oppposite side of the continent, began collecting data in 1985.) There are roughly 18,000 satellite passes from Palmer currently in the archive. Palmer data collection covers the continent from the entire Antarctic Peninsula to just beyond the pole and Marie Byrd Land as well as about half of Queen Maud Land. Satellite passes near the edge of satellite coverage are usually of questionable quality as the passes can be cut off. The slack is picked up by McMurdo, which obtains full coverage of the pole. A few examples of what the satellite data is used for are as follows: sea surface temperatures, ice conditions and concentration, auroral oval images, large shelf ice calvings, and wind conditions. AWS data can be extracted from recorded NOAA passes and overlaid onto fully processed images, although the AARC only does this for small requests because of the labor-intensiveness of the procedure. Refer to "Contacts and Mailing Address" on the home page for information on obtaining data.