How a Californian Survived Alaskan Field Work in November
Six days after the largest earthquake in 2002 occurred, the UC Berkeley team, consisting of Frederique and I, were out in the field setting up GPS receivers. Getting both people and equipment up to Alaska turned out to be quite an experience for me. How does one ship tripods? How many layers will be necessary? Are bears going to eat me? While sitting on the plane reading a chapter on how to identify frostbite in my trusty Planning for Field Safety guide, I was hoping that my new Thinsulate hiking boots and borrowed winter jackets would prove to be warm enough and that all the equipment arrived in one piece. Of course nothing ever runs smoothly. As soon as we landed in Fairbanks I realized that I would need to buy a hat and gloves.
Frederique at University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Notice how she remembered hat and gloves.
There was an organizational meeting the night we arrived in which we met the team leader Jeff Freymueler and others from Purdue and UNAVCO. We officially started our adventure the next morning by setting up sites within driving distance of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. It was soon decided however that it would be best if the UC Berkeley team traveled south to the Kenai Peninsula. Thus, a week-long GPS campaign was planned in about an hour or two, the purpose of which was to measure the far field displacement field. After trading in our rental car for a rental van we packed up six receivers and traveled about 300 mi south through some of the most beautiful landscapes we had ever seen. Our 250+ pictures provide a testament to that fact. We drove "by" Mt. McKinley (the highest mountain in North America) and Denali National Park with my National Parks Pass calling to me the entire time. We were both excited and nervous at being so far away from our contacts at the University.
Alaskan scenery is the best!
Getting permission to survey benchmarks and acquiring lodging in Alaska in the off season were two totally new experiences for me but I have to say that Alaskan officials and hotel owners are some the nicest people around. They were always willing to accommodate two scientists from out of town. Frederique had the unfortunate task of learning how to drive on snow and ice. The one time we got stuck in ice a local gave us a few words of advice on how we could have avoided it while helping us to get out of his driveway: "You shouldn't have stopped". We decided that artists who carve wooden bears with chain saws are people of few words. I also came to love the glove-mittens I bought in Fairbanks which I could velcro the finger mitten part out of my way to expose my fingertips but leave the rest of my hands covered. At dusk with temperatures rapidly falling and a receiver set up to take down they were a necessity!
An example of a beautiful, yet treacherous site--at least we didn't have to worry about breaking up frozen soil.
We quickly learned that benchmarks were usually on top of the highest peak and that the only way to reach them was to scramble up a steep incline of some damp, weathered material with bulky equipment in tow. We also quickly learned that once you reached the benchmark the view would take your breath away. We had one unfortunate incident when some of our equipment was stolen. The state troopers had to be called as well as Jeff and our advisor back in Berkeley. The silver lining on the whole thing was that even though we were a stone's throw away, we didn't encounter the thief. The two of us were too practical to let the incident get in our way though, so after printing up some reward posters at the local library, we posted them in every public spot we could find and then turned our attention to seeing how the loss of one receiver would affect our campaign. Frederique and I soon became quite proficient at gauging driving distances, weather conditions and deciding between sites when time was running short. We also learned all sorts of interesting details like how to connect two batteries in parallel (black to black and red to red) to keep the receiver running longer, how to set up a receiver on frozen ground (don't forget to dig), and how to keep a digital camera working in freezing temperatures. So, it was really with heavy hearts that we packed our bags and headed back to sunny California all the time wishing we had a few more days to spend on our Alaskan adventure.
Here for more pictures.
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Active Tectonics Research
Group at UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
University of California, Berkeley