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November 27, 2002

INTO THE FIELD

Field work! Today was my first day out, and my first time in a helicopter besides. I think helicopters are the new coolest thing in the world. The ride was super smooth, probably due in part to the fact that there was no wind, and the view, of course, incredible. I'd say it was like flying, except it was flying. But flying like you'd imagine flying, effortless, not like flying in a big jet. Very, very cool. Well, the coolest thing in the world.

The day is also pretty incredible. Sunny, windless, warm. You can see the Erebus plume (yep, that puff of cloud at the top of the volcano is gas emitted from the volcano itself) for somewhere around forever, or at least for a long ways. Phil says the gas emissions from the volcano are constant, and the appearance of the plume actually depends on humidity and wind. Less humid, less plume. More humid, plume condenses to cloud. Wind, plume gone. No wind, plume hangs out. Today, plume. Up and drifting over, and around.

Take off was at 8:50, touchdown back at McMurdo was at about 1:20, and between the two pilot Ken buzzed Phil and I around on a tour of the volcano. Our mission was to install four campaign GPS sites. See the 'Continue reading' link below paragraph for an explanation. We fell one site short due to a bad power cable, but installed three successfully. The only major glitch was arriving at site #2 ("Abbotts Peak") and realizing I had left the GPS tools at site #1 ("Hoopers Shoulder"). What a way to start off the season and prove myself competent. Luckily, it was easy enough for the helo pilot to zip back to Hoopers Shoulder and pick them up. Consider me now paranoid about my tools.

It's still hard for me to comprehend that there's a volcano in the backyard.

Campaign GPS is a style of measurements in which you establish a 'benchmark' (something to measure--in this case, stainless steel posts apoxied into the rock with a ~1 mm wide dimple in the top) and measure it's location periodically. So, the Erebus crew goes out and sets up the GPS antenna to be centered and level over the point, hooks it up to a receiver which records and preliminarily processes the data from the satellites, and leave the equipment running for several days. The next year, they do it again, to get an idea of how the position of that point has changed over the year. That is to say, to figure out how that area is moving.

Continuous GPS utilizes the same equipment, but makes use of permanent monuments onto which the GPS antenna can be fixed. Then, you get data all day every day, for ever. Or until the station breaks down. Or until the money runs out. I love continuous data sets. Well, love and hate them. You have to keep looking at the data. Or, you get to keep looking at the data. You can see what goes on in the inbetween. Why ever do campaign GPS, then? Resources, of course. You can use the same equipment to measure a bunch of points, and GPS equipment is expensive.

Today, I loved GPS. It happens sometimes.

Posted by beth at November 27, 2002 12:57 PM

Comments

Beth,
Michael V. sent out your web info to me this morning. I've had a wonderful time reading about your adventure. The sense of nervous excitement and awe is palpable from your comments, which I love. Thanks for all the DETAILS. Need more details. For instance, why would the physiological elevation at Erebus seem higher than it really is? If anything, I'd guess that at the bottom of an oblate spheroid, such as planet Earth, the physiological elevation would be lower than at the temperate latitudes. That is, at 9000 feet above the sea near the South Pole you are closer to the center of the Earth than at 9000 feet near the equator. But, maybe it wouldn't matter because the sea level would rise higher near the poles. Well, anyway, you can see how confused I am. Perhaps the physiological effect is just the damnable cold that your body has to deal with in addition to the thin air. Anyway, keep your eyes wide open and thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Oh, one more thing. I spent once three months in New Zealand and did a lot of tramping. So, when you return to your backpack in Christchurch, let me know. It will be roughly the same time of year that I was there and I might have some suggestions for good tracks in the (southern) autumn.

Posted by: Rob Fischman at November 28, 2002 4:31 AM

Beth:

It is SO great not only that you're down there, but that you're so diligently keeping all of us informed. Thank you!

We'll send my old housemate Dan ( http://129.79.22.9/dan ) after you all if you get in trouble. He's leading a similarly cool life doing computer support for Scripps research vessels, and he'll be down your way next month. If you get bored, check out his tales, which I've webified at the link above.

Cheers,

Kevin

Posted by: Kevin at November 28, 2002 3:10 PM

Oh -- by the way, you don't have to look at your data if you happen to know a good database guy. Hint, hint.

Anyway, having read more closely I realize that you're likely not to see this until January, but just in case, have an intense, safe, wonder-filled holiday season. If you see Santa Claus you'll know that the pole-reversal thing happened and we in trouble.

Kevin

Posted by: Kevin Atkins at November 28, 2002 3:19 PM

So, can you get some tele gear into that cage on the helicopter? If it didn't get too wind packed, just think of the tracks you could be making. And on an active, or at least steaming volcano....it couldn't get better than that.

Posted by: Clark Youmans at December 4, 2002 4:45 AM