Carlini/Dallmann Station, King George Island, South Shetlands Islands.
Lat: 62° 13’ S, Long: 58° 40’ W.
Wind: 24 Knt W, Temp: 1° C (8 AM)
An early start to our field trip to shore today, a visit to the Argentine station in Potter Cove (Bay, I heard it said both ways today). Built in 1951 as a year-round station for Argentinian scientists, it was open for full operations in the 1953-54 austral (southern hemisphere) summer science season. It was originally called Giovanni Station, but was renamed in 2012 as Carlini Station, after a prominent scientist Dr. Alejandro R. Carlini. Officially, this station is part of King George Island, which is in the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica.
This entire region is a hot spot of human activity and more accessible by ships than trying to sail to the other side of Antarctica. In addition to all of the other projects going on here, King George Island has the longest running penguin study in the world, more than 20 years! This is an area with breeding Gentoo Adelie, and Chinstrap penguins, so it is perfect for a comparative study of these species and how they breed and feed.
When we crossed over 60 degrees south latitude after the Drake Passage, we had officially entered the Antarctic Region. We had also crossed the Antarctic convergence zone, which is a natural boundary that varies in latitude depending on the season. It is an area that circles Antarctica where the cold, north-flowing Antarctic waters blend with the warmer waters of the sub Antarctic region. The colder waters (for the most part) sink below the sub Antarctic waters and this creates a zone of high marine productivity, especially for Antarctic krill…a critical foundation of the Antarctic food web. Penguins and other marine animals depend on krill.
This small station of about 46 people (last summer’s count) was also a winter-over home to 28 people last winter. This is a remote and isolated place…it would be hard to winter-over, but those who had expressed many positives about this experience. There are 9 other bases which are in this general area, but we couldn’t see any of them from Potter Cove. Some of the countries with bases here include Uruguay, China, Holland, and Chile. In all, 29 countries have bases in Antarctica.
Here at 62 degrees south latitude, summer sun shines almost 24 hours a day. In the winter, our guide at Carlini told us that there is about 2 hours of daylight. It would be totally dark at 66 degrees south. The dark and cold certainly isn’t for everyone!
The large landform visible from not only our ship, but I’m sure much farther away, is called the Three Sisters. It is an incredibly imposing feature of this stark white landscape.
The photo below shows part of the weather station on base.
They also have a laboratory exclusively for meteorology. This might be a smaller base, but we learned that certainly there is a LOT going on here year round.
We received a very warm welcome from our Argentinian hosts. There are also German scientists working here, and actually making up half of the population on base. Back home these German scientists are based at the Alfred Wegener Institute.
One of the guides on our ship translated between our group and our Argentinian guide working at Carlini. It really helped make the visit an impressive landing stop today. We were able to learn a lot of details about life at Carlini, and ask lots of questions in return.
Our tour of Carlini Station lasted about two hours. Snow had melted around the base and we were able to walk on the well-worn rocky pathways.
Here a few logistical facts about Carlini Station:
** the base has several supply depots
** there is a cinema and a gym
** there is a medical building and one doctor for the base
** If an emergency occurs, there is a small landing strip and evacuation can take place to the Chilean Station, which is one and a half hours away
** the large dormitory looked quite new
** the water supply comes to the base through pipes from a nearby island; it is meltwater from a glacier and is purified/filtered when it reaches Carlini Station
** sewage (human waste) goes to a septic chamber where it is treated; solid human waste is removed from the island when the resupply ship comes each year
** speaking of the re-supply ship, it also takes the trash from the base back to Argentina each year; there is a manager that oversees the sorting of trash into various categories
** the giant golf ball-like structure protects sensitive communications equipment; look for the tiny mountain top sticking out of the snow/ice far off on the right of the photo…that’s called a nunatuk (this one is named Yamuna); that term is for the tippy top of mountains that stick out of the snow and ice; they don’t look like much, but there’s a LOT of mountain underneath that snow!
** no weapons are allowed at the station
** an incinerator on the base gets rid of the paper cardboard, and food waste
** Argentina has been involved in exploration and science in the Antarctic Peninsula region for over 100 years
** the base has diesel fuel tanks that are resupplied each year
** helicopter operations help transfer containers, gear, and supplies
My favorite part of today’s landing was talking with scientists who work at Carlini Station. Only THREE women are at the station at the moment, with another arriving soon. Carolina, one of the women at the base, says she loves to work at this site. This is her third campaign (time) at Carlini Station. She has gotten a lot of support from her family, encouraging her in the work that she loves. She stays connected using email, Skype audio and even WhatsApp. Ten years from now she would like to be back here to study, building on her research because she still has a lot of questions. We asked about the challenges of working here. She told us that weather plays an important role…but she loves the changes in the weather. Another challenge…working with a boat. They use zodiacs to go out into Potter Cover and get samples.
There are 6 divers taking part in marine science, three from Argentina and three from Germany. They mostly take their samples from Potter Cove, and also deploy some underwater gadgets that collect data. It takes them about 30 minutes to deploy their equipment and then the time to return to base. The bay is rather shallow at 10-50 meters in depth. Someone from our group asked about the algae in the region. Most common are red and brown algae, and green is not common at all. If you look back at my blog from yesterday, you can see some examples of the brown and red algae. Scientists also study micro algae.
One of the scientists, Morits Holtappeals from Germany, told us that this is his first campaign to Carlini and he doesn’t want to leave. He says he is curious and all of his research is curiosity driven. Morits studies how nature (the fauna) has adapted to the physical environment. In his work he can see the effect of climate change is more evident in polar regions. He’s also worked in the Arctic, where rapidly changing ice is having a great impact on the fauna.
Morits explained that the rate of melt is increasing, and scientists are measuring, recording, examining and sharing all of the data with colleagues. They want to know when the glacier is calving (ice falling into the sea) and how it is calving. The friendship and cooperation between the German and Argentinian colleagues at this station was very evident. Several times today scientists told us that they enjoy their colleagues, and have a lot of fun together. They watch movies, and many of them play multi-player computer games. We also saw some video footage of them playing soccer, and they spend time at the gym. It seems like life at this station is very happy. Science and cooperation in action!
Other scientists study the exchange of oxygen between the sediments and organisms. They use equipment to record oxygen flux in the water column, the velocity and oxygen production. Data is collected day and night.
The last scientist we met with today, Paolo, is studying the melting glaciers which carry sediment. Scientists know that this impacts and increases the turbidity (clear water vs. water with a lot of sediments). Paolo processes water samples he takes at 5 different depths. He checks the acidity and also looks for elements. The long-term study of water is important research. Paolo also studies the glaciers. Right now they are melting fast, and without much snow in the winter months the size of the glaciers is diminishing.
Photos from Paolo’s laboratory…
Some other science projects include:
** a mammal census (I know there are dolphins and seals in this area)
** measurements of the glaciers
** a seismograph station
** four laboratories which are for studies of water samples, a fish lab, a chemical lab, and one more where they study the micro algae, and so much more!
Cool vehicles of the station include modified ATV’s (all-terrain vehicles), snowmobiles, and some small bulldozers for moving equipment and supplies. There might have been more, but I didn’t see them because our tour was confined to one area of the station.
The Argentinians showed us fabulous hospitality and served a light snack, coffee/tea and cookies. A video about life at the station topped off our visit. While we had been on the tour of the station, our expedition leader, Greg, had been in the station stamping all of our passports to document our visit. Just imagine stamping all of the passports in the photo below!
The time had flown by and soon we were headed back to our ship. The wind had really picked up and the cove had gotten very rough, with choppy waves making it more difficult. Our ride back to the Ushuaia was wild…lots of waves to ride over!
This evening we entered a part of the Southern Ocean and icebergs started to dominate our view. I cannot express how stunning these are and how it feels to be in such a wild place in nature. Breathtaking icebergs all evening!! I’ll share some photos tomorrow!
Dag Hammarskjold said, “Here man is no longer the center of the world, only a witness, but a witness who is also a partner in the silent life of nature, bound by secret affinities to the trees.” Instead of trees, tonight I’d add ICEBERGS! These giants surrounded us, and were a beautiful, peaceful, powerful sight. More of those to come from now on! I can’t wait! We have entered the Antarctic Peninsula and now see the land of the continent. Stay tuned for more photos and information tomorrow. PINCH ME…this is amazing!
Thanks to all of the people at Carlini Station for welcoming us into their home away from home and for a glimpse of their scientific research.