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R/V Polar Duke ends 13 years of service to antarctic science

Leaving Antarctica

University of West Florida biologist Wade Jeffrey, who had the distinction of being the last scientist to conduct research aboard Polar Duke--and the only scientist to sample tropical waters from the Duke's deck--spoke for all who ever had worked aboard the research vessel when he bid the ship and crew farewell in June 1997:

On behalf of all the Polar Duke "Party Managers" who have come before me, I wish to extend a deep and sincere thanks to the Captains and crews of the Polar Duke. Their hard work, dedication, professionalism, and pride in their work has allowed many of the scientific contributions made aboard the Polar Duke to happen. . . .We will miss the Polar Duke.

According to David Karl, a University of Hawaii oceanographer who composed a farewell tribute to the research ship (, the fact that Polar Duke was involved in research even as it was sailing from Punta Arenas, Chile, to Port Fourchon, Louisiana, to end its antarctic mission demonstrates the vessel's commitment to the principle of "science first." Polar Duke's swan song found the Duke supporting research that asked the question: since ultraviolet levels in antarctic waters are one-tenth that of the levels along the southern coast of the United States, are microorganisms living in low-light environments more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation that those living in high-light latitudes? Jeffrey and his team collected surface-water samples each day of the Duke's 22-day voyage north to determine relative sensitivity of marine phytoplankton, bacteria, and viruses.

The Polar Duke's proud history

Designed and built for research and supply work in the north polar seas, R/V Polar Duke was christened in Kyrksæterøra, Norway, in 1983 by Rieber Shipping A/S of Bergen, Norway. When North Sea oil exploration waned, Rieber chartered the ice-strengthened ship to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for antarctic research and support work. In January 1985, the Duke replaced the R/V Hero, which was retired after 20 years of service. The Duke's initial 3-year charter agreement placed a Canadian crew and flag on the ship, but in 1989, the ship was reflagged Norwegian international and from then on sailed with a Norwegian captain and crew, supplemented with Chilean cooks, messmen, oilers, and seamen.

Initially, Polar Duke was chartered to do what the Hero had done: perform austral summer research and resupply tasks. In the first season, which lasted from January to April 1985, the Duke made three cruises between Punta Arenas and the Antarctic Peninsula. The next year, however, Langdon Quetin of the University of California-Santa Barbara proposed a rare winter cruise. The success of this cruise, and one that followed during the austral winter of 1987, established Polar Duke as a year-round vessel. From the 1988-1989 austral summer season until its 1997 retirement, the ship logged in 275-300 days at sea per year in support of U.S. Antarctic Program science projects.

Polar Duke has made possible countless landmark projects in the disciplines of physiology, microbiology, and oceanography and, in support of science and scientists, has navigated some of the roughest waters in the world, including the always hazardous Drake Passage between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. In addition to serving as a research laboratory, Polar Duke also transported people, equipment, food, construction supplies, and other materials from Tierra del Fuego to Palmer Station and to seasonal field camps and other outposts. During the 1989-1990 operating year, Polar Duke made its first ever port of call at McMurdo Station. From the time of its charter in 1985 until it headed north in retirement in 1997, the Duke left the Southern Hemisphere only once: in 1995, the vessel carried a shipment of hazardous waste to the U.S. mainland for final processing and disposal.

A new ice-strengthened research vessel, Laurence M. Gould will replace Polar Duke.

The parting of the ways

Antarctic Support Associates (ASA), the civilian support contractor for NSF, threw a party--a Cajun crawfish feed on the foredeck of the ship--for the captain and crew of the Duke when their service to the U.S. Antarctic Program came to an end in Port Fourchon. Dave McWilliams of ASA Marine Operations presented Polar Duke Captain Karl Sanden with a gift from NSF and ASA. As the Duke prepared to move on to other missions, McWilliams recalled ASA's and NSF's good-bye gesture:

ASA presented a shipyard clinometer to the Polar Duke with a thanks for the 13 years of service to the program. During the presentation, I noted several red eyes, including my own, as the last farewells were said. It was a heart-felt thanks and acceptance. I believe all that have sailed with and held a respect for the crew and ship would have been quite pleased with the ceremony. I, for one, felt honored to have been able to represent the USAP and recognize all the good science that has been done through this vessel and the crew's efforts.

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