Antarctic Co-​​op: The Not So Sunny Side of Things

This is a guest blog post by Eileen Sheehan, a bio­chem­istry stu­dent at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity who is on co-​​​​op at Palmer Sta­tion, Antarc­tica. She will pro­viding a series of guest blog posts about her co-​​​​op experience. 


When people think about Antarc­tica, they often have thoughts of a cold, white, and barren place.  The amount of day­light we receive down here due to our lat­i­tude is usu­ally not one of the first things people think about.  Before I left home, a lot of my friends and family mem­bers were shocked to hear that on the shortest day of the year (June 21st – midwinter’s day), we’d only have about two or three hours of day­light at Palmer.  At other Antarctic sta­tions, they may not even see the sun that day.

The lack of day­light during working hours does affect what we do on a day-​​to-​​day basis.  It’s dif­fi­cult trying to look into the out­door fish tanks when you don’t have the sun around helping you spot your fish.  Flash­lights can only do so much.   It’s also harder to go out and fill a Dewar with liquid nitrogen or to go and dump our haz­ardous waste into the metal drums pro­vided by the waste depart­ment.  For those of us here not working in sci­ence, it makes their work on the boat ramp and fuel lines trickier.  Head­lamps become a necessity.

Aside from some incon­ve­niences in our daily work schedule, it limits what we can do recre­ation­ally.  Without day­light we cannot go boating in the zodiacs.  This means that we’re trapped on our sec­tion of Anvers Island all day and night.  We can still go to the “back­yard” and to the Marr Ice Pied­mont (the glacier behind us), but it’s ill advised to do so when you have nothing guiding your foot­steps.  It can get rocky and slip­pery back there, and without the sun it becomes harder to dis­tin­guish a rock from a fur seal.

Since we’ve now passed midwinter’s day, we’re quickly gaining sun­light.  We’re seeing an addi­tional five or so min­utes each day.  Just this week the sun started to rise near 9 A.M. and set near 3 P.M.  For com­par­ison, on midwinter’s day the sun rose close to 11 A.M. and set around 2 or 2:30 P.M.  With more light comes more oppor­tu­ni­ties to go out­side and visit the nearby islands.  I look for­ward to being able to see the dif­ferent seals and pen­guins again as we approach the summer season in the coming months.