15 June 2009

A Bump in the Road

14-15 June 2009

Image: Lynn and I working in one of the entrances of Traga Luz Grande. I'm the monkey on the right. Credit: Tim Titus.

Yesterday, the mapping team finished up Shreader Cave. The mapping team is doing incredibly well, and tomorrow they will be a day ahead of schedule.

The past two days the sensor team has been working at Traga Luz Grande. This cave is the largest in the Cordillera, and it took us quite a while to retrieve all the data. With the small exception of having difficulties in relocating one of our surface sensors, all work has been proceeding without incident -- without incident until today. One of our shuttles, which is used for uploading sensor data in the field crashed today. These shuttles essentially "shuttle" the data from the field instruments to the computer. We upload the data from the data loggers in the field and then we transfer the data from the shuttles to our computers thereafter. The shuttle that crashed contained all the data from Traga Luz Grande; it had a corrupt header file. As a result, we were unable to transfer the data to our computers.

Image: Pulling data from one of our surface sensors. Credit: Tim Titus.

This is compounded by the fact that we really need Tim to analyze these data while in the field so we can determine if our sensor placement and coverage is adequate. Without this essential step, we are at a slight disadvantage. However, we will simply have to adjust fire and move forward with our study of this cave. Rather than having the data from this cave, we will use the map and all the other field data to provide us with the ability to make some "educated guesses" regarding where our sensors are placed and how study of this cave should continue. Because this cave is so vast and also critically important to this study, we plan to err on the side of caution and deploy additional instruments in this cave.

Image: Tim and I encountered this hammer stone in one of the smaller caves within the Traga Luz Grande cave complex. This smaller cave was a salt mine and the hammer stone were used for removing the raw material from the walls and ceilings of this cave. We are uncertain as to whether it was the Quechuan or perhaps even the Inca working this mine or whether this activity was the result of more contemporary use. This area was also contained a copper mine --so the history can be rather challenging to interpret.

We remain hopeful the good folks at Onset Computers (who make our data loggers) will be able to retrieve the data for us. I reckon the silver lining here is that it was the header file, which suggests the data is still on the shuttle. Tim's current theory is that it was a cosmic ray hit, which can result in a flipped bit. This can cause a header file to become corrupted. Given our elevation, the intensity of a cosmic ray hit can be more severe. He'll be taking the shuttle back to the states, and will send it directly to Onset.

Image: While I can't promise this will be my only "brave explorer" shot, Tim did take a good photo and I decided to post it. Image: The man some call "Tim."

This sort of thing happens in the field. So, we just have to roll with the punches. I tend to view this as it was only a shuttle and the data. We continue to remain quite fortunate in the Atacama. Today, we completed our 15th day in Chile and the entire team has high morale and we have not had any safety issues yet. With six days of field operations remaining, I am hopeful this little hiccup will be the extent of our problems on this expedition.

Image: The second in command at Rancho Tonka. Obviously, Tonka the patron of our expedition, runs this ranch, but this ram thinks "he's the man." Whenever you walk by the sheep you get the "eyeball" from this guy. Credit: Tim Titus.

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