Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Yesterday we arrived back at Palmer Station. We'll be taking on some cargo and people that need to get back to Punta Arenas with us. While we are here, we had hoped to sample on some nearby islands called the Stepping Stones. The weather has been awful! As soon as we got here, the barometric pressure dropped, the temperatures dipped below freezing, the wind picked up, and it started to snow a bit. So, of course we asked our MT's to go out in the zodiacs to sample! MT Tom was the only one willing to go out in the yucky weather with us, and he dropped us off at Stepping Stones 2 miles away from the station. We tried to sample soil, but the ground was frozen solid! We had to return back to the LMG unsuccessful.

On Stepping Stones, there are a lot of giant petrels. Petrels are sea birds that are sort of related to gulls and skuas, and they look a lot like albatrosses (but they're in a different family). Giant petrels are the largest petrel species. Their wingspan is 3-4 feet. It was neat to be around such big birds, and we even got to see some babies! Giant petrels are scavengers, so they'll eat just about anything they can find like dead penguins and seals, but they aren't aggressive scavengers like skuas. They didn't bother us and we tried not to bother them! The two fluffy petrels on the ground are the juveniles, and we didn't want to accidentally scare them into trying to fly in the cold wind. It's best to let them stay on their nests where it's safe (even though they're bigger than the nest, at this point!).

The weather got even worse today, with 50 knot winds and quite a lot of rain. The weather forecast is for it to stay like this up until we leave, so we probably won't get to go back to Stepping Stones to sample. That means that yesterday's attempted sampling trip was probably the last one of the season. Here's the group selfie we took on the way back when we realized it might be our last zodiac trip:
Dave, Connor, MT Tom, Kelli, Uffe and Becky
From here, we have to spend a couple more days at Palmer dealing with cargo, then we begin the journey back north to Punta Arenas, which will take us about a week. Even though we are probably done collecting samples, we still have a lot of lab work and packing to keep us busy!