Saturday, December 31, 2005

A New Year

I could have been in Chicago, Columbus, Christchurch or Katmandhu. Welcoming the New Year is the same everywhere I have celebrated- a countdown some cheering a few hugs and smiles. And I did it in a dark mostly empty bar in McMurdo Antarctica with the sun baking down on us above. Happy New Year!!!

Kathy (from Byrd Polar) and Nik, Kathy's boyfriend, and I caught a bus to Scott Base--- hoping to bring in the New Year New Zealand style. The lights were a little to fast and the music a little too slow so we caught the big orange cogg-wheeled bus back to McMurdo Station the US base where we are living. (McMurdo is the biggest of the industrial villages in Antarctica--- stations are complete with fire houses and gym facilities in dreary anti-aesthetic browns and greens.

Nik committed the unspeakable crime of seeing penguins on our journey back to McMurdo. It turned out to be a fabrication--- or rather fabric trailmarkers teetering clumsily in the wind. The result was a few glares and some disappointed boos. The icebreaker has been churning up ice to make way for supplies to get in and it is very likely that penguins will materialize from this mire. We all want penguins. (I have posted a picture of one from Cape Royds in their honor--- )

Before the nights festivities, Liz, April (the undergrads from OSU) and I trekked up the Scott's Ridge above Robert Falcon Scott's primative hut from nearly 100 years ago, we peered into the Ross Sea from the highest vantage point, peeking into the Moat below the ridge (the sea ice begins to melt and will soon be largely gone by February) In this green expanse we strained to see penguins, but had to settle for the larger and angrier ice breaker.... this ice breaker is the only noise you can hear if you travel any distance from McMurdo. Its noise is only out-competed by black smoke blasting from its engine. On this walk, My feet acclimated to the scree (rock rubble) and by the time I am in the Dry Valleys, I will be ready for some hiking and sampling...These hikes around McMurdo are important, as I am likely to be working alongside people who have steady feet months ago arriving as early as October....

Today- Icestock and a Chili Cookoff mark the New Year- I have my snow school (field safety) refresher tomorrow and head for the field in a few days. In the meantime, I feel a bit anachronous listening to hippies bop on the stage in a land haunted by mighty explorers.

This is a harsh place.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

ChCh- So brief in New Zealand

The hardest part was saying goodbye to Trey his smile gently above the froth of his mocha. Then the plane, and more plane, and more plane- and more than 24 hours later I am in ChristChurch (at 10 am). After dropping my carry-on off at the Windsor Bed & Breakfast, I searched for Farmer's a department store to stock up on necessities (as all of my bags went to Australia for a spur of the moment side trip). Fortunately, my four hours of sleep on the plane was enough to complete this mission. Then back to the Airport and the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) for my issues- I have every size of clothing from a small top to an extra large hat (& my big big head)

Then back to the Windsor for tea- a free offering at this B&B complete with wafers and charming knitting women. And I stumbled through the botanical garden, overwhelming my senses with bright talking flowers and smells that will be missed in the barren south.

I feel asleep by 6.

Fortunately, my bags arrived at the CDC at 6:30 (and I was the last person to have my things loaded on to the plane to McMurdo, Antarctica). It was quite a sight to see Trey's silver golf bag topping off the pile of our issues and luggage--- it looks like someone is going to play the coldest golf course ever... but in reality, my bottles (triple bagged and acid washed) are hanging out waiting for sampling.

We fly out at 10 (and I must head now to the airport for final instructions). It feels like the ice is near.

May the journey be short and save.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Its not just Ohio

My throat tightens and cough thickens as I write this. Every year since moving to central Ohio, I have been cursed with bronchitis that halts my usually active lifestyle. The smoke observed along the Ohio River is carried beyond the river and above central Ohio where the nationally highest sulfate concentrations are recorded.

The EPA website states sulfate aerosols make up about 25% of fine particles above the eastern United States. These particulates are primarily from the generation of electric power via coal plants. The EPA estimates that when the Acid Rain Program fully implemented in 2010 (reducing NOx and SOx particulates) over $50 billion a year will be saved in hospital visits, deaths, and health emergencies resulting from these particulates. Annually, over 160 million tons of air pollution is emitted by the U.S. with over 120 million people living in regions with unhealthy air-quality.

In the meantime, coal-burning rates soar along the Ohio River. Power plants will harm more people before implementing Acid Rain Program guidelines. It will save them money. The lawsuits that AEP, Cinergy and Dayton Power & Light face for ignoring pollution cuts are pennies to them. The good news is our electric bills won’t be as high. Never-mind our healthcare costs.

Our fossil fuel energy sources are finite, and our source of cheap fuel is over. We felt it at the gas pumps after Katrina, and we’ll feel it this winter in our heating bills. The current squeeze may feel minor in 10 to 20 years when all diminishing oil reserves are under OPEC control. The solution-fortunately, the United States is blessed with large coal reserves. Cough… wait! Coal is not a long-term solution. Much of West Virginia has been permanently altered into a wasteland, clear-cut forests, and scared mountains. Even as coal burning becomes cleaner with tighter air regulations, our water will be polluted with filings. The money spent cleaning air and water supplies will be so great that coal will cost much more than the energy it produces. Eventually, we will run out of coal and face energy shortages, with an economy as scarred strip-mines.

Models by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that the severity of increasing temperature and sea level rise is greatly dependant on the output of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. The amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been increased at an accelerated rate from pre-Industrial times by the burning of fossil fuels. Nature magazine (November 24, 2005) details that California aims to cut greenhouse emissions to 80% of its 1990 levels over the next 45 years with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stated ‘“We know the Science. We see the threat. And we know the time for action is now.”’ Nationally, California is an economic leader for the United States comprising 13% of our GDP. California also has the lowest per capita energy use at 6,800 kilowatt-hours compared to 12,800 nationally, getting 11% of its energy from geothermal, wind, biomass and solar units. As California improves its energy policy, businesses will redirect money into developing and implementing new energy efficient and renewable energy technologies. California is predicted to continue to profit as it decreases vehicle emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. Thank you California for implementing what needs to be national and international policy. May Ohio follow suit and not burn coal at the cost of our futures.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Data: Before the ice

I am looking at an excel spreadsheet as the numbers disappear into lines.

Trendlines showing a huge spike of lead in the snow of Mount Hood. Where is it coming from?
I am hooked.

Otherwise, the July meltwater is dilute and boring.

Elution. The only end to pollution is dilution, or if you are a temperate glacier elution. The leaching of solutes in the early meltseason.

There was little snow on Mount Hood last year...yet the hippies were still skiing. I miss the hippies.
I dug a snowpit with some friends from Portland that ended with a watery layer a meter down. This year it is already dumping- my friend Dave emailed with a ski report. Oh, that I would love to tele--- and sciencewise, I would love to collect some fresh snow wearing a clean suit. X-file gear.My snowpit will be 3 times as deep. My arms 3 times more tired. My data 3 times more interesting? I'm not sure about that- but it would make a nice comparison. Fresh cold snow, not altered by melt. Holding its seasonal secrets.

I feel my skin grow dry and tight as winter approaches. I read that Charlize Theron used rubbing alcohol on her face for Monster- to create leathery skin. I feel the tightening now as an omen for the coming aridity. The McMurdo Dry Valleys may be the driest, coldest place on earth. And no alcohol can imitate that. What will it feel like to be in that strange place once again?