12 August 2008

Earth-Mars Cave Detection Project, 2008 Atacama Desert Expedition a Success!

Originally Drafted 11 August 2008

The team unwinding after the expedition and celebrating doc's birthday at Adobe Cafe. Credit: Our Waiter.

Today, we completed our last day of field work in the Atacama. It was a light day for both teams. Lynn, Tim and I went to Cebeza Encogido, where I showed Tim the locations of all sensors. We had two additional sensors left over from the work, so we decided to deploy these sensors within this cave as well. I felt it better to have more coverage within each cave than less. Because we learned once we were on the ground that the piping caves contain multiple entrances (sometimes as many as 10), we had to scale down the number of caves and cave anomalies we are studying here in the Atacama. So, these additional sensors in this Cebeza Encogido improves our coverage of this cave, and thus will ultimately improve the science.

The "big" dry fall within Cebeza Encogido. This is about a 20 foot dry fall.

As for the mapping team, they went to Traga Luz Grande to map one small room, and then they went to deploy sensors at Cuevita Dos Gatos. Once we were done with Cebeza Encogido, we moved to Cuevita Dos Gatos to meet the other group. The sensor placement team met the mapping team at this feature. We then photographed and documented the location of each sensor. Because we do not know if the entire team in its current composition will return next year, I need to know the location of all instruments, so that I can upload data and replenish batteries next June.

The field component of this expedition is now complete. The expedition was a success! We deployed sensors at seven caves and six non-cave anomalies. Data is being collected at all these features as we speak. Data will be collected hourly at all these features for the next 2.5 years. We also developed new techniques for mapping cave volume, and applied these techniques at two caves and two anomalies.

Tim exiting Cuevita Cascada Pequena.

In addition to the successful completion of the expedition, we have much to celebrate. Lynn Hicks, our expedition doctor, and a long time family friend of almost 30 years celebrated his birthday today. I won’t mention how young he is, but I will say that my elder kicked butt on this expedition. I do hope that if I reach his age I will be as active as he is.

Looking up at two skylights in Cuevita Dos Gatos.

So, for his birthday, we went to one of the expedition’s favorite haunts, Adobe Cafe. Since the expedition began, many of our team members frequent this restaurant because it has a WiFi connection. While this restaurant is slightly upscale, the food is excellent.

The expedition doc sorting through his gear and preparing to enter the cave.

We had a great dinner, drank some excellent Chilean wine, listened to live Altiplano music, and celebrated both our doc’s birthday and the successful completion of our mission.

I feel really good about what we have accomplished. This is the first large expedition I have lead. While I made many mistakes along the way, the most important thing is that I learned a lot. With this success under my belt, the next expedition will be conducted and executed a bit easier, and the one after that will be even easier.

Lynn with a diaper sling on with me belaying using an old-school technique -- a body belay. For safety, I chose to use this technique to enable a safe ascent and decent along this unconsolidated 25 foot cliff. Credit: Tim Titus.

Although our expedition in the Atacama is done, we have one more expedition ahead of us. I plan to take the lessons learned from the Atacama with us to Rapa Nui (aka Easter Island). We leave Rancho Tonka (our desert field station) tomorrow morning, and we will loose two team members. Tim will return to the states tomorrow. The rest of the team will leave for Antofagasta, and then fly to Santiago on 14 August. Lynn will then head south for a week of skiing.

On 15 August, Christina, Dan, Pete, Knutt and I fly out to Easter Island. We will be there for one week. Our objectives for this expedition will be to conduct biodiversity inventories at three caves on the island. So, stay tuned for my blogs on this expedition!

The ambiance and altiplano musicians playing at Adobe. Credit: Tim Titus.

1 comment:

mud said...

Hey Jawja Jut-The Cave expedition sounds great-wish I could have gone! We miss you in the other cave-the Yoga one that is. Have a safe trip home and enjoy Easter Island. Namaste-Mitch