Antarctica 2009 Expedition

Life on the Ship


After being cleared for customs, the science groups were allowed off the ship late last night.

Pilot boats

A pilot boat approached the ship in the afternoon and transferred a pilot from the small vessel onto the ship.

Portable laboratories

When it was built in 1992, the Nathaniel B. Palmer was designed to accommodate a wide range of scientific research.


As we cross through the roughest water yet on the cruise, science groups made sure to prepare equipment and themselves for the stormy Drake Passage.

Engine room procedures

The engine room, located below the main deck and below the water line, houses the engines, generators, freshwater distillers, wastewater processing, and other essential ship machinery.

Inner workings

Four 3,000-hp diesel engines power the 93.9-meter-long ship. The Palmer typically runs on two engines in open water, though some activities, such as breaking heavy ice or maneuvering into port, require more or less engine output.

Long sunsets

Sunrises and sunsets last longer in polar regions.

Drinking water

As part of being self-contained, the Palmer generates its own fresh drinking water from seawater.

Wastewater and plumbing

Our first introduction to the wastewater system on the Palmer was the extremely loud flush of the ship’s toilets.

Rushing to be ready for the cruise

Visiting Antarctic waters is a rare opportunity; for weeks in advance, the science team prepared for the upcoming two-month hiatus from ordinary life in various ways.

Preserving perishables

When the cruise began, each meal included a salad bar stocked with fresh pineapple, carrots, mango, avocado, melon slices, radishes, and a variety of greens.

What does it take to be an icebreaker?

This photo, taken while the Palmer was in dry dock, shows the ship's massive propellers and rudders, which are protected from backing into ice by an ice knife above.

Support staff

Land-based involvement in this cruise has been invaluable, but this post will focus on those who are on the cruise with us. The onboard support staff from RPSC accommodate the science that needs to be done while considering the realities of being at sea.

Multiple hats

The number of science crew the Palmer can accommodate is fewer than the number of positions available for the science teams. Some people wear multiple hats, participating with multiple science groups or lending a hand where needed.

Bringing a little bit of home

Forty days is a long time to be away from home; people onboard had to leave husbands, wives, children, and friends behind. We have been at sea for 26 days now, but many people are still comforted by mementos from home.

Venturing outdoors

Preparing to go outside of the ship’s heated interior takes a considerable amount of time. Most indoor areas are heated to 20ºC or higher, while outside temperatures are typically around 0ºC.

Long workdays and long vacations

Support staff from Raytheon Polar Services Corporation (RPSC) help scientists with the ship’s logistics, science equipment, chemicals, labs, computers, and electronics.

Planning the science

Ben Twining and Maria Vernet study data plots to plan their sampling schedules.

Sensing through the fog

As we travel across the Weddell Sea toward iceberg TK-231, the bridge is monitoring the surrounding area for other, smaller icebergs we may pass by.

The bridge's role in deployments

Captain Mike Watson and the mates of the Palmer have been integral to the science being conducted on this cruise.

Food preparation

A galley crew of three—Alejandra Monje Miranda, Antonio Ford, and Lorenzo Sandoval—is responsible for preparing five hot meals a day for 70 people. Meals must accommodate many different eating styles, including vegetarian and regional eating preferences.

Ready for any weather

A large storm is building west of the Drake Passage and may soon intercept our course. We are finishing up the last bit of surface mapping on iceberg C-18A tonight and will set out early tomorrow morning for the next iceberg in the center of the Weddell Sea.

Food storage

Going grocery shopping is a weekly activity on land. At sea, grocery shopping happens one time: before departing from port. Chefs Alejandra Monje Miranda and Antonio Ford stock the Palmer’s galley while in Punta Arenas.

Staying hydrated

During one of the first safety meetings, Stian Alesandrini, our Marine Projects Coordinator and a trained EMT, warned that the most common health problem on Antarctic cruises is dehydration.

A day of sorting

A day of processing MOCNESS trawl samples is a full day indeed. Ron Kaufmann’s team, which includes Dani Garcia, Mike Fox, Larry Lovell, Rob Sherlock, and Stephanie Bush, has a long day of work when MOCNESS samples are collected.

Deck work

For humans, the Southern Ocean is an inhospitable place: the water temperature is at or below freezing (between -1.6 and 0 degrees C is common), air temperature and wind chill can cause hypothermia, and large waves and swell are common.

Scheduling sleep into a 24-hour workday

The return to iceberg C-18a marks the end of testing and the beginning of sampling. Some teams have been studying the iceberg using CTD casts and laser scanning while others have been collecting water and trawl samples.

Sounds of a moving ship

The walls of the Palmer are insulated against the cold, but a variety of sounds pervade. The constant low rumble of the ship’s engines slowly transitions from a distinct sound to background noise as our ears adjust.

Ocean workouts

Staying in shape is an important consideration for a 40-day cruise. Forty days is enough time to take major steps back in a training regimen or in fitness.

Disaster preparedness at sea

Yesterday’s post introduced the lifeboats on the ship. Today’s post further describes the lifesaving features of the lifeboats and some of the resources available if one must abandon ship.

Safety Saturday

Once a week, the crew of the Palmer meets to discuss a topic in safety and scientists and staff are welcomed to attend.

Self-contained world on a ship

When a car breaks down, we bring it to a mechanic to fix the problem. The mechanic diagnoses the problem, acquires the parts necessary to fix it, then does the work for us and delivers a fully-functional car in the end. When something breaks on a ship, it is not as easy to bring it somewhere to get fixed.

Staying connected

Being out at sea makes it difficult to stay up-to-date on what is happening in the world and our lives, but the IT group on the ship works hard to help keep us connected.

Getting away from it all

In our everyday lives, we are inundated with technological widgets that connect us to the rest of the world. Newspapers, journal articles, television, email, and of course, the internet, provide us with constant sources of information about what is going on in the world around us.

Extreme cold weather gear

Before the cruise began, everyone was issued a set of extreme cold weather gear (ECW). For those who had not been to Antarctica before, it was difficult to look through the standard gear allotment and judge whether it would be enough to stay warm.

Summertime in the Southern Hemisphere

Seasons in the southern hemisphere are opposite from those in the northern hemisphere due to the tilt of the earth. The first ICEBERG cruise occurred in December 2005, equivalent to the austral (southern hemisphere) spring.

A little good luck our way

Certain traditions and customs are common in maritime culture. Tradition states that sea-going travelers departing from the port of Punta Arenas, Chile, must rub the toe of one of the statues in the town square.

Rocking around a rocking ship

Delicate instruments and glass jars of chemicals were not designed with stability in mind, but stability is important while on a rolling ship at sea.

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.