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Living in the cold

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 is providing a series of guest blog posts about her co-op experience.

When I first prepared to leave for Antarctica, people always had one question for me: “But isn’t it really cold down there?” Some people in my lab had told me that it’s really no different than a Boston winter, but I had my doubts. Having been here for four months now, I can attest to the fact that, yes, it really isn’t that cold on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Weather numbers tracked here at Palmer Station

As you can see, our air temps here hover around 20-30 F. The wind chill may make it feel a bit colder on some days, but to me it doesn’t seem much colder than this past Polar Vortex winter.

Back before the ocean froze, I would go out on our zodiacs to drop some traps to do more fishing for our group. The first time I went out on the zodiac, I anticipated needing three thick layers of clothing plus a heavy jacket. Needless to say, I was overheating. It was nice to know that I could go out on the boats with just a thermal and sweatshirt as well as my float-coat. It made working in the outdoors much more manageable since too many layers of clothing can impair your movements.

Luckily, I don’t have to spend much time working outdoors here, but for those that do, there are some precautions that need to be taken in order to stay dry and warm. The most important of which is to avoid wearing cotton. Cotton will absorb any moisture instead of wicking it away from your body like some man-made materials. It also goes without saying that it’s necessary to dress in layers. A long-sleeved shirt and a sweatshirt just won’t cut it when you’re outside in the snow for eight hours a day. In regards to keeping the extremities warm, we have stacks of boxes filled with hand and foot warmers. I like to use those most when I know that I’ll be sticking my hands in the icy water in some of our tanks for extended periods of time.

While Palmer Station may never reach extreme lows, it shouldn’t discredit the reputation that Antarctica has for being a harsh continent.  In general, it’s a really cold place. You just have to travel closer to the inner continent (South Pole) to start experiencing the bitter minus 80 F temperatures.

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