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Dispatches from an Antarctic co-op: Station Living

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 post here!

Station Living

Now that I’m acclimated to station living, I’d like to share how the station operates. Palmer is open year round and has a peak population of about 40 people, with the winter crew (June to October) dropping to about 20. Its purpose is scientific research and it is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Our station consists of scientists and support staff, whose jobs revolve around keeping the station up and running, providing upgrades, and aiding in the science that happens here. Support staff works Monday-Saturday, 7:30am-5:30pm. Scientists follow a more or less similar schedule, but we often will work Sunday as well, depending on our research. Since arriving, Maggie and I have not yet had a day off!

The galley at Palmer Station, Antarctica. Photo by Jake Grondin.

Meals

One of the 20 people who stay with us this winter is our chef, Kristin. She cooks us lunch and dinner and provides us with small snacks at both 10am and 3pm. She typically prepares a couple options, making sure to account for any dietary restrictions among the population. One of the first things people always ask about is the food here, and I can say with confidence that Kristin’s cooking is as good if not better than (sorry) my mom’s (it’s phenomenal). We all eat in the galley (pictured) at designated times, and everyone cleans up their own dishes. We do not have any sort of janitorial staff, so we are all required to scrub our dishes and run them through the sanitizer. All leftovers are put in a large leftover fridge for anyone to consume, especially on Sundays when Kristin is off!

Cleaning

Once a week, we are also expected to “GASH.” This means that a group of about 5 people scrub the tables, vacuum the galley, and prepare the kitchen for the next day’s meals. It usually takes about an hour, and participants rotate daily. On Saturdays, everyone gathers for a station meeting at 1pm, and at 2pm we begin “House Mouse” where everyone is assigned a location throughout station to deep clean. This can be bathrooms, the lounge, the gym, labs, etc. This is usually a more thorough job than GASH, and marks the midway point of work on Saturdays.

A dormitory room in the GWR building at Palmer Station, Antarctica. Photo by Jake Grondin.

Housing

Station has two main buildings, GWR and BioLab. You can live in either housing option. BioLab houses the labs, galley, and office spaces, while GWR houses the gym, lounge, and store. I live in GWR (pictured) and everyone here has a roommate. For a size reference, it’s a bit smaller than a room in Stetson East, and all beds are bunked. We have communal bathrooms and a luxurious lounge on the same floor as well (pictured). I’ll talk more about the lounge and gym in a recreation post a bit later!

The lounge at Palmer Station, Antarctica. Photo by Jake Grondin.

Weather

The last thing I’d especially like to mention is the weather down here, which heavily influences what can and can’t be done on station. It actually doesn’t get as cold as you probably think, with the average temperature sitting at about 25 degrees (as of now, the start of winter). The real kicker is the winds. With 25 knot winds being relatively common, it can far exceed 40 knots and we are often hit with quite intense windstorms. Therefore, every day requires bundling up with ECW (Extra Cold Weather Gear) which is supplied: hats, boots, and usually 2 layers. It snows on average about every other day and the gangways that connect all of our building are swept off as part of everyone’s daily responsibilities.

Daylight also takes some getting used to. The sun typically rises at around 11:30am, getting later and later until the winter solstice, and sets at about 4pm. This means that lunchtime and our 3pm snack are really the only times we see daylight. However, this intense weather does often leave us with beautiful days, where we can embark on hiking trips, skiing, fishing, and boating. All will be discussed later so I’ll leave you wondering for now!

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