Meet Mathew Chamberlain, a fourth year physics major here at Northeastern University. He has a long and exciting road ahead of him. After undergoing training at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, he spent the first part of his co-op in Africa studying the naturally occurring electromagnetic fields in the Earth’s surface.
Not long after landing back in the States, Mathew took to the ocean, deploying ocean bottom seismographs and pressure gauges on the Research Vessel (R/V) Wecoma to build a network of seismic and geodetic stations from Cape Mendocino in California to Cape Flattery in Washington. The network targets to understand the structure and processes of the subduction margin, which has a history of large earthquakes every 300 – 500 years.
The ship’s location and webcam is available here.
|November, 28, 2011ACADEMIC FREEDOMI go to WHOI with Diana in the morning. We discuss Thanksgiving and the current happenings at Woods Hole. She says it is quiet now that it’s winter and she is on the fence and yet still lobbying for a trip to Qatar. It is part of the culture to explore in Woods Hole. There is a similar feeling to the air at the docks in Newport, Oregon, which is to NOAA what Woods Hole is to WHOI. Rob Evans approaches my desk.“How was it?” he asks.
“It was horrible,” we share a laugh. He says normally his stomach recovers after a few days at sea. I became sick when we hit the storm. I tell him about Tim’s mail and video with forty foot waves. Rob will attend the AGU conference next week and will be out of the office. He sends me a paper that describes the details of data collection and processing along the Botswana – Zambia line. I will read this paper and wait two weeks for a new project. In the meantime I can read the book “Practical Magnetotellurics” and this paper to buffer my understanding of geophysics.
Academic freedom is a huge benefit of working in research institutions. The work is stress free and liberating. My understanding of MT is coherent because the demands of WHOI are consistent with my pace of learning. In industry I get the sense that the scientific understanding can be a bit more fragmented because they are a resource for the company designed for efficiency – they might get moved to do something else if it meets the demands of the company. A de facto difference between academia and industry is the difference in scientific understanding that is learned.
|November 1, 201140-FOOT WAVES, GIVING BACKI return to Woods Hole in the morning and find Jimmy in the lab. He is surprised and cheery to see me. He was tracking the sea conditions and weather.“You were in rougher seas than I have ever been,” says Jimmy.
I fill out reimbursements for the travel expenses and receive mail from Rob Evans.
“John filled me in on the cruise and told me that you had to leave the ship – don’t feel bad about it, although we expected it to be rough, it sounds like it was beyond reasonable out there. Take the week off. I’ll be in and out the next couple weeks… We can set you up with something meaningful for the rest of your internship,” says Rob.
I also receive mail from Tim Kane. He took a video from the bridge just after I left the ship and says that seas got much rougher after they went back out, so I made the right decision. The waves were over 20 feet when I was on board. Tim sends me a video that David uploaded to YouTube, which depicts 40-foot waves at the bridge of the Wecoma. There have been four separate storms so far. I ask Tim how it is. He says the deployments are going well, there are problems with two instruments that had to be recovered and they are both not deployable for now. They found the problem but cannot fix them until they are ashore. I tell Tim about an email I sent to Daniel Mutamina:
I hope all is well with you. I was moved by my experience in Zambia and I want to start a fundraiser for the villages that fought over the books. I need a contact in Zambia to make sure the donated supplies go to the right place. If this is of interest to you, I will start a website, start collecting funds and supplies, and eventually (in about four months) send them to the Geological Survey Department. It is well known that I went to Africa in the United States, so this could be a very successful fundraiser.
There is a bit of a stigma with fundraisers of this nature, however. In America, many people fear that donations will not go directly to the village. I want to make sure that all the donations go to the schools nearby. I want to work with you, Malunga, Ezekiel, Eugene, Annie and Raphael on this. The fundraiser website will have a blog, donation section, a ‘become a member’ section and pictures. I want to make sure that everything will go to the schools, so your cooperation would be very helpful.
So to be clear: Are you all willing to work on this project? Your responsibility will be to take donated supplies (money, books, clothes, food etc.) to the villages in about seven months. (The fundraiser will send everything to you on July 1, 2012), take many photos of the locals with the equipment, and draft a letter of thanks from the village to be published on the website. The fundraiser will pay for gas. What do you say?
Daniel agrees. I ask him for the group’s personal addresses for the paperwork in the State Department. This request is on Zambia time, so I am being very patient.
|November 20, 2011ACOUSTIC SURVEYWe deploy a Keck and a sensor sphere attached by a galvanic time release. The galvanic time release is the last mechanism attached to the Keck because it attaches the sensor sphere to the Keck and decays in the corrosive salt medium. After 24 hours the GTR will decay and the sensor sphere will drop softly unto the ocean floor. Alan, Dan, Matt and Tim and one of the Wecoma crew are on the wet deck. I videotape the first few minutes of the deployment but then John Collins calls me inside the lab.John instructs me that my duty is to be a watchman. He has a form that has spaces for the ships coordinates, depth, UTC time, slant depth, two-way signal time and drop velocity of the deployment. Good communication from the scientists to the crew is critical for this research mission to succeed. I call the bridge to make sure they know we are deploying the Keck.
“Lab to bridge,” I say.
“Go ahead lab,” says the Captain.
“We are at the deployment site so we are going to begin the deployment.”
“Roger that, begin the deployment,” says the Captain.
I watch four monitors that display the ship velocity, depth, coordinates, ETA at the deployment site and the position of the ship. The user interface is friendly. Emilie teaches me how to place the deployment site location on the map. It is 46° West 126° North and accurate to the thousandth minute, within a few minutes of the ship location. The captain cuts the speed. The first deployment took a few hours because the deck was wet and it was at one in the morning. This deployment takes about one hour. I record our position, the deployment location, the depth and the two way signal time. A monitor in the dry lab displays Team OBS on the deck: The crane lifts the 1,300 lbs of marine technology by a hook. I installed the hooks on the Stims on land. There is merit to the expression “Running a tight ship” – everyone has a vital task on a research vessel and there is rarely margin for a mistake without significant consequences.
The crane submerges the Keck. Alan gives the monitor thumbs up and I write down the exact position of the ship to the thousandth minute and UTC time to the millisecond. I record the estimated depth of the Keck, and we start relaying pings from the equipment with some python code. Every ten seconds the program displays the amount of time it takes a sound to reach the device. The sound is estimated to travel water at 1500 meters per second. It takes ninety minutes for the Keck to reach the bottom. I record the amount of time for the signal to reach the device and return (called a two-way signal time) and record the depth. The drop rate velocity needs to be calculated. John calls the captain.
“Lab to bridge,” says John Collins.
“Go ahead bridge,” says the captain.
“We have just completed the deployment so you can set route to the first station. Keep it steady at about four knots.”
I make six locations on the map for the acoustic sounding mission. The captain steers the ship to the locations and I record the ping positions. The acoustic survey is set up in a diamond shape around the deployment site. It takes about 30 minutes to reach each apex of the diamond. I keep an eye on the two-way signal time to make sure it gets longer as we increase distance from the deployment. I also monitor the slant distance from the ship to the Keck to make sure it is consistent with the two-way signal time. The slant distance should increase as we sail. This is not a test to make sure that sound and distance are geometrically proper: it is a test to make sure the hardware and software are functional.
“There are some seas where there is a great deal of acoustic interference from whales, cliffs or rocks. This data looks fantastic,” says John Collins. He is in good spirits and stresses the importance of clarity on the worksheet.
“Use a sharper pencil! We need to find these instruments in a year, how will we find them if we cannot read your writing?”
I triple check all of my figures. Matt once lost equipment in a landside off the coast of Hawaii and I do not want to lose this Keck. The two way signal time is 5400 milliseconds. The slant depth is over 4000 meters. We complete most of the acoustic survey. John takes over and I get lunch: vegetable soup. I vomit. I go to bed and reappear for dinner. I eat light but vomit again. I go to my perch by the engine room. My roommate, Joe, is still sick. He wears the patch. One of the two cooks is also seasick since we left Yaquina Bay. He has diabetes and cannot hold down his medication. I alert John and Tim that I am succumbing to seasickness.
“The ships movements right now – the rocking – is exactly at the resonant frequency of my stomach.”
It is like taking repeated body shots. I feel my stomach slamming around in my rib cage. My back is in pain, and I turn pale green in color. I do not sleep. My inertia throws me around the twin bunk. The engine roars at low and high frequencies. I can feel water crushing in turbulence on the cold steel hull in my bunk.
“The Pacific Northwest is not exactly a picnic – you guys are brave to be out there this time of year.”
My laptop is tied down in the dry lab and I cannot read my book. The room is dark. Tony, the first mate, enters the perch on order of the captain.
“How are you feeling, Joe?”
I peer through the curtain of my bunk and cannot hear over the roar of the undertow.
“We are going to port – we have to drop off the cook. We are going to drop off you as well, Joe. I hope you feel better.”
After thirty six hours in bed with no food and an empty stomach I realize that I might leave the RV Wecoma. I have come a long way to the Pacific Northwest. I have braved greater troubles, but I simply cannot eat anything more than a banana and a slice of bread. I drink water and tea, but do not eat much until we arrive in Coos Bay, where Joe, the cook and I join the raspy voice sailor from the Wecoma crew on board a Z-boat to the bay.
John expected me to leave and says it is the right decision. I correspond with John Collins and Tim Kane from the shore for the next few days. I thank them for everything that I learned about ocean bottom seismology. Before I joined their crew I knew nothing about it.
“We appreciate your efforts before the cruise, and we all noted that you did everything that you could to overcome sea-sickness. We will be glad to work with you again should the opportunity arise,” says John Collins.
A van meets us at the first dock on the right. Joe returns to Euguene, Oregon, and I go to my room at the Comfort Inn that I booked with the Kayak application on my phone. I take a taxi to the airport and fly to Boston with a layover at San Francisco International Airport on Sunday. I rent a vehicle from Logan to Hyannis because I arrive at midnight, and at this point, I wonder what the WHOI travel agent thinks of my travel. I get detained in South Africa and fly home unexpectedly, only to get sea-sick off the coast of Oregon one month later.
|November 17, 2011ANSWERS FROM JOHN COLLINSThe white board in the dry lab displays the ETA of the next deployment. Wednesday evening it reads, “Deployment 018 ETA – 7:30 AM” – it later reads “5:30 AM,” so I wake up at 4:00 AM. Now it reads “8:00 AM.” I do not sleep well anyways. The captain suggests we place lifejackets under the mattress to create a crevice that prevents us from falling out of bed. I feel my body enter free fall then the mattress push me up with the movement of the ship and waves. I hear the engine and an object rolling around somewhere. My method is to sleep with my back flush to the mattress and think happy thoughts.John Collins sent me a Cascadia Initiative Report, a 41 page document that clarifies why we are here and what we are doing. The document mentions that John Collins, Doug Toomey and Rick from the NSF planned the Cascadia Initiative in October 2010. The objectives are to upgrade certain sites along the fault to high sample rate real time telemetry and deploy 60 OBS instruments. I write notes with quotes from the document.
Funding: “As part of the 2009 Stimulus or ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) spending, NSF’s Earth Sciences (EAR) and Ocean Sciences (OCE) divisions each received $5M in facility-related investment. These funds were targeted toward the study of the Cascadia region which led to the creation of an Amphibious Array Facility to support onshore/offshore studies of the Cascadia margin…”
WHOI’s Role: “The Cascadia Initiative funded the construction of a total of 60 Ocean Bottom Seismometers (OBSs) be the three Institutional Instrument Contributors (IICs) of the National Ocean Bottom Seismometer Instrumentation Pool (OBSIP). The IICs group at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) will build 15. All 60 OBS will be equipped with Nanometrics Trillium Compact seismometers. The WHOI OBS will be equipped with Differential Pressure Gauges (DPGs)… The WHOI OBSs will not be deployable in depths shallower than 1 km. All 60 OBSs will be equipped with 12-month battery packs…”
Possible Research Topic: “Observations of slow aseismic slip and tremor at subduction zones are becoming more common as instrumentation capable of recording these phenomena increases. The picture of how slow slip and tremor are distributed and evolve in space and time is beginning to emerge in the onshore regions, albeit with highly variable resolution, whereas offshore even their existence is largely unknown. Most observations of slow slip and tremor come from land. Their mechanism is poorly known but is frequently proposed to be related to the deep frictional transition from slick-slip to stable sliding that is well documented. Because of the repeated and quasi-periodic occurrence of slow slip and tremor (episodic tremor and slip (ETS)) in Cascadia, the OBS deployment described in this document provides the opportunity to instrument the plate boundary from the trench to the deep frictional transition, record at least one ETS event and directly address the equation of the shallow occurrence of ETS. Observations from other subduction zones lead us to anticipate them in offshore Cascadia…”
Benefit to Humanity: “If ETS is related to the edges of where the plate boundary is locked and seismogenic, mapping it with an amphibious integrated deployment of both geodetic and seismic instrumentation would permit accurate forecasts of the rupture limits of future great earthquakes…”
“The Cascadia OBS deployment will help constrain the spatial variation on both physical properties and the spectrum of deformation events all the way from the deformation front down to the ETS region. These improved constraints are crucial for physical models of the thrust zone and hence for refining estimates of both seismic and tsunami hazard in Cascadia…”
The paper mentions receiver functions, which was Daniel Mutamina’s thesis. There are also maps of the Cascadia array of instruments. I ask John Collins some questions first thing in the morning.
“Are there fifteen OBSs on board?”
No, he says there are twenty-five. I mention that the initiative report only includes fifteen from WHOI and he says that we had ten extra ready to deploy.
“Are we upgrading any of the high frequency stations?”
He says no, those are on land. John has me call the bridge to ask for the ETA. We arrive on site in 30 minutes. I call Alan and Dan but accidentally call the bridge again. We are not sure how to use the phones to call the rooms so I knock on doors. I wake up Dan and tell him thirty minutes to the next site. Emilie teaches me how to chart waypoints on a mapping user interface. I chart a few waypoints.
Tim is an avid chess player. I tell him that I also play, so he prints out a chess board and tapes it to the side of a metal cabinet. The pieces are magnetic so we will play throughout the day, making a move whenever we have time. John Collins says I can take whatever role I want on the ship and I am choosing to be an active participant. My boots are on and I am about to step outside for my first deployment.
|November 16, 2011EXCITEMENT ON THE FIRST DAYI watch Dan and Matt on the monitor in the dining room. They wear orange suits and Dan has a loop in his hands. Joe still appears sick.“You are both awake! How are you feeling Joe?” asks Emilie.
Joe is not feeling well. He has not thrown up but he feels nauseas and dizzy when he moves. I ask Emilie what they are doing on the deck.
“They are recovering the glider,” she says.
This is a favor for Oregon State University. OSU deployed a glider instrument last year. It glides about the sea floor collecting geophysical data on the ocean temperature and composition. It is shaped like a torpedo. OSU asks us to recover the device because it is malfunctioning. We send it the recovery coordinates and the glider comes to the surface. I record the recovery with my video camera. Alan, Dan and the Wecoma crew pull it out of the water while waves crash on deck. The modular walls are taken off along the starboard rail. The deck is flooded with water. Emilie and the Wecoma crew quickly move away.
“I am still wearing my indoor shoes,” says Emilie. So am I. They recover the glider and put it into the wooden box. David uses a magnet to turn the device off. I go inside and watch the video. My pulse quickens just watching. My expectations for a voyage into the Pacific are exceeded on the first full morning. Dan asks me how I am holding up. I tell him that I am not sea sick. I ask Dan if he feels OK.
“Well I am fine, but I knew what I was getting into,” Dan laughs.
“I saw you recover that glider that was pretty cool.”
Dan agrees. “It did not have any handles so we grabbed it by the fins and the tip.”
We are going south and the next deployment is not until tomorrow morning.
“That is life at sea when you are doing passive deployments. There is a lot of hurry up and wait. When we do active deployments we collect live data, so we find out what we introduce to the environment as we are doing it, so it can be a bit more involved. These instruments collect data for one year. We will not talk to them for a long time. Now we just have the rest of the day to hang out on board,” says Dan.
We watch The Entity, Limitless and The A-Team in the movie room. I go to sleep early to participate in the next recovery. Being on deck is dangerous, but I learned in Africa that I must have indomitable optimism or these moments will pass me by.
|November 15, 2011ADJUSTINGI slept well in my bunk last night. The ship is docked in the docile Yaquina Bay. The lab equipment is ratcheted to the walls and all the cabinets in my perch are locked. Wooden lips edge the tables to prevent computers and dishes from sliding. The crew loads the spares on the deck with the crane. The ship is ready to set sail after a safety check with everyone on board.“In the strange circumstance that you need to operate a lifeboat alone, this is how you do it. You pull this cable off the boat. It’s a 120 foot cable. You bring the cable towards you. When you reach the end of the cable the lifeboat will inflate automatically. Do not deploy a lifeboat before you are told to do so,” says Jeff. He brings us down to the dry lab, where we assemble our life jackets and buddy suits. David demonstrates how to open a buddy suit – he grabs the end and pulls out the cover. A bright red human sized suit falls on the floor.
“If this is your first time on the Wecoma you will need to put on a buddy suit. Before you crawl into the suit, make sure that the zipper is one to three inches above the bottom. The reason for this is that if your zipper gets caught in your sweater you want to have room to pull it down before you pull it up. Lie down, put your legs in first then get on your knees. Leave your strong arm free to pull the hood on. Zip up and then take a photo. The photo is the crucial step,” says David. Joe and I put on our suits in the wet lab. The mittens have a free index finger and thumb and I joke that we can use the right hand rule in mittens.
We switch power supplies to run off the engine instead of the dock. I warn Emilie and she saves her work. The dean of the University of Oregon waves us goodbye from the dock and we depart. Emilie, John, Tim and I stay on the deck to take photos. The captain orders us inside.
The boat moves up and down and side to side. I take a nap in the TV room. When Alan, Joe, John or Tim asks how I feel I say, “I am adjusting.” I sleep from 6:00 pm – 7:00 am.
I register for Spring classes today. When I tell John my schedule he asks if I have a job next summer and says I should do data processing in his lab.
“Lets make sure he survives this cruise first,” says Dan.
“Let the kid graduate,” says Matt.
|November 14, 2011‘LET’S MAKE SURE HE SURVIVES THE CRUISE FIRST’Tim takes one of the sensor spheres back to the hotel to weld in a controlled environment. If dust sticks to an o-ring the sensor could leak water. One of the motors in the gimbals is loose from its collar. He leaves the hotel six minutes before check out. We connect the sensor to the computer and test the channels. They do not respond. We load the sphere tomorrow morning because the Wecoma crew does not operate the crane after 4:30 pm. This sensor sphere is one of two spares. Dan and Matt load the deck and prepare to set sail. I move into my perch in the Scientists Quarters. The bedroom is about half the size of a single in International Village but it accommodates two people.I meet Joe Burns and Emilie from the University of Oregon. Emilie is a professor and Joe is a first year graduate student studying seismology. Joe is originally from Iowa and has a physics degree from Iowa State. Emilie is married to another University of Oregon professor named Doug Toomey. Doug and Emilie met as WHOI graduate students in the MIT/WHOI joint program.
“I lecture this morning but I am not all there. I tell the kids – see you in December! Then split. I will not see them again until their final exam,” she laughs.
“You should go for the bottom bunk before Joe moves in. And if you get sea sick and have to throw up – make it to the head. I threw up in the sink last time I was on the Wecoma and I had to wait all night for the mechanic to clean it out. It was absolutely dreadful,” says John Collins. I move into the bottom bunk.
“Have you ever been on a ship before?” I ask Joe.
“No, this is my first time. I am from Iowa so I have been pretty landlocked my entire life.”
Joe wears a motion sickness patch behind his left ear. I do not own the patch because there are none over the counter at the CVS in the Cape Cod Mall. I had less than three weeks to unload from CAMTEX and prepare for the Cascadia Initiative. I wear bracelets that apply pressure to a spot three finger lengths from my wrist crease. This prevents motion sickness as alternative medicine. We drive over the Wecoma Bay Bridge by a U.S. Coast Guard station. An old coast guard rescue vessel that is capable of flipping upside down in extreme conditions is in the front yard.
“Those are real heroes. There is a story of six men saving 26 lives off the coast here. They jump out of helicopters not knowing if they will land twenty or one hundred feet down depending if they land on a crest or a trough. Their mission is to save lives. No guns. They might just save us in a few weeks,” says Dan.
“Let us hope not,” says Matt.
“Probably not,” says John.
I wonder what the Pacific has in store for us. We set sail tomorrow morning.
“Two footers, right?” jokes Matt.
“Yeah – add a couple of twos to the tens place.”
I tell Tim that I feel anxious.
“It is OK to be anxious. I am anxious every time I go to sea. I do not know what it will be like and I am really worried about the equipment on board. After the last deployment I exhale a massive breath of relief. After that I am kind of giddy,” says Tim.
I do not have the same burden of responsibility: if anything on the ship goes wrong it will not be my fault. I have imbued in me a natural care for the mission. I know I will be upset if the cruise does not meet the standards of the Cascadia Initiative. I am anxious because I do not know how it feels to be at sea for sixteen days. I do not express this to John Collins, who continues to offer me opportunities at WHOI next summer as a guest student scholar.
“Let’s make sure he survives this cruise first,” says Dan.
“Let the kid graduate,” says Matt.
There is an emergency escape breathing device on the wall and several posters around the ship about emergency precautions. Tim and Dan warn me about tense ropes and heavy weights that break fingers and legs on many cruises. They also say that there are times when being on the deck are not allowed, although this is the captain’s discretion.
The last time Tim was on the Langseth a monster wave came over the deck. Everyone on board scrambles for something to hold. There are railings, ropes and things ratcheted down. Any loose equipment on the deck will slide and crash with the wave. Tim grabs a rope. In a matter of seconds everything on deck is in ruins. The captain calls everyone off the deck but it is too late. The crew sustains no injuries but the damage is done. The equipment is broken.
“My uncle was a musician and a man of many trades. He wore many hats. He built his own violins and one time, he took the strings and made a kite. The kite was big and strong and he had this strange idea. He took my cousin and had him grab hold of the kite, then my uncle connected the string to the back of his truck and drove down a steep hill. My cousin flew for a few seconds until the kite folded in on him and nosedived to the ground,” laughs Dan. Tim tells the next story.
“When we were young, my friend and I, probably around eight at the time, asked if we could borrow a wooden rowboat from one of our neighbors. They live on top of this steep hill and I lived at the bottom. The boat was sitting in their front yard, a short ways from a pond at the base of the hill. They say no – so we decide to steal it. I attach it to my bicycle and coast down the hill. I start accelerating. I try to brake but nothing happens. The boat is accelerating down this hill and I am pedaling. I reach the bottom of the hill – must have been going 45 MPH – and know I cannot make a turn. I see a neighbor’s hedge, like eight feet tall, and think – yes that will be soft. I crash into it and emerge on the other side fifteen feet above a valley. So now I am midair with a boat and a bicycle in a hedge behind me. I fall. The boat splits in two. My friend and I return it to the house and leave it in the exact position we found it. As if they would not notice. My mother asks me if I did this and I lie. She discovers the truth and grounds me for weeks.”
John Collins says the weather is worse in Newport now than Ireland in the wintertime.
“That’s because it never rains in the pubs,” says Tim. Everyone laughs.
|November 14, 2011MOVING INTO THE WECOMAWe pack our bags to move into the Wecoma today. We will stay there tonight and set sail early Tuesday morning.|
|November 13, 2011O-RINGSThe day beings at the Coffee House, where we are now breakfast regulars. The orange juice is freshly squeezed by the cashier every day.“Are you impressed? I had it ready before your food today,” says the cashier. She is also the waitress and makes drinks. The Coffee House is not a symbol of efficiency. It is a charming local restaurant that takes you back to another time. As much as Woods Hole is populated by MBL and WHOI, Newport is populated by NOAA. NOAA docks the Wecoma and three larger ships. The waitress asks if we are with NOAA – we say no.
Tim and I test the vacuum on the rest of the seismographs. Two sensors have channels that do not detect stomping on the concrete. These two sensors will not be deployed. We package all the sensors into black cases with a foam layer. I then attach the wires to the casing of the STIMs on deck.
“Are the seismographs sensitive to magnetic fields induced from the movement of these wires?”
“That is a really good question. Those wires run an AC current that powers LEDs and the electronics the cylinder.” Alan genuinely worries about this but is a bit stressed out. LEDs use very little electricity and the magnetic field is probably negligible. I do not know the sensitivity of the equipment. The induced magnetic field from a moving wire is a reason we buried cables for MT deployments in Botswana and Zambia.
“Alan is under a lot of pressure. If anything goes wrong he is at fault. These are all new instruments and we were rushed in the engineering process. We did one float test with one set of equipment a few days before shipment – that is it,” says Tim.
I recall seeing Alvin, Colin, Dave and Jimmy at the dock that day. Tim teaches me the engineering specifications of o-rings and bolts on the seismographs (which John Collins calls sensor spheres).
“O-rings are essential at steel to rubber interface. Each ring has a designated torque so that the ring does not get deformed. If there is too much torque it could deform the o-ring and let in water. If there is too little torque it will let in water. The screws on the lid of the sphere need delicate torque because too much could deform the plastic. The screws attaching the handle you can go crazy on because they are steel on steel interfaces which allows much more torque,” says Tim.
Knowing the proper torque for o-rings is the right way to do marine engineering. I use a mechanic lift to move the sensors around the warehouse and load them into their proper black box by serial number. We package the sensors and prepare the STIMs for deployment on deck. I go for a walk down Nye Beach in Newport. I take a picture and film of the waves we will brave on Tuesday.
|November 12, 2011EARLY MORNING AT ON THE DOCKSThis morning I venture to the docks. I take photos of fisherman towing baskets of fish. The NOAA ships and the R/V Wecoma are across the bay. A storm looms over the mountains. The sun is rising in the east and the trees on the horizon are silhouetted. The sea lion lounges on the rocks and occasionally flops and sounds off. The waves move with tremendous inertia. A standing wave transmits energy against the rock with a cascade of eruptions that lasts several seconds sends a plume of water to the air. The dock smells like fish and the air like sea fog with a hint of rain. Rumbling from the sheer force of the waves can be felt in my feet. Freezing rain billows down on Yaquina Bay.Tim and I get inside the warehouse. We check the pressure and gimbals on the seismographs. I unscrew the lids, remove the casing and evacuate the chamber. The seismographs connect to a digital to analog converter and Tim uses python code to calibrate the motors. We recreate a vacuum and check the pressure. His computer displays three time series for each axis that the seismograph rotates. I stomp near the seismograph. Three spikes appear in each channel.
“Believe it or not, those spikes measure the deformation you just caused in the concrete,” says Tim.
One seismograph is broken and will not be deployed. We have two spares and check six more tomorrow. Tim listens to the gimbals while gently swinging the seismograph. If he hears any noise then something wrong. He calls me over to listen for any movement. The radio plays music by The Monkees, The Animals, The Rolling Stones and Nancy Sinatra.
“I travelled in Ireland recently playing fiddle for a band. This one show I see an older man in the back of the pub who seems to enjoy the music. He cranes his head every few seconds to watch me play. During one of our breaks he calls a waitress to his table and points at me. He looks surprised – the waitress says, ‘He’s an American.’ His response: ‘Surely he must be Irish!’ That was the biggest compliment to me. That I was not coming off as an American in Ireland, but mistaken for Irish.”
Tim was a fiddler for a successful production of Riverdance. We set up flashers and radio beacons on the STIMs on deck. Rain pours and the wind picks up. I use a drill on a stainless steel interface to attach the beacons for recovery missions.
“We turn on the beacons before deployment. They have a pressure switch so they will be off after they reach a certain depth. As they come up to the surface the pressure will be less so they will turn back on. The radio beacon is an RDF so we can get a general direction from it,” says Dan.
Team OBS tells me I put too much torque on screws. Every nut and bolt has a designated torque to it. Too much torque puts stress and strain on the interface. The corrosive salt water can eat up a metal-on-metal interface. A great deal of care goes into the torque of each nut and bolt on any submersible. If there is too much or too little torque the instrument could leak water. The risks are familiar to anyone who tightens a car battery lead too much – they could spill liquid led by deforming the plastic casing.
The seismographs are built by a company that is stringent about their hardware and code. The company charges several thousand dollars to fix the equipment and does not provide open source code. Tim has fixed twenty two of the seismographs. He traveled with the remaining four to observe the engineers perform fixes. The company did not enjoy this. I run my fundamental understanding of seismology by Tim.
“I just want to make sure I understand how these work. I imagine that I have an array of microphones spaced one meter apart. I record a noise then do some clever things using the frequency and the time difference between the sound wave recordings to figure where the noise came from. Seismographs pick up noise along a fault in three dimensions. So they do some integration and figure out where and how much the fault moved using the PS waves of minor earthquakes?”
“You are exactly right,” says Tim. I base this understanding from Rob Evans’s teachings about MT data inversion and Latika Menon’s lectures in Physics 1. John Collins asks me a question about Northeastern.
“Do you have a football program at Northeastern?”
“No, we cut it after my freshman year.”
“Good for your school. The University of Chicago cut their program back in the thirties. The president basically said, ‘This school can have a great football program or it can have a great president’ – then he cut the program,” says Richard. Richard represents the NSF, which is a partial owner of the Wecoma and pays a portion of the research grant for the Cascadia project.
Alan Gardner tells us about a WHOI cruise near Cuba. He was on a U.S. Coast Guard vessel to recover some deployments when there was a distress call. They pick up seventeen dissidents leaving Cuba for the United States. The next two days they are kept in a room on the ship. No one is allowed to take pictures or make satellite phone connections. The dissidents are removed by customs and the ship is cleaned with bleach, delaying the recoveries a few days.
“I should have paid you more for that one,” says John.
The locals are enthused by our trip. At our breakfast and dinner tables the staff asks about our ships. We are all tired from jet lag. Tim wakes up at three every morning and Dan recounts the worst jetlag he ever had coming home from a WHOI trip in Spain. The cold rain and salt water are exhausting. There is an aquarium on the docks that has glass tunnels under water. It is famed for once housing Free Willy.
|November 11, 2011TALES FROM THE BOATA metal bar inside the STIMs is heavily bent and nearly delays us a few days. Dan makes a trade off by loosening it at the base. We plan to set sail on Tuesday and we are on schedule. Today I prepare the instruments for deployment and learn about ocean bottom seismology, engineering and the Team OBS acronyms. We discuss sailors that died in the last few years on board the Langseth and Roger Revelle.I fasten a galvanic time release holder to metal plating on the STIMs. The galvanic time release has three components – two cathodes and one anode. The cathodes electrochemically degrade in seawater and evolve hydrogen gas. The noble metal plating on the cathode corrodes twenty four hours after deployment. The electronics are encased in yellow foam in a vacuum cylinder inside the STIMs. The galvanic time release is a small hook of metal that connects the STIMs to the seismographs. The GTR releases the seismographs a few feet above the ocean floor instead of thousands of feet from the surface, as the STIMs and seismograph are dropped with a crane. This protects the device from the impact, but it has drawbacks on the data. Currents flow over the STIMs and can affect the orientation of the seismograph. Wires connect the evacuated cylinder to a battery pack cylinder on the STIMs. The whole instrument weighs 1,300 lbs. There is concern about the safety of David on the crane. Tim connects loose wires to the STIM frames with zip-ties.
“Do you know why I am doing this?” he asks.
“No,” I say.
“It is because loose wires might strum at a frequency that messes with the seismograph data,” says Tim.
“What frequencies does the seismograph detect?”
Tim answers 120 seconds. This is the period – the frequency is less than a hundredth of a second. In African MT parlance, low frequency means deep earth imaging. Broadband seismographs detect a wide range of periods from factions of a second to nearly 1000 seconds. The Arcadia project is funded by a five year grant for a seismic array off the coast of northern California, Oregon and Washington. Our research offers insight into seismic activity off the coast. We leave the instruments on the ocean floor for one year. There are signs here that read, “Tsunami Warning Zone.” I ask Dan why the instruments are called STIMs.
“They were purchased with stimulus money. In our documentation we call them Ts because we call the seismographs S and T comes after S. If we buy something else with stimulus money we will have to make a new name. If you come up with a good new name that would be great,” says Dan.
The STIMs are engineered by Team OBS. They willfully teach me marine electrical engineering and ocean bottom seismology. I start with simple tasks – I put washers on bolts to prevent corrosion from metal contacts, attach the galvanic time release plates and move two by fours to raise the STIMs off the deck. The seismographs are housed in an orange sphere that looks like a spherical hard hat. Team OBS calls them Kecks because they were originally funded by the Keck Foundation.
“Where are the Kecks?” Asks John Collins. He arrives tonight. We erupt in laughter and stop quickly. We move the Kecks to the warehouse today. When John inspects the empty container we plan to joke by telling him “We thought you had the Kecks!”
We beat the rain today, but the forecast for the next five days is rain. The dock is wet, cold and dangerous. Visibility is a factor with fog, wind and rain. The waves are enormous. The bunks in the Wecoma are small and there is no deck-space with the equipment on board. There are two labs on board – a wet lab and a dry lab. I load all the equipment into the labs with the serial numbers facing outwards and Alan sets up shop. The Wecoma is known for sea sickness. There is a hypothermia warning poster in the dry lab and a sign on the doors that reads, “This ship has not had an accident since: August 19, 2011.” I see a sea lion near the deck.
“We had dolphins following us so close you could reach out and touch them last time we were on the Wecoma,” says Dan. I mention that a man died on a cruise that Jimmy Elsenbeck was on board.
“Must have been John, he died in the West Pacific of a heart attack. We were on board too,” says Matt. Dan says a man went missing overnight on a cruise last year and was never seen again.
“Men fall overboard and the Coast Guard finds them with their zipper down,” says Dan.
“There are some forty two cameras on the Langseth. There will be no mysteries about your friends,” says Matt.
We rent a Chrystler van which features a park assist rear camera, automatic doors, an auxiliary cable for music, a television and two USB drives. The standard 4×4 Hilux was more useful in Botswana and Zambia than any of these features in Oregon. We drive by the original “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” location.
“Can you believe it?” asks Matt.
John Collins is accompanied Richard from the NSF. The Wecoma is owned by Oregon State University and the NSF, and the NSF pays part of our grant. We are all glad to see John and Richard at the hotel.
“We are starting slow – taking it easy. Now is not the time to push ourselves. We have a long journey ahead of us with little rest in our future. Now is the time to sleep,” says Dan. We all agree.
David acts as the eye and ear to the captain of the Wecoma. He is a young technician. He takes pictures of Tim’s motherboards and I ask Tim if he has patents on his equipment.
“The funny thing is America is one of few countries where it is still the first to invent it, not the first to patent it that gets rights to the invention” says David.
“See you tomorrow at seven?” says Dan.
Team OBS are used to being on a ship together so they often agree to rendezvous without a location. Matt agrees but they never say where to meet. We find Matt walking around the hotel parking lot and pick him up in the van.
We work before sunrise and after sunset. It is the first time I have ever been in Newport, Oregon. Rob Evans and WHOI are amazing for sending me to Africa for two months and more than two weeks later to Oregon. Alan Gardner, Daniel Kot, Matt Gould and Tim Kane have at least three years experience on ships, and Matt has thirty five years experience at WHOI.
|November 10, 2011ALL ABOARD!We leave the Comfort Inn and Suites and drive 112 miles to Newport, Oregon. Newport is right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. A silver fog blankets the landscape and silhouettes immense trees that are so tall their tops cannot be seen through the fog.“Every time I come out here it is this foggy,” says Dan.
The Pacific Ocean is normally enamored in fog in Newport, but not today. The waves are enormous. I have never seen waves like this. They form at the horizon and move towards the shore like a band of rolling giants. The sound reminds me of Victoria Falls.
We arrive at the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where the Wecoma is docked. We unload the container of the WHOI equipment. It is true what Jimmy, Alan and Dan say – the Wecoma even rocks while docked.
“She is a rocker,” smiles Alan.
I feel nauseas on board. I do not mention this to Alan, Dan, Matt or Tim. There is a problem with one of the seismographs. There are weights in the seismographs that have two positions: free and locked. The weights push a small pin that passes a current between two parallel plates when the seismograph is settled.
“The weights in this seismograph are in the free position, which means that they have been moving around in there for the last week. The odds of the pin being damaged are 99%,” says Tim. Tim claims that the Challenger crash was due to faulty o-rings. Alan and Tim consider calling Dave at Woods Hole so he can overnight a controller to calibrate the seismograph. I suggest calling John Collins, who will arrive in Portland tomorrow. We have twelve sensor kits and we need to make ten deployments. Alan calls John and will call Dave if he does not hear back in the next hour.
NOAA has a beautiful building at the docks.
“It is brand new. It was not here when I was here two years ago,” says Dan.
Sea lions are heard in the harbor. The weather is like New England in November but it seems darker earlier here. The forecast is rain this weekend so we will do the outdoor work tomorrow and the engineering in the garage if it rains. The only odd thing about Oregon so far is the sinks, which are in the bedrooms of the hotel instead of the bathroom. I meet one of the crew on board named Chip as well as three people named Doug. There is one other undergraduate on board the Wecoma – an Oregon State University student. We will split 12 hours shifts every day and share a perch.
|November 9, 2011HEADING OUT WESTAlan Gardner picks me up at my home in Marstons Mills in an Enterprise rental vehicle. We drive to Logan Airport for our flight to Portland, Oregon, and I pepper Alan with a few questions on the road.“Have you ever been out West?”
“Yes. I have been to Oregon twice, Fiji, Japan and Hawaii – all with WHOI.”
Alan is a Boston University High School graduate and began as a low level technician at WHOI after high school. After four years he is an engineer in charge of the OBS lab. He flips through the radio before we enter the Ted Williams tunnel. There is a story about a Rhode Island man smuggling cigarettes to avoid taxes. I mention that some economists argue that it is better for the economy that cigarette smokers die young and Alan finishes my sentence.
“Because of their burden on the health care system – even with the taxes they pay per pack, it is not worth it for the public. Now I missed the relevant information,” he listens to the radio for the traffic report. Alan has a family and rents the Enterprise vehicle for an extra hour at home with his wife and daughter.
“It is one of the hardest parts of being at sea nowadays. We have the Internet, great, but you will get an e-mail about something that happened back at home and it is painful because there is nothing you can do about it,” Tim laments at the Portland International Airport. Tim, Alan and I board our non-stop flight to Portland, Oregon. It is a six hour flight and I nearly finish “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson on board. Tim asks me if I have ever worked on a boat before and I say no then anxiously stammer that I have common sense.
“It is not all about common sense. I have seen experienced shipmen loading thousands of pounds by directing a crane to bring it directly over their head,” Tim reminds me of Malunga in that he is suddenly animated the closer we are to the Wecoma. I have a text message from Daniel Kot, my roommate at the Confort Inn and Suites.
“There is a key card at the front desk with your name. If you have any problems give me a call.”
The receptionist at the front desk perks up at our East Coast accent. We are not entirely sure we are in the right location. This is not the same hotel that Tim and Alan stayed last year and there is another hotel named the Comfort Inn.
“Breakfast is served in the breakfast room from 6:00 AM – 9:00 AM,” the receptionist says. I ask her for my room key and The Oregonian. She hands me both and we rendezvous tomorrow morning to leave Portland for Newport at 8:00 AM.
|November 2, 2011STILL WAITING FOR BAGSI arrive at Woods Hole with Colin, Dave and Jimmy in the lab. We discuss our trip and plans for December. Jimmy and Rob anticipate me being completely occupied by the R/V Wecoma from November 9 – December 3. I still need my check in bag from Africa, which I retrieve from Dave on Friday. My flight is on the afternoon of November 9.|
|November 1, 2011A CRASH COURSE IN HYPOTHERMIAJimmy and Dave are at Woods Hole this morning. I read the safety manual for boarding the R/V Wecoma. It is currently stationed in Newport, Oregon. The advice on hypothermia is interesting.“The condition of hypothermia results when body temperature is reduced because of exposure to cold water or air. While at sea, it is important to remember that exposure to cold water causes heat loss twenty times faster than exposure to cold air. Even a few minutes of exposure under these conditions can cause hypothermia. Hypothermia can even take place in tropical waters. A victim of hypothermia should be treated at once. The first step is to get the victim to a warm area. Secondly, all cold, wet clothing should be removed and the extremities wrapped in blankets. The torso area should be covered and a hat should be placed on the victim’s head. The first area to warm up is the torso, since this area contains all the vital organs of the body. A good way for the rescuer to warm this area is to remove his or her clothing (shirt) and jump around for a few minutes to elevate the body temperature then lie down chest to chest with the victim. This method transfers the heat of one body to another. A warm or hot shower should never be used to warm a victim of hypothermia. The circulatory system to the extremities has been shut down by the body to keep the warm blood near the vital organs. A warm or hot shower would make the body resume full blood circulation throughout the body before the blood in the extremities is warm enough. The shock of the cold blood from the extremities to the vital organs could be more than the body could withstand. Shivering is a good sign because it means the body’s natural defense mechanism is working. The body or limbs of a hypothermia victim should not be rubbed due to the possibility of more damage occurring to a circulatory system that is already in severe shock.”
I go to the village to help the crew at Smith. A man knows me while I work just near Alvin.
“You must be Mathew. You will be joining us at sea, yes? Welcome aboard – my name is Dan.”
Dan is sea savvy. His neck is darker than his face and his brow has lines that are flush to his eyebrows when he raises them. He has a strong grip and wears snug curved Oakley’s sunglasses. Alan greets Dan and discusses the R/V Wecoma.
“It is a short trip just about three weeks at sea. It is just off the coast of Alaska and we start just north of California. It is going to be a wet deck on the rocky Wecoma,” says Alan.
“Even in peaceful waters the Wecoma is said to rock,” says Jimmy. Jimmy has gone to sea with some of the crew from the Wecoma.
“Make sure you bring the sea sickness patches – not pills or tablets…” says Tim. Jimmy has the same advice. I expect sickness and hard work on board.
|October 31, 2011ALVINDiana drives me to WHOI Monday morning.“Welcome back!”
She gives a warm greeting. We discuss WHOI’s findings in Africa. I tell her the MT data needs processing. She says that WHOI makes big discoveries in Washington. She documents scientific discoveries in Woods Hole for MBL. I certainly value her opinion and I am excited about seeing the Pacific Ocean.
“Will you be going win Alvin? she asks.
I am not sure if Alvin will be on board. I saw him in July stationed at the harbor. I ask Rob if he will be on board.
“No I do not think so. I think he is in the lab.”
Alvin has completed more than 2,000 dives. I look for Alvin with an engineer in the OBS lab named Rob who has been at WHOI for 36 years. We meet Jimmy, Colin and Dave on a dock. They do a float test (“NOT a sink test” – instrument engineer) with one of Rob Evan’s new marine MT instruments.
“Unless it is an anchor you never want it to sink. I think Old Alvin is right around the corner.”
The titanium submersible is within eyesight. Alvin took Bob Ballard to the Titanic, the Bismarck, and what is known as his greatest discovery in Woods Hole – the deepest known living organisms on planet Earth.
I work on the code linking rhoplus to Jimmy’s EDI conversion GUI. Jimmy has fresh ground coffee and a stack of travel expense receipts. I spend the afternoon loading submersible batteries for the ocean bottom seismographs. We use a vacuum to seal the foam cased battery packs from water. I mail John Collins to read a copy of the research proposal for greater understanding of the research mission.
“I saw your mail about the research proposal. The proposal is more for a general research project, but I will get you a paper that describes the science behind this cruise,” says John Collins.
|October 30, 2011DIRECTOR’S DISCUSSIONTeam WHOI and Daniel Mutamina met with the director of the Geological Survey Department on the penultimate day in Zambia. I filmed Jimmy and the director’s discussion – this is the transcript of their conversation.“There are visible implications of the East Africa Rift in [southern Zambia] and also extending into Botswana. So what we are looking for is evidence of extension, evidence of decompressive melting and basically something that could result in volcanic activity. Extension in this type of environment is not very well understood how these rift systems begin, what they look like at very early times, and so the premise of the entire project is to look at different levels of the East Africa Rift Systems – different levels of evolution. So we started in Botswana where they think that the rift system is at its youngest point under the Okavango Delta. So we want to see if there is any visible or noticeable effects of the East Africa Rift systems there at the youngest point and then we are working our way up towards the center of the East Africa Rift, although we are only going through Botswana and Zambia and then Zambia next year, and we have plans for Malawi and Mozambique but we will have to see if that is possible next year,” says Jimmy.
“What did you determine from the Botswana data?” the director asks.
“We have not had time to interpret the data yet,” says Jimmy.
“But you are able to look at it?” asks the director.
“I think so – I think we were able to see it. We just collected the data and we had some time to do some field processing but we have not done any real interpretation for depth. That process will begin once we return to the United States,” says Jimmy.
“I was being told at some of the stations you are able to view as deep as 200 km?” asks the director.
“What is this evidence of decompressive melting? This is quite interesting.”
“The decompressive melting I know of the evidence that they have seen at least in the northern part of Zambia is that you have a lot of evidence of hot springs,” says Jimmy.
“Hot springs?” says the director.
“And so hot springs I mean the water is being heated from some magmatic source at depth. That is the most likely common cause for a hot spring environment. So there is lots of hot springs in the northern part of Zambia but there are not so many down here in the south part. So possibly that is some evidence of the variability in the evolution of the rift as it is migrating southward.”
The director points to a topographic map of Zambia.
“Maybe another area I wanted you to look – another interesting area you should look at the northern area on the map behind you, can you look at the basin? That is the Okavango. I think for us the most interesting part again will be the triple junction of the three rift systems because we have the Okavango, and we have the Kafue Basin and we have the Zambezi.”
He shows us the junction.
“It is a very critical area,” says the director.
“These stations that we have deployed here along this line we are using the shorter period stations to look at depths probably on the order of – well we are doing two to three thousand seconds as the period so that probably equates to in this area certainly through the crust and maybe to the top of the mantle,” says Jimmy.
“Are you able to distinguish between the crust and the upper mantle?”
“We will have to see what the data looks like. All we have really been able to do is take the data off the instruments and do some basic cursory processing to make sure that the data we collected was useful – that the noise level was low. As far as interpretation goes we will have to load the responses that we have generated as well as do additional processing on the data to try and do that as good as we can to determine any variability,” says Jimmy.
“The other area that we are interested in – we should get some of those programs for processing because we do not have some of those programs for processing,” says the director.
“The software that is staying with the equipment is able to perform all of the processing that is necessary. The interpretation software is the one that is the tricky part because the software we use at Woods Hole has license keys that are rather expensive. I know that Rob has made the offer to Daniel to come to Woods Hole to work on some of the interpretation because that is where the license keys are stored.”
“About how much are some of these licenses?”
“I think these licenses are something on the order of between one to three thousand dollars per year for that particular software package depending on the number of modules you pick and all that stuff. Rob would have a better estimate because he is the one who actually foots that bill.”
“Interesting because we are also following up this rift system… It is interesting in our case because there is no seismic data. And then we have a lot of basalts so the normal seismic research is very difficult because basalts give them a disadvantage. I think magnetotellurics will also help give an idea for these people,” says the director.
“Is it because the basalts absorb the seismic energy?” Asks Jimmy.
“Yes most people who do seismic complain of basalts. They have to use new methods to go through the basalts,” says the director.
“I am just wondering if it is fragmented–”
“Yeah but it is the opposite because in this region it makes it more difficult,” says the director.
“Yes but you must actually have high velocity basalts, if you have high velocity basalts then those segments we would expect to be more difficult to transmit signals,” says Daniel.
“Most people are talking of special processes because of the basalts,” says the director.
“Maybe it is the interface because if you have high velocity rock on top of low velocity sedimentary rocks then you have…” says Jimmy
“Yes, yes that explains it.” Everyone agrees.
“So we are quite interested in your project and we want to communicate more. But in terms of, because we also want to know the thickness of the crust in terms of the pressures that are required to generate kimberlites because the theory in western province some of the people say that the crust has been thinned so there aren’t the development of these thin crystals because there is not enough pressure so that information was critical to us,” says the director.
“With the MT data we have collected we should certainly be able to tell the thickness of the crust along that line.”
“Yeah so thank you very much. Will you be around?”
“We will be around for a couple of days.”
“We have one more station to recover out near Kaoma.”
“So you just left it?”
“Yes just for two days.”
Jimmy, Richard and Colin collect the site on the following morning, and Dave and I depart Lusaka.
|October 27, 2011‘SHE’S A ROCKER’I meet with John Collins, the P.I. of the Washington cruise.“You must be Mathew. You will be joining us on board, yes? We are doing all OBS. The cruise should be about two weeks. Only broadband stations,” Ocean Bottom Seismology is the mission of the Arcadia cruise. It is a five year research project to study seismology along the fault on the west coast. I book my flight November 9 – December 3 through our travel agent on John’s research grant. I purchase Matlab and then catch a ride to the village with a WHOI elder.
“You must have just missed the shuttle. I am going to the payroll office just before the village, so you might need to walk a bit. Where are you going?”
I am going to the Smith Building. I ask him what he does for WHOI.
“Yes. I have only worked at WHOI for four months.” He smiles and says enjoy it – the sea is a completely new experience.
I meet some of the Wecoma crew, Alan Gardner and Tim. We check the pressure of seismographs in large foam cases for deployment one to two miles under the Pacific Ocean.
We have a productivity meeting at Clark Lab. Rob wants Colin, Dave, Jimmy and me to collaborate on a coding project in December. Colin, Dave and Jimmy will be in international waters and I will be at Woods Hole. They will not have cell service although they can sign up for 15 minutes on the satellite phone on the weekends. They will have Internet access and should be able to send emails any time of day.
Rain drenches the cases and we tip the cases to prevent water from entering the Smith Building. Tim brandishes a mop.
|October 26, 2011SORTING THROUGH THE DATAI am back in Woods Hole with Rob in the laboratory. I work on a coding project. Jimmy reignited my interest in Botswana. Jimmy switched majors as an undergraduate from computer science to environmental science. My task is to write a Matlab executable file linking a one-dimensional inversion code named Rhoplus to a WHOI Matlab GUI, but Jimmy has a different solution.“There is an easier way to do it. Did you try compiling the file into an executable using cygwin or minGW?”
Now I can try this method and I can finish it before I leave for Washington on November 15. I will have the remaining time to work on Zambia MT data.
“I do not see this data turning into a major publication, but you never know,” says Rob. There are many smart and talented people at WHOI so it is fun to find the best solution for a problem. I love competition as a club athlete and bronze medalist in the University Physics Competition. The second annual University Physics Competition is November 4 – 6 and I will represent NU again with Leo Byun, a mechanical engineering major and friend from PRISM.
|October 25, 2011STRONGER AND MOTIVATEDToday I visit Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis. I deliver a few pictures of elephants and Victoria Falls for an alumni magazine that focuses on alumni abroad. I discover that many alumni are abroad. I field many questions about WHOI.“Do you think you could work there after graduation?” one teacher asks.
“I love WHOI and the experience is amazing, but for now I am just studying for my Physics GREs.”
Some teachers ask if it will be difficult adjusting next semester. After my first co-op in a research laboratory I think it will be easy to return. Things that I learn in the classroom help me while I co-op, and things I learn at co-op help me in the classroom. Visiting a third world country is an intangible benefit to personal will. I am stronger and motivated because of the opportunity NU provides me at WHOI.
|October 24, 2011HOME SWEET HOME… BUT NOT FOR LONGJimmy attends the wedding in Cape Town. Colin, Dave and Richard are in Massachusetts and Rob is at Woods Hole. Richard leaves WHOI at the end of the week to begin a doctorates program in Sydney, Australia. I have whiplash from my sudden departure from South Africa. The flight home is a bit strange. I have dinner at 10:00 pm in Johannesburg and wake up at 8:00 PM the same night for a second dinner. I arrive to a bit of culture shock: roads, groceries and bustling industry. I call Dave.“Dave how is it?”
“Good good. I have your luggage. I do not think I will be at Woods Hole soon because I am not on the Cape at the moment but we can figure something out,” he says.
“No worries I have no necessities in that bag. Huge bummer about Cape Town, if you want to vacation in the United States between now and the research cruise I will go with you.”
Dave and I discuss a vacation in Hawaii assuming that I board the Langseth. Dave lost 10 pounds in Africa and I lost 12. Everyone has experienced lucid dreams as a side effect of Malarone. Malarone is expensive and it is probably most valuable in Zambia. I take it one full week after departure from Zambia and one full day prior to entering South Africa.
Colin, Dave and Jimmy are on the Langseth for six weeks but my future is uncertain. I return to WHOI on my first Monday back.
“Hello there! Welcome back,” Rob delivers a warm greeting.
“Thank you, it is good to be back.”
We discuss the trip, the whereabouts of Team WHOI and what it is like to work with the Zambians.
“The worst part of it is they will say they are good at something and they will do it, but they are just not good at doing it,” says Rob. I mention our outrage with the dirty fuel drums. I show Rob hippos, elephants, giraffes and Victoria Falls.
“Victoria Falls had more volume when I was there in March. You could not see the falls like that, just a column of mist and water,” he says. My pictures are from the end of the dry season. I mention the Langseth.
“You are currently on standby to board the Langseth. I will lean on Dan today but there are many universities that want a spot and Northeastern is already sending two students – Colin and Dave. I already booked their flights and it is getting rather late to book another.”
I configure my laptop for the next two months. I will learn and understand the depth of CAMTEX by processing the data. I learned intuition about MT data in the field. Rob returns in a few minutes. He is truly fantastic with his students and always makes my requests a priority.
“Good news and bad news. The bad news is that the Langseth is full. I am not sure that it is but that is what they are telling me. The good news is there is another cruise going out from Washington in the middle of November. It is a two week cruise. Since you will be available in December I will have you come back to WHOI and process the data from Zambia. But one way or another we will get you out to sea.”
The Washington cruise is with John Collins and the opportunity to process the Zambia data is exactly what I need. Rob arranges my flights. My favorite aspect of WHOI is the exploration. Home is an exploration in the space between my ears, automatically perceiving the differences of Botswana, Zambia, South America and Massachusetts.
|October 19, 2011TRAVEL NIGHTMAREDave and I take a 5:00 AM taxi to the International Airport and he charges us $40. I dispute the charges.“There are shuttles that go to the airport for $12, how do you stay in business charging people $40 for a 15 minute ride?”
The driver calls the receptionist at Cool Breeze Lodge. Cab drivers always jack tourists on fairs to the airport so I dispute this fare for travelers everywhere. We save 20,000 Kwacha – the equivalent of $4. I go to check-in my bags and the clerk asks if I have my yellow fever vaccination card. It is a law as of October 1 that every traveler who leaves Zambia must have a proof of vaccination.
“No, I do not.”
She calls the manager over who shakes his head, “He must have proof of vaccination. If he does not have it, he cannot board the plane.”
I am quite upset. Dave has his boarding pass and I go to the South African Transit Lounge to discuss what we can do. I am missing my flight and they will charge me $350 to change to my flight. The man who sold me the ticket comes into the office.
“You did not tell me when I bought this ticket that I needed a proof of vaccination for yellow fever.”
”Oh, I forgot that, didn’t I,” he replies.
I express my dissent to a tall Indian man. He chuckles and says, “Do you know what would happen if you board the plane without the proof of vaccination? You would get into South Africa and they would hold you in an observatory twice a day to see if you develop a fever. They would not let you leave for two weeks in quarantine.”
There is a woman missing the birth of her grandchild because she does not have proof of vaccination. The man who sold me my ticket returns to the lounge.
“I will take this one,” he says. He takes my ticket from the clerk. There is another man who cannot board his plane and he asks if he can come as well.
“No,” he says. “This man will not board a plane sir, do not worry.”
I go to the fast check-in lane and he hands the manager my luggage.
“I will take this one. I forgot to tell him about the vaccination,” he says.
I board my flight at the last minute. I arrive at O.R. Tambo International Airport and approach baggage claim with my passport. The door woman directs me to port 27 and I give customs my passport.
“And your yellow fever card, where is it, sir?”
“I do not have it. I left it in the United States. When I purchased my ticket with South African Airways they did not tell me I needed to be vaccinated to enter South Africa. This morning was the first time that I found out. He let me board the plane and said that he would accept the charges for this one. Now I am here, I do not have my yellow fever proof of vaccination and I need to go to Cape Town.”
The security guard weighs my story.
“We need the proof of vaccination for you to enter South Africa. I will take you to Port Health where and you might be able to get an exemption.”
I go to Port Health and meet a receptionist named Joy. She explains that it is impossible for me to get an exemption. She instructs Dave to collect my luggage from the terminal and tells me that I will either be flown back to Zambia or to the United States. I tell her my story and plea a bit before I go for a walk. I see a travel vaccinations clinic that has closed – it has moved to Domestic.
“I see there is a travel clinic. I have been vaccinated in the United States, if I get vaccinated here could I gain access to South Africa?”
Joy smiles, “Yes but the clinic is closed. It has moved inside customs. If your friend goes through customs and brings your passport, he can pay them for a re-issue card in your name. They like money.” She calls the clinic. “It will cost 300 rand. He can then bring you the card and I will hurry you through customs.”
Joy goes to find Dave at the luggage claim but he is not there. Joy brings me to immigration, who contacts South African Airways to decide what to do. I demand to speak with my embassy but immigration does not honor my request. They have my passport and I am detained at immigration. There are two ex-pats also detained. They have been imprisoned for one week and are being deported – a Chinese man and a young foreign national from Mozambique.
A representative from South African Airways named Sidwell takes my passport. Sidwell asks me if I want a return flight to Lusaka or a flight to the United States.
“First of all we need to talk. I was flown here due to a mistake by SAA. I bought my ticket yesterday morning and there was no mention of a need for a proof of vaccination. When I arrived at the airport this morning and checked in my bags it was the first time I had been asked for a proof of vaccination. I have been vaccinated and I have the yellow book in the United States but I need the real copy. I cannot get the vaccination here but the Health Port offered to have my colleague enter Domestic to pay for a re-issue of the proof of vaccination. I have seen corruption at every airport so far from SAA. I do not know where my check-in bag is and my colleague is in Cape Town alone. I do not want a flight back to Lusaka without a guaranteed safe flight home. I want a first class ticket back to the United States to be paid for by SAA and a refund on my ticket here. I have been extremely inconvenienced and I have just read and signed paperwork that it is the duty of the airline at fault to safely return passengers in my situation. I am extremely upset.”
The man agrees that the ticket should be refunded with a return flight to Lusaka but says I need to pay for my return ticket to the United States. I speak with a manager named Glenda.
“The immigration form puts SAA at fault and says it is your duty to safely return me to my country of origin. I tell Sidwell to get me a free return flight and I walk around the airport while he makes calls. O.R. Tambo has an impressive shopping complex that I did not explore in August.
Glenda refuses to compensate my return trip but she gets me a phone, e-mail and the number for the US embassy. I call the embassy and explain my situation. Glenda says I will be detained if I return to Lusaka and quarantined if I stay here.
“This is a matter of international law. What SAA should do is return to you your check-in luggage and put you on a return flight to your country of origin – Zambia. There is nothing we can do about this, but call us if anything else happens,” the representation from the embassy is swift and reassuring. Glenda refuses to give me my luggage. It is 15:00 hours so I decide to stop playing their game. I e-mail the WHOI travel agent but she is out of the office. I contact her colleague Olivia who gets me on a 9:30 PM emergency flight to the United States. It is an unfortunate end to my travel in Africa, but it is more emblematic of travelling in Africa than Cape Town would have been. The good news is WHOI has the data for MT and I can continue my pursuit of science with a major stride taken in armor.
|October 18, 2011LAST NIGHT IN ZAMBIAWe unpack our trailer and explore Lusaka. We go to a cultural center where locals have been living in huts since 1930. It is an odd village because it was never demolished or developed, so a small collection of people live modestly selling crafts out of their huts in the middle of the city. The locals swarm us on arrival. We barter for handmade elephants, cutlery, drums and masks.We go to the Lusaka International Airport. Dave and I buy tickets to Cape Town for tomorrow morning. We will backpack, cage dive with great white sharks, climb Table Mountain, do the tallest bridge bungee jump in the world, go to a concert at Cape Town stadium (where the World Cup was played), see Nelson Mandela’s prison cell and go surfing. Rob approves our vacation. Jimmy is also going to Cape Town to reunite with his wife at his friend’s wedding. His wife knows the bride and husband – they all met in graduate school. Colin and Richard will return to the United States on Thursday.
Rob has not guaranteed my place on the research cruise, but I am looking forward to continuing to work at WHOI through December, hopefully on the Langseth.
We have a farewell dinner with the Zambians at the Lusaka Club. I drive Annie, Ezekiel and Raphael home, then return to the Cool Breeze Lounge for my last night in Zambia.
|October 17, 2011TALKING WITH HIS MAJESTYThe last four recoveries do not go as planned. Ezekiel, Jimmy and I speak with the chief of the nearest village at the second site. The chief takes Jimmy and Ezekiel into his palace. It is a rectangular house with a scrap tin roof and a straw fence around the perimeter. Inside is a small television, a satellite dish and a DVD player with a ridiculously large orange sofa and two orange love seats. The chief is a small man in a suit and appears even smaller in the orange love seats. It is rare to see a matching set of furniture in these villages. Ezekiel translates the native language.“His majesty is excited that you are here. His majesty believes you have discovered their reserves of sapphires, emeralds and copper,” says Ezekiel.
There are none of these rocks anywhere near the village and the chief is lying to attract commerce. Ezekiel gives him 50,000 Kwacha as a gift, and refers to the chief as Royal Highness.
“It is tradition to give the chief a gift upon arrival,” he explains.
We go to collect the data but there is none on the memory card. The MTU is programmed to collect data in 2010 and not 2011 so it needs to stay in the field to collect more data. This is an error on part of the Layout Chief. Using two adjacent sites as a reference is not an option because we did not plant site 19. Jimmy, Richard and Colin will return on Wednesday to collect the data.
Driving to Lusaka is a comedy of errors. We push start the Mitsubishi, jump start the Land Cruiser and pump the fuel valve of the Hilux to extract the molasses. The engine screeches to a roar and shakes off layers of sand. If the trailer breaks again we might be halted for days.
We pass through the Kafue Game Reserve and see large kudu, monkeys, springbok, warthogs, wildebeest and black elephants crossing a river. The Zambians buy charcoal near a coal mine and transport large amounts of it to Lusaka.
“It is much cheaper here than in the city,” Daniel explains.
They also buy a fish from a young woman nursing a child. The Land Cruiser needs to be push started at each stop and we honk when Ezekiel drives by. Malunga’s vehicle goes through a safety checkpoint guarded by police officer. Malunga revs the engine to keep the gears engaged and the officer looks seriously concerned.
“Is your vehicle safe?” He shouts.
“No!” shouts Malunga.
“Go, go, go!” shouts the officer.
We arrive in Lusaka. There are fires on the sides of the road and taxis obeying their own laws. There are no traffic lights and the roads have no lines. We leave the trailer on Government Road at the Geological Survey Department and sleep at the Cool Breeze Lodge, driving by the United Nations building and many embassies and high commissions. It is not surprising that the coal is cheaper outside the city – shipping goods is costly and difficult in Zambia. Tomorrow we unload the gear and explore Lusaka.
|October 16, 2011THE KAROO PERIODColin arrives in Kaoma while we are collecting four of the last eight sites. Jimmy processes the data with Daniel and Ezekiel and I ask Ezekiel the geologist questions. I know of a South African restaurant in Provincetown, MA called the Karoo Café and the travel guide mentions the Karoo Period of geologic formations in Zambia.“Does the word Karoo mean anything to you?”
“Yes it does. The Karoo period of rock is a layer beneath some parts of Zambia. You will find coal, sandstone, limestone and petroleum there. At the surface is a layer of Kalahari Sand from Botswana that has blown over to Zambia,” he says. The guide book mentions coal, limestone and sandstone but does not mention petroleum. There is a movement in Zambia to establish a mining based economy free of HIV/AIDS and I wonder who is right about petroleum in the Karoo layer, Ezekiel or the travel guide.
I thought that MT data analysis is rigorous because no one really knows much about the subsurface so it needs super comprehensive models, but geologists seem to have a strong handle on it. Another surprise was finding no copper in the Zambian data. There is a copper belt in Northern Zambia and I thought that some copper would appear in the south. I explain my confusion and ask what organizes the layers. ”So is it all thermodynamics that determines where we see the conductive rock?” I ask Jimmy.
“Pockets of conductive material form because of the movements of the faults. Take Victoria Falls, for example. The faults have eroded to a point that water flows in the crevice. This allows for mineral transport in the flow of water, which settles somewhere along the fault filtered by mass – like a mass spectrometer.”
We donate the remainder of our food and supplies to the orphanage. They are likely orphaned due to their parents having AIDS or the child is born with AIDS and abandoned due to costs of health care. The main water tanks are broken here and the owner speaks to us.
“They spend all the money for the repairs on political advertisements,” she says. We stay at the guest house for one more night without running water. We find a small frog in the toilet and a scorpion in the hallway. Tomorrow we finish recoveries and move to our final destination, the capital Lusaka.
|October 15, 2011DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE WINDING DOWNToday we do three of the last four deployments. The fourth site we cannot deploy because it is on a military base. Jimmy met with a ranked military official who says we need to go to the Ministry of Mining who will contact the Ministry of Defense who will give us permission to collect data. This seems tedious so we scrap the deployment. An entire village comes to watch our first deployment. Apparently they sounded an alarm when they saw our trucks.“I am glad they are here now instead of later,” says Jimmy. Ezekiel explains to the villagers what we are doing and that we are working with the government. On the way back to the house the Zambians stop to buy roadside stools. Team WHOI thinks this is a very Zambian thing to do.
“Why do you want the stools?”
“To sit in Lusaka,” Annie says. They buy one stool per person and I wonder why there is no where to sit in Lusaka. I ask Ezekiel why he bought a stool and he sits down.
“Because now he is more comfortable than you are!” shouts Dave.
I appreciate things here that I take for granted in America. It reminds me of driving through the entire Kalahari Desert and finding a small river. It was my first time in a desert and the vegetation truly prospers near the stream. In Zambia there are less signs of poverty near paved roads. There is running water, electricity, stores, clothed people and commerce. Rivers and roads deliver essential nutrients to people and animals. This prompts the remark, “It tastes like a paved road,” which everyone knows to mean satisfaction.
Colin’s truck breaks down on the way to Kaoma but the mechanics do a roadside fix instead of towing him back to Livingstone. We are all in cell range so it is a less stressful situation. He will join us at the guest house around midnight tonight. I am not allowed to photograph the orphans without permission but they are always playing, singing and dancing, although many are without clothes. Tomorrow and Monday we collect half of the data from Zambia and with all the field work behind us it feels like a paved road.
|October 14, 2011GUEST HOUSING FOR THE NIGHTWe pack up camp and drive to a Catholic orphanage in Kaoma for guest housing. We rent a house with three bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom at a rate of $20 a night for the whole house. There is no running water so we bathe with a bucket of cold water. Colin arrives in Kaoma tomorrow after trouble with payment limits on his credit card for the repairs to the truck. The Zambian fuel is wreaking havoc on our fuel injectors and filters. We do our last four deployments of the profile tomorrow.|
|October 13, 2011ONE MAN’S TRASH IS ANOTHER PERSON’S TREASURE… Dave, Richard and I go with a group of Zambians to the north deployments while Jimmy, Malunga and Daniel go south to recover sites and get the police report. Malunga arrived at camp after midnight last night.“The police wanted to go everywhere,” he explains. “They drove to all the schools and all the villages. They speak with many chiefs, headmasters, priests and children. We return to the station and they find a dead body a few hundred meters from the road. Now I have to drive them around to investigate the body…”
He trails off and seems to sleep while standing for a moment. He reassures us that the body was an old man and retires to his tent. Dave and I ride in the Zambians’ late model Land Cruiser with bare necessities. We sit in side facing seats in the truck bed. It is a bumpy road and we get thrown around a bit. We finish the deployments and Richard contacts Colin.
Colin is in Livingstone. The mechanics at the Toyota dealership ordered parts from Lusaka and they should arrive tomorrow morning. If Colin can meet us in Kaoma that would be ideal as we need his help for the last four deployments. Bushlore will collect the trucks in Lusaka so there is additional benefit of having both trucks in one location.
We return to camp and organize the equipment for transport. Space is tight in the tents so I left my luggage outside for the last week. I flip the bag over and discover a colony of termites eating the cardboard. I discard the bag in the garbage pit. Moments later Daniel approaches my tent.
“Mat, the boys want your bag. Why did you throw it out? It is a good bag.”
I tell him about the termites. The boys are hired children from the village to clean our dishes. One’s name is Rice and the other is essentially mute.
“They can fix it. It is a good bag. They will remove the termites. Why did you throw it out?” he sounds hurt so I explain.
“I left the bag outside because there is little space for it in the tent. I read in my travel guide that scorpions and spiders like to hide on black luggage. I flipped the bag over and saw termites and just kind of freaked out and threw it away.”
The Zambians laugh hysterically. Ezekiel, Dave and I drive to the village to donate my books and clothes, and we meet the chief of the village.
“What are your skills?” is the first thing he asks. This is a very strange way to greet us. He speaks to Ezekiel.
“I see you are here now,” says the chief, “This is good. And I see that your truck is here too, and it is a nice truck. And you are here three days after the other group. I met… Malunga? Where is Malunga? And where is Richard?”
“Richard is not here,” says Ezekiel. Ezekiel wears a black cowboy hat and black boots. He has silver hair cut to the scalp. The chief wears a strong blue vest and a child stands in front of him and runs away. The chief pays him no attention and I realize that the chief has a problem with us.
“We have a village here and we wonder why there are men camping just down the street and not staying with us. The people clamor to know why you are here. We ask for a demonstration but we do not receive and we wonder why this is?”
Ezekiel and the chief stare at each other with tight lips. There is a long moment of silence and for some reason I begin to wonder if the chief has a weapon.
“So what do we do now?” asks Ezekiel.
We leave. Ezekiel stalls a few times in thick sand and the chief has the last word.
“I want you to know that you have caused an eruption in this village.”
I distribute the contents of my black luggage.
“They are so appreciative – they do not thank you, they thank God,” says Ezekiel. We leave a village wearing my clothes. I also donate the rest of the books from the Marstons Mills Public Library. My contacts with Books for Africa are in the Northern parts of Zambia and at a different time of the year, which is a shame. These children really love the books.
We talk to Richard at camp. The chief believes that Richard owes him a truck in exchange for our stay. The Zambians agree that the chief is being ludicrous and that this is not just a cultural misunderstanding. Malunga preaches by the last night fire.
“You have come a long way from Gaborone to Sepopa to Maun to Livingstone and to this village. You have camped for more than a week with no pillow, running water or electricity. You are filthy and tired, but when you are done here you will realize how exciting it is and how much fun you are having. As such is life and these are the moments we pass through.”
I take night portraits and finally learn from Daniel Mutamina. He is a geophysicist / seismologist in the geological survey department. He is from the Luapula province of Zambia that borders the DRC. He lives in Lusaka and his thesis is on receiver functions beneath two seismic stations in Zambia. A receiver function uses the teleoseismic signals to decompose the layers of the earth using a seismograph. The codes he uses are written by a Penn State professor. Before his master’s degree he worked as a research assistant at the University of Zambia. Jimmy helps Daniel understand continental dynamics, and ZGS hopes to use the data from our profile to understand the structure of earth. In the future they will map mineral deposits, geothermal wells and oil. I ask Jimmy about the data from Zambia.
“It looks like there is a pervasive conductive body under Zambia. It varies in conductivity, frequency and depth and it varies in every station from North to South.” I ask him to compare the data with Botswana. He says he has not had time to think about it.
|October 12, 2011CONSTANT CAR TROUBLESThe Land Cruiser returns with water from the school in the morning. I load batteries into the truck and Dave checks the voltages. The generator has been charging for two nights and they are at 12.5 volts. This is sufficient power for an MTU for two or three days. I pack a spare deployment kit. Jimmy joins me in the truck and fails to start the engine. We pump the fuel filter and it emits a clear sludge with the consistency of molasses. The Zambians did not buy clean fuel drums and we are already down two vehicles. Jimmy’s truck sounds awful at ignition. We pump the viscous fluid every time we start the engine. The Mitsubishi is still stuck at camp. Malunga wants to work on it but we send him to drive the police around for their investigation. We have two working vehicles left to do deployments, food, fuel, recoveries and transportation. We deploy on a farm today with the permission of two villagers who brandish cassava for a quick snack. It is a welcome sight after a day of meager portions. Jimmy processes the data from today and I will have an update soon. Tomorrow we do two deployments and three recoveries. Malunga never returns to camp.|
|October 11, 2011DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?We do two deployments and visit the Sechile police station. Daniel, Daniel and Eugene are not at camp in the morning and Colin is waiting to go to Livingstone. We take two trucks for deployments and see the Mitsubishi along the way. Daniel, Eugene and Malunga slept in the truck overnight and have eaten only rusks and water since yesterday’s lunch. We take Daniel for the deployments and Eugene and Malunga return to camp. We arrive in Sechile.The police have a tip that someone thought our equipment was a bomb but when the police arrived to investigate the equipment was gone. Jimmy is positive that the tip is from a nearby site that we recovered. It seems this is an isolated incident from the theft. A similar incident happened with WHOI seismic equipment in Costa Rica, when someone mistook a deployment setup for a bomb and turned it in to the police.
The Sechile police refer to us as the Whites. Many people are stunned when they see us. Jimmy has a flat tire today. While we work on it Malunga speculates about traffic in America.
“In America you must have less car issues because your roads have two lanes – even three perhaps – in one direction,” he searches my face for validation and I smile. I always wear my Tilley hat and Aviators so I smile frequently and have popularized thumbs up in the remote villages.
We go to our next site and the electrodes record saturated resistances. Ezekiel, a geologist, believes this is a sign of highly resistive rock in the soil. We leave the site based on our experience in Botswana, where we left a site that was not recording resistances for three weeks and the data was fine.
Malunga is devoutly religious. He believes that the leap year explains global warming because the extra day creates more sunlight over many years because the sun god wants to gradually warm the earth. Jimmy explains the science of global warming and Malunga is not impressed.
“I notice that many scientists do not believe in God. I can only hope that someday your beliefs will change,” says Daniel.
Jimmy fires back, “If presented new evidence, scientists are capable of changing their beliefs. Religion discourages you to change your beliefs.”
The Zambians hit a rabbit on the way to camp and have it for dinner.
|October 10, 2011STOLEN GOODS AND GUNS“Today is an absolute train wreck,” says Dave. We are at the Sechile police station. Our entire second site is stolen. The MTU, battery, box, all five electrodes and three coils – even the buckets and Hessian are all unearthed and stolen. We meet the vice headman of the closest village. He accuses us for using the land without notifying him. Police officers pile into our truck and join us at the site. We pack four deep in the back seat with one officer in the front passenger with his AK-47 in his lap. I am looking right down the barrel. We go over a few bumps in the road.“Excuse me officer, is that weapon safe?”
His weapon is still pointed right at me. The magazine is unloaded but I am worried about one in the chamber. The officer flips the safety, aims it out the window, cocks the hammer and pulls the trigger. Click.
“See? Any gun is a loaded gun, right?” He asks when the research ends and Daniel says October 20. Daniel may use MT to search for oil, mineral deposits and geothermal wells after we leave to gain capital from energy companies, says Jimmy. It is difficult to figure his intentions because of the language barrier. There are seventy-six different languages in Zambia including a separate language for police and military.
“How much is the equipment worth?” asks the police chief.
“It is worth 240 million Kwacha total,” says Jimmy. This is about $50,000.
“Officer if you do not find this equipment immediately you are fired! This is a very serious offense,” says the chief. “If they are caught they will get life in prison.”
“Stealing government property is life imprisonment in Zambia,” says Daniel.
Fresh donkey tracks lead away from the site. The officers want thirty liters of fuel for their investigation. Jimmy pays them and asks for a receipt. We could hire villagers for security at future deployments but their presence will create noise in the data.
The train wreck gets worse: Two of our trucks break. The Mitsubishi fails to start 200 km south of camp and Colin’s truck is broken. Eugene stays with the truck while we collect two sites without him. We pick up Eugene at the end of the day.
“There has not been a single car on the road since you left 10 hours ago,” he says. Eugene starts a brush fire next to the Mitsubishi to alert traffic. We leave Daniel at the truck and send Daniel Malunga to fix the truck when we return to camp. Originally we thought that “Malunga!” was a curse word when we met the Zambians. It turns out that it is actually Daniel’s last name.
Colin’s truck has an electric problem at the southern most part of the profile. The mechanics cannot fix it, so tomorrow we tow his truck to the Toyota dealership in Livingstone.
Richard leaves the trailer at a police station in Kaoma and returns to camp with fuel. It seems the trailer is successfully welded. We leave at 7:00 AM and return at 10:00 PM. It is a bit of a long day but not much more than usual. Eugene and Daniel never return to camp.
|October 5, 2011THE BEAUTY OF VICTORIA FALLS, EATING CATERPILLARSWe finish the coil calibrations and go to Victoria Falls. Jimmy says we do not need raincoats because it is dry season. We see elephants and baboons along the way. A male baboon steals a banana from a kid at Victoria Falls. At first the kid resists but it grapples at his legs and eventually runs away with the banana. A mother baboon nurses her young near the boiling pot where the water looks like it boils because of the rapids. It is a long climb to the boiling pot but Team WHOI is fit for the challenge.“There is a fault line in the rock that comes from regional stress. A fault is just a weak point where the rocks have already been crushed. Along the fault the rocks are being scraped against each other and there is a gap where material can move so the water fills in the gap. All the gorges here are fault lines that the water follows and erodes away. It has eroded to a point where the river falls over the edge. That is why the water falls over the entire gorge, but it seems it is relocating to a new part of the fault line. In thousands of years it seems it will move further down the fault and perhaps flow from a more specific point,” explains Jimmy.
We hike the trails and then cross the Zambezi River a few meters from the waterfall. Victoria Falls delivers the most water by volume in the world. The air is misty. The river crossing is a slippery slab of concrete six inches wide and two feet tall. The current rapidly flows over the walkway. Colin falls on the rocks but regains his balance. We pass a sign that reads “Anything you do here is your own caution.” The waterfall is only 20 meters from the concrete and we slowly proceed to the other side of the river.
We see a vibrant double rainbow but I wear polarized lenses and cannot see the secondary bow. My Ray Bans use small strips of metal to absorb certain polarizations of light just like large metal absorbs light and gives off heat. Light energy is lost at every interface with the raindrops and the secondary bow is less intense due to one more reflection on the inner surface of the drop. The colors are also opposite because of the extra reflection. The primary rainbow occurs at critical angles of 42 degrees and the secondary bow occurs at roughly 51 degrees. Dave, Colin and I know this from Electromagnetic Waves and Optics.
We look for Devil’s Pool. It is a pool of water where the current lets us swim on the very edge of the waterfall. Unfortunately it is a one hour hike. Richard and Jimmy are waiting for us at the truck. Jimmy is haggling with vendors in the parking lot and I haggle too.
“Just come in my tent and I will give you this necklace. It is a symbol that you have been to Victoria Falls. Let me tell you a secret, my friend. Everyone here is from the same village. We all have the same stuff. You pick out a bunch of stuff and I will give you a group discount.” The vendor wears dark sunglasses and I want to buy his goods. He offers me a free necklace to enter his tent and I oblige. I select an assortment of village made gifts.
“How much do you want in dollars?”
“Two-hundred fifty,” he says.
He has me cornered in the tent. He barters for my sunglasses, watch and sandals. I do not allow it and I haggle him to $35.
We are in much better spirits and ready to get back to the research. ZGS comes to Livingstone and we need to discuss supplies. According to Annie, the Zambians want to use MT to look for oil deposits. The field work is the same as looking for partial melt but the data is different because oil reserves need resolution of conductive layers at shorter depths. Data processing is complicated but the field work is relatively simple. The oil reminds me of a question from a student at the University of Botswana.
“Can you look for minerals and oil with this method?” He asks.
“Yes, we can. But it is at different depths and has different conductivity than the images we are resolving,” Jimmy answers.
“What will you do if you find it?” The group snickers and the student smiles.
Livingstone is a pleasant place to live but there are a few nefarious folk. A man asks me if I have my wallet while Colin is buying cell phone minutes on Lusaka Drive.
“I love it here,” I respond.
“You live here?” He asks.
“I love it here in Zambia. I love it here.”
The man slowly walks away. Most Zambians are very friendly. I go to buy a flash drive at an electronics store on Lusaka Drive. I look at their assortment and ask them for their highest capacity. They offer me a 512 megabyte drive. I decline but they give me a free newspaper called the “Zambezi Traveler” that is about nature conservation. I have 2,000 photographs and many gigabytes of videos from South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. The best videos are crocodiles, elephants, flying over the delta, hippos, monkeys and Victoria Falls. I will upload them when I return to Woods Hole.
We eat at “The Spot” for dinner. Pop music plays and we order traditional dishes like fried caterpillars and tshima. It is our last meal before we camp. The caterpillars are crunchy at first and then chewy.
“We eat them like snacks, we could eat the whole bowl,” says the waiter. “You want them to be dry and crunchy.”
Paying the bill is fun because of inflation. The exchange rate makes us all multi-millionaires. Our ATM receipts also show balances in Kwacha. Academics rarely have the budget of industry and we find humor in our break from the humility of honest labor. Livingstone has a completely different ecosystem than the Kalahari. There is lush vegetation and much fewer goats, cows and horses.
“Do you classify this as jungle?” asks Dave.
“Yes, I guess it is.”
I am excited to start getting data. Camp and deployments start tomorrow. No running water but we have a generator to charge the car batteries. At customs a boy selling bracelets said, “Welcome to the real Africa.” I think he might be right.
|October 4, 2011CROSSING THE BORDER INTO LIVINGSTONEWe arrive in Livingstone after a six hour wait at customs. It is the worst border crossing we have ever experienced.“I have never seen anything like it,” says Richard. Jimmy agrees.
We met a truck driver that was at customs for four days. He had just gotten permission to pass today when they closed the gates. There are many other truck drivers starting fires. There is a man in street clothes waving an AK-47 around by the magazine. When we cross the border we go directly to Livingstone and stay at the Fallway Lodge.
It is now Tuesday morning and we are calibrating coils in an open field in Livingstone. There are many small bees here that swarm us in the field. We wear bandanas and insect nets on our hats. We calibrate enough coils to leave before a downpour of rain. After putting minutes on our phones, charging batteries and buying water, we go to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. We see the first book store in Africa at the shopping center. Zambia is nice but has a problem with small arms. There are men carrying automatic weapons with the serial numbers cut off. I see why Rob left due to a serious threat of social unrest. The new president campaigned for change and Annie and Daniel are optimistic. The head researcher of ZGS is currently sick and we are unsure of his status. Hopefully we will go to Victoria Falls tomorrow.
|October 3, 2011LONG, LONG DAY AT CUSTOMS…We get a 4:00 AM start and leave Sitatunga at 5:30 AM. We want to make it to Livingstone today. Jimmy is towing the trailer followed by Daniel and Annie in their Mitsubishi and Colin, Dave and Richard in the other Hilux. We see a herd of zebra, monkeys and giraffes in Northern Botswana. We see a small herd of elephants in the Valley of the Elephants. I take many photographs and I hope to send them at our lodging in Livingstone.The ferries work at the Zambezi River. We arrive at customs to an envoy of Zambians. Parking lot dwellers sell small wooden elephants, necklaces and bracelets and others claim to be clearing agents. There is a sign at the Immigration office that reads, “All people claiming to be clearing agents at this site are criminals. They are lying. Do not pay anyone for clearing agent services.” There are Zambian police with sawed off AK-47s but it does not deter the masses.
We wait at customs for five hours. Daniel and Annie work for the government but it does not seem to help the situation.
“Why is this taking so long? In Botswana it was a very simple process, we just showed them our plans and papers and they let us in.”
“It is because they are having trouble connecting to the cell network. Also it is because there is a new government and it is slowing them down,” says Daniel.
A man approaches Richard. “Sir, I have the president of Bushlore on the phone – he says you must hire me to be your clearing agent.” He extends his phone. They are trying to engage us by any means. One man sells bracelets for one cent in USD.
“The benefit of being researchers with scientific equipment is that the border inspector opens our cargo and just kind of nods and agrees,” says Colin. This happens here but it does not help the situation. The customs workers disappear with our paperwork and re-appear and no one knows why or where they go. Zambia is ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world by the CIA World Fact Book and the BBC Country Profile. I want to arrive in Livingstone tonight so we can escape any more trouble with the government.
|October 2, 2011‘WHAT’S THANKSGIVING?’Jimmy picks up the police report in the morning in Maun. The police are reluctant to work because Sunday is a holy day in Botswana. The rest of us pack the trailer high and tight with MT equipment. The equipment will stay in Zambia after we leave. We are training the Zambians how to use MT and they are teaching us how they survive without running water or electricity.“What is the food situation in Zambia?”
“Scarce. You should bring your own food and supplies,” Daniel replies.
We will buy supplies in Livingstone this week. Livingstone is 60 km from the Zambia border and minutes from Victoria Falls. We drive to Livingstone tomorrow but the journey has obstacles. We must cross the Zambezi River in a ferry that has capsized twice in the last four years. Boarding the ferry could take days. There are rumors in South Africa that there is a second boat and the wait is now shorter. Daniel took the ferry and has updates.
“There is a second ferry but a truck tried to board and the ferry pulled away from the dock before the rear wheels were on the boat. The rear tires sank into the river and it was carrying acid. A crane was being summoned to move the truck. It might be fixed by now.”
The Zambian border should be easier to cross with Annie and Daniel’s help. We have all the necessary travel documents and we only stay in Zambia for one month. Daniel and Annie are here to help us cross the border and get a head start on MT training. When we arrive in Zambia there is concern about snakes that like to sleep under the tents for warmth.
“We cannot camp here,” says Daniel. Team WHOI wants to move camp while we work. One site is 20 km from a game reserve and Daniel refuses to stay there. Daniel and Annie have never been in Botswana. They insist that we must see Victoria Falls. Rob Evans traversed the entire MT profile in Zambia in just nine hours with an hour spent taking photographs. This means he went ~ 60 km / hour. This is much faster than we anticipate traveling and it means we might finish before our projected end date. We project to stop collecting data on October 18 and we are moving ahead of schedule. We planned on staying in Kasane and traveling to Livingstone in two days – now we will do it in one. Travel Adventures sent Jimmy mail about the Hilux. They charged WHOI for scratches to the side, mirrors and a dent in the bumper. They claim that the truck needs replacement.
I respond to Rob Evans with an affirmative about the trip. Dave, Colin and Jimmy are also on board. This means we will spend Thanksgiving on a ship in the South Pacific. Daniel does not know Thanksgiving and I explain it.
“Thanksgiving is an American holiday. We celebrate Thanksgiving because when the settlers arrived in America they relied on the natives to learn how to survive. To give thanks to the natives, Americans have a great feast of turkey, potatoes, cranberries, stuffing, green beans, squash and other dishes. The bird is quite large – around 22 pounds.”
“That is a large bird,” says Daniel. “You should serve an ostrich. I bet it would take up the whole table.” We joke about ways to conceal the long legs of the ostrich.
“I would like to have this day. When do you celebrate Thanksgiving?”
“The last Thursday of November,” says Dave.
There are many refugees and ex-pats in Botswana learning how to survive. For example, Daniel teaches me how to properly fold my insect net on our last night in Sitatunga.
|October 1, 2011STOLEN GOODSToday is the last day of recoveries in Botswana. There are three sites to recover south of Maun – two wideband and one LEMI. We arrive at the LEMI site this morning. The lock is broken off. The cables connecting the GPS and Fluxgate Magnetometer are severed, and the LEMI box is missing. We go to the Somelo police station 20 km from the site.“It is geophysical equipment to measure the earth’s magnetic and electric fields. It is a small black box about 20 cm x 10 cm x 7 cm,” Jimmy says to the Brandy, the only officer at the station.
“I can report that you were here but you need to go to Maun for this. All I have here is this office and paperwork, you need the Maun police station,” says Brandy. The only cell service in Somelo is for emergency calls only. We go to Maun and Jimmy and I write separate statements at the main police station.
“We deployed the instruments near Somelo on September 8, 2011. The equipment at the site is a blue steel box, four electrodes extending 50 meters in the cardinal directions, a reference electrode, a Fluxgate Magnetometer and a GPS antenna. Inside the blue steel box are a car battery and a LEMI box. We left the box in the field for three weeks to collect geophysics data. The box was locked and camouflaged with Hessian. We arrived at 11:00 am on 1 October, 2011 to recover the equipment. The lock was broken, the GPS antenna wire was cut, the Fluxgate Magnetometer wire was cut and the LEMI box was missing. The battery was still fully charged. The LEMI box serial number is B13. No one was guarding the equipment for the duration.”
The police chief arrives and reads my statement.
“How much is the missing equipment worth?” he asks.
“About $35,000 – or 200,000 Pula,” Jimmy answers. It is our most expensive box.
Two officers pile into the back seat of our truck. We drive to Somelo and meet with Brandy. We park at his cabin and one of the officers from Maun steals meat hanging out to dry on the front porch.
“Jerky,” says the smiling officer. “Do not tell anyone you saw me steal here.”
“Saw what?” I say facetiously.
“Me stealing the jerky,” he repeats.
Brandy joins the officers cramped in the back of the truck and we drive to the site. It is 50 meters off an extremely bumpy road and about an hour drive from Somelo.
“Did anyone know you were doing this research here?”
“Jimmy spoke to some folks during the deployment. They were curious about what we were doing. I did not speak to them so you will have to ask Jimmy.”
The truck had a Botswana Water Supply insignia crossed out on the driver’s door. This means it was sold in an auction. The officers see other tracks leading to and from the site. They are fresh from after we collected the site this morning. I take many pictures of the site. What is a bit unnerving is that the battery was still nearly fully charged – which means the LEMI box was stolen within a week of us deploying the equipment. we return to Somelo to drop off Brandy, and the officer from Maun runs into his cabin when Brandy leaves.
“I will be right back, I have to get something,” he says.
He returns with a plastic bag and steals more meat. He asks us if we have a plastic bag and we give it to him. I consider taking a picture of this site because it is quite humorous. The officer clearly looks like he is up to some mischief. I recall Jimmy’s grievous traffic ticket and think twice about taking his picture.
Jimmy calls Rob and David to tell them about the missing box. It is property of DIAS and it is insured against theft. We are collecting the police report Sunday morning. It is an unfortunate ending in Botswana to lose the southern most long period data. When we leave Botswana the police can contact KB at the University of Botswana if the box is found.
|September 30, 2011COLLECTING DATAToday we collect the LEMI sites. We can image the deep earth with LEMIs depending on the conductivity of earth’s layers. Rock layers in the earth are normally on the order of 1,000 ohm meters (not very useful for passing current!). Using MT, we are detecting layers on the order of 0.01 ohm meters, meaning there is matter 10,000 times more conductive than normal beneath the Okavango Delta. This might be partial melt but Jimmy needs to process the data at WHOI to be sure. It is exciting to be a part of this project as we are imaging an unexplored part of the earth. The LEMI sites detect low frequencies from the deep earth. Low frequencies means long three-week periods, so our valuable equipment is sitting in a field in Botswana since September 6. Today we collect them.The first site hosts a herd of monkeys. Monkeys are remarkably good at distinguishing human movement inside a vehicle and it is an ongoing struggle to take their picture. It perplexes other animals when I move around in a car – monkeys see you before you move, and when you move they run away. The memory card has three weeks of binary information. The second site, unfortunately, does not go so well. Someone unearthed the Fluxgate Magnetometer, stole the car battery and unplugged all the electrodes from the MTU. We are all melancholies when equipment is stolen, but the good news is the LEMI box saved data up until three days ago. It seems the box has an alternative power supply unit. The data is saved in various file sizes inconsistent with the first LEMI. We are unsure what data is good but are eager to find out. Our third site has data but we do not have software installed to see how noisy it is. We will have to look later in Woods Hole.
Daniel from ZGS is my roommate for the next few days and he is becoming an entertaining figure. He is 32 years old and has been working for ZGS for 16 years. He is a mechanic and should be incredibly valuable in Zambia. We return the Land Cruiser today, which Daniel explains is his favorite truck that we have.
“It has heart, you know? It was a good truck in its prime, it is just a bit past its prime,” he says.
Crispin – the owner of the Land Cruiser – says that his record for flat tires in the Kalahari is seven in one day.
Tomorrow is the last work day in Botswana. We are collecting two sites south of Maun. Jimmy and I saw an elephant at this site with David when we installed the first LEMI. On Sunday we pack for Zambia. Today is a national holiday in Botswana and there are celebrations on the way home. There is a donkey race in Shekawe with a 400 pula grand prize. On Monday we leave for Livingstone, just minutes from Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the natural world.
|September 29, 2011TAKING TO THE SKYWe reach the 10,000 kilometer mark on our voyage and it is time to bring Jimmy’s truck to the Toyota dealership for a check-up. The engine has struggled to start ever since we traversed a narrow path in a field of grass taller than the trucks. There is a national holiday tomorrow and it is possible that both trucks will need to be serviced today because the dealership might be closed tomorrow. We might have today off due to a lack of vehciles. KB says goodbye with a firm handshake and thirty minutes later Colin receives a call from Jimmy.Both trucks need to be serviced today. The dealership is closed this weekend. Dave and I are packing the trailer and he lights up and shouts, “Helicopter baby!” I go to the front desk to make the reservation.
“We want to go on a helicopter ride,” I tell Noli. She works at Sitatunga and her English is fantastic.
“How many of you are there?”
“There are five of us,” I reply.
“OK—we have scenic flights too because the helicopter normally leaves in the morning,” she says.
“We want the helicopter.”
“I will get back to you later today,” she says.
This is only my second day off of the trip and I am quite relaxed. I run barefoot and lounge at the pool with Colin and Dave. We are all excited about the helicopter ride, expected to take place late this afternoon. Noli approaches our table at lunch with news about the helicopter.
“It is available this afternoon at 3:00 pm,” she says.
We are thrilled. It is a 25 minute helicopter ride that seats three. We pay for six seats but only take five people, meaning someone goes twice. Dave wins the coin toss and goes on the first ride with Jimmy and Richard. The helicopter appears on the horizon.
“Shotgun,” I say.
The pilots are Irish and do scenic flights to rack up flying hours. It takes eight minutes to get to the delta and eight minutes to return, so only eight minutes of the flight are spent over water. The view is incredible. Animal tracks span hundreds of kilometers. Zebra occupy a field with an elephant skeleton. Salt pans are like dried up arteries with vasculature of vacant rivers networking the terrain. The water weaves the land with tracks of herds, trees and a few elephants on the shores. They are remnants of a herd of over eighty elephants that were seen in the first flight. It is a truly breathtaking but painfully short flight.
After the flight we go to Maun to use the Internet for the first time on the trip. Rob Evans has sent me an e-mail.
“If you want to return to Woods Hole I am sure we can find something for you to do, but it is not out of the question that you come on the cruise, if you are not sick of travel by now.”
Colin and Dave are going on a research cruise in the South Pacific on a boat owned by Columbia University named the Langseth. It is a six week cruise starting days after Thanksgiving and ending in early January. Fortunately I have a 24 hour car ride to Zambia to decide.
I write down the numbers for my contacts at Books for Africa and I will call them as soon as I have cell service.
|September 28, 2011WHEN YOU CATCH A FISH, FOLLOWS A CROCODILEAnnie and Daniel from the Zambian Geological Survey (ZGS) greet us in the morning. They look exhausted after driving 24 hours from Zambia. Daniel was supposed to move into my cabin last night and I think he slept in the car. They do not join us today but they join KB’s students at Lake Ngami. Lake Ngami has no water but it provides a glimpse of the East African Rift, though KB thinks it will hold water soon because of the water level in nearby Maun.We do not see any giraffes at the game reserve today, just wildebeest, springbok and warthogs. Someone (perhaps an animal) unearthed the west electrode. There is an extra set of tire tracks at the site. The English woman’s husband is at reception and I suspect that he unearthed the electrode out of curiosity. We leave the reserve and continue driving. There is a huge brushfire in the Kalahari that dominates the horizon. Large plumes of black smoke are visible. After two recoveries, we return to the safari camp for the night.
“How was Lake Ngami?” I ask KB.
“It was filled with water,” he says. “People are moving into the region and unsettling villages already in the region, creating a refugee situation. The government supplies food for the refugees which needs tax dollars, and the food give people incentive to be unemployed.”
“Where does the food come from?” I ask.
“South Africa,” he says.
I ask KB why the women wear vibrant dresses. He does not understand who I mean until we see a woman dressed in many layers and colors on a hot day.
“Oh, they are from Namibia. They are passionate about their culture even once they are educated and work at the University of Botswana they still wear their outfits at home. Half of Botswana is from Namibia. You have to understand that Botswana is made up of many different cultures. At first it was just the Kalahari Bushmen, but the government gave them alcohol and they became alcoholics. They thought the government was going to genocide them so they fled to the desert. Now the government gives them tax breaks and subsidizes their crops. I think they are pampered,” explains KB, who is a bit out of his element away from Gabs. He is staying with us tonight and then returning to Gabs with the students. We do not see the students today, so I ask KB about the cell phones during the demonstration yesterday.
“It is because cell phones are new here and everyone wants to show that they have them. They think they are affluent and connected and it is a competition as to who has the best phone.”
Often KB speaks in metaphor but he is very literal with me tonight. He offers only one metaphor when we discuss fishing in Botswana.
“The fisherman do not understand that when you catch a fish, follows a crocodile.”
He implies that education is safer than fishing as a life choice with a subtle metaphor about nature. It reminds me of Jimmy’s lecture to the students about the East African Rift.
“The fault moves around 10 cm a year, on average,” says Jimmy to the students. “Imagine it is like a zipper being pulled on both sides moving up the seam. We want to see how far the zipper goes using MT.”
We have three more recoveries tomorrow and are collecting the LEMIs (Long period Electromagnetic Instrument) on Friday. I am currently trying to reach out to a non-profit organization called Books for Africa during my downtime. I have contacts in Zambia and Botswana and WHOI wants to help them transport books to remote villages in Zambia. I need to access an Internet café to do this but there is no time in the work week. There is a genuine need for books and water here. This weekend we pack for Zambia. We leave for Kasane on Monday and cross the border Tuesday, hopefully I can get in touch with my contacts.
|September 27, 2011THE LAST DEPLOYMENT IN BOTSWANADavid stands outside the airport with his luggage packed on Tuesday morning. He is flying to South Africa for an October geophysics conference. We say farewell and David pretends to cry.“I’m going to miss you guys,” he says. He brandishes a smile and shakes our hands. We take a group picture and say farewell.
Richard finds a nymph scorpion on his pant leg while Jimmy goes to settle a speeding ticket at the police station, but he finds no one at the police station. It is an expensive ticket and KB believes it is because we are foreigners.
“I will take care of it later,” says Jimmy.
Today is our last deployment of Botswana. We have done 41 deployments to date. KB has the coordinates of our second site because we have spotty cell service. We arrive at our last site in Botswana but KB is not there.
“Did you find the site?” asks Jimmy.
“We tried to go but we turned around in the early afternoon. The terrain was too tough. We would have been stuck there in our vehicle,” says KB.
Instead of doing a real deployment we meet the students at Sitatunga. Jimmy settles his traffic ticket and we are late. The students are wearing matching blue overalls and brought shovels with them. Some of them take pictures and many answer their cell phones during the demonstration, often letting their ring tones play in entirety. The students are otherwise very attentive and respectful.
“When we plant an electrode we use water, salt and soil as a conductive layer to ease the contact with the Earth. We bury the electrodes and run wires to the MTU. If there is extra slack on a cable we tape it in loops and bury the coil every five meters with a small mound of soil.” I pick the ground up and let the soil slip through my fingers. “This prevents any inductive effects from affecting the data.”
The students take turns burying the electrodes and coils. Jimmy shows them the difference between good and bad data. “Elephants!” he yells when there is noise. The students return to the Rhino Lodge and KB stays with us. They will visit the fault lines tomorrow at Lake Ngami while we finish the recoveries. It feels great to finish the last deployment of Botswana.
We are waiting for the Zambian Geological Survey tonight. Their cell phones do not work in Botswana so we are waiting at reception for them. We will split up tomorrow if their vehicles can handle the roads. Richard tells us a story about recycling the melted car battery to pass time.
“I go to the Shell Station and ask if I can recycle the battery. I am not sure if the attendant speaks English but he seems to understand what I am saying. He brings me to the garage and says he does not understand. Then he tries to change my oil. I tell him that I need to throw out the battery. I show him the battery which is safely in a box. It is melted and not safe. I need to throw out the battery and I point at the battery.” Richard is grinning ear-to-ear. “So he puts the battery on the ground outside the box and smiles as if he has solved the problem. Then things get a little strange. He gets the manager and the manager is ecstatic. He says that there is a man that will buy the battery, no problem.”
The battery is leaking sulfuric acid. DeBeers did not inventory any of the batteries so they are not liable to pay if it stays in Botswana. The manager takes the battery with pleasure.
“They use car batteries to power their television sets,” says David. In Maun it is possible that someone needs the battery for a television set or a car. Many people drive cars here, some people ride donkeys and some people who own a car still ride a donkey.
“In Maun you see houses with a hut and a house on the same property. These people actually build the house first and then build the hut because it is what they have done for thousands of years and they are not comfortable with the house yet,” says David. He sends Jimmy a text today. “I have arrived in Johannesburg. How did the deployments go?”
The deployments were tough today. We encountered our first layer of calcrete – sediment from water that settles and then dries and hardens. It is now night time and I am waiting for the Zambians at the safari camp with Jimmy. The Champions League is on the television and there is a group of South Africans and Europeans at the table. “House of the Rising Sun,” by The Animals is playing and it struggles to stifle the constant boom of wildlife tonight. There is a sand volleyball court with storm lights flooded with insects. Insects use light to navigate so they perpetuate towards lights at night. Perhaps we will see more giraffes tomorrow at the game reserve, but it is late and I am going to bed with no sign of the Zambians at 22:00.
|September 26, 2011A VISIT FROM UNIV. OF BOTSWANAKB arrives after a long commute from the University of Botswana.“I was held for three hours because my vehicle was unavailable. We eventually leave Gabs in a big Greyhound bus carrying twenty one students.” The bus is property of the University of Botswana. “The students are staying at the Rhino Lodge, 5 kilometers from here.”
The students want to observe us work. Nineteen of them are undergraduates and two are graduate students. We are unsure if their bus can handle the terrain so we suggest KB gets a different vehicle. KB will be with us for the next three days. This is our first significant outreach of the trip and there are lots of uncertainties about how it will happen, but team WHOI is looking forward to meeting the students.
|September 26, 2011FIRE, SNAKES AND GOODBYES“Fire!” Shouts Dave. “There is a fire in the back of the truck!”I lay on the horn and nearly rear end Jimmy, David, Colin and Richard in the other Hilux. I do not see any fire but Dave insists he saw a flame. Jimmy does not stop driving. I blast the horn but he does not stop.
“Did you hear me honking?” I ask Jimmy at the site.
“No, not at all.”
There is no smoke coming from Jimmy’s truck bed.
“I must be seeing things,” says Dave. We call but there is no cell service. When we arrive Jimmy finds a car battery tipped over and melted. Fortunately the damage radius is minimized to only the battery. I leave my truck and see something move a few feet from me.
“Snake!” I shout.
There is a small silver snake that slithers away as I approach.
“Lets get out of here,” says David.
Things are tense. We narrowly avert two disasters and are on our first deployment of the day. It is not even 10 in the morning on Monday. I plant each electrode singing Dylan because snakes do not like noisy prey. We leave the site promptly and move to collect three more sites.
The drive is long. We have driven over 9,000 km on the trip. We drive through Sehithwa which is still populated by hundreds of cows and goats. We try to use an alternate route but the bridge is overflowing with water. The three collections produce good data. Nothing stolen and no elephant disturbances equal good data.
WHOI purchases David an airplane ticket to Dublin. David flies home tomorrow. He has been an immense help for the duration of his stay. I look forward to reading his publications in the future. We will stay in touch.
KB arrives tonight and is bringing eleven students from the University of Botswana. We will do at least one deployment as a demonstration for the students tomorrow (it is supposedly our day off). We are not sure what KB expects but the students will be here for three days. I will take a video of the students during the demonstration. If we can make time tomorrow we will go on a helicopter ride.
On Wednesday the Zambian Geological Survey will arrive to help us cross the border. Colin recalls a conversation with Theo at the Sepopa Swampstop about the Zambians.
“How long will the Zambians be with you?”
“Three weeks,” replies Colin.
“You can expect them to be there for about half that time,” replies Theo.
We are relying on the Zambians for camp, border crossing and field support but it seems they are notoriously unreliable. We will train them how to use MT so that they can continue to collect data when we leave. Jimmy, Dave and Colin have just picked up KB and are bringing him to Citatunga in ten minutes. More later.
|September 25, 2011AN ANIMAL ENCOUNTER We leave Citatunga early Sunday morning for a long drive. The WHOI seismic group scouted the trail and chose a location for MT inside a game reserve. We are greeted by an English woman at reception.“Can I help you?” she asks.
“We are here to study geophysics from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts affiliated with the University of Botswana and the Botswana government, though they are not here to help us directly,” explains Jimmy.
The woman recalls the seismic group. She seems to think we are confused about where we are and why we are here. It is not often that people are seeking geophysics in a game reserve where lions, zebra, giraffes, springbok, kudu, elephants, cheetah and rhinoceros live.
“Sure,” She gives us permission to use their land for a few days, “I was just going to drive near the river. Apparently something killed an animal there and I want to go see if there is anything there. Let me know if you see anything in the reserve. Watch out for the lions.”
We give her the coordinates of our deployment and rush back to the vehicles. We are all thinking the same thing. “We have 25 km until the deployment site,” says Jimmy. I do the math. If we go 50 km / hr we have 30 minutes to see game. I ring my camera around my neck and start the engine.
We drive through the reserve park and come across a herd of eight giraffes of various sizes. They are photogenic animals and people friendly. We park a few hundred meters from the herd and they slowly get closer to us while we work. Dave, Richard, Colin and I walk over to them but they move away from us whenever we approach. They wrap their heads around trees and look like peculiar tree branches. Dave and I see a dead buffalo and Jimmy claims he saw a low-lying pale yellow animal moving in the tall grass near our deployment. We see a herd of wildebeest near the site. I am looking forward to returning to see what animals are curious about our equipment and how it affects our data.
We finish the game reserve deployment and continue driving. Richard sees a Black Mamba two kilometers from the next site. We are on high alert and proceed with extreme caution. We finish the deployment in forty minutes and leave promptly. We arrive at Citatunga slightly after dark. The University of Botswana students are coming tomorrow. We intend to do some sightseeing soon. More later.
|September 24, 2011MAKING RECOVERIES We leave early Saturday morning for Maun. We are staying at the Citatunga Safari Camp this week. I follow Jimmy who tows the trailer. It is a four hour drive with three recoveries along the way. We use Phoenix software installed on Mr. Green and Mr. Yellow (field lap tops named after the tape on their cases) to check the data before we collect the equipment.“The data looks good,” says David. “There is strong evidence of partial melt, which means the East African Rift is extending into Botswana.”
David is leaving this week to go back to Dublin. Two Zambians from the Zambian Geological Survey are meeting us in Maun and will help transport the equipment across the border. David and I are in our cabin at Citatunga and it rains for a few minutes. It is the first rainfall of many months. The safari camp is much busier now than previously. I remember the animals were deafening at night – they are much quieter now. We are staying here until early October with five more deployments left in Botswana. We have running water and electricity but few other luxuries – except for a new frontier, coming soon:
“Helicopter flights over the delta, inquire inside.”
|September 23, 2011ZAMBIA’S PRESIDENT STEPS DOWN, RESEARCH TEAM GETS GREEN LIGHTFriday is another early day. We drive more than usual as we recover an extra site today. We collect good data with no disturbances from elephants or people. We lock the equipment in a blue box to prevent theft. The MTU has a temperature sensor that reads 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), so from now on we prop the box open to increase air flow instead of locking.We pack the trailer for transport as it is our last night at Sepopa Swampstop. Silvia hands me a few stapled receipts and I tally the numbers in my head. It totals 125 pula of a South African drink called Liquifruit that I fancy.
“So I owe you 125 pula then?” I rhetorically ask Silvia.
Silvia laughs and asks, “How do you know?”
I stumble a bit then admit to summing the total. She brandishes a calculator and also sums 125 pula. Once our tabs are settled we say goodbye to our friends at Sepopa – Merci, Theo, Silvia, Lams and the kittens. We also have an onslaught of updates from Rob Evans.
The president of Zambia has stepped down peacefully and we can proceed as planned. Rob is in Johannesburg at the moment. WHOI, Rob Evans and the State Department are giving us the green light. We fill all the tanks with diesel on Friday in Gumare to prepare for our trip to Maun – our penultimate stop in Botswana. We discuss the weather, which has been changing lately. The sky is nearly overcast and there is more humidity in the air than normal. David believes this is the beginning of the rain season.
“Will the rain slow us down?” I ask.
“No, it will cool things down,” he says.
Then I hope it rains.
|September 22, 2011POLITICAL OBSTACLESWe get an early start Thursday. One of the sites overheats at 2:45 pm yesterday but the data is still good. Richard gets a flat tire at the last site but it is only a short delay and we return to Sepopa at 2:00 pm. We load the trailer for transport and get several emails from Rob. He is in Lusaka but is leaving the country due to instability surrounding the elections in Zambia. The votes were collected for the Zambian election on Tuesday and the opposition leader is ahead in the polls. In response, the incumbent president has mobilized troops to the border. He might either rig the election or refuse to leave office. If this happens there will be social unrest, or as Rob said, “Things will be out of bounds.”There is currently violence in the capital and riots in two mining towns.
Rob is having trouble withdrawing grant funds to pay the Zambian Geological Survey. We need their help to cross the border and food and shelter while we do MT. There is a withdrawal limit and Rob is withdrawing daily from his personal account, but the banks are now closed until Saturday. Due to the volatility in the region, Rob is leaving Zambia and we will not meet him in Africa. The Zambian Geological Survey will meet us at the border as long as we pay them and the country is stable enough for us to work. We are moving forward as planned in Botswana but social unrest in Zambia could be a major obstacle. It is listed as one of the most corrupt countries in the world and we are watching the news here as the situation unravels, hoping that Rob exits the country soon and safely.
|September 21, 2011THE RESEARCH VS. INDUSTRY DEBATEDavid is counting down the days until he can go back to Ireland.“I want to go home,” he says. “In industry, you work two weeks in the field and spend the rest of your time in an air conditioned office processing data. In academia I spend all my time collecting data and not enough time in air conditioning.”
Jimmy loves academia. This is an ongoing debate – the difference between academia and industry in geophysics. MT is exotic geophysics because it is only 50 years old. This means many of the codes are still being written. It is common that academics will use open source codes but industry is more private about their codes. Jimmy shares his codes, hence Jimmy is an academic.
The lifestyle of academic geophysics in MT involves a great deal of travel. Colin and Dave are going on a cruise to Hawaii a few weeks after returning from Africa. This means they will have marine MT experience for six weeks on one of WHOI’s research vessels. This is exciting but it begs us to wonder what industry is like since David longs to do it when he has his doctorates. I may return to this subject later because something a bit more exciting is happening.
|September 21, 2011SEA SHELLS IN THE HILLS?Today I learn that when referring to someone here the proper term is “Motswana,” and a group of Motswana is “Botswana.” I learn this the hard way when a car battery is missing from the first collection site on Wednesday.“I think a Botswani stole our battery,” I tell the group.
“No – a Motswana stole our battery. Crap – we have no data,” says David.
We finish work early and decide to go exploring. Colin, Dave and I leave for the Tsodilo Hills.
“Tsodilo exists because the rocks are more resilient to erosion than the rest of the land,” says Jimmy.
We arrive at the Male Hill at 3:00 PM. There are elephant tracks and a village nearby where the Kalahari Bushmen live. The rock is layered with color and we look for a trail to ascend. We get on foot and start walking around the base. There is exactly one set of human tracks on the trail with very small feet. The heel of the return tracks sinks deeper in the soil.
“I think this person walked a good distance,” I tell Dave and Colin. “This is based on my experience running. When I am tired I strike with my heels first as opposed to my forefoot.”
Dave and I are searching for an ascendable path. We find cave etchings. They are white in color and depict animals and geometric shapes. I find an access point nearby to start climbing.
“I am more of a trail guy,” says Colin, who waits at the base.
The climb is completely vertical at times. Much of the terrain is impassable and we exchange the lead position.
“You’re not going to believe this.”
“What is it?” asks Dave.
I pick up what I think is a fossilized sea shell.
“No way,” says Dave.
We continue our climb and find more shells. I stop at every shelf on the ascent and look for fossils and rocks. I collect many snake skulls.
“U.S. customs will not let you cross the border carrying those skulls – they will not allow it,” says David Khoza later in the day. “Unless you claim them – you might as well try it.”
We climb to the tallest peak. We split a Cliff bar I brought from America. It tastes like melted oatmeal and raisin – delicious. We share water and position our cameras on a ledge to do photographs. We botch the first one but are euphoric from a steep climb, a gorgeous view and the 100 degree heat of the desert. The landscape is breathtaking. There is a pillar of smoke on the horizon and the Tsodilo Hills. We are above every peak in Botswana and that is exactly the way it feels.
“It is amazing that this is where humans became humans,” says Dave.
I soak in the view for a few minutes. There are no traces of another human on our path. We descend following our trail of broken sticks and boot prints.
“I hope we have water in the car,” says Dave during the descent.
“I have a 1.5 liter in the truck,” I reply.
We follow our tracks and notice that Colin has a size 12 foot print and has returned to the vehicle. We show Colin the shells. He laughs. A few boys from the village approach us.
“Water,” the boy says, “Water.”
I give him my 1.5 liter and tell him to share with his brother, and then we leave Tsodilo. The spirit of desert compassion rules as we pull away in silence, tired from an epic journey. We return to Sepopa dehydrated before dark and show Jimmy and David the pictures and shells. Jimmy laughs.
“Those are snail shells,” he says.
“Oh.” Then I laugh too. The snake skulls are legitimate. So I discovered snail shells on the tallest peak in Botswana and thought they were evidence of prehistoric marine life – cool story.
Jimmy has bad news. Rob Evans says, “There is a rumor going around that I will not be able to cross into Botswana until the end of the month.” This is a bit mysterious but it seems we will possibly meet him in Zambia. He was hoping to teach the University of Botswana students about MT in Maun. We have twelve deployments left in Botswana and we need to work long hours to compensate for lost data. We leave Sepopa on Saturday morning.
|September 20, 2011THE TALE OF THE TSODILO HILLSWe leave at 6:30 AM only to stop immediately at the Sepupa gates because Richard has a flat tire. We use another spare and continue towards Maun. Flat tires are strongly related to terrain in my experience in the Kalahari. The Kalahari claims many tires judging by the cars and wreckage at the side of the road. Even the stranded folk smile and wave. Dave and I talk about the people on the way to work.“Do you think this is third world?” I ask Dave.
It is a reasonable question because the developed cities matriculate awkwardly into the villages. You might enter a village and see naked children, huts, no electricity or running water and encounter a man dressed in formal attire ready to go work at Toyota, for example.
“I think so,” answers Dave.
Sepupa Swampstop has a modest number of European guests. The theory is that if they keep safari prices high it will limit the number of tourists which will prevent hotel chains from flooding the region with people and destroying the game reserves. This keeps the tourism profits in the pockets of the Botswani. Every day we appreciate that over a third of the land is unfenced game reserves – otherwise there would be too much interference from civilization to collect data. We drive off road to avoid interference from telephone poles and cars, even though there is few of each.
There are more ostrich by the road than usual today. There is an influx of animals migrating to the delta in late September to escape the heat. Richard checks the temperature today with a thermometer.
“Any guesses? Bear in mind there is no humidity here and we are in the desert.”
“Eighty-five,” says Dave.
“It is one 100 degrees Fahrenheit.”
This explains why the equipment keeps overheating. Today two sites shut off because the Magnetotelluric Unit (MTU) was too hot. We increase air flow to the equipment and move the sites under low lying bushes. David has never encountered these issues during his five month profile as a part of CAMTEX (Central African Magnetotelluric Experiment), when he covered 50,000 km with MT. Due to the data loss we will spend tomorrow recovering and deploying sites and then hiking the Tsodilo “Mountain of the Gods.” This is what Sepupa Swampstop has to say about the Tsodilo hills:
“According to the Ju/hoansi legend, Tsodilo hills were once a family – the father, the mother, the child and the grandchild. At one point the father and mother divorced and the mother moved away with the children. The mother was not willing to reconcile so much that she cursed all of them including herself to turn into rocks instead. As a result they became known as the Male, Female, Child and Grandchild hill. Grandchild is some way off in isolation and it is believed to possess evil spirits. Even today, the people of Tsodilo avoid interacting with the Grandchild. Tsodilo was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on 15th December 2001. There are 4,500 recorded rock paintings at 400 sites found in Tsodilo dating between 850 and 1100 AD. Materials used to make the rock paintings were possibly haematite, charcoal and calcrete mixed with animal fat, blood, bone marrow, egg-white, honey, sap and urine. The Male hill is the highest point above sea level in Botswana at 1,395 meters. Tsodilo has been inhabitated by different groups of people for the past 100,000 years. The Ju/hoansi believe that the water spring at Gobeku is connected to the Okavango river, thus children born away from Tsodilo would be anointed and introduced to Tsodilo at the spring. The hills are believed to be a sacred place holding the spirit of the ancestors of the Ju/hoansi.”
Botswana has endless stories. Pictures from Tsodilo later.
|September 19, 2011CLOUDS…It is remarkable that people live out here. I hear that you can survive three days without water, but I do not think if that holds true in the Kalahari. It is very dry here and I finish five liters of water by the end of the day. We hoard bottled water from Choppies, and, coincidentally, MT can be used to discover underground water reservoirs. That is not our purpose now, but it could be useful for people in a desert climate.“The people out here are amazing. They can survive for weeks without water,” says David.
Dave and I are puzzled. “How do they get water?”
“They get it from the roots of plants.”
Today we see vultures and a crane by the side of the road. The crane is about four feet tall with a two meter wingspan.
While leaving the last site Colin points out the vehicle and screams, “Look!” I look for a Green Mamba in the distant trees and roll down my window.
“There is a cloud in the sky!” I look up and see a cloud about the size of a minivan in a vacant lot. It is the first cloud we have seen for four weeks.
“Look Dave, a cloud!” He is in my passenger’s seat.
“Wow, a cloud!” He rolls down his window, “Colin did you see that?”
“The cloud!” he yells.
“Yeah I saw it – Mat did you see the cloud?”
We are beaten down daily by the sun but it has us in good spirits. Relief comes when we get back into the trucks and turn the AC. It is now 8:00 PM on Monday. Rob is in Lusaka on a national holiday in Zambia. Tomorrow is Election Day which incited riots during the last election. He is available by e-mail and Jimmy has contact with him until we meet in Maun on September 24. More later.
|September 17, 2011GETTING INTO THE RESEARCH“We are closing in on 6,000 km – almost there after today’s trip,” says Jimmy. “We could cover the diameter of the United States with the distance we have driven so far.”We leave Sepopa early Sunday morning. We do three recoveries and three deployments although one of the sites has no data. We replace the battery and will collect the station on Wednesday. We are unsure why the site did not collect data. The other sites are fine, but now we only have two spare coils to measure magnetic field at our third deployment site. We only plant two coils at the last site in the X and Y direction and discard the Z.
“It is not a big deal,” says David. “As long as we have a steady profile, having Z at every site is not crucial.”
The coils are one meter heavy cylinders of copper coils that measure the magnetic field in the ground. We bury three at every site to get the field in three dimensions: X, Y and Z (north-south, east-west and vertical). The coils have thousands of turns and a small diameter so they can detect external magnetic fields on the nano-Tesla scale. They are made by Phoenix Geophysics. I ask David about his experience with the equipment.
“I like them, they are reliable. They are used in the U.S., Canada and China and I have used them for almost all of my research. They could be a bit more robust for the field, especially the GPS antennae. Their software for processing data is too much of a black box too – you just put stuff in and see what you get out.”
Jimmy and David are working on data processing at the bar in Sepopa. They produce plots relating magnetic field with frequency, phase, and show us the difference between transverse magnetic (TM) and transverse electric (TE) polarizations in the data. Jimmy writes a code that converts the data from ASCII to the proper format. Things are getting exciting now that Botswana is almost in the rear view and the data is taking center stage.
|September 16, 2011ON THE WAY TO SEPOPAWe leave Sepopa 30 minutes late due to a late breakfast on Saturday morning. The morning is the best time to work as it is freezing at night and much hotter during the day. The road is crowded with animals and we drive carefully to avoid cows, goats, pedestrians and potholes. The roads are not structurally sound as most two lane roads erode into one lane. We see villages along the route and I ask Richard for his thoughts about the village folk.“The Kalahari Bushmen are interesting people but I do not know much about these villages here.”
David chimes in, “If you want to be famous, research the Bushmen. They are the origin of most South Africans and yet no one knows anything about them. They speak a completely different language that practically no one speaks anymore.”
The villages are built of huts, cement brick houses and a fenced ranch. It is unclear how many people live in each compound, but David says each hut has an individual purpose. One hut is a bedroom and another is a kitchen, for example. The villagers wear elaborate outfits with many layers and colors. The women wear vibrant hats or head scarves to carry loads. I do not tend to associate the third world with such vibrant clothing and it is a pleasant surprise on the way to work.
Work today is strenuous. The ground is hard as rock and I use a pickaxe to dig holes. The data is good except for one site which records disturbances from elephants over a three hour period, but they only harm some of the data.
“Elephants hate science,” explains Colin.
Jimmy plots our routes with Google Maps and he is our point man with GPS. This is a difficult duty because we often encounter impassable land off the main road. Jimmy gets two more flat tires today and we return to Sepopa at twilight. For the next three days we leave earlier to avoid driving at night. We have two weeks of deployments near Maun before we transport gear to start a month of work in Zambia, right on schedule.
|September 14, 2011WHY WE ARE HERE“Yeah I thought this might happen,” David looks T.I.A. This morning we collect data at a site covered in elephant tracks. A local farmer says that elephants were here yesterday and today. He thinks we are tourists hoping to see elephants migrate to the delta. David explains that we are here to do geophysics research. Unfortunately the elephants have sabotaged the high frequency readings at the site.“Their movement essentially generates high frequency waves because they move the wires and the electrodes, which generates high frequency inductive responses, which gives faulty high frequency responses. The low frequency, or the long period as we like to call them – are better than the high frequency because the movement of elephants generates only the high frequency responses.”
I ask David what he expects out the data from the Okavango region.
“The idea is that we are trying to test the East African Rift system. The whole continent is essentially breaking up into two, starting with east Africa – where we know it is happening because there are volcanoes in places like DRC and Kenya. What we want to see if it extends into Botswana and further south. We are looking for partial melt where volcanic material has burnt into the crust. We know in the Okavango there are minor earthquakes – 4.5 size quakes. We believe it is the extension of the lithosphere that causes these quakes. We are doing MT to look for responses that indicate partial melt of volcanic material. We are testing for the East African rift system all the way south.”
I ask David what depth we are looking into the Earth.
“For this particular survey we are looking at least 50 km. This is for the broadband systems for frequencies of 100 hertz to 2000 second periods will get you at least 50 km. With the LEMI instruments anything from 10 seconds to 30,000 seconds will get you into the lithosphere at 300 km.”
What matter is consistent with partial melt and how are these imaged with MT?
“We still don’t know essentially what causes partial melt, but if you assume you are melting the lower mantle which is mainly made of basalt. It is essentially a melted rock, possibly made of carbonatite. These are the two basic types of melt. As to which one causes the melt, we cannot say because they both have the same electrical conductivity. Basalt is the type of rock you get in a volcano, so we can assume that it is basalt here, but we need to construct models and make arguments and it is not definitive.”
|September 13, 2011‘I WANT TO TELL A STORY ABOUT THE EARTH’I raise David’s truck a few centimeters off the ground with a jack. This is the first time I have ever replaced a flat tire. We are 100 kilometers from the rest of the team and down to the last spare in David’s truck. I finish the job in minutes and we drive to a tire repair shop in Gumare.“The steering column is poorly aligned. Look at the tire, do you see?” The outside of the tire is heavily worn but the inside looks brand new. David comments on the wear of the vehicle, “Look at these chips in the wheel – these are from potholes.”
We are in a tin shack on the side of the road occupied by four boys. The eldest, perhaps a teenager, is wearing converse sneakers, a green vest, dog tags and a backwards hat. He uses a screwdriver to plug the flat and dips a cloth in a chemical that catalyzes with water.
“It’s fixed,” says the boy.
David pushes down on the tire and it hisses. “No it is not,” says David.
The tire shop uses a gas powered generator and an air compressor to work on tires. We pay 40 Pula for the fix and intend to use it as a spare in the future. David and I start deploying and collecting data with the rest of the team by noon.
David and I are talking about science. I ask him why we do certain things in the field, why MT data is useful and what he likes about geophysics. He has a sentence that he repeats many times: “I am in geophysics because I want to tell a story about the earth.”
“So when we do MT, we are imaging the deep earth based on electric currents created by the solar winds and the earth. So if there is low resistivity, we are imaging conductors. This means we are looking at metals, right?” I prod him a bit further.
David quickly responds, “Yes, but it is more of an indicator of temperature. The temperature flux in the earth varies on many orders of magnitude and causes abrupt changes in the conductivity.”
Jimmy explains that conductive matter dissipates energy, which results in shallower readings.
“So is temperature how MT can predict earthquakes?” I ask David.
I learned in middle school geology that active fault lines can have large quantities of molten lava seeping into the mantle.
“Sometimes, yes,” he replies.
I look out the window of the truck and see clouds of smoke blanketing the sky. Farmers are burning their crops to prepare for the rain season. The sun is the only visible object in the sky, clawing bright red light through the billows of smoke. Dave, Colin and I are talking when Jimmy hollers, “Hired muscle!” and we go to bury the instruments he is using. Interning means you have to do dirty work to learn the good stuff. I am satisfied doing it because of what I am learning – it turns out the US has an MT station every 10 kilometers coast-to-coast. Perhaps I will have career options in the field after I graduate.
|September 12, 2011SPIDERS, SNAKES.. AND TRON “The data is good, there is just not enough of it,” says David. He is looking at the time series from the first deployment site Monday morning. We have a short day today – 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM. We do three collections and three deployments. We can now deploy a site in under an hour, considerably shorter than four hours at our first site. There are elephant tracks on our second deployment site. David is gives us cautionary advice about instrument collection.“You have to slide and shake the box when you pick it up – it is quite fascinating really. The spiders like to hide under there – all sorts of them.”
Dave looks concerned. “Are they poisonous?”
“Yes they are very poisonous, you should be careful,” says David.
WHOI provides emergency evacuation insurance with a number on our satellite phones. I learned emergency evacuation procedures in the Army ROTC program at Northeastern University, now I habitually think about what to do if someone needs to be evacuated.
“Can we call them now on the satellite phones so they know our situation in case of an emergency?” I ask Jimmy.
“That is not necessary, they should have everything handled.”
“So if we need an evacuation…”
“They will provide a helicopter.”
I am trying to prevent an emergency situation in Zambia but I feel like it is imminent.
“The more north you go, the worse it gets [in Africa]” Says David.
I learn many things about animals, thanks to our work collaboration with South Africans, Botswani and Zambians. For example we now play loud music at our deployment sites. We originally thought the vibrations would attract snakes but David insists that loud noise scares them. Jimmy burned three mix tapes featuring Doctor Octagon AKA Doom, Rage against the Machine, OK Computer by Radiohead, Pixies, Girl Talk and the Tron soundtrack.
“The Tron soundtrack gets me going in the morning,” says Dave. Colin agrees. “I just feel ready to dig.”
There is an ongoing debate about who gets the Tron soundtrack in the morning. We all share bedrooms, so the essential things we tend to ration with are: Who sleeps in the bed at night and who sleeps the floor mattress? Who gets first shower? And last but not least, who gets the Tron soundtrack in the morning?
This Friday we have no deployments scheduled. We will hike to the hills near Sekawe which offer the highest on land view of the Okavango. I want a landscape picture and this will be my best opportunity. More later.
|FIELD WORK VS. LAB WORKSeptember 11, 2011Field work is different than working in a laboratory. Field work for WHOI is research in nature, a different setting than a laboratory. The same concepts apply in both places: measurement error, experiments, data analysis, grants and a research paper are parts of indoor and outdoor research. I have learned some differences from my experience, and I want to get some writing done on the subject: What is the difference between field work and lab work?Location matters when doing field work. Botswana is special because it cannot be imaged from Boston and it is poorly understood in geophysics. WHOI funds this expedition to present raw data that needs exploration to recover. The discoveries range from poorly understood to unknown. Field work also means traveling. In my case, this means living with limited access to my friends, family and Internet in a region of disease, poverty and starvation. These are facts of life. Consider what happens when we worked in a village on Saturday:
David speaks to a village elder and she gives us permission to dig on their land. Their houses are made of straw and clay with paint to resemble a castle. They are enclosed in straw walls with a gate at the front. There are less than 30 people in the village minus the men, who we assume are at work. There is no electricity, radio or cell phone service, but the village is on a bus route to Maun. The village elder is perhaps 40, though this is old when life expectancy is 50 years old. Six young boys come out to watch me dig at a distance. I smile and wave. They smile and wave back. They chase after our trucks on the dirt road – waving and smiling. Their bones are visible to the naked eye. They are clearly suffering from malnutrition and hunger but they are running in a line from tallest to shortest, oldest to youngest. Over one-third of Botswani are under the age of 15 and 44 percent of population has HIV/AIDS. I doubt that anyone in the village votes or understands the state of affairs in their own country.
“The government pours money into Gaborone and Maun but they do not care about these people at all,” David shakes his head. David grew up in a village like this and walked 45 minutes to primary school. I mention that I am carrying books donated by the Marstons Mills Public Library – my hometown in America. He tells me they will appreciate my books for sure. This encounter never happens in a laboratory and it leaves me feeling whole at heart.
I am trained to use MT in the village. Colin, Dave and I know how to do every part of the deployment process. This is consistent with learning in a laboratory except that in a research lab I have more resources at hand. In the field we pre-package equipment to be as efficient as possible and carry minimal extra stuff. I am responsible for knowing how to use all the equipment. In the laboratory I request to be trained, here it is a necessity. A lab will have many projects happening at once, all we do here is collect MT data.
I have been told many times, “Oh – travel will look good on your resume,” though I think this is a poor reason to do field work here.
Experiencing a third-world country is an intangible advantage in personal will – something I have gleaned from David. He speaks about men who have died from snake bites, their appendix bursting and malaria before his very eyes. Living here makes you ask the tough questions. Why do I work around snake holes after unearthing a scorpion, seeing an elephant and driving over a four foot snake? Why should I live in a hotel where I cannot go outside at night because of hippos, crocodiles and mosquitoes? Field work is beneficial because it makes me ask: is this what I love doing? I know the answer – and I am with five other scientists who feel the same way. Jimmy and David consider a healthy balance of field work, research and number crunching the eightfold path of science, and I think they might be right.
|September 9, 2011THERE ARE NO CAGES IN AFRICA…It is Thursday morning. Jimmy, David and I are going south of Maun to plant a Long period Electromagnetic Instrument (LEMI). It is a five-hour drive with 30 minutes off road. I ask David some questions.“What do you like about Botswana?”
David is from South Africa and is one year short of his doctorates at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Science.
“The animals are wild here. There are no cages. To see an elephant, tiger or zebra in South Africa you have to go to a zoo.”
David is very intelligent, hard working and diligent. He is always willing to stop what he is doing and give thought to our questions. We are 10 minutes from our LEMI deployment site and an elephant crosses the dirt road 200 meters ahead of Jimmy and me. David is driving behind us in the other Hilux.
“Did you see the elephant? It was about 200 meters in front of us on the dirt road,” Jimmy asks David.
“No I did not,” says David.
We plant three more instruments on Friday. We have deployed six MT instruments so far and will deploy three more on Saturday. Villagers approach us for water, food or money sometimes. Today a young Botswani offered to guard our equipment near Sepopa – it needs to stay there for three days.
My job in the field is to orient the devices NSEW, plant them, and connect them to an instrument that connects to a computer – which is all connected to a car battery. David is weary of goats, elephants and people who may come across the instruments, so we put nearly everything underground for either three days or three weeks, depending on the depth of imaging we want for the site.
“We’re going to maul Wales today,” says David. The rugby world cup starts today and David’s South African.
I am going to eat dinner with team WHOI and celebrate the first MT data on the East African Rift Valley. It is a tough environment to work but the data is so rewarding. It is 7:00 PM Friday and we are all in good spirits. We are learning MT quickly, although the brake line on the Land Cruiser broke today. It will be fixed on Monday.
Dave said, “We deploy three MT instruments and triumphantly leave in a funeral procession for the cruiser.”
(Image caption: Mathew Chamberlain catches a hippo diving into the water to cool off.)
|September 6, 2011AS RESEARCH BEGINS, WE HIT OUR FIRST SPEED BUMPIt is worth noting that it is a group of charged particles called “solar winds” that create currents in the Earth when they interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. The currents are what we measure, which fluctuate with changes in mass. This field is called deep Earth imaging, or magnetotellurics.We are all hanging out on the balcony waiting for Jimmy to return with David. Dave is studying for the Physics GRE, Colin is reading a book, I am writing and Richard is working on archeology. The kittens are napping in a ball.
“That was a long drive,” says David. Now the field work really starts.
We leave for vacant areas to calibrate the coils. We only calibrate three of 30 coils and work until 8:30 PM with headlamps. I give David my WHOI laptop to check compatibility for the software interface with the magnetometers. David mentions some regional problems.
“The satellites turn off when they go over Africa. I go to America and there are 22 satellites to connect to, but in Africa we cannot even get six,” David said. The magnetometers need to sync with a GPS connected to at least six satellites to start collecting data. At our first deployment site we only find one, at our second we find six after a 30-minute wait. As some of our deployments are quite lengthy this could be a problem in the future.
|September 5, 2011GETTING READY TO START RESEARCHWe spend Monday on the balcony. The weather is consistently mid 80s, no wind and it has not rained for months. Richard and Jimmy drive an hour to buy drinking water and salt. Jimmy arranges to collect David tomorrow and he will arrive Tuesday afternoon. David could not find a flight to Sekawe so we have more downtime. A Polish couple is sitting on the balcony.“We want to split the boat cost to a camp in Pepere Island, do you want to go?” She asks.
The Swampstop has a camp on Pepere Island, which is deep in the Delta. It will surely have great views of elephants, buffalo and thousands of birds, but it is a two-day voyage and we do not have time.
“How do you travel?” She asks.
“We are doing geophysics research here, the trucks outside are ours,” says Dave.
Africans often hitchhike by flapping an outstretched hand. We are in a remote region where Americans are scarce. People smile, wave and dance when we drive by – but many hitchhike. The busses are often full.
There is a strong spirit in conversation throughout Botswana. Over one-third of the land is reserved for conservation and most of it is unfenced. I see huts with solar panels and the solar powered laptop is headline news here.
The animals near the Kalahari struggle in the climate, but at the delta wildlife is abundant. The Okavango is like a large oasis.
The thin mother is nursing three kittens here. We feed them food off the table and the mother hides from the kittens at night. We make sure she gets the most food. The kittens remind us of home. I have been in Africa two weeks and I am excited to start MT tomorrow.
|September 5, 2011ELEPHANT ENCOUNTERIt is Sunday morning. The seismic group at WHOI wants to bring instruments to the delta and they need a trail of passable land as close as possible to the main river. Our plan is to go north-east into the delta and track our course with GPS. We start driving in the tracks of other vehicles, but the tracks quickly fade away. There are no signs of human life and elephant tracks are everywhere. The ground is mud with water six inches under the topsoil.
One of our tires sinks one foot deep into the ground. We use classic physics to get out of the mud by taking weight off the truck bed, decreasing air in the tires and putting sticks, salt and elephant dung under the sunken tire, and then strap a tow cable to the truck.
There are lemurs with big eyes and long tails watching as we navigate north-east for passable land. There is not much land to pass – most of it is mud, barbed trees or elephant tracks. Our view opens up at a mud pan and I see a full-grown elephant with massive tusks.
“Let’s move closer.”
“Alright, but not too close,” says Jimmy.
I point at the elephants but Colin thinks I am giving him directions until his arm snaps into the air and he mouths out, “Elephant!” It is treacherous to drive across as we might get stuck. We track around the pan with a small cluster of trees on our right. We continue slowly to the other side of the trees until the elephant is in view and discover another baby elephant just 10 meters away.
There is another elephant there too, presumably the mother. We are separating a family and immediately have the attention of two more elephants on the far side. The baby elephant is standing perfectly still but seems to be leaning forward. His eyes are fixed on us. His ears perk up and it bull rushes the truck. Dust kicks up and the elephant is telling us to watch where we go.
“I think it’s time to get out of here,” says Jimmy.
I agree and we leave promptly. The baby elephant relaxes his ears and shakes the soil off his body, turning back to the shade. The elephants offer no language to assuage their mysterious nature but their place in the delta is understood: they are the royalty, and all they eat is grass.
There is fresh elephant dung on our return tracks. Twice more we are stuck in the mud. Jimmy looks at the GPS trail and discovers we made it to where the seismic group needs to collect data. We return to the Sepupa Swampstop, where we will be for the next 20 days living in the largest inland delta in the world.
It is now Monday, David should arrive later today. I cannot upload pictures from my current location, but I have great pictures and videos of crocodiles, elephants, hippos and the delta.
“Now all we need are zebras, lions and apes.”
“I can do without the lions,” says Jimmy.
|September 3, 2011SOME DOWN-TIMEIt is Saturday night. I want to use Silvia’s computer but I can only do this when her supervisor is not here. It is fortunate that her English is excellent.“Is your supervisor here?” Jimmy asks.
“No,” she replies, “He is stuck in Maun. The bridge between Sepupa and Maun is broken. When the water level here is low, the water level in Maun is high. The bridge broke from the high water.”
“There is a detour that leads around the flooded bridge. We used the detour from Maun to Sepupa,” we explain.
“The detour is the bridge that is broken,” she replies.
I remember taking a one lane bridge gushing water in Maun – we must have crossed it on the day that it broke. David Khoza needs to fly into the Shakawe airport north of Sepupa, otherwise he will be stuck in Maun. It is too late to do anything about it now, so we discuss sleeping situations.
WHOI is taking great care of us with room and board. In Zambia we have help from the Zambian Geological Survey. I recall the words of KB, “I went to Zambia once,” he looks T.I.A, “I had to return after I ran out of food.”
It seems food is scarce in Zambia, but the food in Botswana is great. Many thanks are due to the National Science Foundation, WHOI and Rob Evans (PI) for affording us such a comfortable stay.
Dave, Colin and I spend our downtime reading, playing cards and studying for the Physics GRE. We have an adventurous day tomorrow.
|September 3, 2011EXPLORING THE DELTAI wake up early Saturday morning and see the sunrise over the Okavango. I walk under a tree and it begins to shake violently as hundreds of bats fly out.We finish work at 11 AM and have the rest of the day off.
We rent a boat for four hours to go sightseeing in the Delta.
We are awed by the abundance of animals. Tree roots cover the riverbed and there is scarcely sand at the bottom of a channel. The first animal we see is a crocodile no more than 20 meters from the Sepupa Swampstop. The boat driver tells us the story of the hippo — how it became a land-walking creature that can hold its breath for eight minutes.
He brandishes papaya from the Delta and skins it for eating – it tastes like coconut, then makes a necklace for Jimmy out of a day flower and shows us how to make eye drops from a flower.
He has a sharp eye and we see large animals every hundred meters.
The crocodiles are often a surprise, but the hippos trample the tall grass and are foreseeable – but they move incredibly fast on land.
We know the speed of a hippo because one charged our boat. We also see cranes, eagles and an elephant trail through a shallow channel. We discuss the wildlife on an island. We see four hippos total, hundreds of crocodile, many eagles, cranes, bulls, fishing birds, tiger fish and large lily pads.
We have downtime until David Khoza arrives and we start deep Earth imaging. It is nice to have a mental map of the Okavango Delta.
It will be something to think about for a long time – thankfully I took hundreds of pictures and have videos of hippos and crocodiles at arms length. More later.
|September 1, 2011‘NEVER, EVER, DETER A HIPPO’We pick up two more vehicles: a brand new Toyota Hilux and a 1995 Land Cruiser.I am driving the Land Cruiser by choice. It was once owned by a safari guide and has 320,000 km on the odometer. Many of the parts are loose so when the engine goes through certain RPM the cab rattles until the velocity reaches 100 km/hr, when the resonances are silent and the steady hum of the engine reveals the inner soul of a sixteen year old African trailblazer. I love this vehicle and everyone knows it.
“August is the busiest time of the month for us,” says the safari guide.
He is a hearty fellow and many veins appear on his head when he speaks English. Native dialects are more intuitive than English for the Africans, perhaps because words like “Crocodile” are of Spanish descent, whereas Afrikaans is a combination of Dutch and English.
“Why is August so busy?” Richard asks the safari guide. We are all intently listening. Safari guides have valuable experience with the local climate. The equivalent of a Safari guide in esteem in America is probably an airplane pilot.
“It’s a combination of factors really; there are the Europeans on vacation, it’s the driest time of the year so the animals are concentrated at the Delta and there are few mosquitos outside the Delta. This month is called suicide month by the locals because of the heat – it gets hot. It will be in the upper 30s by the end of it.”
We rent a Toyota Hilux from this man and go to the safari camp.
We sleep in mosquito nets at the safari camp and the noise of the animals is deafening at night. There is a pool and patio area at the camp where we trade stories from the drive. I ask a British safari group if I can borrow some CDs, but they have none.
We have no auxiliary port in the vehicles and there is no radio in the desert.
I wake up to roosters at 4:30 AM and we leave the camp at 7:00 AM.
We stop at the airport in Maun, where we will pick up David in a few days. We eat at an airport-themed restaurant, where we had dinner the night before, and discuss the day to come. There are quotes on the menu: “If black boxes always survive the crash, why isn’t the rest of the plane made out of that stuff?”
It is timely and hot food and all of our orders are cooked right. I give it five stars and Dave agrees. We leave the airport and drive another four hours through the desert to Sepupa.
We are in Sepupa for the next 22 days. It is right on the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world.
The Sepupa Swampstop is known for tiger fishing, fly fishing, hippos and crocodiles. KB told us that hippos will stand at the door at nighttime here.
“How do I deter a hippo from standing at my door?” I ask the Botswani safari car dealer in Maun.
The Botswani stops smiling and looks me in the eye. “Listen to me.” I freeze up a bit. Safari guides can instill awe of their personal experiences with animals.
“Never, ever, deter a hippo.”
I burst out laughing but stop quickly. “It is serious,” he continues, “Hippos take more lives in Africa than any other game. Never go near one, do not bother one, chase one, separate a hippo from their young or walk between a hippo and water. They are very aggressive animals.”
There are many kittens here and they are very adorable, two of them can sit in the palm of my hand. We skipped lunch and had a long day: four hours of driving, unloading and reloading the trailer and moving in and out of another hotel. The mother of the kittens is being loud and I wonder if there are hippos outside.
The gear is ready for disbursement on September 5, when David Khoza returns and we begin the deep Earth imaging.
For now the gear is locked up in the back of my Land Cruiser. When we have down time I will take a boat into the Okavango Delta.
Tomorrow we will check the electrode cables for malfunctions and label all the equipment with serial numbers in the morning to make time for boating.
|August 31, 2011RIDING THROUGH THE DESERTIt is 6:00 AM on Wednesday. We are traveling 665 km today to Ghazi. It will take two days to get to Maun.I look at the DeBeers building, which is engineered to allow natural light, and wonder aloud the effects of having a diamond-dependent economy. DeBeers gave us safe storage space for the trailer but my thoughts about the industry make me more uneasy than thankful. We take the trailer and start driving to Ghazi.
Several hours into the journey my hopes of seeing game fade. We have left civilization behind only to find kilometers of desert. Amid this desert is one of the largest diamond mines in the world. “I think back now to what KB said.”
Jimmy is driving in the heat and we have seen scarce signs of life besides cows and goats for six hours. “We will see lots of elephants, hippos and perhaps crocodiles when we get to the profile. But about our trip today – he said we would see nothing, and he was right.”
The greatest opportunity for seeing animals will come at our stay in the Okavango Delta, where we begin to do geophysics experiments. What we are really doing is called deep Earth imaging. The East African Rift changes the dynamics of the Okavango Delta on a yearly basis. An ocean basin is forming somewhere along the East African Rift, for example, and the deepest pond in Africa is along the fault, at 1,400 km in depth. The flooding in the Delta is also related to tectonic activity. We do deep Earth imaging to figure out what is causing the land to move.
The road to Ghazi is incredibly flat and full of mirages as well as dust devils, but it is a paved road with few cracks or bumps. “There is no water to shrink and expand to crack the concrete, so the road is smooth. I think the Kalahari Desert holds the record for the hottest day or driest recorded year in the world,” says Jimmy at the Kalahari Game Reserve.
I am not surprised. The land is arid and the only wildlife is the occasional ostrich, barring many cows, horses, donkeys and goats. I did see a group of several monkeys running on the ground, but I was the only one who saw them and the group claims I need photo evidence. I also saw a train moving on the horizon but I was mistaken: it was the position of shrubs on the horizon that created the illusion of locomotion. Thus whenever I say I saw the monkeys, the response is – “Oh, just like the train?”
Jimmy is personally interested in environmental science and we have a discussion about the environment during the trip. The diamond mine seems insignificant when you have a circular view of lifeless land strangled by the climate. The question becomes: what crop can survive the Kalahari? In lieu of what industry can replace diamonds? Jimmy is quick to remind me, “There is a difference in the environmental impact of diamond companies and other mining industries.”
Perhaps I am treading a slippery slope.
We arrive at a bridge over a small river, something I may neglect in America, and there is lush vegetation for no less than 10 kilometers. There is an oasis in the Kalahari Desert formed by the tiniest body of fresh water. I observe the oasis and Jimmy nods his head and says “Yep.”
“It’s much better in a soup, when all the marrow is lifted from the bones. It’s just awesome,” says Colin. We are at dinner at the game reserve and Dave orders ox tail. “I cannot say that I have ever seen ox tail outside of soup.” Richard also has the acquired taste of ox tail. The meat is cut into separate vertebrae, which few of us knew that the ox had. The rest of the night is filled with stories of evolution: deer crossing Nantucket Sound and how the humans beat out the Neanderthals. Tomorrow we leave the Kalahari Game Reserve and drive to Maun to buy supplies, pick up more vehicles and stay at a safari camp.
We are now in a malaria zone and are all taking daily medication.
|August 30, 2011GETTING LOST AS TEAM PREPARES FOR LONG JOURNEYIt is Tuesday morning. Richard and Colin are registered to drive the Hiluxes, just in time for a two-day drive starting tomorrow.Colin, Richard and I go get diesel 100 meters down the road at a Shell Station. This street is a mystery to me. It somehow becomes a one-way street between the Shell Station and the hotel entrance with the traffic coming toward us. I pay 250 Pula for diesel and follow them back to the hotel. Unfortunately, they miss a turn. I see a rare police officer directing traffic at an intersection. I put my hazards on and wait for Colin and Dave as we got mixed up in traffic.
I lost them somewhere. I go to the next intersection and make a U-turn, but I am stopped by police. He tells me that it is illegal to U-turn here. I apologize and keep driving. We had all taken several U-turns until now. Apparently they are illegal in Gaborone. Eventually I find DeBeers, where Richard finds me, and we go back to the hotel.
Simple errands need more planning when in foreign countries, and both cars should always carry a cell phone – lessons learned.
Now that I can drive the manual transmission, I get a bit lost. I was enjoying the ride and it was not a big deal when I returned.
Jimmy greets me in the parking lot. “So I hear you had some fun. I am going to the Import Office to make sure we get the shipment. Wait here with Richard and Dave. Dave has our room key.”
I get back to the room and take a nap. It is now noon. Jimmy and Colin are going to the airport to figure out the shipment. We will spend the afternoon at DeBeers loading the gear.
We finished loading the gear at DeBeers, but not without paying handling fees and waiting until the very last minute to break through the iron walls of inefficiency, unaccountability and corruption that is customs at the Gaborone airport.
We left the trailer at DeBeers and will pick it up tomorrow morning. The shipment contained important equipment: electrodes, computers with the data processing software, magnetometers and extra electrodes.
There are a few cultural relics shared by South Africa and Botswana.
Botswana is big into African League soccer, whereas South Africa is all about rugby. The rugby world cup is in a few weeks and that was the talk of the town.
There is also an African handshake, which we call giving someone dabs in American slang. I have acted to counter this handshake maneuver by reaffirming my handshake with a second grasp and shake, and I have found this method effective in the last few encounters. Jimmy finds my efforts humorous but is also puzzled by the African handshake. It involves locking the fingers after shaking briefly, and sometimes a handshake means just shaking the fingers. It is more difficult to counter the finger-shake as the rest of the person’s hand is difficult to reach without noticeable effort.
Anyways, I am looking forward to the road tomorrow and will sit in the passenger’s seat for once with my camera. KB says there is much wildlife and great views along this highway. I will post again from our next hotel stop.
|August 28, 2011MISSING LUGGAGE, ANSWERS FROM A WISE MANColin, Dave and Richard have arrived with almost all their luggage. One bag was supposedly checked into Gaborone, but it mysteriously did not arrive in Gaborone. It did not having anything critical. Richard considers this a successful commute.Richard tells us the heist story at Saturday dinner. “We get off the plane in Botswana and this guy at the airport greets us cordially. He speaks with an airport employee and gestures toward us. He approaches us and stresses the importance of an import fee to transfer our luggage.” At this point I know what is coming. “We pay the fee, the man disappears and so does Dave’s luggage.”
Richard has the T.I.A look on his face. Dave is in good spirits. He carried on the important stuff.
“They’re probably eating my trail mix right now,” Dave laments.
We park the trailer at DeBeers. It is 8:00 AM Sunday August 28. The Dublin Advanced Institute shipped vital MT equipment to DeBeers two weeks ago. Africans, our contact at DeBeers, claims that they never received a shipment. The shipment is worth a million dollars and it is missing somewhere between the airport and DeBeers, both located in Gaborone. It’s funny how a diamond company has issues with accountability. Jimmy makes phone calls.
“A friend told me about bartering in this country.” Richard makes small talk to pass time, “I won’t barter in Gabs because it’s a bit too crowded here, but my friend traded coffee mugs with U.S. flags on them for high value. So I bought some plastic sunglasses with U.S. flags on the side from Wal-Mart and I am hoping to do some epic bartering.”
Jimmy discovers that the shipment is still at the airport. We drive to the airport and locate it at customs. Unfortunately we are stuck dealing with corrupt officials.
“You can’t just pick up your shipment,” she smiles. “That’s not the way it’s done around here.”
The utterance of this phrase means that someone is to be paid off. In this case it is a “Transport Agent.” We need to wait for him to arrive at customs for us to get the equipment, which should be tomorrow.
Sunday evening we talk with a professor from the University of Botswana named KB. He lives not far from Gaborone and came to the hotel restaurant to meet us. We will run an MT experiment for his class later this month in Botswana, and have brought them WHOI hats and shirts.
“So what’s this DeBeers company about?” I ask KB.
“DeBeers has an agreement with the government of Botswana called DeBswana. They have tremendous influence here as diamonds are the chief export.”
KB is a wise man and he speaks softly. Jimmy tells him that we are staying in Sepupa.
“Watch out for hippos, they will wait outside your door all night and come inside your room at night.”
I ask him about the Okavango Delta. He seems pleased with my question.
“I have studied the delta since 1994. I suggest you fly over it. You will see some of the delta when you go by boat, but when you fly… It is an hour flight and you see 10,000 buffalo an hour. There are birds and beautiful trees. Elephants roam the land there. You will see many on your first day there. The delta is flooded higher than it has been in forty years. It is a special time to be there.”
It is a pleasure to listen to KB. He also explains why there is a 24-hour party outside the hotel.
“All the buses come here from Mozambique, Zambia, South Africa and Kenya. They arrive and must wait to continue on their path. All these people are celebrating the wait. This is a busy, busy place where you are.”
KB speaks slowly and we have time to ask him acute questions. I think that many, many people have asked KB questions.
“Is there any effort to wean the economy away from diamonds?”
KB shakes his head, “There were efforts, but they all fail. They want to use agriculture, but it rains only one month a year. It is foolish to grow food here. Botswana is a desert, like much of Africa.” This is true… There is no jungle in Africa. “We tried to use beef, but the EU won’t buy our beef because it has disease. Now they want to sacrifice 40,000 cattle to continue selling.”
KB seems saddened by this notion and describes how migratory patterns will affect our travel. He knows the region and animals as common knowledge. Our regular waitress approaches the table and distributes dipping bowls. We sit down to eat, and now I am lying down to sleep.
Tomorrow we will go back to the airport and collect the MT equipment, bring it to DeBeers and load the vehicles. We will leave Gaborone on Wednesday and begin the 11 hour drive to Maun, where we start the MT. There will be lots of game there, I will post pictures later this week.
|August 27, 2011A LONG RIDE (FILLED WITH CAR TROUBLES) TO GABORONE
We are leaving Johannesburg: The clutch is engaged and I accelerate to first gear, then second, third and fourth. Something is not right. The Hilux is de-accelerating whenever my foot comes off the accelerator. I am following Jimmy on the highway and I do not want to fall behind, so I put it in fifth and floor the gas. Surprisingly I only pace 70 km/hr at 4000 rev/min. I keep driving until Jimmy pulls into a gas station 45 minutes into the route. He asks why I am driving slowly. I describe what is happening and he realizes the mechanic left the vehicle in all wheel drive. I change to two wheel drive and continue towards Pretoria, only after I stall the engine on the on ramp. This is my first learning opportunity to use a manual transmission in traffic.
There is a truck blocking the road at CGS so I ask security to move the truck. He also helps hitch the trailer. When we lower the trailer to attach it to the tow hitch, the front wheel of the trailer breaks into two pieces under the weight of the trailer. We try to lift the trailer to no avail. I recommend we use a carjack and Jimmy brandishes one from his Hilux. We lift the trailer off the ground and move it towards the Hilux. Jimmy pulls out and the trailer is left behind. We reattach the trailer with success and begin towing to Gaborone.
The route is a scenic highway with curvy paved roads through mountains with roadside wildlife. We see birds, bulls, cantelope, cattle, a monkey, mountainous creatures and termite hills. There is a sign by a river that reads, “Wiggleboom.” I think this is Afrikaans for “Crocodile.”
Birds fly away when we drive over bridges. We climb steep ascents in the mountains and I have more car trouble. “I knew you were going to do it,” says Jimmy at dinner, “We get to the hills, I check my mirrors and see you slowing down and disappearing on the ascent. I just pulled over and hoped you did not flip the vehicle.”
I stall the engine two more times and figure out the problem. It is like riding a bicycle – you cannot go up a hill in your lowest gear if it is too steep. I change to fourth with an eye on the tachometer. We arrive at customs as darkness falls and they do not seem interested in our plans. We move into Botswana without incident.
It took us an hour to find the hotel in stop-and-go traffic. We arrive at the Gaborone Hotel and I am stunned. There are hoards of Africans walking the street and vendors on every side of the road. There are people touching the sides, front and back of my truck, though everyone seems jovial. Loud American music is playing and everyone is in great spirits. I smile and wave to the Africans. We manage to check in at the hotel and I ask the receptionist if there is always a crowd in the street.
“No. It is the end of the month.”
The workers are paid. It is a dangerous night to be driving. Jimmy and I are starving. We go to the hotel restaurant and a few locals take our pictures. We are in euphoric spirits after a long day. We go to bed, exhausted after 16 hours of preparation and 11 hours of driving.
It is now Sunday morning. Jimmy and I unloaded my Hilux to make room for Richard, Dave and Colin.
Today we will go to the airport, contact the University of Botswana and DeBeers, buy minutes for the cell phones and purchase camping gear. We will stay at the Gaborone Hotel for the next three days. We can impart a great deal of education here just by being scientists in the region. English is the main language, but illiteracy, education, poverty and disease can all benefit by the business we bring here. We are environmentalists at heart.
There should be great views here and I will take pictures at my first opportunity. Our hotel room does not have Internet connection but there is an Internet café downstairs. I will have access for the next three days.
|August 27, 2011JOHANNESBURG…We are now at Bushlore Africa in Johannesburg to return the vehicle and pick up the Hiluxes. Jimmy and I have the entire day to drive as we are uncertain how crossing the border will be with all of the equipment. We are removing each refrigerator from the Hiluxes to make more space.“You are removing both fridges?” the mechanic at Bushlore sounds worried. “You will starve to death in Zambia.”
“We are counting on the Zambian Geological Survey to take care of our food and camp,” replies Jimmy.
I went over the damages to the trucks while Jimmy rented the vehicles for the next three months. The purchase was initially rejected. Credit card transactions in Africa are often denied for security purposes. The receptionist eventually sorted it out, and three hours later, we are ready to return to Pretoria.
|August 26, 2011MORE PACKING, REGISTRATION READYAt CGS we packed 20 car batteries and water jugs on opposite ends of the trailer.Jimmy explained why: “Acid could leak from the batteries and burn through a jug. It is similar to dropping water on a greasy pan when cooking. It would generate heat and start a fire with all the cloth near it.”
Jimmy is educated with a bachelor’s degree at Georgia Tech and a master’s degree from MIT. WHOI and MIT run a joint student program, and Jimmy, born in Georgia, came to MIT when invited by one of his Georgia Tech professors.
The car batteries will provide power for the electrodes, magnetometers and data acquisition system in the field. We carry water to keep the electrodes functional. The electrodes are designed for marine MT, so they are hydrophilic.
We are getting the trailer registration today. The workers are still on strike, but someone is filing our paperwork. There is a massive influx of paperwork today, so the rental agency hired a South African to wait in line for eight hours. As there are only 12 hours of daylight in a winter day, this is essentially a full day of work.
The rest of Team WHOI will not arrive in Botswana until Sunday. When Jimmy and I arrive in Botswana we will collect camping gear and MT equipment from a storage facility at DeBeers.
Richard is bringing extensively labeled electrodes from Woods Hole. On Sunday, we will reunite and test the MT equipment. Today is our last day at CGS and it is time to say goodbye to Raimund. He was an essential help and the CGS has been a key resource for us.
I will post more from the Gaborone Hotel tomorrow after we haul the gear, cross the border and check in at the hotel.
(Image Left to Right: Mat Chamberlain and Jimmy Elsenbeck)
|August 25, 2011SOME DOWN TIMEAfter a long day in the supply shed, Jimmy and I joined Raimund and his friend at a local college hangout. It is a happening place enclosed by buildings. The signs are in English but our accents are turning heads. There are easily 200 people in the plaza.Raimund reveals that he has worked at the CGS for 36 years and that his friend has a doctorate in geophysics and strong experience in MT. I am all smiles and quite excited. We have a thick blanket of experience to ease doubts about our equipment, and Raimund’s friend is in great spirits.
“What could I do in America?” he asks. “What work is there for a geophysicist, a born and raised South African who hasn’t lived anywhere else since birth?”
Jimmy muses over an answer: “You could do MT for natural gas and oil companies.”
Raimund’s friend shakes his head, “No, no. I want to employ myself. Forget the oil and gas companies – I want to discover the oil and gas! Wouldn’t that be a story? South African geophysicist comes to America and discovers oil!”
The noise of the plaza fades away and I become consumed in conversation.
“The laws in America are too strict,” continues the South African, “You go to America and the only place you go is jail or the army. And I don’t want to go to the army. I served my time, hated it. I was conscripted for two years when the South African army was at war in Angola. What a mess. I hate war.”
The chilly night air creeps into the plaza and the conversation continues.
“African colloquialisms. There are many. For example: South Africans have two versions of the word ‘now.’ In South Africa, there is ‘Now, now,’ meaning instantly, and ‘Just now,’ meaning slightly later than now.”
I am the youngest scientist and the only bachelor in the group. Naturally the South African prods me to meet people in the plaza but I am not interested in socializing at the moment. South Africans are quite willing to meet Americans but I would rather talk about MT. I am sitting across from one of few people who have done MT in Africa. I move to wipe sweat from my brow and change the topic. We talk about the route of our MT profile. The South Africans begin firing out advice.
“Oh the views there are gorgeous. Certainly see the sights. You will definitely need malaria medication in Zambia. In Botswana, Malaria is not so much. Snakes – black mamba snakes. You cannot see the little bastards because they hide in tall grass in that part of Zambia. If you get bit by a snake, you must kill the snake. It is useful to know what snake bit you when you try to treat the wound. Do not walk around alone on that road in Botswana, especially at night. Do not walk alone at day either, really. There are many lions in that region. You must buy a southern hemisphere compass to know which way to orient the electrodes and magnetometers with respect to the Earth’s magnetic field.”
I brought a U.S.C.E. WWI compass from my father, though it does not work in the southern hemisphere – a detail I overlooked while packing.
The South African considers WHOI a hard working group. Jimmy says, “The Botswana Geological Survey wants nothing to do with our work in Botswana, so it is going to be me, Mat, David, two others from Northeastern and Richard. Rob arrives late September.”
The South African takes a moment, “That is right, they want nothing to do with you. They knew you would be working too much.”
It was a fun night filled with laughter — much needed after a week of hard work.
It is now Friday morning and today is another busy day. Jimmy and I will unpack the batteries, distribute the cargo, load the trailer with 1000 kg of gear and hopefully pick up the trailer registration.
Saturday morning we leave Pretoria at 5:00 AM to pick up the Hiluxes in Johannesburg, and then tow the gear from Pretoria to Gaborone. It is a four-hour drive on a nicely paved highway, and we must go through customs at the border.
On the home front, Team WHOI flies out today from Logan Airport, I hope they arrive safely in Gaborone.
(Image: Raimund at the CGS)
|August 25, 2011 – 1 p.m.STRIKE THREATENS TRAVELS INTO BOTSWANADavid Khoza arrived early and was extremely helpful in loading gear. He told us the difference between good and bad equipment and clarified the situation with crossing the border to Botswana.We have a pallet stacked with car batteries and there is a considerable tax on batteries entering Botswana. We need paperwork to claim that the batteries will be removed from Botswana after use to avoid the tax. WHOI plans to use the batteries for 2-3 years and then remove them from Botswana.
David also cleared up an issue with processing time. The GUI needs to check for faulty data before the electrodes are removed from the ground. The processing time on the GUI is about an hour, which will not slow down the measurements as we are staggering the MT stations. Thus while one station is running the GUI, another station will be collecting data.
David left CGS before lunch to go to the hospital. There is a flu going around Pretoria and his girlfriend is sick. David is speaking at the Geosynthesis Conference on Integrating the Earth’s Sciences in Cape Town next week and we will meet again on September 5 in Maun. He will be working with us for the MT profile in Botswana.
Jimmy and I are spending the rest of the day loading the equipment that David claimed useful into metal boxes and going to a hardware store.
The registration of the trailer is the top concern at the moment because the municipal workers are on strike in Pretoria. The folks who run the rental agency said the strike will end tomorrow, which is convenient as it is one day before we need registration.
We had a brief encounter with the people at the rental agency that may lend perspective to their nature. “We have a spare tire here,” they said. “We just need you to come back after 12:00 pm and we’ll have it ready.”
Jimmy and I come back at 1:00 pm and pay for the spare tire. The vendor slyly mentions after we pay, “Now just drive down the road to the shopping center and pick up the tire. They’ll recognize you by your accents.”
If we cannot get registration for the trailer, we go through customs at the border of Botswana, which means we’ll be delayed in meeting the rest of the team in Gaborone.
Hopefully we get the registration tomorrow, we are paying attention to the local news in hopes that the strike will end.
|August 25, 2011- 6:30 a.m.LOADING THE TRUCK FOR BOTSWANARaimund gave us temporary access cards to the Council for Geoscience Wednesday afternoon. We are pleased to have Internet access in Raimund’s office.We have no phones until we reach Botswana, so any modes of communication are appreciated. Most importantly, Jimmy received mail from David Khoza. David is flying into South Africa today at 11:00 AM (Thursday, August 25). He has used the MT equipment in the field and should know what we need to load from storage.
Jimmy and I spent yesterday evening taking inventory. We counted 92 electrode cables and many reference cables. The electrode cables must be greater than 50 meters so the electrodes are spaced 100 meters apart.
The measuring tape was in a massive knot and covered with bird droppings. Lacking a better way to measure, I used a bit of training from the Army ROTC program, where I learned that I pace 76 left-foot strikes for every hundred meters. Jimmy held the electrode cable and I walked down the storage facility with other end of the cable in hand. I counted exactly 38 left-foot strikes. We determined, as expected, that the cables were 50 meters.
Jimmy estimates that we have about 900 kg of stuff to put into the trailer. The capacity of the trailer is 1000 kg, so packing will be tight. We will tow the trailer with a Toyota Hylux.
It is 6:30 AM and Jimmy is having his dose of Malarone (a drug used to treat and prevent Malaria) and his first cup of coffee.
Jimmy and I will spend Thursday and Friday loading the truck for transport. Alan Jones’ student, David Khoza, will be helpful for packing gear.
It’s worth remembering why we collect geophysics and geological data. MT data is useful for figuring out the way matter is behaving under the Earth’s surface. Natural gas and oil seeking companies use it to detect underground reservoirs of energy. Scientists like Rob Evans use it to work in junction with seismologists in an effort to predict seismic activity. This research connects many disciplines and cultures through the advancement of science.
On a cultural note, the Rugby World Cup is happening and South Africa is in heated controversy about the players selected for the team. I wish I had more time to write, but I am off to take my Malarone, have breakfast, meet David Khoza at the CGS, pick up the batteries and load the gear into the trailer.
(Image: View from Raimund’s Office at the Council for Geoscience, Mathew Chamberlain)
|August 24, 2011WE (AND OUR BAGS) ARRIVETuesday, August 23: Luggage is notoriously rummaged through upon arrival at Johannesburg. “If you bring an iPod,” warned Shane, a PhD student studying seismology at WHOI, “The chances of that iPod being stolen from your luggage are (pretty strong).”The luggage at the terminal in O.R. Tambo Airport appears tampered and the passengers watching the track are anxious. I credit the TSA approved locks for the safe arrival of our luggage. We picked up the Land Rover from the airport and left for Pretoria to rest.
Wednesday, August 24: Today we are busy meeting with the South African Council for Geoscience. Many thanks are due to the Council for Geoscience. Our contact, Raimund, has set up a bed & breakfast and a trailer for towing gear.
Raimund took us up and down the building, insisting that we pass every door before him. Raimund points out the window, “You’re Americans, yeah? Did you see the American flag? We put that up when we have guests from foreign countries.”
The MT gear (MT is magnetotelluric – a science word for naturally occurring electromagnetic fields in the Earth’s subsurface) is in an outdoor storage facility at the Council. We are loading the gear this afternoon and collecting two spare tires from the rental agency. There is a bit of a delay due to a workers strike at the rental agency, though Jimmy and I are not too concerned. We were perhaps a bit too comfortable at the B&B and slept in.
The MT gear is stored in large boxes and the batteries have just arrived from First National Battery. We test the batteries to make sure they work — the wires for the electrodes must be >100 meters. This is critical for the data. Shane’s thesis involves the roughness and smoothness and reducing the noise of MT data. Spacing the electrodes 100 meters apart reduces noise from electromagnetic sources between the electrodes. A similar method is used for ECG electrodes being placed across the greatest possible distances on the body (wrists and ankles).
We will have the MT gear loaded and ready by Saturday when we move to Botswana to rendezvous with the rest of the team.
(Image: Bed and Breakfast at Pretoria, Mathew Chamberlain)
August 22, 2011
GETTING READY, WHY WE’RE GOING…
Small rocks, a pen and a binder are sprawled across a map. The map has stations marked on a 200 mile north-south profile in sub-Saharan Africa. “You need to be willing to travel to Botswana and Zambia for 2-4 months, and camp out for perhaps 4-6 weeks.”
I am interviewing for my second co-op position: geophysics research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). I am interviewing with Rob Evans, a senior scientist at WHOI with a doctorate in Physics from Cambridge University. “The ability to drive standard is preferred.”
“I am willing to learn,” I reply.
Rob also hired Colin Skinner and Dave Margolis, fellow physics majors at Northeastern University. Colin owns a manual transmission Volkswagen, and has spent two weeks teaching me how to drive standard. Colin accepted this duty with grace except when he was hungry, when he admits to getting a bit grouchy. For this reason I have packed granola bars for the trip.
The field work we will be doing in Africa provides information that the world needs to know. We are using magnetometers to detect naturally occurring electromagnetic fields in the Earth’s subsurface. Maxwell’s equations tell you that whenever B fields interact, there is a measurable E field. These fields occur due to the interaction of the magnetic field of the Sun and Earth.
Electromagnetic waves propagate differently with changes in the material, according to Snell’s Law. So we use magnetometers to infer the state of matter in the Earth’s subsurface using what’s called MT inversion and forward modeling. (MT is magnetotelluric – a science word for naturally occurring electromagnetic fields in the Earth’s subsurface)
The math behind this modeling can entertain the mind for a 16 hour flight, though it may be wise to bring Sudoku when flying from D.C. to Johannesburg. Seismologists consider MT information a precursor to seismic activity. (When fault lines are active, an active zone means a great deal of molten lava is moving into a region. This affects the period of the electromagnetic waves we detect, because molten lava is different material than soil.)
The electrodes we place in the soil are akin to a voltmeter, or an ECG, but a bit more sensitive. Minor EM fields on the surface between the electrodes means faulty data. Power lines may not be of concern in the regions of our travel, but even trees have electromagnetic fields. We must get accurate data at each station on the profile as there is no law of physics to infer our data, and nothing to say that the Earth’s subsurface is well behaved.
We will move through the region ideally in eight weeks, to avoid the rain season of November and to plant our electrodes in vacant corn fields before this season’s crop.
We meet with the Zambians the week of August 22 to get our equipment and papers. Our maps are generated by Colin using a Linux based GIS mapping software. Once we get the trucks, equipment and papers, we begin in Botswana and move north along the profile.
WHOI has provided a laptop to blog and Northeastern has provided a camera. I am quite grateful for this opportunity and I will be sure to post frequently and take breathtaking pictures of Africa.
I fly out with Jimmy, a WHOI engineer responsible for the GUI for equipment. We leave Monday August 22, but Colin, Dave and my flights are staggered. We will rendezvous in Gaborone with Internet access. More posts coming soon.
All of this research is possible thanks to WHOI, which has been willing to teach us about MT and Northeastern University, for having a co-op position with WHOI. We are all grateful for this opportunity.