Saying Goodbye To Palmer Station

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

A leopard seal yawns x.

A leopard seal yawns while relaxing on a floating chunk of ice. These large predators eat penguins, squid, and fish, as well as krill. (Jason Orfanon/NPR) hide caption

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The last few days at Palmer Station were a blur of activity: visits with leopard seals, hatching penguin chicks, last minute holiday shopping at the Palmer Station gift shop (aka Pal*Mart), packing up all my Antarctic possessions and many difficult goodbyes to the friends I had come to know over the past three weeks. But it wasn't until I was on the boat that it really hit me: I was leaving Antarctica.

It takes a special type of person to live and work in Antarctica, thousands of miles from home. And it isn't easy: there's limited privacy, harsh weather, long working hours, and few, if any, places to escape when you need a break. But there are also many reasons to love it here. Beyond the breathtaking wildlife and scenery, the important climate change research, and the excitement of living and working in such an extreme locale, it's the kindness of the people that really makes this place so remarkable.

The Laurence M. Gould. i

The Laurence M. Gould returns to Palmer Station to pick up passengers for the long ride back to Chile through the Drake Passage. (Jason Orfanon/NPR) hide caption

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The Laurence M. Gould.

The Laurence M. Gould returns to Palmer Station to pick up passengers for the long ride back to Chile through the Drake Passage. (Jason Orfanon/NPR)

As our boat departed early in the morning, residents of Palmer Station — staff and scientists alike — lined up on the dock, and gave us the kindest sendoff I could've imagined: they plunged into the icy water below to wish us easy passage through the Drake. It's a tradition at Palmer Station whenever one of their own leaves the station.

Sitting now on the rocking, swaying deck of the Laurence M. Gould, pitching our way northward through a not-so-easy Drake Passage, I wish I could've stayed at Palmer Station for the rest of the season. Like the researchers and staff who return year after year, Antarctica now has its hooks in me too. Who knows if I'll ever have a chance to return — so few people ever get to come here — but I'm going to try. After all, now we're family.

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