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Palmer Station Winter Over

Listen to an interview with Stacie Tanner, watch a video of wintering over at palmer station for 38 years, and listen to a song by Jeff Keitzmann.

Palmer Station is one of the most isolated places on Earth, 200 miles from the nearest airplane landing strip and 900 miles from the nearest city. The only link to the outside world for weeks or even months at a time is the satellite communications system. The crew, never numbering more than 46, has only itself for company for weeks--sometimes months--at a time.

During the southern hemisphere (austral) winter, when the sun never gets above the horizon, temperatures sink and huge snowfalls blanket the ground, the isolation is felt with special intensity. Crews that spend tours of duty that include the winter are a special breed. Each year they commemorate their experience with a group portrait, usually a photograph or photographs, that are hung in a make-shift gallery in a stairwell in the GWR building. Click here to see the complete gallery, depicting 38 years of winter crews.

Each portrait is time capsule that captures something of the personality and spirit of the year's team. The straight-laced pictures in the early years harkens back to the time when Palmer Station was operated by the U.S. Navy and its crew consisted of military men. Several early pictures show canine mascots, animals now prohibited in Antarctica. Not a single woman appears in these photos until 1977, and it is not until the early 1990s that women made a significant fraction of the winter crew. In contrast, people of color, who appear in a number of photos from the early, Navy, days have been absent in recent years. In addition to showing the composition of the crew, the portraits show something about its state of mind. Early years show neatly aligned head-shots with typed captions and graph-paper backgrounds. Later pictures are wildly imaginative with crews dressed in robes, hanging from mountainsides or steaming in a hot tub. Some later portraits replace wooden frames with copper pipe and even a hand-cast aluminum.

This slide show is accompanied by an interview with Stacie Tanner, a heavy equipment driver handling cargo for shipping. She wintered over at Palmer in 2001. Music composed and performed by Jeff Kietzmann accompanies the show. Kietzmann, formerly a Army communications specialists, operates Palmer's radio equipment. He has wintered over at the South Pole, which is even more isolated than Palmer.