Goodbye Gould, Hello Palmer! : The Picture Show NPR science producer Jason Orfanon sends another dispatch from Antarctica.
NPR logo Goodbye Gould, Hello Palmer!

Goodbye Gould, Hello Palmer!

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: "@jorfanon." And view the whole series page.

By Jason Orfanon

On our last night on the Laurence M. Gould, a snow squall enveloped the ship, and visibility plummeted. Icebergs appeared — a sure sign that we were getting close to our destination. With a bank of powerful spotlights illuminating the sea in front of us, the helmsman guided us southward.

The snow stopped by early morning, and the sideways light of sunrise revealed spectacular walls of rock and ice on either side of us. The ship had finally reached Antarctica, and after a cruise through the scenic Neumayer Channel, we arrived at Palmer Station.

Established by the United States in 1965, Palmer is the only U.S. Antarctic station north of the Antarctic Circle. It's named after Nathaniel B. Palmer, a seal hunter, explorer and sea captain who is considered by many to be the first American to set eyes on the peninsula, sometime in the 1820s.

Today, Palmer Station is run by the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), the National Science Foundation-funded operation that makes science happen at the bottom of the world. The USAP is also responsible for America's two other year-round Antarctic research outposts, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and McMurdo Station.

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With our ship's arrival, the camp's population jumped from 30 to 35 people, tiny compared to the 1,000 or so who occupy McMurdo. And forget about commuting — everyone lives, works and spends their free time together in an area not much bigger than a high school campus. It makes for a wonderfully close-knit community.

The scientists here work six days a week — often seven — on a variety of polar projects. There's a seabird group (penguins!), a team looking at the water and the little things that live in it (phytoplankton!), a group getting ready to launch an autonomous underwater glider (robots!), and more (more!). And the support staff is equally interesting: cooks, carpenters, boating specialists, logistics experts, a doctor. Over the next three weeks, I'll be hanging out with all of them, learning about what they do and how they do it.

After unloading its cargo of fresh supplies for Palmer Station, the Laurence M. Gould cast off its lines and pulled away from the dock. As I watched it slowly chug away, the reality of my situation set in: For the next three weeks, Antarctica is my home.

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