The Rest of Summer

Tuesday, 2004-09-21; 06:26:00

And so the story goes on...

My month at field camp in New Mexico and my research at Mono Lake aren't all that I did this summer. I came back Tuesday night from Mono Lake (9/7/04), and left for northern Nevada on Friday (9/10/04) for the seismic experiment that I decided to participate in.

This experiment basically consisted of a bunch of people (probably 50 or more altogether) deploying and picking up seismic monitoring equipment, and loading a bunch of holes with explosives in order to generate seismic waves (active-source geophysics, as opposed to passive-source which would be waiting for something to happen). The seismic line ran from Cedarville, CA to Winnemucca, NV, with "texans" (the devices that record seismic waves) deployed every 300 meters along the line. There are also 5 shock points spaced out along the line, with a sixth shock point off the line to the south which was dubbed the "fan shot". Shock points are where the demolition experts had drilled holes and filled them with explosives.

The first three days consisted of just helping backfill those holes. The holes were of various depths (some of them were 170 ft, and some were only 60 ft), but for each hole we basically had to fill up half of it with dirt. The holes were each 10 inches in diameter, so it's a whole bunch of shoveling. Five or six other people helped out most of the time with the backfilling, so it wasn't a total back-breaking process.

I got a day off after that (which I used to play a round of real golf with two of the other backfillers and have a leisurely day to go to the local truck stop to pay exorbitant fees for internet access), and then I helped out with deploying and picking up the texans before and after the detonations occurred. I actually only deployed 7 texans, which was nice. I had to pick up 74, though, and that got really tedious after a while. Luckily I had one or two partners for those days, so it wasn't too bad.

The night between deployment and pickup, we got to see one of the shock points detonate. The explosive that's pumped into the holes is a derivative of ammonium nitrate, and it's a pretty harmless material. The only way it gets detonated is if it's put under extreme pressure, so it's pretty harmless to get on your clothes or the ground. (There were a few incidents where the extension to the hose used in loading the explosive got uncoupled from the first piece of hose, making explosive material go everywhere.) A primer cord tied to a bunch of boosters is fired by an electric current, and the boosters put enough pressure on the ammonium nitrate-derived material that it detonates. (The demolitions expert distinguished an "explosion" from a "detonation", because a "detonation" results from an increase in pressure, not to a spark or a bit of heat or electric current.)

It was a bit anticlimactic, though -- we saw one flash of light from each of the four holes, heard a small thud and felt the thud through our feet, and that was basically it. Nothing flew out of the holes, so there wasn't any danger of being hit by flying objects (even though we were ready to dive under the trucks if necessary). The following day I got to go to an open-pit mine explosion -- that was much more spectacular, with pieces of dirt flying everywhere.

I had some few "interesting" experiences with this seismic experiment as well. First of all, I was foolish enough to tell the coordinator that I could drive stick shift, so I got stuck with that monster, gas-guzzling vehicle that is 783. That means that I had to drive it a lot of the time, and we had to drive many hours each day to get where we were going (which got really annoying after a while).

Anyway, on Saturday the 18th, I took 783 from Winnemucca to Soldier Meadows, which were headquarters for the project in the middle of the seismic line. There was a bunch of stuff that needed to be transported to Soldier Meadows, and some stuff in Soldier Meadows to be transported to Cedarville, so that truck was packed to the gills -- there wasn't even room for another person. So I had to drive by myself, in a truck without an FM radio (boo).

I reached Soldier Meadows fine and transferred the stuff that needed to be transferred, and then started heading out towards Cedarville. But about 30 miles south of Soldier Meadows (and 30 miles north of Gerlach, a small town in the middle of nowhere), I got a flat tire. Boy do those suck. Luckily we had the foresight to give me a satellite phone in case of emergencies, which works in places that cell phones don't get reception. I was able to contact a few people to figure out what to do -- the car had a spare tire and a jack handle, but there was no jack.

One of the people I talked to suggested that maybe I look under the hood for the jack, but when I tried, the hood release handle wouldn't work! Fortunately, we figured out that the way you had to open the hood was to just bang on it really hard for a minute or so.. I guess that works with everything. :) I found the jack under the hood, as we had thought, so I started to work at jacking up the car and replacing the spare tire myself.

The problem is that the jack handle that I had was an L shape, with the short end of the L being about 6 cm long. The short end of the L had the correct adaptor for the wheel nuts, while the long end was flat and was to be inserted into the jack to turn it. Of course, it's always one thing after another with this vehicle, and this jack handle had no cross bar. That means I had to twist the little 6 cm end of the L handle in order to jack the car up -- and since 6 cm isn't very big, I had to really exert a lot of force on the handle in order to turn the jack. It must've taken me an hour and a half just to jack the car up, because it took so much energy. (I kept thinking that something must be wrong, but I never did figure out a different way to jack the car up.)

I finally managed to jack the car up just enough to put the spare tire on, and finished before sundown (luckily). I arrived in Alturas where my motel room was at about 10 at night, so I missed dinner, too. One of the other participants was nice enough to give me some burrito stuff, so I didn't go too hungry.

It was also funny because the day we left was the only time I ever saw rain up there, and supposedly some of the participants that had stayed up there were going through snow and other awful weather to place the instruments down in the ground. I also heard that 783 got some significant damage done to it (it was like a broken axle or something), and it's too expensive to fix. I guess the geology department is getting a new vehicle. ;) (Good riddance -- heehee.)

Anyway, I guess that was a good experience, too, because I learned how to change a flat tire by myself. I'm sure it will probably be useful in the future.

As to the "rest" of summer, I'm leaving for Italy in about... 3 hours. :) I'm staying 'til January 3, so I get to have Christmas over there, too. That will be fun, especially since the quarter will be a nice break from both geology and math. I'm also hoping to make a little trip to Egypt to visit some former junior high teachers -- I'm really excited at the prospect of going there.

Mmm... I can already smell all the good pasta I'm going to have. :) (Insert "drooling like Homer" sound here.)

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