Field Trip to the Ice Core Lab

February 27, 2008 at 6:57 pm

As part of the Global Climate Change class I’ve been co-teaching at Colorado College, we’ve done a fair bit of work with ice core data and paleoclimate change. After finishing up the labs and projects, we took the class to the Ice Core Lab in the Federal Center at Denver. This is the storage and analysis facility for ice cores from all over the world, including the 2-mile long 400,000 year old ice in the Vostok core from Antarctica. There are more pictures from the day in the gallery.

We got to talk to a couple of guys who had just spent the summer in Antarctica drilling the first third of a new core in Western Antarctica. Their stories of difficulty in drilling were really incredible. This summer was a warm one in Antarctica, temperatures topped out near freezing some days! In order to keep the ice stable as they pull it out of the ground, 30ft at a time, they have to chill the building where the drilling is done to -30C! The core is about 5 inches in diameter, and the hole is filled with anti-freeze to keep it from freezing closed as they drill. It can take as much as an hour to lower the drill to the bottom of the hole and nearly two hours to pull the core out of the lower part of the hole.

The analysis rooms in the facility are kept at about -10C. Now, that is harsh working conditions for day-to-day science! The storage facility was much colder. We were all told to bring our coldest winter gear, and I was impressed at how well outfitted most of the students were for winter weather. I suppose that people in Colorado generally invest in full down suits and huge stocking caps as part of their skiing/snowboarding outfit. The temperatures of -30C to -40C in the storage room were cold enough to numb any exposed skin within a minute or two, but without any wind the rest of me was quite comfortable.

It was a fun way to spend the afternoon. At least, I thought so. Places like this ice core lab really give a glimpse into how adventurous and exciting the earth science can be!

Two climbs in Golden

February 24, 2008 at 11:47 am

The weekends are a welcome relief for me right now. I’ve been putting in 14 hour days here at the College, and it’s nice to be able to just go home and relax. But I didn’t want to spend the whole weekend napping! (Ok, I did, but I knew I’d regret it later) So, Sunday, Mark and I got a slow start and headed out to Golden, CO, in the hope of getting a little sport climbing done on the basalt crags of North Table Mountain. There are pictures from the day in the gallery.

When Mark and I finally got to the climbing area at around 10a, the lower parking lot was completely full, and the upper lot was rapidly filling as well. The sun was coming and going between high clouds, but that hadn’t stopped the huge crowd of people who had already shown up. We hiked up the hill, and saw the crowds filling the base of the crags. Rather than go left, Mark and I headed right to see what climbs might be off in less developed territory. We ended up on the upper tier of the Child-free zone.

Skin Deep? (5.9+) – I have no idea exactly which climbs we were on. The first one climbed up a sharp arrete to the left of a line of bolts. Once we got to an upper ledge, the climb forced us out on to the face, where we climbed a thin crack to the anchors. It felt like a regular NTM 5.9+. But we both worked hard on the climb. Mark came down with sore hands, and I had a pump so strong it was difficult to keep my hands closed over some of the upper holds.

Unknown (5.10-) – Mark led this one beautifully. He climbed to the high first bolt, then swung across a big fun flake like a trapeze artist, and climbed a thin overhanging crack to the ledge above. The face at the top of the climb was awesome, full of cool crimps and delicate edging that I love. But by the time I got there, my hands were so exhausted I could not keep them closed on the holds. I slowly worked my way up the face, doing one move and then resting and shaking out my hands until I reached the anchors.

Hanging Out

By the time I had cleaned this climb, the sun had begun to wink in and out behind a deep, dark cloud bank over the mountains to our west. My hands were soo sore, and Mark was feeling embarrassingly pumped as well. It was 3p in the afternoon, and there was still a conga line of climbers hiking up to the crag. The parking lots were both jammed full, with people parking along the roads up and in the middle of the lot. We decided to pack up for the day and head out. We spent the afternoon with my little brother in Denver, and had a great BBQ dinner before Mark headed home to the Fort and I headed back south to the Springs.

Kate’s in Colorado Springs

February 22, 2008 at 3:52 pm

I’m co-teaching a class in Colorado Springs right now. It’s a 100-level class on Climate Change at Colorado College, a nice little liberal arts college. The school is on the “block plan,” which means the students take only one class at a time for 3 and half weeks at a go. Which is why it works out nicely for me and the other CSU graduate students who have gone down to co-teach. You don’t have to spend a whole semester away from home. But, I have to say, three and half weeks is still a long time to be away.

While I’m staying in the Springs, the school has put me up in furnished apartments set aside for “Visiting Faculty”. I think it’s really cool that I’m actually considered faculty right now! As I have spent every day of my first week either in the apartment working on lesson plans or in class in the building 100ft away, I took some pictures of the apartment and put them up in the gallery.

I’m guessing the apartment building was built ca. 1930. There are radiators in every room that I am incapable of understanding. Either they are all the way on, all the way of, or making this horribly loud racket which sounds like ghouls banging on the pipes in my bedroom. There are beautiful wood floors, and this crazy tile pattern in the bathroom that seems to move in the evening after I’ve been staring at the computer screen for 14 hours.

Tile in the bathroom

I really like the diggs (as the kids say), they have a lot of character. Without my Tivo, though, I seem to be forced to leave the television on the Discovery Channel, which is playing A Haunting a lot these days. Little details in the apartment give me the shivers after watching shows about ghosts and demons all evening long. The brass plates on each door have an actual keyhole that you can look through! Lights flicker on and off occasionally for no good reason. And the hot water definitely seems to be possessed. It comes and goes, spits and coughs, and sometimes, as it’s running, I hear voices saying I should make very hard test questions to torture the students with!

The teaching is going very well, and I’m learning sooo much. I think the hardest part is over, and hopefully I’ll keep learning throughout the next 2.5 weeks. It’s been a great experience, and I’m so happy to be doing it. Now, does anybody know a priest I could call just in case things start getting weird in the apartment….

Mark is smelling a little gamey!

February 19, 2008 at 1:51 pm

Kate is teaching a class in Colorado Springs for 3.5 weeks allowing me to “live like a single guy” in the evenings. It means I’ll be eating unhealthy food, playing computer games until the wee hours of the night and generally letting myself slip to a lower standard of hygiene.

Kate bought me a birthday gift last November which caused me to build up a computer from scratch. She bought World in Conflict and it was a brilliant game. I played the single player for maybe 8ish hours and kept hoping it wouldn’t end. Kate did excellent in picking that one. It is the best real-time strategy game I’ve played. After that, I obeyed the end of year ruckus surrounding Portal, and bought it as part of the Orange Box. Portal was brilliant: short, but perfect. After that I replayed Half-Life2 and then continued on with new-to-me content in the Episode1 and Episode2. They are brilliant as well and did not disappoint.

Being a married computer gamer, I have self-imposed limits on my gaming so that I don’t ruin my marriage or my job. The first rule is to never play a game that doesn’t have a pause feature. This rules out all massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft (WoW) or City of Heroes/Villains. Those would be like crack to me and I know better than to give either a taste. I’m nearly done defending the earth from an alien incursion (in Half-Life2) and it is about time to pick a new game. I’m leaning towards conquering the universe in Sins of a Solar Empire (though I shall ignore the multiplayer bits because it will have no pause button), or the most recent well-acclaimed classic RPG’s (from 2006) Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion plus sequels.

To read about the building of the PC and all the parts I choose and why, read on…

Kate’s Free Desktop Image

February 17, 2008 at 9:25 am

So, I was out photographing a dramatic sky the other night, and as I looked through the images I brought back in, I thought a lot of them were nice and abstract. I thought I would like to have them as desktop images, and decided to offer them in larger resolution here for others to use. I’d like to do this more often, so feel free to keep checking back if you’re interested. Also, leave me a comment if you’d like a size that I don’t have posted here.

Winter sky

1024 x 768, 1440 x 900, 1600 x 1200

Death and …

February 12, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Mark did our taxes earlier this year. Last year, due to mistakes in withholding and a whole lot of capital gains, we ended up owing thousands to uncle Sam. After that debacle, we increased our withholdings to a ridiculous amount, and were eager to see if we got a refund this year. And we did! Tax time is the only time of the year when we thank our financial counselor for modest gains in the previous year: good job guys! We made very little money, had more mortgage interest to deduct, and now we’re a couple thou in the black. According to the tax software, we should spend that on a new alternative fuel vehicle. Pretty cool idea, really…

That's Life

Climbing Eldorado Canyon, in the snow

February 10, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Saturday was a beautiful day in Northern Colorado. Temperatures topped out at nearly 55F (~13C) in the Fort, and the sun felt great. On Sunday morning, my parents left Colorado, and Kevin headed back to Denver. Mark and I got up early, packed our bags and then drove down to Eldorado Canyon for a day of trad climbing – just the two of us. There are a few pictures from the day in the gallery.

We realized at some point in the last few days that Mark and I had not climbed together, as a pair of partners, with nobody else around, for several months. We thought that it would be nice to get back out on the rock for a quiet day of adventure. When we left Fort Collins on Sunday morning the Front Range was covered in a thick lenticular cloud, but we could see sun over the mountains. As we pulled in to Eldorado Canyon, it seemed the cloud had been pushed higher over the mountain. The canyon was dark, cold and covered in snow. Mark declared that he had not driven an hour and half and paid $6 to not climb, so we bundled up and headed to the Whale’s Tail.

We roped up for the creepy traverse across to the ledge at the bottom of the formation, but I’m not sure that the route we took across in the morning really warranted it. As Mark was racking up for the first climb, the clouds receded, the sun began creeping down the canyon towards us. By the time he was off the ground the rock was warm and sun-lit, and the weather was officially beautiful. It was quiet in the canyon, too. We could see and hear only one other distant pair of climbers for most of our day there, which is wonderful in a place which is normally so busy that rap lines land on leaders and rocks fall on crowds below almost every weekend.

(1) West Crack (5.2 or 5.4) – The first climb of the morning was a great one. This crack was long, exposed, took great pro and was an all around aesthetic climb. Mark and I both had huge smiles on our faces when we came down from this one. It felt simply like the reason trad climbing had been invented. Note, though, the route took most of our 60m rope. If you have less than a 58m rope, I don’t think you’ll reach the ground from the rap anchor.

Mark Ties His Knot

(2) West Dihedral (5.2 or 5.4) – Mark and I spent some time discussing how best to climb this route and then set a TR on the middle slab and then clean that TR anchor and come off the rock from the rap anchor above. Once Mark had led the dihedral, he ended up building an anchor up and left of the overhanging crux, and worked out great for the slab. He ran up the dihedral, placing only 4 pieces of pro before the anchor, and I had no problem with it either.

(3) West Face (5.6 X) – This slab climb was long and fun. It had a few thin parts, but Mark climbed it in his old rental shoes with no problem. I think it’s worth doing on TR if you’re in the area, not worth risking your life over as a lead or free-solo. But that’s just MHO. After Mark climbed it, he climbed above our anchor back to the rappel anchor on top of the rock, and then set up the rappel. He cleaned the anchor for the slab on rappel, on his way down, which involved a bit of aerial ballet but nothing too crazy.

As we pulled the rope from this last climb, another couple climbed over to our ledge, and the sun began to touch the edge of the canyon on the far side. We packed up our gear, and Mark lead back across the ledge to our stuff in the gulley next to us. This time, he took “the low road” which ended up having a very exposed technical downclimb move that Mark protected well. It was an exciting way to finish the day, and made me feel like we had just gotten in another whole pitch of climbing. By this time, the canyon was starting to feel crowded again, and we met a guided group of about 6 climbers looking to get on our climbs as we packed up in the last of the sunshine. We chatted with the other climbers and then hiked out in the new shade of the sunset, which ended up being around 3p. The days are short in a steep canyon like Eldo, but I think we managed to squeeze a perfect climbing day out of this one. Mark and I got to be alone together in the sun, in a dramatic and beautiful place, doing what we loved.

Hometown Pride

February 8, 2008 at 2:19 pm

I grew up in a suburb of St. Louis called Kirkwood, Missouri. Last year we were in the national news for the first time in years when a guy working at the local pizza shop was discovered to have kidnapped, help captive and abused two young boys.

And last night we were in the news again. A disgruntled (what a descriptive word, huh) contractor killed a policeman, walked into a city council meeting and started shooting people. He ended up killing between five and six people (the reports differ), one of whom was the father of one of my good friends in highschool.

I haven’t kept up with “the gang” much since I left for college, but it was horrible to hear that Dave Yost’s dad was shot and killed in the middle of what should have been just another regular city council meeting. I spent many awesome summer days in Dave’s pool, and many winter evenings in his basement, hanging out with our group of friends, playing loud music, watching movies, and just having fun. I played Doom II for the first time at Dave Yost’s house. I kissed my highschool boyfriend for the first time at Dave Yost’s house.

I do remember his dad, because he used to come pick up Dave from other “parties” and take several of us home at the same time. I remember the first time Mr. Yost took me home and he asked me if I lived north or south of Manchester road. I said “Well, it depends on which way you’re coming from…” and everybody in the car just started rolling with laughter.

It was a bad night last night. And I hope you’re doing ok out there, Dave.

Winter Grains

On a related note, it’s interesting to see how the national media is characterizing the suburb I grew up in. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • NY Times : Kirkwood is a middle class community of about 27,000 people with a main street lined with shops and restaurants and many grand homes.
  • CNN : Kirkwood, a town of about 27,000 people, is about 10 miles west-southwest of St. Louis. Kirkwood’s Web site bills the city as “Queen of the St. Louis Suburbs” with high property values and quality public schools.
  • Canada Windsor Star: Kirkwood is a 9-square-mile (14-square-kilometer) city of 27,000 about 10 miles west of St. Louis that identifies itself as the “Queen of the St. Louis Suburbs,” according to its Web site. It says it was the first planned suburb west of the Mississippi River.
  • The AP: Kirkwood is about 20 miles southwest of downtown St. Louis. City Hall is in a quiet area filled with condominiums, eateries and shops, not far from a dance studio and train station.
  • The LA times has several quotes from my highschool principal and describes our city simply as “Kirkwood, a quiet, middle-class town west of St. Louis.”