Site Description

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The Palmer LTER Site

The western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is distinctive among the Antarctic regions with its north-south orientation, direct exposure to prevailing westerly atmospheric winds and complex ocean circulation patterns. The extent, duration and seasonality of sea ice and inputs from glacial meltwater are strong influences on the ecological and biogeochemical processes in the coastal marine ecosystem.  Sea ice is the principal physical determination of variability in the coastal marine ecosystem. In fact, most organisms’ life cycles are influenced by the seasonal changes. 

To study these changes on a global scale Palmer LTER examines the region - a series of dynamic, interconnected systems encompassing a immediate coastal region (0 – 300m deep), a continental shelf region (300 – 1,000m deep) and a continental slope region (> 1,000 m deep).  On a yearly basis, between the months of October and April, semiweekly observations of near shore process studies occur from Palmer station.  These are complemented in January - the austral summer in the Antarctic - by a regional-scaled LTER cruise. 

Research Facility

Palmer station research facility is the smallest of three U.S. Antarctic research stations - the only U.S. station routinely accessed during the winter.  Located on Anvers Island near the Antarctic Peninsula at (64° 46°S, 64° 03°W),  just north of the Antarctic Circle,  the station is host to the National Science Foundation’s Palmer Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program.   The station was originally named by Nathaniel B. Palmer, a young fur seal hunter, who came to the area in 1820. The original structure, called 'Old Palmer' was the first main station built in 1965 on old Norsel Point and it accomodated approximately fifteen people.  A more permanent structure was rebuilt in 1967 by the U.S. Navy,  one mile east of the original site on Anvers Island.  It now contains a biology laboratory, two main buildings, housing for scientists and support personnel, research facilities including an aquarium, earth station with satellite, terra labs and a boathouse.  The station supports science year-round accommodating twenty people in the winter and up to forty four in the austral summer.  It operates in conjunction with the research vessel the R/V Laurence M. Gould,  typically marking the start of the field season.  In the last decade and a half, the number of tourists visiting Palmer station and the Antarctic peninsula has grown from a few hundred to more than 8,000 each year,  affording station personnel and scientists outreach opportunities to brief the public on their research findings.