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, 03 December, 2002
Dear family & friends –
As I write this, the ship is steaming aimlessly just offshore of O’Higgins base, a Chilean station on the Antarctic Peninsula. We came here last night from Juan Carlos on Livingston Island, where the Spanish have a scientific station, and where we left Brenda and John. Our plan at O’Higgins had been to deploy two GPS this morning and (hopefully) get invited to lunch by the Chileans. However, the wind speed now is 50 knots and in principle we can only deploy zodiaks when it is 20 knots or less. Thus, for the first time, weather is keeping us from our work. So we sit and wait…
Day before yesterday we stopped for nine hours to offload supplies and six passengers at Palmer station, one of the three main U. S. sites in Antarctica. Palmer consists of a dock exactly large enough for the Gould, a motley collection of buildings and antennas, and a quite impressive glacier which calves icebergs into the bay. Although I didn’t visit it, there is a hot tub where you can cook yourself silly and watch the calving, if you wish. I did, however, take a two-hour hike up onto the glacier itself. They have marked off an area where you can walk around safely, although you are required to sign in and out and carry a two-way radio, just in case. I didn’t fall into any crevasses, but a couple of times I did sink into snow up past my knees.
About 45 people live and work at Palmer. These include administrators, carpenters, cooks, etc., as well as scientists. For the science there are a number of nice laboratories; there are also a half-dozen or so zodiaks for getting around. A lady named Brenda (not our scientist Brenda) gave us a tour of the station. People live in dorms, two-to-a-room. There are also workout facilities, a movie room/library, a dining room, a carpentry shop, offices, and a store which is open twice a week and sells toiletries and souvenirs. Unlike on the Gould, alcohol seems to be allowed, as there is a BYOB bar. Much of Brenda’s tour seemed to focus on two issues: safety and consideration for others. Although she didn’t put it nearly so crudely it seemed to me her messages were: “Don’t be stupid; and don’t be a pig.” Good advice anywhere, that.
At Palmer every effort has been made to make working and living a comfortable passtime; yet, I can imagine it could get old pretty fast. Unless you trudge out onto the glacier you really can’t be alone. Although it is a beautiful wilderness site you are trapped by the sea and the glacier; 45 people really isn’t very many but sometimes it could seem like a lot. If I learned I was going to be there for a few months I would make sure I had 70 hours per week of work to do; or, I would bring a trunk full of materials so that I could write a book. Otherwise the BYOB bar could be a problem.
Yesterday was a long day. We sailed from Palmer Sunday evening and arrived at Spring Point yesterday morning. We got up at 0500, zodiaked to Spring Point, and took out the GPS station. Then we sailed all day to Livingston Island, arriving at about 1800, and deployed the GPS station. After a beer and dessert with the Spanish, we arrived back at the ship at 2200.
Although the landing at Juan Carlos is easy enough, the GPS site is on top of a rocky promentory about a half-mile away through the snow. Thus we hauled our gear much of the way on sleds before lugging it uphill to the site. Sled-hauling is in the best Antarctic tradition of Scott, but frankly I could do without it. The batteries kept falling off the sleds into the snow; and, look what happened to Scott. The site, however, is beautiful; I got some great photos of Fred and Kris working on the antenna while the Gould sits in the harbor in the background. I believe also that someone got photos of me hauling a sled while Fred barks orders.
So, for now I mark time, waiting for Captain Robert to decide that we can work again. As I type your email addresses I think of each of you, and hope that you are doing well. As for me I am fine, although my torso is a bit stiff from (oof) having to do actual physical work. The good news is that my knee is holding up well and my legs and wind are ok hauling gear uphill and through snow. Even better news is that the weather has been our friend; we have put four GPS sites in and taken three out, and the data looks ok.