Mary Cook, December 5, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
December 5, 2004 – January 7, 2005

Mission: Climate Prediction for the Americas
Geographical Area: Chilean Coast
Date: December 2-5, 2004

Personal Log

This afternoon we will board the NOAA Research Vessel RONALD H. BROWN and depart from Arica, Chile and steam westward for the Stratus buoy. I look forward to this adventure with great anticipation and a little trepidation. I’ve never been out to sea for three weeks and can’t help wondering how I will react to this challenging environment. I’ve already met several of the crew and scientists, all of whom have been very cordial and hospitable. I look forward to interviewing them, working with them and just getting to know these incredible people who’ve dedicated themselves to this research effort that will help us better understand the Earth’s systems and benefit mankind in so many ways.

As I reflect upon the last few days since we’ve arrived in Chile, I am overwhelmed by all the wonderful experiences that have been bestowed upon me. First of all, I must mention my mentor Dr. Diane Stanitski. She is a great teacher and a sincere encourager. She is patient yet exudes an energy that’s contagious. Diane has already gained my trust and I look forward to her continued mentoring. Another person with whom I have worked closely is Dr. John Kermond. Dr. Kermond’s the movie-maker. He makes documentaries for NOAA. He’s a very good coach for a novice like me, and a fine tour guide, too. Both he and Diane have put me at ease, modeled proper on-camera techniques and given me advice that’s helped me considerably. I like being their student because I’ve witnessed their expertise and I know they genuinely have a love for this work. What more could a student ask for?

Well, let me tell about some of the sights we’ve seen in the last couple of days while waiting for the cruise to begin. We’re staying at the Hotel Arica. It’s a resort situated right on the beach. I can hear the big waves crashing on the rocks and smell the salty air from my room. It’s a very comforting sensation. The first morning here as I walked along the beach and out on the rocks looking at the ocean, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! There’s just something about it that causes my spirit to soar. It’s so mysterious and grandly beautiful.

Then Diane and I went to the ship to participate in a tour for school children from the Escuela America. The mayor of Arica and the local television station were there, too. The kids were great, well-behaved and asked interesting questions! They were third graders and eighth graders. This tour is part of the education efforts of the NOAA.

After the tour, we went to the top of El Morro, a hill that looks like a giant mound of sand. It stands guard over Arica with a statue of an open-armed Jesus overlooking the city and the harbor. We shot a movie clip of Diane and me giving a brief history of Arica.

The next day we journeyed into the Atacama Desert and Andes mountains to have a look. But first we stopped to get water and food because we were going into such a remote area. Wow! The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on the Earth. It’s a stark yet breathtaking sight to behold. Even though this is a desert there’s abundant evidence of water erosion where a multitude of rounded rocks have been carried into gullies.

As we were driving we suddenly began to see some interesting cacti. These were the Candelabro cacti which grow only between 2500-2800 meters elevation. They have a narrow life zone and are fragile for that reason alone. We were told by a local Chilean woman that they grow very slowly and only after about 30 years will the cactus begin to grow the branches at the top. Diane and I also collected a few rocks to take back to my classes.

As we continued along the main highway that connects Bolivia to the ocean, we stopped at Pueblo de Mallku. This is a village of six! Actually, it’s a homesteaded property of a very interesting family who are conducting the Center for Renewable Energy Resources in conjunction with the university in Arica. They live out in the middle of the desert in a nearly subsistence lifestyle with their closest neighbors being several miles away. They were eager to show us their setup which was quite amazing. They have a solar oven, solar water heater, and a high-tech electrical generator. They have built their dwelling from hand-mixed adobe and cactus logs. They home school their children who’ve compiled a book of local plants and animals along with traditional indigenous Chilean instructional songs on cultivation and medical uses of the plants. During our visit they served us tea with bread and jam. It was quite tasty. The tea was a concoction of leaves and boiling water that will help a body adjust to the extreme altitude.

After we said our goodbyes, we continued to ascend toward the Chungara Lake area. As we went higher and higher on the winding road, two snow-capped volcanoes came into view! I noticed the air started to get very chilly and it was windy. We saw llamas and alpacas grazing in the mountain meadows along the snow-melt streams from the mountaintops. These animals are curious critters! When we stopped for a photo op, they’d perk up their ears, take a long look at us, chew for awhile as though they were thinking about us, then move away occasionally looking back to see if we were looking back. We were fortunate to get to meet a pet alpaca named Cookie. Cookie likes to eat cookies. She was owned by some merchants who had a craft stand near the border stop. John dug out the last of the coconut cookies and shared them with Cookie. She was a true blue friend after that! Cookie’s fur is thick wool and can sell for a high dollar in the U.S.

At this point we were at about 14,000 feet elevation and I was really feeling it. I had a headache, dizziness, and my leg muscles were quivering from fatigue only after a short walk. I didn’t drink enough tea back at Pueblo de Mallku! So we got back in our trusty Puegot and descended to a village called Putre. Putre is a town that caters to tourists. They were happy to see us and very outgoing. Everyone we saw said “Hola” and waved with a smile. We went into a tiny grocery store and purchased supper. We had meat, egg, and olive stuffed empanadas followed by a delicious fig and coconut pastry.

We then took the long and winding road in total darkness back to Arica.

Now I am aboard the NOAA Ship RONALD H. BROWN and we’ve been sailing for six hours. No land in sight. We’ve had two meetings and a delicious supper in the galley. They have an interesting sign in the eating area that says, “Eat it and beat it” There aren’t enough chairs to seat all 45 people at once so when we finish eating we must get up and go elsewhere. It seems everyone has lots of work to do anyway.

Our first meeting was about ship rules and regulations with a focus on safety. We will have our surprise fire drill tomorrow at 2:15 pm promptly! Our science meeting was about the several scientific endeavors and the logistical problems to solve. Our chief scientist Dr. Bob Weller of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, encouraged us all to be helpful and considerate.

Some members of the Chilean Navy and Concepcion University are on board to deploy a tsunami detecting buoy which will get underway tomorrow afternoon. We will be deploying CTDs (conductivity, temperature, and depth sensors), and ARGO floats which go down 2000 meters then float to the surface measuring salinity and temperature. Once they break the surface then they send the information to a satellite. These floats then go back down and do it all over again. We’ll also be sending up radiosondes (weather-balloons) and tossing out drifting buoys which measure temperature, pressure, and ocean current pathways. Then the “biggie” is the Stratus 5 buoy! We’ll be out into the Pacific Ocean about 800 miles off the coast of Chile when we do this work which will take about six days. All this stuff is so cool I can’t believe I actually get to witness and participate in even a small way! I’m amazed. I’ll be giving you more information as the time comes so stay in touch and don’t forget to look at the pictures.


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