Palmer Station: Historical

Palmer’s Antarctic discovery cruise in November 1820. Illustration donated by Nathaniel Beach Palmer - grandson of Stephan Billing Palmer III, December 2009 (from Bulletin of the Stonington Historical Society, 1977).

Historical Perspective Captain James Cook, an English mariner and great explorer, sailed two voyages to the Southern Ocean and around Antarctica between 1772 and 1775.  He came within 81 miles of the Antarctic continent to 71˚10 S.  having never actually laid eyes on it.  It was not until January 1820 - 1821 that the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula was spotted.  Off of the northwest tip of the Peninsula is a large group of islands known as the Palmer Archipelago extending from Tower island down to Anvers island. It is separated by roughly one hundred miles of the Gerlache Strait. At age twenty,  a young, American fur seal hunter named Nathaniel B. Palmer and his 13 year old brother Alexander, left Stonington, Connecticut to command a forty-seven foot, one mast sloop called Hero.
The ship is the namesake of a 30-foot American sailing sloop captained by Nathaniel B. Palmer, who in 1820 became one of the first to view the Antarctic mainland. This modern Hero was built to serve as a mobile platform to conduct research in Antarctic Peninsula waters, augmenting the facilities of the U. S. Palmer Station on Anvers Island. Palmer and his brother crossed the wild stretch of ocean known as the Drake Passage in the HERO, explored the South Shetland islands extensively and cruised further south in search of additional fur seal rookeries. On November 17th, 1820, Nathaniel Palmer sighted “land not yet laid down on his chart.” Log books have reported Palmer reaching as far as 68˚S. He described the area as having,”a great glaciated peninsular mountain range (an extension of the Andes Mountains), very sterile and dismal, more heavily loaded with ice and snow than the Shetland islands. No fur seals spotted and the coast bound in ice even in the mid-summer season.” This place would later become known as Palmer Land on the continent of Antarctica. President Franklin D Roosevelt took an active role in supporting two U.S. Antarctic Service Expeditions in the Antarctic Peninsula area between 1939 - 1941 near Stonington Island. The site was about 250 miles south of the current station. Later, when the U.S. renewed its interest in the Peninsula it sent the first survey team back into the region in 1963. After examining about thirty potential sites, the Arthur Harbor area of Anvers Island emerged as the most promising due to its central location and proximity to the southern limit of favorable summer sea ice conditions. The original “Old Palmer” site on Norsel Point was the first main station, built as an interim facility until the permanent station was constructed in 1965. The facility was formally called “Palmer Station” in a brief ceremony on February 25th of that year and accommodated 15 persons. In 1967, the U.S. Navy began new construction approximately one mile east of the original site. (Photo: Jack Cummins) Old Palmer on Amsler Island, formerly thought to be Anvers Island until an ice bridge collapsed and revealed that this was a separate island. It was the first U.S. station on the peninsula. Today, Palmer station personnel replace emergency cache barrels on the site where Old Palmer Station once stood. (Photo: Peter Rejcek)

Hero meets the other NSF Antarctic research ship, the USNS Eltanin, for the first time--at the pier in Punta Arenas, April 1970 (Antarctic Journal, January/February 1971, photo from La Prensa)

                Resources: 1. The Stonington Historical Society http://www.stoningtonhistory.org/index.html. 2. Old Palmer: http://www.palmerstation.com/history/op.html 3. Palmer Station webcam: http://www.usap.gov/videoclipsandmaps/palwebcam.cfm. 4. History: http://www.palmerstation.com/hero/photos.html 5. Palmer Timeline from beginning to 1975: http://www.palmerstation.com/history/6575/6575.html   

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