Thursday, December 30, 2010

24 hours-28 Dec, 2010

There is not much to tell because I went out for my shift on the 28th at night and ended up staying for 24 hours on the rig. We are still having difficulties drilling through the salt, so we still have no cores since I arrived. Instead the scientists are mainly trying to keep tabs on how much the platform is moving around because we suspect that this is having a huge impact on how effective the drill is working. If the platform moves and the pipes are bent, then the drill cannot apply the effective force to push through the salt layers. Since the weather has been so bad (several storms have come through and the wind is high), the rig seems to be blowing around despite being anchored.

Since it doesn't take much to watch a GPS for how much we are moving, they decided to leave me as the only scientist on the night shift that night. This was fine with me, I got the room to myself, I had a booklet of DVDs that I borrowed from one of the drillers on the day shift and my computer. Plus I know the drillers on the night shift well enough that I feel comfortable talking to them and hanging out when there is down time. So when the wind and waves were too much at 5am when we are supposed to be picked up, it wasn't so bad being stuck for another 12 hours. The drillers are not supposed to work during those 12 hours because they need to rest. There are 4 cots on the rig, and luckily there were 4 people (3 drillers + me), rather than 5-6 (usually there are 2-3 scientists), so we all got a cot and were able to sleep through most of the day. Then we watched movies, talked, sat around, listened to music until the boat came to relieve me and bring them more food for their night shift.

Today so far I've been hanging out with two students, one Israeli who has left now to go back to school, and one German who will be here for as long as I am here too. The good news is that he likes to hike so I will have someone to do those things with (no one else here is too much into it).

I'm trying to figure out a way to go to Jerusalem for New Year's Eve tomorrow night, but I still don't know what my schedule is for working.

It has been raining off and on for the past two days. There are possibilities of flash floods down these canyons. I'm hoping to be able to see one!

Also, my English is deteriorating a bit. It's funny, I always forget that this happens when you are in a foreign country, but it consistently does. Even though everyone is communicating in English, you are always trying to speak very simply so that others can understand when English is not their first language, or you are always hearing English that is slightly incorrect. So I feel like I can't express myself well recently, whether it's funky language issues or lack of good sleep.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Drilling ? Dec 27, 2010

I am running on very little sleep so I will try to sound coherent, but no promises.

Two nights ago I was up for my night duty. It was supposed to be me, dad and another scientist here who lives in Jerusalem, Elisa. The drillers had to start drilling a new hole for a new core, and they were still in the process of getting to the depth that we want to start to recover sediments. So the night sounded like another case where there is nothing for the scientists to really do except keep an eye on the GPS for any extreme movement of the rig. I spent the night before on the rig like that and if it made no difference, I figured I'd rather sleep back at the kibbutz then on that top cot. Dad said he would be staying to matter what, just in case something happened. Elisa decided she may as well stay since she wasn't going to drive back to Jerusalem that night.
Well... let me tell you... I made the right decision in this case! Unfortunately for them the winds picked up over night and there were huge swells. Apparently waves were splashing over the scientist shed. These rough seas kept the boat from coming out to relieve them of duty until 4pm the next day, so they were out there for 24 hours.
I came in on the boat at 4pm yesterday to replace them with another scientist. Unfortunately for the drillers, their night and day shifts are set in stone so if they get stuck out for 24 hours, then the night shift remains on duty and works throughout the night, having to stay for 36 hours. This apparently happened once before when there was a huge storm. It's really unfortunate but fairly unavoidable with the way things are set up.
I felt good because I came bearing gifts from the day shift drillers-- i.e. the three staples that they need to survive: food, coca-cola and cigarettes. Everyone was in pretty good spirits considering being stuck on a small platform in a storm for so long. Dad had a huge smile on his face and was overall in a good mood.
I spent the night shift with Nicolas, an Argentinian who did his degrees in Israel and right now is working as a post doc in Norway. He was pretty entertaining so the night went by pretty well. I also just spent time talking with the drillers. It's nice to be able to chat because it seems like there is a unspoken divide between the scientists and the drillers, even though a lot of us are similar ages (except I guess I'm the youngest person really participating on the project), and similar backgrounds, etc. So I hear from the scientists complaints about how the project is going, how it could be organized better, why they think some things might not be working, then I hear about all those things from the drillers side. It turns out they are mostly all the same ideas, but I get the impression that they are not communicating that to each other very well.
So, yes, so far so good. I spend most of my time wandering around seeing cool landscapes, plants or animals, talking to people, or helping out with some science (although that has been pretty slow recently). It's just good to be more socially open than I was when I was younger. It makes these experience so much better.

Finally I'll give my little daily geology lesson: something new I learned yesterday about sink holes around the Dead Sea.
So the Dead Sea has dropped significantly in the past 10 years because water began being seriously diverted in the 1960's. By significantly, it must be at least 50 feet, if not more. In the areas that were underwater in the 60's and are shore today, a lot of sink holes are forming. Geologists noticed that they were forming along lines, so there seemed to be a pattern to where they show up. The questions were, why are they forming and where will the next one form?

So the why are they forming has to do with two things: 1. the sediments underground in this area and 2. fresh and salt water interface. So as you can imagine, the layers of sediments and rocks under our feet here at the Dead Sea are a mix of mud and salt. Mud is deposited by water carrying sediment to the sea floor and salt is deposited by evaporation. There are layers where mud and salt are stacked on top of each other, and we are seeing this in our cores, but it was already well known. What is important for the sink holes is that not too far below the surface (20 meters?) there is a thick salt layer.
The other component is water. The Dead Sea is extremely salty and so the salty water dominates the water system depending on how high the Dead Sea is. So back in the 1960's the Dead Sea was much higher and salt water penetrated the ground much higher on shore. The other water in the mix is the fresh water that is coming in from springs and precipitation off of the mountains that border the sea. As you might imagine, there is a place where the salt water from the Dead Sea level meets the fresh water rushing down to the sea. This interface drops as the Dead Sea level drops, so it is much lower now than it was before the 1960's. So freshwater is traveling through more sediments in order to reach the sea, including this thick salt layer. So they think that as freshwater passes through the salt layer it is dissolving it and carrying it to the Sea. Therefore caverns are forming where the salt once was, and it collapses eventually to make a sink hole.
On the other hand we notice that these sink holes seem to be following a pattern on the surface. They are mostly showing up in lines rather than bunches or sporadically. It is thought that these lines are subsurface faults that the water is traveling through. This makes sense because the salt layer may be susceptible to water, but it is surrounded by mud layers that are pretty impermeable. So how is the water getting through the mud layers surrounding the salt layer? Well, if there were faults that cut through these layers then the water can take advantage of the cracks to reach the salt layer and then out to the Sea. Faults are linear features and definitely are all over this area. So that's the idea in principal as I understand it, of course it is always more complicated.
I hope that made some sense.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ein Gedi and Drilling- Dec 26, 2010

So it crossed my mind that I didn't really describe Bethlehem well. Basically the only area we saw outside was the Manger Square, which is at the top of a big hill. It is a nice square surrounded by tourist shops, cafes and churches. The main church is built over the spot that Jesus was born, (apparently there is a star down in some catacomb underneath it all that marks the spot). Like I said, we didn't go into the church.

The square was full of people selling boiled corn on the cob, people walking around selling coffee and tea, and little kids trying to sell you gum. It was pretty dirty and decently crowded, but you could move around.

Of course one of the strangest things was the military presence. There were Palestinian army guards all over the place (on the roof, in trucks circling, on the ground at every street) with big ol' automatic weapons. So in case something happened and there was some attack in Bethlehem on Christmas they would be able to open fire on the square full of people. Sounds great. Felt really safe... And I don't want to be dramatic, but I definitely felt tension the entire time I was there (mainly because of the guns). And I mean, I grew up on Army bases, I'm used to bomb tests, guns, tanks, and jets flying over. This was different. The peak was probably when we were trying to leave back to Israel. There are a couple of checkpoints that you must pass through. The taxi let us off by the car checkpoint because the road to cross was blocked. We began to walk out and were turned around by the guards, gesturing to a side street that we should take. There were a couple of other groups of people trying to get out so the bunch of us start walking down this street, which leads to another, and another, and another. We kept going in the general direction of the gesture, but it was unclear where we were going and what was down there. Finally we got to a dead end road that led to the wall that we had to pass through. As we were walking down this street, a car zipped by us to the end (turned out to be people trying to sell you stuff) and we walked by 5, equi-spaced 5 gallon gasoline canisters in the street, wet on the outside. That was creepy. We were all tired (it was about 1am) and kind of lost, so that we each looked at them and didn't acknowledge anything out loud. Like I said, I don't want to be dramatic, but it was creepy at the time. Then the walk through checkpoint was at the end of the street and we passed through some extra stuff before getting to the cars to go home.

Anyway, let me try to place the past 24 hours into context. Not having a regular sleep pattern yet is screwing with my perception of days. Yesterday Jason and I helped Elitza log cores in the lab. That involves unpacking each core from boxes in the outdoor freezer, measuring their length and describing how they change (mud, salt, pebbles, etc).

So if you can imagine, there is one core hole (core A) that drilled down over 450 meters into the ground at the bottom of the Dead Sea. They collected sediments cores for this 450+ meters and they are all in tubes, marked so we know what order they go in. So we can describe them and what is in them and essentially describe a column of over 450 meters of what the sediment beneath the Dead Sea looks like. We can see salt indicating dry periods and mud indicating wet periods. We can see where layers are screwed up indicating earthquakes, and organic matter indicating a very different climate. There are even some layers of pebbles, indicating that the middle of the Dead Sea today was above water, meaning it once dried up. All this information is going back approximately 250,000 years at this point.

They've drilled several holes, (we are starting F today), but none have been as deep as hole A. They keep on getting tripped up on the salt, which is very difficult to drill through.

So last night, after helping in the afternoon with core descriptions, I had my first night shift. This involves meeting at the dining hall at 5pm to get dinner to go, then driving down to a dock and taking an hour long boat ride to the platform, which is about 8km out from shore. While the boat ride is very slow for the distance traveled, it was nice last night because I got to talk to the captain, an oceanographer from Haifa, and his helper, a guy who has traveled around and lived everywhere. They both are really nice and interesting people. I'll have a lot of time to interact with them I guess.

So last minute changes made Jason and I share the night shift last night. Jason should be working days, but the normal night shift people couldn't go so they asked him to do it and he (semi-reluctantly) agreed. It was unfortunate because we knew there would be no cores tonight and therefore little to nothing for us to do. The drillers were working all night to set up to begin coring the next hole, but they first needed to send pipes down the 300m of water depth, then another 45 m of sediment before getting to where we want to start bringing up sediment cores. This all takes a looong time. Jason and I had to go on just in case there was any science that needed to be done, but also to try to track whether the rig was moving by using a GPS.

There have been problems with parts breaking due to torque. It is assumed that the platform that we drill from is anchored down and isn't moving, but we're starting to get suspicious that this is a poor assumption. We were hoping that we'd be able to track changes in our position using the GPS, but the thing is over 10 years old... It wasn't clear whether the changes in position that we saw throughout the night are satellite error or actual movement. Basically I got 7 hours of sleep and watched parts of 3 movies with Jason. He brought National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the old Santa Clause movie and Love Actually...I mean, it was Christmas after all.

We were worried that we'd be stuck out on the rig for the day because the winds picked up over the night and the sea was pretty rough. In previous days when there were stormy seas, the boat that shuttles us to shore isn't able to dock up next to the platform without banging against it. There were times when people were out for 24-36 hours before. Luckily today wasn't one of those days and we were able to return at 6am, as expected.

I love the night shift for a couple reasons. I'm more of a night person in the sense that my body feels best to be active at night, but I prefer morning things like sunrise and breakfast versus sunset and dinner. I prefer sunrise over sunset because I don't like darkness, I prefer daytime. I like breakfast over dinner because nothing beats sitting down to a cup of coffee and any food you want when you are hungry and sleepy. So these two things are even better when I've been up all night and my body feels like it's at its peak. So I went and got breakfast as soon as I got back and then walked around the kibbutz this morning taking photos of the botanical garden. There are new photos on facebook, so check them out!

Now I will sign off and hang out until 5pm and I'll start all over again. Hopefully tonight we will be drilling cores. It should be so, but you never know.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ein Gedi and Bethlehem- Dec 25, 2010

Yesterday was epic. There were several moments where I was sure I wasn't going to be able to get out of this kibbutz, but everything worked out in the end.

After writing here yesterday I got ready for my hike. Moti and Jason said to meet in the lobby at 11am and Moti would give us a ride over to the park and set us on our hike. When I arrived in the lobby at 11am it suddenly struck me that both of them had been on the night shift and hadn't slept in god knows how many hours. How likely was it that they'd actually show up to meet me? I started to plan how to get to the park on my own, but at 11:15 Moti showed up. He was flustered because there have been some problems on the drilling platform (broken drills and such--the operation is very close to needing to be put on hold). Jason had fallen asleep so we went and banged on his door, woke him up and brought him with us.

The hike was really nice. I posted photos on facebook of the Arugot Wash, which is a year-round spring that cuts through a decent canyon. It is diverted before it actually makes it to the Dead Sea though. The rocks here are all Mesozoic carbonates (which counts as fairly old limestone). In the lower area of the canyon where we hiked, there weren't any fossils except for a layer with some fossilized algae that looked like circles. I remember seeing similar stuff in CaƱon City at field camp. Similar to Utah, the rocks were just so exposed. They towered over us with no vegetation, showing off all the secrets held in their rock walls. The original deposition, how it changed over time, how it was deformed since. It's all very cool and very easy to see. I remember feeling almost uncomfortable in Utah at how exposed the rocks was like driving through the skeletons of a sea floor. This is similar.

We got back to the kibbutz in the late afternoon and I hung out with Elitza, my roommate here. She is a student at Tel Aviv in geophysics and she has one more semester to graduate (they are in the middle of their semester). I had just assumed that she was Israeli, I mean, she spoke Hebrew, is in school here, valid assumption. Then I asked her to look up the weather for the week and she found a site that had several languages, she tried English but it really didn't have much information. Then she says "that's weird because the Russian part has every day with temperatures" and pulled it up. I was like "you speak Russian?!" Turns out she is from Bulgaria and just moved to Israel to study. Go figure. That was cool, I told her I'd been to Varna and the coast. She is from Sofia.

Later on we went to get dinner with Jason and my dad. Jason and I had asked the drill team if we could join them on their trip to Bethlehem that night. Right when I was into my second plate of food we heard that they were leaving in 2 minutes if we wanted to join, so we ran and caught them. Call me a complete idiot, but I did not realize that Bethlehem is in Palestine. Everyone kept on saying that Israelis couldn't come, but I couldn't totally figure out why. So it ended up just being the 7 drillers + me and Jason, 9 people, two little cars. This is when I got to know the drillers well. All nice guys! They are from Florida, Ohio, California and Utah. There is Rich, Joe, "Mohawk" Joe, AJ, Eli, Steve and the leader is Beau. It was funny to be around a crew of guys working decently mindless, physical work. It reminded me of NCC and I felt like I fit in pretty well, although I don't think they realized how comfortable I was with their gross humor and insistence on talking about girls, music and each other.

It was good to travel with a bunch of guys on that trip too, I felt safe the whole time even though they were loud and obvious Americans the whole time. We drove from Ein Gedi to the checkpoint to get into Palestine. There we parked and figured out that we needed to walk through the checkpoint and grab a cab on the other side to take us to Manger Square. There were a lot of tourists, but it wasn't ridiculous. Moti said he heard there were 100,000 people, but I definitely didn't see that many. One of the guys forgot his passport and we were worried he would have to sleep in the car and wait for us, but luckily he got through with his license.

We got into two cabs once we were through and Beau (a Mormon who did his mission in Guatemala and is really good at bargaining) took care of everything. I had to sit on someone's lap because we had to fit 9 in 2 cars. Needless to say, the guy didn't mind. Then this driver took us on an impressive back route that drove all through the streets and hills and avoided all the traffic on the main road.

The first thing we did when we got there was find dinner for the guys, who hadn't eaten before leaving. They all got burgers, fries and cokes in the Bethlehem Peace Center. We then walked around Manger Square for a bit, there was no way to get into any Church because you needed a ticket. We people watched, went into souvenir shops, stood around, watched the military trucks with machine guns circle. Overall it was really good, definitely didn't feel like Christmas I'd say. It was an interesting sensation to be there. On one hand I didn't feel comfortable or safe, just like in any foreign place that is crowded and you are an obvious tourist, but especially here because of all the guns and general tension in the air. I'm also used to using my "young woman charm" around, but I didn't want to do something culturally unacceptable here. Anyway, I'm glad I was with the people I was with. I am glad that I got to go. It's probably somewhere I will never go again. That was also strange, it was the first place that I was aware of this while being there. Most of the time I figure there is always a chance that I will return. Life is long. But at least I got to be at Jesus's birthday party.

So now I have the day until 5pm to hang out, and then go out for my first night shift. I can't decide whether to wander around, nap, read, study GRE (yeah right), or what. Also, I've been sick since Monday and didn't have a voice hardly at all for two days. Now I'm still sounding gross but feel much better. My voice hasn't fully recovered and I have the nasty cough. So everywhere I go and meet people I get that "oooh... are you siiiick?" and have to say "yes, but I swear I'm getting over it" and I'm just tired of being that gross person.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ein Gedi, Israel- Dec 24, 2010

Hi All,

Before I get started:

It's been a long time since I've written on this and so I apologize for the subsequent missing information. Needless to say, field camp continued to get better and in the end was an absolutely awesome experience.

My project:

Now I'm on my next big trip and I'm in Israel working as a student assistant for the ICDP (International Continental Drilling Program). There are several scientists involved with the project (including my dad) and they are drilling sediment cores in the Dead Sea to recover a climate and earthquake record that goes back (at least 250,000 years, hopefully more).
Basically, there is a big drilling platform in the middle of the Dead Sea and there are two shifts. The day shift (5am-5pm) and the night shift (5pm-5am). You meet for your shift at 5, then take ~1 hour boat ride from the shore to the platform and relieve the previous shift. Then the drill team (an American drill company DOSEC) is in charge of running the machinery and the scientists take the drilled samples, record them and package them.
There is work done in the lab here too, but I'm not sure what it is exactly. Basically just working a little more with the cores, recording information and making observations.

My setting:

My dad picked me up from the airport last night in Tel Aviv. As I walked passed customs to where people were waiting, I saw him immediately in his green shirt, cappuccino in hand, and the biggest smile on his face. The smile didn't go anywhere for a few minutes, it was nice to see him so excited. I was just pretty tired, and I'm getting over a cold. I lost my voice for the past two days and it's slowly returning.

Then we drove from Tel Aviv, which is right on the Mediterranean Sea in the east of the country, all the way to the Dead Sea (western border) and then south along the coast to Ein Gedi. So we've covered some ground geologically. Basically, we cut a transect across some pretty cool stuff. So Tel Aviv is at coastal elevation and Jerusalem is in the mountains (~3000 ft+/-), then the Dead Sea is ~1500ft BELOW sea level. The mountains are caused by a transtensional fault. This means that there is a strike-slip fault (think San Andreas) and as these two blocks are sliding by each other, there is a bit of rotation causing tension (it's being stretched) which causes valleys to form and mountains to form basically as the consequence of valleys sinking (think Basin and Range, horst and graben type topography). Anyway, what you end up getting is a valley on one side, a mountain chain in the middle and a valley on the other, just like I described from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to the Dead Sea.
It was dark when I arrived so I only got a sense of shadows. It felt like Lake Mead meets Death Valley meets Mono Lake to me, except in Israel. Culturally there is a very different feel, but the land feels similar and the air too.

The place we are staying in Ein Gedi is a kibbutz that has a hotel/resort for tourists. There is a dining hall that has breakfast/lunch/dinner buffet style. There are two sections of rooms (as far as I can tell). One on the upper level by the lobby and outdoor bar, which are for more esteemed guests (as my dad said--guess where his room is). Then there is a lower group of rooms, probably 10 on either side facing a courtyard. The room has two beds, a tv, sink, fridge and bathroom. I'm sharing my room with an Israeli student who is really nice so far. She's been dealing with my overabundance of excitement.

Ein Gedi also has a botanical garden all over the kibbutz so it's rather beautiful and oasis-seeming. There are a lot of American tourists, but also Israeli, French, Swiss and some Muslim tourists (not sure where they're from).

My Flight:

It's worth addressing my flight a tiny bit. I flew Aerosvit, the Ukrainian airline. I wasn't sure what to expect. Upon arriving at the airport I learned quickly how cold the people are. The woman who checked me in was having nothing to do with my pleasant conversation, she only gave me an icy stare and two boarding passes. Then the flight attendants were similarly cold to the point of rude from an American perspective. But I sat next to Vladmir on the flight from JFK to Kiev and he removed my initial impression to a large extent. He sat next to me and introduced himself in a language I assume was Ukranian, I said "hi" and he smiled and asked excitedly, "Oh you speak English? Good, I can practice my English!" In my head I thought "For the next 9 hours....??? Wompersss." But it was really nice. He moved to New Jersey six years ago and has a son my age who is in Rutgers studying biochemistry. We did talk for much of the trip, then we watched My Super Exgirlfriend, which he thought was hilarious, and then I slept until breakfast. He was very nice and very generous.

Then in Kiev I had originally 2.5 hours between flights, but we left JFK an hour late and I was worried about the transfer. Turns out Kiev is pretty tiny and I still had time to sit around. It was so strange. There were, maybe, 10 gates in the terminal and they were going everywhere. There was Tel Aviv next to Budapest next to Beijing next to New York.

Flying over Kiev was also interesting. The sky had low clouds and just created a gray haze that made midday look like twilight. The ground was covered in snow and farms. It reminded me of parts of Germany that are all fields and little towns, but this was completely flat. Then we passed over Kiev and a city appeared, but made out of ugly, box shaped buildings, equi-spaced. There were two churches that had color and interesting architecture, but everything else looked like a power plant. The entire place, from the sky to the ground, was a shade of gray. I was thinking how important it is to have beautiful architecture in dreary places to at least give people a reason to go outside.


So the plan today is a bit up in the air but as of now sounds like it will be fairly epic. So originally I was going to start the night shift at 5pm, but the drillers requested 24 hours off to travel to Jerusalem and Bethlehem for Christmas Eve. It sounds like this will happen, so no night shift. Instead hopefully Jason and I will get to travel with them to Bethlehem after the day shift. It would be awesome to get to see Bethlehem on Christmas Eve into Christmas day. I mean, I know I've been rather scrooge-y this year about Christmas, but what a unique opportunity!
Then today during the day Jason and I will go for a hike in the nature reserve for the afternoon. Moti is going to show us a trail.
So if all those plans happen then it will be a great day! Even if half of them happen, it will be good. Photos will come soon.