Right after breakfast the ship anchored along Neumayer Channel, at Damoy Point, found and named during the French Charcot expeditions of 1903-1905. Inside the sheltered bay we saw two refuge huts, one painted with the Argentinean flag and the other used by the British.
While several left for a Zodiac cruise, some spent the morning exploring the area around the huts, nowadays surrounded by plenty of breeding Gentoo penguins and also making it up to the snow fields above. This area was used as the airfield by the Falkland Island Dependency Survey (FIDS), the British operation at the Peninsula from 1944 - 1962. After WWII, FIDS was mapping most of the peninsula, in those days named Graham Land by the English and Palmer Peninsula by the Americans. By the early 1960s it was agreed to name the area “Antarctic Peninsula.” It is still named O’Higgen’s Peninsula by Chile and San Martin Peninsula by Argentina. This of course, expresses the different claims all three nations have to the area but as long as the Antarctic Treaty is in operation, all territorial claims are withheld.
The U.S. and former Soviet Union (now Russia) never acknowledged any of the claims made in Antarctica. As the International Geophysical Year (IGY) 1957-1958 came into operation, both established polar stations in all claimed territories. Later, in 1965 the U.S. established the forerunner to the Palmer Station we visited today. It was primarily to send a strong message to the three other nations making claims to the Peninsula.
Palmer Station is located on the southwestern side of Anvers Island. Right after lunch the station manager, Bob Farrell, arrived onboard and gave us an introduction to the U.S. Antarctic Program. Soon we were in the Zodiac boats, some heading to the station for a full tour and others to finally encounter the true Antarctic penguin, Adelie. Throughout the afternoon boats were switching guests between the sites.
Palmer Station is one of three American research stations in Antarctica, the other two are McMurdo (far south in the Ross Sea) and the Amundsen-Scott Polar Station (at the South Pole). As Palmer Station is located north of the Antarctic Circle and by the sea, research in marine biology is the main focus.
At Torgensen Island a long term study about Adelie Penguins has been running since the station was built. Here they have seen a steady decline of populations, and all facts point towards climate change being the prime reason. Adelie Penguins really evolved for the extreme Antarctica are closely associated with sea ice and because of warming, sea ice has declined, especially here on the western side of the Peninsula. The staple food for Adelie Penguins, are mainly krill (Euphausia superba) and they are totally dependent on sea ice to survive the winter. Less sea ice means less food for Adelie penguins!
For evening recap, several researchers from Palmer Station arrived onboard and gave short presentations about their different duties and their various research projects. We were also able to ask questions.
We spent the entire evening at Arthur Bay watching the sunset. With blue sky every single day, this has been a remarkable voyage. Hard to beat!