Dan Weinstein - September, 1996

    From: Dan Weinstein, Palmer Station

As we write in the Teacher's Guide the science done in the Antarctic critically depends upon the support teams who keep the Zodiacs in shape, staff the labs, cook the food, and keep the scientists in touch with their universities back home.

Dan Weinstein is a "GA", General Assistant, working for Antarctic Support Associates, ASA, which is NSF's contractor for all logisitics and support activities in the Antarctic. He's been at Palmer since summer 1996, and he's going to be working with the LFA 2 team during the upcoming live broadcasts.

This Journal is eloquent testimony to the presence in the Antarctic of a variety of people with varied experiences who make up the USAP. It also shows that along with very hard work and sometimes dangerous circumstances, the Antarctic invites its visitors to reflect deeply upon the paths which led them here, and express themselves, in diaries and in letters to others,in ways that are as much literature as "journal-ism".


Thu, 29 Aug 1996

Telephoto shot of duke at dock in Punta Arenas.

We left Punta Arenas six hours ago. We should be coming to the end of the strait of Magellan. I had the good fortune of being assigned the "V" berth (for those unfamiliar with life on board, it's the worst possible location for sleeping quarters, it's where the motion of the ship is felt the most).

In about 15 hours we will be crossing the Drake Passage: one of the most treacherous journeys at sea. I'm looking forward to it. Meeting at 7. By the way, it's 6:15, we're still in protected waters.

Fri, 30 Aug 1996
En route to Antarctica. Tonight at midnight we'll pass 60 degrees South. We're crossing Drake's Passage.

Polar Duke passing in Southern ocean.

Sat, 31 Aug 1996
We're having a great passage. Seas have been very calm. I feel like going around and hanging out. I better not. Rest.

Sun, 1 Sep 1996 5:20 am
I woke up to the sound of ice breaking. It must have been thin. I looked out the porthole and we were surrounded by ice, not even but fragmented. Now it's raining, or snowing or both.

"Before one can command nature, one must learn to obey it." "In knowledge there is much grief; he that increases his knowledge, increases his sorrow."
from (Umberto Eco's novel) "The Name of the Rose".

The water is the deepest blue and fragments of ice float past us as we slowly make our way against the polar wind. Our first iceberg: I didn't know they were so blue, the clearest blue, the most beautiful blue. We could not land at the Copacabana base. We went instead to the Polish station and left a crate full of frozen goods. I was part of the landing party. The Polar Duke stopped at about 300 yards from shore and a Zodiac was lowered in the water. We made our way through soft ice and the water was very clear. I could see the bottom of pebbles and rocks.

We started unloading the boxes right onto the snow and then the Poles started to come out. They were readying an amphibious vehicle but we told them it wouldn't be needed. The Poles were dying to give us a tour of their base and chat with us, but we were pressed with time.

Snow was up to my knees right on the edge of the water, box after box, unloading. Then we climbed back on to our inflatable boat. We told them we would try to make a second trip with some fresh veggies for them. We had to push our way with oars and ice sticks since the ice had closed up behind us. Cold? Nah, I was hot. We were wearing these Mustang suits that are impenetrable by water or cold. I could have gone to the moon in one of these.

Back to the Polar Duke, we got the freshies (fresh vegetables), one more run. We threw our bow line to shore. The ice seemed worse this time, so we didn't come to shore. The guys wanted us to come ashore and visit their station. They wanted to talk to us badly, they didn't want to take no for an answer. We couldn't go, we pushed off, we shook hands, we promised we'd be back in 10 days or so.

I think they would probably be happy with the fresh vegetables later on, but at the time they didn't seem to care, they wanted new faces to talk to more than anything else.

Mon, 2 Sep 1996
We've been navigating all morning in a beautiful strait, surrounded by mountains, negotiating icebergs. The sun was out a bit, casting a bright glow over the mountain tops and snow covered valleys. They just launched a probe that measures salinity, temperature and I think fluorescence. They let it down to a depth of 500 meters. They're now bringing it back up taking some samples. We're moving again through ice, large slabs fragments covering the entire surface of the water.

Arched iceberg.

Yesterday, on the way back from the Polish station, there were some penguins swimming. They are wonderful swimmers and they come out of the water and draw arches in the air like dolphins do. They are pretty fast.

Fri, 6 Sep 1996 20:18:43 -0500
Today I worked very hard. I'd tell you but my eyes are closing. It's very beautiful around here. Icebergs are blue. We have a glacier in our backyard. There are low mountains all around us. It's still winter.

Sat, 7 Sep 1996 21:10:12 -0500
Palmer is a small station. At maximum capacity it supports 43 people. Everything on the station is geared for scientific research. There are at least 8 different labs that I counted, with microscopes, refrigerators galore to keep cultures at different temps, an autoclave, radioactive stuff, filters that gather bacteria from the sea water, etc., etc. In order to support all this, you have high power requirements. The base is a huge power plant, with primary generators, secondary generators, emergency generators, huge fuel tanks, boilers, emergency boilers, desalinators ( two sources for drinking water, sea water, and the glacier), secured storage areas for chemicals separated as hazardous, flammable, volatiles, goodness knows what else, all of which have specific temperature ranges at which they are kept, pumps, oil pipes, electrical wiring, satellite communications (antennas, radios everywhere); tractors, forklifts, heavy duty stuff, machines galore, inflatable boats, outboards, air compressor (for the SCUBA diving) and all the paraphernalia needed to support these things.

There is a lot of research being done, and everything done here is performed with the strictest standards of safety and environmental concerns. No waste is disposed of in Antarctica, it's all shipped back. In sum, in some respects, I feel like I'm living in this high tech outpost, in others, I feel like I'm living in a power plant, or a factory or an industrial shop of some sort.

The work:
Work is hard. It's long hours, from 7:30 to 5:30, 6 days a wk. plus sometimes you do extra things after hours. The type of work varies greatly, but none of it is glamorous. For instance, a new fuel pipe line has to be laid out for a new boiler. We had to crawl under one of the buildings, with only 4 feet clearance. Then lying on a thick sheet of ice, we had to drill holes on the steel beams that support the structure. I've cut struts, pipes, bolts, etc.; monitored the refueling of the base (a whole operation, when you consider all the safety measures to avoid spills, even a drop, and to minimize the impact on the environment).

All of this is a great experience for me. I don't even know how to operate a drill, I don't even know the names of tools. So it's kind of fun, plus the good thing about manual labor is that when you're done, you see the result of your work standing up in front of your eyes. Of course, I haven't changed, I still enjoy the contemplative life much more than any other endeavor, but heck, a man should experience all sorts of productive activities in his pursuit of early retirement.

Two Polar Duke crewmen aft in Zodiac.

Yesterday we had our boating training. Everyone needs to get certified to operate these Zodiac boats, so that we can take them out for scientific expeditions or for fun. We practiced how to make a landing, how to break through ice and how much thickness the outboard can handle, we learned to navigate around icebergs, how many of them have shallow shelves underwater, etc. We were given a tour of the surrounding area, learning the names of the islands, learning where to find the survival gear, in case we get stranded on one of them. We learned how to operate the radio and stayed in communication with the base, etc.

Today, I hiked up to the glacier we have in our backyard. The visibility was very poor because it was blowing 30 knots, and snowing, but I got an idea of our surroundings. The base is on an island off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. There are mountains and islands all around us. It's a beautiful place, and the landscape and the life around us changes dramatically with the seasons.

Icebergs are blue, and in some of the cracks where light filters through it's the bluest most beautiful blue. The surface seems chiseled like the beginning of a sculpture, and the walls rise vertically from the coldest waters of the world. The face of the glacier is also blue, like a wall of giant sapphires with a myriad faces. Snow covers most of the hard crystal edges of this strange land in soft white , and the horizon is framed by white lofty peaks faces and rocky shores.

Sat, 14 Sep 1996 23:54:18 -0500
The ice came back. For a few days, the wind had blown all the ice around us out to sea. We are now surrounded by pancake ice cut neatly like Georgia O'Keefe's painting.

Mon, 16 Sep 1996 07:31:13 -0500
I went out at midnight and snow was falling gently. I looked down at the softness of the ground. My boots were sinking deeply, slowly into the fresh new snow. My footsteps from the 10 o'clock round had been erased.

I thought how time also falls gently on the ground of memories until our past is untraceable. Our memories fade and soften and whiten, under the constant snowing of time. We remember where we've been, and what we've done. Yet, never will I see again the deep marks that life just made on the fresh snow of my heart.

After the deep thoughts, I had to take the meter readings on the Caterpillars out here, so I was going from one tractor to another, and my gloved hands, and the cold, and me grumbling about this and that, all of a sudden I noticed my small personal dear flashlight was missing. It was a maglite for which I paid dearly in Nairobi to replace the maglite I had lost up on Mt. Kilimanjaro. So, I figured, no biggy, the two tractors were parked right next to each other, and I had to have had the flashlight to read the meter on the previous tractor (duly recorded, as I verified). To make a long story even longer, I spent an hour looking for the darned flashlight . You can't imagine how upset I was. Particularly after all those deep thoughts about the snow, and time and erasing memories, and covering this and that.

Anyway, I found it and I'm back to my cheerful self. The moral of the story I suppose is that it doesn't matter if our history is fabled by the daughters of memory (James Joyce quoting some other geezer) or if our memories fade or are covered by heavy down blankets. I can always retrace my steps, however many times as needed, I can always walk back to where I've been made happy.

Sat, 21 Sep 1996 21:34:29 -0500
I've been a lot busier these days during my night watch. I've been sanding and painting panels for the bathroom project. I liked that project cause the carp shop is relatively quiet, and I could put on my Walkman.

I listen to Bach's entire Mass in B minor in one sitting. There goes my arm in circular motion with a piece of steel wool against the white enamel over and over. My thoughts: God is the most noble of man's creations.

Then during a break I picked up an old issue of National Geographic about some Buddhist monks in Japan creating a stone (or sand or sculpture, can't remember) garden. It said something about how repetitive tasks were a vehicle for meditation.

Meanwhile, in the Aquarium, Greg Wardle was dissecting some of those snail like things from the sea. He had to separate guts, shell reproductive organs, rest of the body, two pins, scalpel, painstakingly slow. He had done a dozen of them in an hour an a half. He had 60 more to go, and it was past midnight. As I was looking over his shoulder he said "Biology breaks down into the most tedious tasks."

Tue, 24 Sep 1996 08:07:19 -0500
Sid is studying the incidence of UVB rays on the gestation of sea stars. During my midnight round I see Sid looking through the microscope at tiny orange eggs. He's recording the approximate time at which they hatch.

I take a look. There are two embryos right under the lens, the one on the left looks still. Its orange core is surrounded by a film of a transparent substance (the shell). The other embryo is swirling around amazingly fast, free of the shell, it has already hatched. I see other embryos. There is one in the process of hatching. It develops a small protuberance like a fist trying to punch its way out of the shell.

Groups of these embryos had been put back in the field at various depths. Sid's experiment is to see if embryos in shallower water and therefore more exposed to UV rays showed a slower rate of growth. At the same time, the feeling seems to be that all these organisms have shown a remarkable degree of adaptation to the higher levels of ultraviolet rays.

Here is where I would normally take the empirical bit of evidence and expand it beyond its natural implications to make some philosophical statement about human life. Tonight, I will spare you.

Sun, 29 Sep 1996 07:29:18 -0500
The Polar Duke is coming to town. They were actually here this eve but it was too windy (40, 50 knots) so they couldn't dock. They're out there in the bay somewhere hanging out until the winds abate.

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