The P’s and Q’s of Going to Antarctica
Designing a research expedition in the Southern Ocean involves years of
preparation prior to the cruise. Each of the researchers involved have
been planning what equipment to ship down to Antarctica for months.
Everything must be considered, from figuring out how to pack the medium-sized remotely-operated vehicle IceCUBE to remembering to pack enough sample bottles for
40 days at sea. Research groups have been preparing packing lists since
the end of the previous cruise in July 2008 partly because shipments have to go out
early; it takes four to eight weeks for shipments to travel from the U.S.
to Punta Arenas, Chile.
March 6, 2009
Planning lab activities is not the only level of preparation necessary
before an Antarctic cruise. Unlike oceanographic cruises in other regions
of the world, every individual for this frosty mission went through a
series of medical tests to ensure they are healthy and able-bodied for the
additional stresses of working in polar waters. Extreme cold, a dry desert
climate, biting winds, rolling seas, and long work-hours all lead to wear
and tear on one’s body during a research expedition, so every participant
undergoes a “physical qualification,” or “PQ” process. We all
reached PQ status by completing dental and physical examinations, with
appointments scheduled months in advance (most appointments were in
December or January for this March cruise).
Equipment design and testing has been ongoing since the first iceberg
cruise to the Southern Ocean in 2005. Not long after returning from
Antarctica last July, engineers Alana Sherman, Paul McGill, and Brett Hobson began developing systems for this mission. Kim Reisenbichler, Craig Dawe,
and Jake Ellena have spent many hours and taken courses on flying
remote-controlled airplanes in preparation for using these instruments to
deliver GPS tracking units onto the icebergs.
Finally, traveling by air from the United States to Punta Arenas, Chile,
takes more than 24 hours. All of this preparation was necessary to embark
on a cruise for 40 days of important, pertinent research in one of the most
unknown environments in the world.
— Amanda Kahn