In November 2002, UTIG researchers Fred Taylor, Cliff Frohlich, and graduate student Kris Gudipati, embarked on a NSF-funded project to study microplate motions in Antarctica using global positioning system (GPS) instruments. Neither Frohlich nor Gudipati had been to Antarctica previously. During the five-week field program aboard the research vessel Laurence M. Gould, Frohlich sent a series of letters and photographs to his friends and family describing what it was like to participate in this project. Published here, the letters and their belong to UTIG Senior Research Scientist Emeritus Cliff Frohlich.
From Cliff Frohlich, 30 November, 2002
Dear family & friends –
Today we went back to Smith and Low Islands and retrieved the GPS equipment we had left there. For this project, the program is that at each site the equipment must collect data for two full GMT days. However, since weather may prevent us from reaching a site, we install enough batteries to allow the site to operate for ten days. Smith Island has the worst weather and sea conditions of all the sites, and so it was a relief to be able to pick it up.
The GPS sites at both Smith and Low Islands are smack in the middle of penguin rookeries. Basically, in these rookeries every flat spot has been staked out by penguins who situate themselves at intervals of perhaps a meter. The penguins are social at least to the extent that they live in these large groups; a goodly fraction appear to hunkered down on top of eggs and they don’t move even when you come within a couple of meters. Their lives seem to involve a considerable amount of squawking ‘Hola’, pointing beaks to the heavens, and waving of flippers. Off in the distance I occasionally see penguins queued up in lines sliding one by one down the ice towards the water. And, while in the zodiak you see them porpoising-swimming fast and jumping in and out of the water. The penguins seem awkward at everything they do except swimming, at which they are truly expert. Cindy, who just got her M.S. degree in birds, told me that while we visited Low Island she saw three different species of penguins there. However, I can’t confirm this; when Cindy started explaining to me how to tell the difference between the various species, I kind of tuned out because she wasn’t using any equations. Mathematically, all the different species are equivalent.
At Low Island we also picked up Brenda Hall and John Evans, who had been camping there. When we got back to the ship I asked Brenda how her work went. She said she did manage to find examples of the glacial morains that she was searching for, but she was disappointed because most everything was under snow and it was difficult to really make good maps of what was going on. Possibly it is too early in the season to do what she wants to do. February or even March might be better because there would be less snow.
The official name of the ship, incidentally, is the ARSV Laurence M. Gould. Before your wheels grind too much about the ARSV you should know that it stands for Antarctic Research Support Vessel. On the LMG as in the penguin rookery, the occupants fall into distinct groups.
One group are the professional seamen; these seem mostly to be Filipino or Chilean, and they work on ships as deck hands or cooks or mechanics. Most of them seem to have gone to sea when they were quite young and have never since held an on-land job. Another group are the ship’s officers; these people steer and manage ships, which takes quite a bit of training and education as well as families who think that leaving home for months at a time is normal.
A wrinkle on the LMG is that some of the officers are Cajuns, e.g., the captain, Robert Verret. Captain Robert has wavy black hair down to his shoulders and speaks with a Cajun accent. He told me he is from south of New Orleans and that his father and grandfather both ran ships; if he told me he was a direct descendant of Jean Lafitte, I would believe him. Maybe he is…
The third sociological group are the professional scientists, principally Fred, Brenda, and myself. Most of these people went to college when they were fairly young and never since managed to leave and get a real job. The last group are the young adventurers; these are men and women, mostly under 30, who decided they want to go to Antarctica and work for a few months or a year, rather than settle down in some human rookery and acquire a mortgage, a family, and a real job. Tomorrow morning we arrive at Palmer Station, where we let off some of the youthful adventurers. Tomorrow evening, we sail again back towards Spring Point, to retrieve the GPS station we left there.