On 25 February 1965, ceremonies were held to open officially the newest of the United States scientific stations in Antarctica--Palmer Station. Named for an early New England sealer, Nathaniel Palmer, the station is located on Anvers Island, off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, at 64°46'01" South latitude, 64°04'39" West longitude.
Construction of the station began on 16 January 1965 with the arrival of USNS WYANDOT at Anvers Island. USS EDISTO had arrived on 12 January with equipment, supplies, and personnel of Mobile Construction Battalion SIX (MCB-6), the unit responsible for the construction. The Seabees of MCB-6 were assisted by crewmen from EDISTO, and work was completed on 24 February, 2 weeks ahead of the scheduled date.
A British hut, erected in 1955 and used for 3 years, was modified and converted into a laboratory for biological and glaciological studies, and a modified N-2 building was constructed as living quarters for the wintering-over group of 4 U. S. Navy personnel and 5 scientists.
In addition to the construction of the station, a survey was conducted of the adjacent areas to determine the possibility of conducting limited air operations in the future resupply of the station.
The scientific disciplines to be pursued during the winter are primarily biology and glaciology, but, like all Antarctic stations, meteorological studies will be a daily program.
The United States station was located in the Antarctic Peninsula to provide United States scientists an opportunity to investigate the particular region, known to be relatively rich in plant and animal life. The station will be advantageous for geological studies, for in that area there is extensive exposed rock. The Palmer Station site was selected after a survey of 32 possible locations by National Science Foundation and Task Force personnel aboard USS STATEN ISLAND during DEEP FREEZE 63, and a detailed survey of Anvers Island was made by USCGC EASTWIND during DEEP FREEZE 64.
Norsel Point, a strip of rocky ground in Arthur Harbor on the southern end of Anvers Island, was chosen for the location of the station. Anvers Island is mountainous and includes a 9,060-foot peak. An ice sheet descends from the mountains and covers the northwest portion of the island, and numerous piedmont glaciers flow down the mountain valleys and spread out toward the southern coast. The temperature ranges, on the average, from about 10 degrees above zero Fahrenheit in the winter to about 35 degrees above zero Fahrenheit in the summer.
The biologists plan to study Antarctic insects and their related species--the only permanent land-dwelling animals in Antarctica. Small numbers of primitive flies, ticks, mites, midges, and springtails are found in the peninsula region, and a few are found elsewhere on the continent. The scientists will identify species and investigate their distribution, living conditions, life cycles, and physiology.
They will also survey plant life, which is primitive and sparse in this area compared to the rest of the world, but considered lush for Antarctica. There are algae, fungi, lichens, mosses, liverworts, and 3 flowering plants struggling for existence--2 grasses and an herb. Anvers Island marks the southerly limit of flowering plants.
The animal kingdom of the peninsula region contains several species of sea birds--including 5 kinds of penguins--which breed there, and are usually found nowhere else on the continent. (Fossils of penguins as tall as a man have been discovered in the peninsula region.)
Marine life in the surrounding sector is lush in the deep, fiord-like coastal waters, giving marine biologists a chance to study the adaptation of plants and animals to water that is always near freezing.
It is expected that Palmer Station will also open new opportunities for research in the earth sciences. A major advantage for glaciology is the simplicity of the experimental conditions. Glacial movement and sources of ice accumulation and wastage on Anvers Island are confined to the island, thus eliminating many of the variables that complicate the study of glacial systems such as the great continental icecap. Principles discovered in a small, isolated system may prove applicable to more complex systems.
Ohio State University glaciologists will extend their investigations of polar ice--already carried on at other stations--to the current glacial dynamics and the glacial history of Anvers Island. Their studies will include gathering data on weather and climate. They will also study sea ice conditions to facilitate future oceanographic projects.
Geologists are especially interested in the mountainous peninsula region, since it is an extension of the Andean Chain and was probably once connected with South America. Clues found here will help to reveal what is under the great continental icecap.
Palmer Station will also enable meteorologists, upper atmosphere physicists, seismologists, and geomagnetic observers to extend their recording networks.
The location is favorable for synoptic measurements involving simultaneous global observations because it is located on a longitudinal belt, where land stretches, with only short gaps, from one end of the earth to the other. A nearly straight chain of pole-to-pole recording stations can thus be set up.
The peninsula region is the only Antarctic land area at one end of a geomagnetic line of force whose other end is in the United States. This is important to certain radio wave propagation studies, and investigations of cosmic rays and upper atmosphere phenomena.
[The Edisto departed Palmer Station on 28 February, the last US Navy ship to leave Antarctica.]
And as another postscript, the 1965 winterover comms guy RMC Jack Cummings just told me that he still possesses the now-tattered American flag seen in the photo at the top of this page...it flew during all daylight hours of the first year of the station. So I'll again mention his extensive blog about his year at Palmer here.