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, 24 November 2002
Dear family & friends –
Things were quite hectic before I left and I never managed to tell some of you what I am doing down here. Also, this is kind of a test to see if email from a ship at sea actually works. In the ‘good old days’ when I went to sea there was no communication at all unless someone died (and for that they had a clunky radio). Now we get email twice a day (or so they say). There are some constraints: we are rationed to sending out 25k of email per day; also, any single message over 75k is simply deleted and never goes out. The bottom line is that my plan to send numerous pictures won’t work; I’ll provide a CDrom if you are interested when I return. Moreover, big messages coming in also get deep-sixed; so, keep the porn pictures down to a few carefully selected pixels.
We sailed yesterday afternoon from Punta Arenas, Chile. Punta Arenas is a town of perhaps 50,000 in the south of Pategonia, across the Strait of Magellan from Terra del Fuego. It was more pleasant to visit than I had expected for a port town; apparently there are just enough tourists so that the locals appreciate your business and tolerate your bad Spanish, but not so many that every store is penguin-doll kitch. It was also pleasantly clean and colorful; the local taste in house exteriors leans towards pastels. My Spanish turned out to be better than I thought it would be; however, I had more trouble handling the money than I expected. About 600 Chilean pesos make a U. S. dollar; twice I dropped a decimal point in the shop-keeper’s favor and he/she kindly chased me down with my change.
The people, of course, were of special interest. Unlike Austin, I ran into no beggars or street people – perhaps because we are in a not-poor socialist country they keep people employed. In the restaurants the food was a bit bland; however, both the fish and the meat were excellent, and the service was quite wonderful. Typically the waitpeople were middle-aged men; obviously here being a waiter is real profession. Another profession that was new to me were the parking meters. In Punta Arenas, they do not have mechanical parking meters but instead each city block has a person in a yellow and blue jacket who does the job instead.
A ‘parking meter’ in Punta Arenas, Chile. Rather than using mechanical parking meters, people such as this man collect fees for parking on city streets.
These people were quite professional and preditorily efficient at their work. Not surprisingly for a job which requires sharp eyes and consists of loitering on street corners, there appears to be a whole subculture surrounding this profession. For a young person, it provides an opportunity to meet people with money and influence (i. e., car owners) who might possibly give you a better job. For those such as myself who are somewhat age-challenged, the job seemed to permit a reasonable amount of congregating in groups and shouting of “Hola!” while waving arms at friends across the intersection. I can imagine worse jobs…
One more thing about Punta Arenas you must know if you ever think about visiting: it is very, very windy here. You just couldn’t say it is calm. Trust me on this one.
Last night we left the Strait of Magellan and turned south towards Antarctica. Tonight we begin to cross the Drake Passage. I didn’t take any sea sickness drugs because I never needed them before, when I was at sea more than a decade ago in Alaska and the South Pacific. I am told by those with experience that I am likely to regret this decision. I’ll send you a blow-by-blow account, later.
The ship itself, the Laurence M. Gould, is huge; I have never been on such a capacious research vessel. There is a big lounge for movie-watching, a workout room with a weight machine, a rowing machine, and a stationary bicycle. There is also a sauna and a hot tub; this is actually more reasonable than luxurious – we will be glad it is there if any of us manage to fall into the water and they manage to fish us out.
(click on photo for larger view) The ARSV Laurence M. Gould sits in a field of icebergs, waiting for scientists to return from Spring Point.
In addition to the captain and crew there are 17 passengers. Only four of us are actually doing science on the voyage. The others include Leonardo, an ‘observer’ provided by the Argentine government. The bulk of the passengers are mostly youthful adventurers who will be put off at Palmer station, where they are employed in various ways; many seem to be research assistants and graduate students, but there are also two carpenters and a electronics tech. Since I have agreed to take water samples around the clock for a group at Princeton, I have pressed two of the passengers into service to help me; these are Leonardo, the Argentine who knows what he is getting into, and Emily Lindsey, a night person and charmingly eager recent Brown biology graduate who probably thinks being sick at two AM while I sleep is an adventure. We’ll see how it goes.
I’ll try to send a report every few days. It will be more often if weather and work go well. Less often if….otherwise.