I am really beginning to believe that we will never be able to leave. For the past three days it has been beautiful: sunny, cold, and dead calm. A high-pressure system has parked over us and nothing has changed.
So, why is there so much ice along the western Antarctic Peninsula this season if the region is warming at 5X the global average? Well, one hypothesis is that because the glaciers are producing more melt water, the surface ocean is freezing at higher temperatures and is forming fast ice along the coast. The ice that we are stuck in now is likely fast ice from Graham Land that let loose during the gale that blew from the south, creating the rough conditions that we experienced in the Bransfield Strait last week.
To protect ourselves from the pressure of the ice, we are tied up at the pier at Palmer Station. Here is a photo of the ship from yesterday. As you can see beyond the ship, there is a lot of sea ice. If you want to check out Palmer Station and the ship, and be the first to know if we are leaving, you can check out the Palmer Station webcam. It updates quite often and gives a good view of the station.
Here are two images of our region. The first image is a radar image from two days ago. Radar images are hard to get these days, due the loss of Envistat, the European Space Agency’s environmental observing satellite, earlier this year. I have marked the location of Anvers Island, Palmer Station, and the Gerlache Strait on this image. As you can see, there is sea ice all around the southern end of Anvers Island but the Gerlache Strait is open. If only we could get there. Remember, we burned 1 day of fuel going 1.5 miles from Palmer Station and the Gould is ice strengthened, but not an ice breaker.
The image below is a MODIS visible light satellite image from yesterday that we got from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Because it has been so clear for the past few days, we can actually see the sea ice, rather than just clouds.
So, we continue to watch and wait. We just completed the Palmer Station cargo operations and the Palmer scientists are putting the finishing touches on their experiments. If we leave today, we may be able to get some science done. We have all of the coring equipment set up and secured on the back deck. We have the water sampling equipment staged in the labs. We have cleaned the labs. So now, we wait.
Waiting is frustrating because we want to be doing science, but it isn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of things. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be stuck in one of the most beautiful and remote places on earth with people who cook for you, glacier hiking, and more movies than you could possibly watch in a year (note: we have not watched Endurance yet). Yesterday, the science party went up to the Palmer Station kitchen where we helped to prepare 33 pizzas for the “Crosstown” Pizza dinner. The Science party, technicians, and the ship’s captain and mates ate pizza, salad, and ice cream with the Palmer Station crew.
After dinner, Brad, Gene, Dianna, and I suited up in cold weather gear and put on our snowshoes for an evening trek up the glacier. Gene took the opportunity to point out some things about the glacier that have changed since he has been coming to Palmer Station. For example, the calving front of the glacier used to be perpendicular to the water. Now that the calving front is firmly in the ablation zone (Science alert: the region of the glacier where ice begins to melt), we can see crevasses forming, and meltwater tunnels at the calving face; the calving face now looks as if it is tilting backward, rather than perpendicular to the water because of the ice loss in the ablation zone.
Here are some photos from last night. The first one is looking out to East to the Antarctic Peninsula from the top of the glacier above Palmer Station. As you can see, there is no open water there.
If you turn 90 degrees to the right, this is the view that you see… and here is yet another photo of Palmer Station and the Gould from the top of the glacier. As you can see, there is no open water (do I sound like a broken record?).
We just got the following status update from our intrepid chief scientist:
Hi All just to let you all know where we stand in our discussions about exiting Palmer Station. This AM we met to discuss the status of the ice, given a new set of images and the weather we have been having. It is the unanimous opinion that to attempt to leave the pier at Palmer would not only be futile in terms of getting to open water, but would potentially present a dangerous situation for the vessel if we become locked in and drift with the pack. Just in the last 24 hours the pack ice has doubled back on itself, mushroomed so to speak, under a persistent push from the south. Winds are non existent out of any direction in our immediate vicinity, and the temps continue to be well below freezing (ie. -7.0 degrees right now). The Gould is not capable of making way in such ice–which has only gotten worse since we hightailed it back in here a few days ago. So please sit tight and continue to be supportive of each other. thank you Gene