Sunday, September 27, 2009

Second half of July


Far, far too long between posts; a great deal has happened in the last 2 weeks but I’ve neglected to discuss it in this format. One of the most interesting things was what happened today: the British Antarctic Survey dropped by for a visit. I’ll post about that separately.

The main reason I’ve been neglecting the blog is my usual state of exhaustion in the evenings. Since our return from the Dome, my schedule has essentially followed Katherine’s. She wakes up at some horridly early hour, and because I feel sorry for her and that foul necessity, I bring her coffee and provide what help I can to her in the field, 4 days out of every 5. Like much of the minutiae of research, most of Katherine’s work cannot be appreciably speeded by the addition of another person, but from about 8:30 until 9:00 am she is injecting solutions of 15N-labelled compounds into soil samples. This injection process is time-sensitive: when, precisely, a sample gets injected matters, and it would be bad to spread the 20 samples injected each morning across too much time. So, I help Katherine inject. This structures the start of my day, as I need to be out where Katherine is at 8:30, except on the fifth day of her 5-day schedule, her “day off”. Realistically, Katherine’s periodic “day off” is about the least off day imaginable – she generally works for 7 or 8 hours, not 12 as she does on her “normal” days.

After assisting Katherine, I carry the FTIR to wherever I’ll be using it that day. Sometimes this involves the cart, a device I built around the rear axle and wheels of an adult tricycle; I bought the parts new in Saskatoon, there are no bi- or tricycles here at Alex Fjord. For the days I was working at the most distant site, “Fert”, I was transporting a 2000-watt generator, plus the FTIR, about 1 km each way between Katherine’s sites and that surprisingly distant place. One kilometre may not sound like much to pull a glorified wheelbarrow, but the terrain here is hummocks and more hummocks, with a few streams. This is not nice terrain for a wheeled vehicle of any kind. The 24-inch wheels of my cart can (barely) handle the hummocks (with much swearing); smaller wheels get hopelessly stuck in the depressions between hummocks.

A photo I foolishly took of myself hauling the cart with the FTIR and generator, about halfway between Katherine’s site in the Wet Sedge Meadow and my site at “Fert”. It was a bit warm that day, and since I was working hard and sweating, I took my shirt off. Sorry.
The FTIR can’t handle the bumpiness and occasional upset of the cart, so I carry it on an open-frame backpack. The green Pelican case on the cart contains FTIR-related things. The black exhaust side of the generator is visible under my red pack.

Actually running the FTIR is not tiring – for normal operation it runs in 10-minute cycles, so I sit and read a book for about 9 ½ minutes, push a few buttons, go back to the book, repeat for 8 hours. However, moving the equipment is very tiring, it is physical labour, and by the time I get back to base camp in the evening after moving the FTIR back to Katherine’s site, I’m pretty tired. The generally very comfortable and warm conditions in the kitchen during and after dinner don’t do much to speed me to my computer, either.

Lame excuses aside, things around here have been pretty good. The weather has been generally nice, the work has progressed slightly better and faster than anticipated, and several fun things have happened. I’ll talk about Katherine’s and my attempt to visit the Twin glacier in a separate post, but here I would like to mention the brief visit we had from Global TV.

For those who don’t know, Global TV is a network in Canada that has broadcasters or affiliates across the country. They sent a couple of people North to create some little 1-minute vignettes about Canada’s activities during the International Polar Year (IPY). Basically, the federal government gave out some money to researchers in 2007 and 2008 for polar studies (this is part of where my funding in Guelph came from – my first visit to Churchill, for example), and they hired Global TV to run these little spots talking about some of the funded IPY projects.

Wayne and Len visited us for 2 days, filming Alexandra Fjord and the work that goes on here. They interviewed Dr. Henry and shot some footage of each of us here working. I did a few takes, opening and closing a flux chamber, and looking very serious and sciencey working with the FTIR. Perhaps some of the shots of me will make it through the editing process that reduces 2 days of footage to 50 seconds; they tell me these vignettes will run before the usual Global news – I think the news is at 6:00pm and 11:00pm, but I’m not sure.

Greg saw me semi-surreptitiously taking photos of Wayne and Len; he’s the one smiling at me on the left. They were shooting a bit of the flower-counting and point-framing work that Greg’s field assistants were doing.

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