Blood may be thicker than water but it isn’t always red

Don’t forget anything

O’Brien and Devin Devor of Ohio University draw blood from a red-blooded notothenoid. Photo by Steve Untracht.

Conducting research at such a remote and difficult location presents immense challenges. Enormous planning goes into every detail.

“If you discover when you get there, ‘Oh, I forgot the hydrochloric acid’ — guess what? You don’t get any hydrochloric acid!” O’Brien says. “It can be a show-stopper. It can end your field season that you’ve spent years preparing for.”

In 2009 her team discovered that the wrong pumps for circulating seawater in the tanks had been delivered to Palmer Station.

“We found out after the ship had already left the dock [in Punta Arenas].” Fortunately, the support staff at all the NSF-funded Antarctic stations are highly skilled, highly trained, resourceful individuals, O’Brien notes.

“With their help you can repair things or come up with an alternative,” she says. When the wrong pumps were delivered, the support crew was able to adapt some older pumps already at the station.

ARSV Gould
The ARSV Laurence M. Gould at the dock at Palmer Station, Antarctica. Photo by Kristin O’Brien.

If what they need is available in Punta Arenas and the ARSV Gould is at the dock there, it might be possible to get the item in only four and a half days.

“But the problem is, the ship doesn’t always go. It could be halfway into your field season before [the item] arrives,” O’Brien says.

Sometimes other research groups working at Palmer Station have equipment or chemicals that can be borrowed, kind of like borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor. O’Brien can ask to use something from that team’s stash, then replace it later or compensate with something else.

One way or another, the work gets done.