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August 30, 2009


My friend Tara's boyfriend, Will, organized one of the coolest surprise parties ever for Tara for her birthday on Friday.

So simple, so brilliant.

About ten of us met up in Boulder to carpool up to a trail about a half an hour out of Boulder and hiked the 15 or 20 minutes to the top of the peak.

And waited.

[Ken pretends to play scout in the perfect evening sunlight.]

[Shadows looking east to Boulder.]

[Ken and Elizabeth claim their seats.]

It was a pretty tough place to wait.

[Scaling a ridge.]

Will convinced Tara that he'd planned out a romantic birthday evening for just the two of them--the rest of us were going to party with her on Sunday at a barbecue at his house. So smart.

[Claire gets ready with her camera.]

But no, no romantic night for them.

[Tara and Will arrive at the top.]

Who needs romance when you have a group of your best friends on a mountain top with champagne?

Posted by beth at 11:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2009

Using the "Laser"

We've started in with an instrument called a "terrestrial laser scanner" (TLS) at work--you set it up on a tripod and tell it to scan your surroundings, which are presumably something of scientific interest, and it sends out a laser and tells you how far it is from the scanner to everything around you. (A more common use for these is scanning refineries and such to get a 3-D model of the pipes, but whatever.) You end up with a 'point cloud'--a recording of a bunch of points hit by the laser--which shows up in 3-D. It's very cool.

I was invited to go help out with / check out the equipment for a day with fellow employees David and Brennan at Bijou Creek, a study area about an hour from Boulder, east of Denver where the plains stretch on through Kansas. At Bijou Creek, the plains are interrupted by gullies, and the focus of the study is gully erosion. In this particular case, a gully at Bijou Creek has been scanned multiple times to see how the gully is being eroded. By comparing this year's scan to last year's, we can see how fast (0.5 m over the last year, as it turns out) and where the gully is eroding.

I was just a tag-along, since the guy in charge of this stuff at work knows that I'm interested in learning more about it. Plus, he needed someone to help lug all this heavy equipment around.

Bijou Creek turned out to be much cooler than I expected.

Besides being a gully, it's a nature preserve, and of particular geologic interest.

This little outcrop is the K-T boundary.

I know. Pretty amazing. Take a closer look.

Yep, not kidding. The K-T boundary.

Okay, what the heck is the K-T boundary?

The K-T boundary is the transition between the Cretaceous (C was already taken) and the Tertiary periods, about 65.5 million years ago. Why do we care? Major extinction event, maybe due to a meteor impact. Cool.

Just upslope from the boundary is another outcrop of interest.

[Brennan leads the way.]

As Brennan pointed out, just a few thousand years after this major extinction event, the area was teeming with life.

With tree life, anyway.

Break open any of the soft rock, and the place is plastered with leaf imprints. It's pretty much an outcrop of leaves with a little silt inbetween.

[Modern-day life finds a ray of sun in which to grow--yes, I modified this image a bit.]

But we were there to scan the gully.

We set out reference markers, surveyed them (Brennan did), set up the scanner, pushed a few buttons (well, Dave did), and stayed out of the scanner's way. Moved the whole operation and did it again.

[Dave with the instrument. The head of the gully ('head scarp') is that brown spot in the background--a little dirt drop-off. That's the part that's eroding backward as the rains come down.]

[Seems from the beaten-down grass in the gully that there has been a major rain event since last time David and Brennon were here.]

After that, just kickin' back and appreciating the wildlife.

[A little wildlife: Mr. (Ms.?) Horny Toad.]

It was nice to be back in the field again. It's been a while.

Posted by beth at 3:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack