Goodbye Antarctica, Hello Color And Culture Shock

Freeze Frame: Sights, Sounds And Science From The Bottom Of The World: NPR science producer Jason Orfanon guest blogs as he journeys to the Antarctic Peninsula. Keep up with him on Twitter at @jorfanon. And view the whole series page.

By Jason Orfanon

After more than three weeks in Antarctica, the first thing I noticed upon returning to Punta Arenas, Chile, was the color. My eyes had become accustomed to a muted palette of whites, blues and browns. Seeing so much green at once was overwhelming. From the wind-battered trees to the tiny flowering plants, my eyes soaked in the verdant shades all around me.

And the differences, of course, don't stop there.

The Laurence M. Gould. i i

hide captionNear Punta Arenas, Chile, a Magellanic penguin peeks out from the lush plant life. (Jason Orfanon/NPR)

The Laurence M. Gould.

Near Punta Arenas, Chile, a Magellanic penguin peeks out from the lush plant life. (Jason Orfanon/NPR)

The penguins near Punta Arenas, sturdy little Magellanics, scramble among grasses and thick undergrowth, occasionally disappearing into burrows dug into the earth. A short distance away, a flock of bright pink flamingos line the edges of a secluded wetland. And in the city, compact cars fill the streets and mobile phones squawk loudly. It all seems so odd.

I'm on a plane now, headed back to the United States, where I'm sure a whole new level of culture shock awaits. I can only imagine what it's like for the researchers and staff who spend an entire season — sometimes eight months or more — in Antarctica. Some Antarctic veterans say it takes time to adjust to going home. Others say you never really do. I guess I'll just have to see which camp I fall into.

The Laurence M. Gould. i i

hide captionA miniature world: a close-up shot of the tiny green and yellow plants growing in the fields outside Punta Arenas. (Jason Orfanon/NPR)

The Laurence M. Gould.

A miniature world: a close-up shot of the tiny green and yellow plants growing in the fields outside Punta Arenas. (Jason Orfanon/NPR)

I'd like to thank the National Science Foundation, the United States Antarctic Program, and the MBL's Logan Science Journalism Program for making this trip possible. And if not for the logistical talents of Raytheon and Agunsa, I'd probably still be wandering in the Santiago airport taking photos of toy penguins. I also owe a huge gracias to everyone aboard the Laurence M. Gould research and supply vessel for the ride to and from Antarctica.

I'd especially like to thank the amazing people of Palmer Station, who welcomed me into their little community at the bottom of the world. Their kindness, passion and knowledge helped me see Antarctica not only as a rugged and beautiful destination but also as a rapidly changing continent facing threats we're only beginning to understand.

Finally, I extend my thanks to you, Picture Show Readers, for joining me on this Antarctic adventure. I hope all of our paths cross again, on one frosty continent or another.

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