20 June 2009

Field Operations Complete: 2009 Atacama Desert Expedition a Success!

Image: Our victory dance. Dinner at the Adobe Restaurant in San Pedro. This is becoming a ritual for us. We hope the team will make it down here again next year.

Today was our mop up day, and the whole team went into the field together. We had some additional questions we wanted to address with these a handful of instruments that we had remaining, so we went to two caves to deploy these instruments.

Last night, Tim took our newly drafted maps of Shredder and Luna y Media and the coordinate data from the entrances to create routes for us to walk on the surface. For Shredder Cave, we want to derive elevation data at points along this route. Using the cave map, we will then derive roof thickness data via interpolation along this route. We also deployed instruments at the skylight as well as directly above the dark zone. Additional surface instrumentation will help us better interpret surface and entrance temperature data.

Image: Like a proud Mom, our safety chief Christina sits next to her creation. She did an excellent job rigging the area above the nuisance climb.

First we returned to Shredder Cave. Our approach to this cave takes a bit of time due to a 20 foot nuisance climb which requires rigging.

Once we arrived at the cave, we needed to confirm the location of the skylight by sending Lynn, Dan and Denise into the cave to stand beneath the skylight. Tim and I stood over what we believed to be the location of the skylight where we waited for them to arrive. Within 30 minutes, they arrived and we realized we were at the correct spot. This was our first success of the day. We then went to the approximate location of where the dark zone sensor was located and deployed another surface sensor. Thereafter, we then followed the GPS route along the length of the cave collecting altimetry data along the way. Both Tim and I collected this data with our GPS units; we used two units so that we could compare our results.

Image: On belay at the nuisance climb above the Shredder Cave canyon entrance. Credit: Christina Colpitts.

Once we wrapped up Shredder, we deadheaded for Cañon Carí – the location of Caverna Luna y Media. Our objectives were to climb up on the rim of the canyon, locate the two skylights from the surface to deploy microclimate instruments, and then deploy another microclimate sensor above the approximate dark zone sensor within the cave. But first, Lynn, Tim and I had to find a route to the canyon rim. Once done, our plan was essentially the same as for Shredder – half the team would reach the skylights from within the cave, while the surface team would find the skylights from the surface. The cave team (Christina, Denise and Dan) went to the first skylight, and then we met them at what we believe to be the skylight. We were in radio contact with the cave team, and once they reached the skylight, they contacted us via the radio. We then yelled back and forth until we could figure out exactly where they were. Once done, they continued on to the second skylight and we repeated the process. This went quite smoothly, and we confirmed the locations of both skylights. Another success!

Image: Tim looking on from Cañon Carí. Credit: Dan Ruby.

Both of these skylights were situated within steeply sloping terrain leading to the skylights; there was about a 100 foot drop from the lip of the skylight to the bottom of the cave. The route leading to the area containing the skylights was rather precarious and potentially hazardous, so I opted to go down to the area containing the skylights to deploy the sensor while Lynn and Tim remained upslope.

From there, we walked to the surface location estimated to be the surface location above where the dark zone cave sensor was located. After some disagreement regarding whether we were at the correct location, we decided to deploy the sensor where Tim’s estimates suggested.

Image: Dan and Denise in Cañon Carí. Credit: Christina Colpitts.

By this time, the cave team was en route to the surface and we planned to meet them within the canyon at the entrance of the cave. Once we deployed the last surface sensor, Lynn, Tim and I hiked down off the canyon rim, met up with the team, and hiked back to the trucks.

All Atacama Desert field operations are now complete! We have another successful expedition under our belts in the driest desert on the planet. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with this team again this year. I have been blessed to have such an incredibly group of dedicated individuals to work with. They have truly made my job easy. We have accomplished a lot in the past three weeks, and I have learned a lot from this experience.

Image: View looking south from atop Cañon Carí.

We will spend the next few days tying up a few loose administrative ends and packing up the house. On 23 June, we will depart for Calama. On 24 June, Dan, Tim and Denise head back to the states, while Christina, Lynn and I continue on to Rapa Nui for another three week expedition. As always, I will make every attempt to keep my blog current during this expedition as well.

Image: I have no idea what is going on here. End of the day and the mission is complete. Credit: Christina Colpitts.


Knurd said...

I enjoy reading your blog and your stories are inspiring! How did you get your team organized and funded to trek to Atacama? I would love to know! Looking for some leads.

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