Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 5- Off to see Denali

Note: Sorry if my account sounds slightly sparse. I didn’t keep a journal while I was there, so I wrote all of this up later, and so I have forgotten some of the enriching details.
We left in the van right after breakfast,  after loading up food and bags. We got to Denali at 11. We got a lecture  from the Park Service about wildlife safety and taking care of the  park. We also went to look at the visitor  center, where there was a 3D topo map of the  park, which was pretty cool to  look at.
Next we drove out to Savage River, which is  a river right on the edge of the restricted  area of the park. Past here, only tour  buses and authorized vehicles are allowed  past. Very few private cars are allowed. We were able to get a permit as a educational group, but we displaced a whole tour bus, as only a certain number of cars are allowed on the road at a time. But before we entered  the park, we went on a hike.
We climbed up on a rocky protrusion and looked at some of the fractures and types of rock. We also got a nice view of the valley.
After walking along the river and looking at rocks, we got back in the car and entered the  park. We drove 30 miles to our campground,  where we met Nadine, a park geologist. The campground had fancy cabins, with bunks and mattresses.  We put all of our food in a storage shed and  moved our gear into our cabins.

This picture was taken by Emily, a classmate of mine

The paleontology group showed up a little later and moved into the other cabins. They  would be staying with us for three out of  the four nights we would stay in Denali. That night the paleontology group made us dinner, which was a  stir fry. There were propane cookstoves, so  making food was pretty easy. There was also  a yurt to eat in if it was raining.
It was a little buggy, but I was okay without bug spray, and it turned out that I wouldn't need any for the rest of the trip.
We took a short walk out to the river that night and and walked around. My roommate and now cabin mate went swimming in the glacially fed river. He was from Boston, and I guess that was his way of experiencing Alaska.
We had to be accompanied by a park ranger at  all times in the park, and since there were  two groups, us and paleontology, another ranger,  Kristen, came that night.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Denali Rocks!

Hi Everyone (not that anyone besides my family reads this)

I am still at ASRA, but I got back from our five day Denali field trip Tuesday night. We had lots of amazing bear, moose, caribou, coyote, ground squirrel, etc. encounters. We also got to see some amazing rock formations and pick up a few (six, to be exact) rock samples. It was amazing fun and very beautiful.

You may have heard of a bear attack on a group of 7 kids and two instructors near Denali. Thankfully, this was not my group, although we did come close (okay, not that close, but more later).

On Friday (it's Wednesday night) we have to give a presentation to about 150 people. We have made a video, but I only have two days to edit it, plus do a lot of other cool things (like use a Scanning Electron Microscope!!). As you can imagine, I'm working pretty hard, so I won't have time to work on my blog until Friday night. Look for more updates then.

(This is a amazing photo taken by Peter, a friend of mine in my module)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 4- Strike & Dip, Packing & Pacing

Today we started out by looking at our plans for the week. I also showed some pictures of gold being poured that my dad had taken. He used to work at Round Mountain, a open pit mine, and they had him take a few pictures of the process for PR. Now, that mine is partially owned by Kinross, which owns Fort Knox. Anyway, I showed my class some pictures he had taken.
Afterwards, we took a few rocks and our compasses and field notebooks outside. First, we each figure out the length of our pace, using a tape measure. Then we set up a couple of stations with the rocks and went to each one. First we had to calibrate our compasses to the declination (degrees between true and magnetic north) for Fairbanks. Then, our instructors had to spend 20 minutes figuring out how our cheaper, more simplistic compasses worked. Our cheap compasses weren’t very well designed, but they did the job.
Next we used them to measure the strike of the rock face. The strike is the compass direction of the outermost rock face. Basically, you hold you compass flat with one edge against the face and take a reading. Next we figured out the dip, which is the tilt or slope of the face. We measured this with a inclinometer built into out compasses. We recorded this, along with a GPS lat/lon/elev. Next we found the bearing to the next station, paced it off, and found the location of that sample. While we did this with rocks mounted on inclined metal plates, you would usually do it to a rock outcrop. You use the information to map a area and figure out what kind of folds and faults are in the outlying areas.
We also got to use a Niton X-Ray analyzer. It looks like a gun with a screen on top. You press it up against the rock and hold down the trigger and it shoots X-Rays through it and knocks electrons out of orbit (or something like that) and measures the elements. Unfortunately, since this is not performed in a vacuum, the gun can’t collect all of the X-rays and detached electrons, so elements with too low of a atomic number (meaning fewer electrons) are listed as unknown. However, you can still guess by thinking about what can’t be picked up and what it looks like the rock has in it.DSC_7373
After this we played with taking panoramas, then made a list of all of the food we would need for our trip, since we leave on Friday (tomorrow) morning. After planning out all of our meals, we went to Fred Meyer’s and bought a whole cart of marshmallows, pasta, chocolate, tortillas, jam, zucchini, etc.
After making sure we had everything packed, I went and played a great game of Ultimate Frisbee, which I like to play, despite the fact that I’m not that good a Frisbee thrower. It was a lot of fun but hard work, since it was 80 degrees and sunny out.
Since I leave tomorrow, this will be my last post until Tuesday night. I will try to keep a journal throughout my absence, but I won’t be able to post it until Tuesday.


Our morning explosure today was about sled dog diets, and how they need high fat, low carb diets to race well. Afterwards, we learned about identifying igneous rocks, the rock cycle, types of folds and faults and other deformations, and looked at some sedimentary rocks.

After this, we drove down to a rock outcrop on the side of the highway and practiced taking field notes in our Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks. The outcrop we looked at was made out of schist, a fairly metamorphosed shale (otherwise known as a medium grade metamorphic rock).DSC_7348DSC_7350

After lunch, we looked at a sandstone outcrop, then went to the AVO and AEIC building. First stop was AEIC, or Alaska Earthquake Information Center. We learned about triangulation of earthquakes, and got to see a simple seismograph and how it works, which I never knew. When a magnet passes over a copper wire coil, it generates electricity. So if you suspend a magnet above a copper coil, a earthquake will causes the coil to move, while the magnet, suspended in a moveable way, with stay still. Thus a electric current in generated. We also got to see the bank of screens connected to the Alaska seismograph network and a outdated paper roll seismograph output.


After AEIC, we went to AVO (the Alaska Volcano Observatory). First we got a demonstration of the FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared Radiometer) which is used to measure and capture images with a thermal readout. I saw one of these last year.Volcanologists use them to measure the temperature of volcanoes and lava. I don’t have any pictures from it this year, and the ones from last year are on a external hard drive, so I don’t have pictures to demonstrate, but if you Google FLIR, you will see what I mean.

We also learned about why the Observatory is important and watched videos of planes getting caught in ash clouds and having their engines quite. We got to look at all of the cool tools AVO has online, most of which I learned about last year. We also all got AVO t-shirts, with a picture of Mt. Redoubt erupting on the front.

Tonight I watched a lecture by Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook give a lecture of historical poisonings and some of the science behind different poisons. We also learned that Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me was going to be in Fairbanks later this month. Unfortunately, I will already be gone. Afterwards we got to check out the Saturday Thing, a ASRA activity where you get to play with electronics and weld stuff together.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

ASRA Day 2- Fort Knox Gold Mine

Every morning at ASRA, after breakfast but before we go to our modules, everybody gathers in a large lecture hall for “Morning Explosures”. These are fun lectures, visitors, or experiments. For instance today, Jeff Drake, the ASRA director brought in a keg of liquid nitrogen and did some experiments (sticking a tube in it, pouring it on the floor, sticking his hand in it), all of them demonstrating something cool and the scientific explanation.
After the morning explosure, we learned about plate tectonics, and did some experiments with frosting, fruit roll-ups, jam, honey, ketchup, etc. We used these to learn about viscosity, density, polymerization, etc, so we could understand the differences between the two types of volcanoes (shield and cone).
After this, we all got in the van and drove out to Fort Knox. On the way we stopped at the Trans-Alaska pipeline and had lunch.
Fort Knox was very cool. First of all, we were all equipped with safety equipment. Then, our guide got in our van and we followed a pilot car on the tour. On the way, we learned about the different types of ore trucks. The biggest ones had wheels taller than a school bus and could hold 250 tons of rock. They had 30 trucks on site, but not all of them were the really big ones. They once did a experiment with a smaller truck. They took a Super Duty Ford F-250 (a “small” truck) and ran over it with a big truck. The small truck was, well, see fore yourself. The big truck was undamaged, and the driver didn’t even know he had run over it. The wheels were also amazing, with each one worth $50,000 (no typo). Speaking of big costs, each truck uses 1000 gallons of fuel a day. Multiply that times 30: 30,000 gallons a day. Times 5 (about the cost of gas): ~$150,000 dollars, just for fuel. Yikes!
Our first stop was a look out over the mine.  It was about 1600 ft. deep. Now you can imagine that it would be a ways below the water table. To counteract that, they pump out 900 gallons every minute. But if they were to stop pumping, it would take still 100 years to fill up.
Next we went to look at the crusher. A big truck came in right as we did, and dumped all of the rock into a big crusher. It only took 3 minutes for it to crush it all.
(These are captures from a video, since I forgot to take any stills. This should be in our final video, which I will post at the end of the course)
Of course, it still was pretty big, so next it goes to the mill. The mill was very loud, so we all had to wear earplugs. In the mill, the rock goes into a big turning cylinder with some steel balls and water. The rotation crushes it all into pieces a few centimeters in diameter. If it takes too long to be crushed, it is sent to a leach field, where cyanide is sprayed on and the gold is dissolved out.
DSC_7314Rock Bouncer
(Again, this isn’t very cool as a picture, so wait until the video at the end.)
Next we got to see a gold bar. It was a small one, for tour purposes, only weighing 257 ounces. That means it was only worth, oh, about $417,000. The bars they usually make are about twice that. They can usually make one of those in a day, meaning a million dollars, but they have operating costs of about $500,000.
It was a cool tour, although the environmental friendliness of the mine was in my mind. While I now that mines have huge amounts of environmental monitoring and regulations, burning 30,000 gallons of fuel a day can’t be that good for the planet. Of course, the computer I am writing this on does no doubt have gold in it, and both of my parents work in gold mines (although they work in underground mines, which are probably less impact), so I can’t say that I’m not benefiting from it.
Anyway, after the tour we stopped at the Large Animal Research Station, then went back for dinner. We played a good game of capture the flag, and now I am writing this. Goodnight!
P.S. This probably won’t get posted till the morning, since I have some image processing to do.

Monday, July 18, 2011

ASRA Day 2- Toilet Paper Time

Today, after having a big group lunch and watching the opening orientation, we went to our module. Since ours was, at least partly, remote, my roommate, Derek, was in my class. Our class was pretty small, with only 6 kids, so I got to know everyone pretty quickly.

After getting some supplies (compass, hand-lens, Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks) from our instructors, Jill and Sarah, we watched a short lecture about the beginning of the earth, etc.

Next we did a experiment to demonstrate the real size of geologic time. We got into groups and each got a roll of toilet paper, with 460 squares each. In our groups, we each rolled out the entire roll, which must have been 200-300 feet. Then assuming each square represented 10 million years, we went and labeled the intervals and time unites used in geology (Eons, Eras, Periods, Epochs). Humans took up less than the last half of the last square.

After this we went and played frisbee, then headed back to the dorms. Unfortunately, since there weren’t very many people in our dorm, there was only one RA in it. He couldn’t spend all of his time just sitting alone there, so we usually had to get a RA to go over with us.

We headed to dinner and I met some new people and talk with old friends. After dinner I went hiking around the campus, then played frisbee, working on my frisbee throwing skills. Since the last time I used a frisbee was a hour ago at ASRA, and then two years before that, I’m not very good at it.

Sorry, no pictures for today. But tomorrow I will be going to the Fort Knox open pit mine, so I should get some good and interesting pictures.

ASRA Day 1–Travel

Okay, I am now at ASRA. I will try to keep up my blog, but when I have no internet I won’t be able to keep everything up-to-date in real time.

My day started off fairly well. I got up at 5, finished packing, then rushed off to the airport. I said goodbye to everyone, then got on the plane. The other four people on my flight didn’t show up, so I was the only one. I sat up front with the pilot and got good views of the glaciers.


I checked in at the Juneau Airport and checked my bags. I was bringing a ridiculous amount of stuff, with a large duffle plus my backpacking pack, plus my computer bag. My excuse was that I brought camera gear and camping gear and three pairs of shoes, on request from my instructors.

It was now 10, and since my flight left at 12:30, I headed up to security. But security was closed. So I sat around and waited for them to open it. The monitor said my plane was 30 minutes late. Finally at 12, 5 minutes after my plane was originally supposed to load, they opened security.

Inside security I found a seat and waited. Now my plane had been delayed until 1:50, and I was almost going to miss my connection. At 1:30, they announced that it was delayed till 3, then till four.

The desk changed my connection, to a later flight. Then the plane was delayed until five, which would get me there 5 minutes after the flight left. But since most of Southeast Alaska’s ASRA kids were on that plane, they were going to try to hold it. Finally, after seven hours of waiting, they let us get on the plane. In Anchorage they let us run over to the plane and we were able to get on.


In the left hand picture, it almost appears we are flying over a glacier, if you look closely at the lower left-hand corner. Click to expand.

We got to the ASRA campus and had dinner and got checked into our rooms. Since I was in a remote module, I was in a different dorm building. Our dorm was fancier, with a keypad entry to our rooms and even bedside tables. After playing some games, we all went to bed at around 11.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Off to ASRA

I am leaving for ASRA, a summer camp up in Fairbanks, on Sunday. ASRA is a pretty cool summer camp. It takes place at UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) and everyone stays at the dorms. There are probably about 15 different modules,  which means about 15 different camps. So during the day, everyone goes off to their camp. But afterwards, everyone comes back to the dorms and  participates in activities. The activities are really fun and there are a wide selection to choose from: everything from Canoeing the Chena river to Playing Capture the Flag to Hiking in Denali.

The modules are fun to. Since the camp is geared towards motivated learners (you have to write essays and get references just to get in), all of the modules are about learning new things and getting amazing opportunities.

For instance, in the module I was in last year, we learned about Satellite Imagery and Remote Sensing. Since the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) is at UAF, we learned a lot about that. We got to see all the different types of imagery taken by Satellites, use professional software to adjust and analyze the imagery, and even create one of the daily reports on Alaska volcano activity that the AVO puts out. We also got to do a lot of hands on things, like use a FLIR (Forward Looking Infared) cameras to look at the temperature of Geothermal streams and ice sculptures.

This years I am in the Denali Rocks Module, which is about the Geology of Denali National Park. This one, along with a few others, is a remote module. We will start out at the UAF campus, then go to Denali for a week, then come back to the campus and analyze data we have collected.

Anyway, before I leave I have another cousin visiting, this one from Texas. Unfortunately, I won’t get to spend much time with her before I leave, but we should have time to go on some hikes.

I also recently bought a microphone and recorder to go with my camera for video I take. I bought a Azden ECZ-990 shotgun mic and a Jammin Pro HR-5 digital recorder to go with it. This should allow me to capture much better audio. The mic also came with a windscreen, which should allow me to get audio when it is windy out.


My Cousin continued

My cousin has already left, but before she did we did a few more things.
First, we went to the pass. The pass, as we call it, is the Chilkat pass which is up in Canada. It is about a four hour drive, along the single highway out of town. Once you get past the border, there are no signs of human occupation for miles, besides the highway. Even the highway only gets about ten cars a hour passing on it.
The pass is tundra, meaning there are very few trees, and most of the plants are mosses and lichens, with a few shrubs and other small plants. Reindeer lichens are the only ones I know the names of. For some reason, I have never bothered to learn the names of the plants. I suppose I am just happy enjoying their beauty without knowing what they are.DSC_6156
For this hike, we were hiking on a old mining exploration road (okay, so not quite free from human interference). The road was probably built fifty years ago, and was more like a dirt trail. There was some old sections of pipe every so often along the road, but other than that and the road, there was nothing around.
We hiked for a while on the road. Even though it was late June, there were still patches of snow along the road. This was amazing to my cousin, since in California, she didn’t even get snow in the winter. We also had to cross a few streams. Luckily for me, my hiking boots were waterproof, but the rest of my family had to take off their shoes.
Another thing about the pass is the absolute silence. If you are away from the road and any streams (and there aren’t any mosquitoes about) you can stop and hear absolutely nothing. In most wild places, like a forest, you will hear the sounds of birds, the trees rustling in the wind, or the sounds of cars from miles away. But here, you hear nothing. I suppose it is because there is a lot less wild and plant life than most places, but it is still amazing how quiet it is. Of course, with five people in the group, it is hard to hear the silence.
The purpose of our hike was to get to where we could see a glacier at the back of the valley. It was about a 10 mile hike, round trip, but we had all day to get there. Unfortunately, we had to be back to the border before 11, when it closed, but it still left us 8 hours.
There were quite a few streams and gullies to cross, many of them with snow bridges over them. We had to be careful when crossing the snow bridges, as they could easily collapse under our weight, and so it took a lot of time.
As I said earlier, there are almost no trees. As you can imagine, this makes it pretty hard to tell perspective. It seemed that from the top of the next hill, we would be able to see the glacier, but we would only see another hill to climb. After hiking for a four hours, my sister and cousin were getting bored, and it was starting to get late. We decided to turn around and maybe come back another time to see the glacier.
On the way back we stopped and cooked dinner over our alcohol stove. I made a timelapse, but it didn’t turn out very well, so I won’t post it.
One more thing before we left was go on a raft trip. A old friend of ours had a few open spaces on a trip, so we decided to go along. It was a very nice trip, and we even got to stop at one point and get out and walk along the riverbank.