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Dispatches from an Antarctic Co-op: Our Backyard

About Me

My name is Jake Grondin. I’m a rising junior in the College of Science, majoring in Biology, with minors in Physics and Math. I am one of two co-ops currently residing at Palmer Station, Antarctica working in Professor Bill Detrich’s lab. In this blog I am sharing my experiences on this incredible continent, and I hope you will continue to read along.

This co-op is one of the reasons I came to Northeastern, and I’ll start by saying it is most definitely not for everyone. As a research assistant, I work in the labs and stay on station through the Antarctic winter. Even though I’ve only been here for a short time, Palmer Station has become a very special place to me, and I am thrilled to be able to share this continent with the rest of the University and beyond.

If you haven’t already, read Jake’s previous posts here:

A day in the life

An intro to Maggie

Boating

Science!

Mid-winter greetings

When we don’t work

Station Living

The Journey South

 

As many of you know, Palmer Station lies on Anvers Island just off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. We are built to overlook the Hero Inlet on the south side of the island, making the rest of the island our very own backyard. Much like our boating area’s limits are marked, so is our backyard. With limited staff and facilities (and daylight hours), venturing too close to any crevasse is far too dangerous. As a result, our hiking escapades are reserved for the glacier directly behind station, and the rocky paths leading to it.

In order to actually venture off Palmer station by land, much like boating, all parties must sign out. Instead of frequent check ins like with boating, however, hiking in the backyard just requires accurate estimations of return times in case anything does go awry, and communication with station is expected.

Backyard

Technically, what we refer to as our actual backyard is just the culmination of rocky paths leading to the glacier. Almost entirely filled with snow this time of year, it blends quite nicely with the glacier itself. The Backyard takes its adventurers to shorelines, incredibly scenic views of wildlife (mainly seals), the surrounding glacial cliffs, and nearby islands. It also contains some radio and satellite equipment, as well as both rec huts, where people can sleep for a night! I have yet to give it a try but I will be soon!

These views are honestly quite bittersweet. Veterans of the station shared with me that they remember times when the glacier used to extend far more into the Backyard than it does now, and I am constantly reminded that what I am thinking is a beautiful new formation was actually made as a result of global warming in our area.

Years ago, the glacier used to extend to where I am taking the picture from. Although the view is beautiful, it stands a testament to how much ice has actually melted due to global warming. Photo by Jake Grondin

Glacier

The glacier presses onward further beyond the Backyard. It has a higher point and can be used for skiing, snowshoeing, sightseeing, and even runs. One man I used to work with, Dr. John Postlethwait of the University of Oregon has actually run two marathons on the top of the glacier, a feat I could never even dream of!

The glacier also has a couple other spots of shore that can be reached by traversing the sides and back. The minimum distance required from any shoreline is marked with flags, as glaciers are quite unpredictable and can calve at any moment. I am hoping to get some skiing in before I leave as well!

A nice hike up the glacier to watch the sun set.

My favorite part of the glacier are the vistas it provides. It opens up the mountain range on the Antarctic Peninsula for viewing, and on a clear day you can look out for miles and miles, seeing the entire boating area with relative ease. The pictures do not do it justice!

These mountains are the range on the Peninsula itself. You can see quite far on a clear day!

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