Erica at Sea

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Labasa Install – 27 October

As soon as we arrived back in Suva, it was time to pack up for our trip the next morning to Labasa, a city in the northern part of Vanua Levu (the second largest island of Fiji). Compared to the Twin Otter, the plane we flew on to Vanua Levu was much larger – with something like 15 rows and 4 seats across. As soon as we arrived in Labasa, a relative of one of our colleagues in Suva brought us out to the place where we would install the station. The site is pretty far outside the city down a series of gravel and dirt roads, on land where kava is grown.

We had a large number of helpers – friends and family from the nearby village – so the installation went very quickly. Once again, our station has a great view of the surrounding hills. Because we had plenty of time at the end of the day, we were treated to another fantastic home-cooked meal at the family’s house and a couple of bowls of kava before we headed back into the city to our hotel.

Taveuni Install – 25 October

After a week of waiting for equipment, we finally installed our first seismometer at Taveuni, “the garden island” north of Viti Levu (the main island) and east of Vanua Levu (the second largest island). The flight we took to Taveuni was on a Twin Otter, which was the smallest plane I had ever been on. It was so small, we almost didn't get all of our equipment onto the plane. We flew at only about 6,000 feet and had a great view of the ocean and reef below us.

When we arrived at the island, we installed our temporary (broadband) station right next to a permanent (short period) station on government land. Having the station on government property next to an already installed station provides a little extra security for our equipment – the people who live there can keep an eye on the site. The only drawback to the installation was the large boulders of volcanic rock that we had to remove as we dug holes for the sensor and for the solar panel mounts. When we finished, we realized that the station we installed had a fantastic view of the ocean from the hill where we buried it.
Following the work, we were treated to a fantastic home-cooked meal: fish in coconut sauce, eggplant, taro and salad at the rest-house where we stayed. Later that night, we had a few bowls of kava with our very friendly host and some of his friends. From what I did see, the island is lush and very beautiful – lots of coconut and papaya trees. Unfortunately, we were not able to stay on Taveuni for very long – our flight was at 8 am the next morning.

The Components of a Seismic Station

Each of our stations require a seismometer which responds to vibrations in the Earth, a data-logger which turns the motion into a digital record and stores it onto a disk, a large battery to provide power to the equipment, and a solar panel to recharge the battery. If any of those components fail, then the station cannot continue to record data. So prior to traveling to the station sites, we test the equipment to make sure that it is working properly. In the field, the true challenge is doing everything quickly enough to finish before dark. Typically a temporary station like the ones we are building takes about 3 hours to complete – but frequently hang-ups occur (for instance - finicky equipment, rocky ground, broken tools, and bad weather are common problems we encounter).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

18 October

Today is our first day off in Fiji. We are still waiting for the instruments we shipped to get out of customs. During the past couple days, we drove all around Suva to buy hardware and other supplies. We also began to prepare the wooden mounts we will use for the stations' solar panels. Due to the original delay with our trans-Pacific flight and the delay in obtaining the seismometers due to public holidays here in Fiji, it seems as if the start of our (already) tight schedule will be pushed back by three days. Hopefully, we will still be able to install the nine seismometers on the islands within the remaining week and a half.

Despite the unfortunate set-backs, I am very much enjoying my first few days here. One of the highlights so far is 'Diwali' – the Indian festival of lights – on Saturday October 17th. From an outsider's perspective, this holiday has taught me that all people – no matter where they live – love fireworks. As I watched the fireworks being set off all around the city of Suva from the balcony of my hotel, I was reminded of my most recent 4th of July – spent in Great Falls, Montana. The only difference is that here I watched the fireworks explode over palm trees instead of rocks and dirt.

I am also really enjoying the food here in Fiji. I have big plans to eat as much fresh fish as I can before I go home to middle part of the country. For last night's dinner, we ate at the floating restaurant in the harbor. This was a real treat with the tasty selection of fresh fish and the perfect evening breeze coming in off of the water. As an added bonus, we enjoyed our meals while rocking back and forth on the water (just like old times). I tried kokoda, which a type of salad with tomatoes and walu (fish). Even though 'fish' doesn't normally spring to mind when I think 'salad', I will have to make sure that I get to eat kokoda at least once more before I leave Fiji – it was very tasty. Today, we went for a stroll through the garden park and the waterfront near the old Parliament building in Suva. We weren't the only ones taking advantage of the fabulous weather. A number of families, soccer players, pigeons and stray dogs were all hanging out there with us. Hope you enjoy the pictures, more to come later...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Celebrating the Sunsets

Due to popular demand, I've decided to put up a collection of my sunset pictures. About 1 hour before the sun sinks below the horizon, a small group of boat-dwellers and marine mammal personnel gather up on the whale-watching tower and enjoy the cool breeze of early evening. Most days, the sky is filled with puffy white clouds, which reflect beautiful shades of pink and orange as the sun disappears behind the ocean.

On the clear days, we wait in anticipation hoping to catch the flash of green just as the sun sets. I haven't seen the flash yet, although I have seen a faint green halo around the sun as it began to set. A couple of the guys claim that they saw this elusive flash a few days ago; and of course, they then tried to make us all horribly jealous. Although the sunrises I saw were beautiful, I think that I like the sunsets even better. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Night Sky

Since the moon isn't full anymore, the rest of the night sky is absolutely brilliant. On a clear night, there are thousands of stars littered across the sky. In the past week, I've seen some of the most amazing night skies of my life.

Since I switched from the night shift to the day shift, I was able to see the planet of Venus sinking to the west, an hour or so after sunset (~8-9 pm). Venus is only ever visible in the night sky just after sunset or just before sunrise, because it's closer to the sun than the Earth is. Unfortunately, the only time I was able to get a picture of it with my camera was shortly after sunset; compared to the sun, it is quite dim. This picture is from February 21st, and Venus is the dot in the top right of the picture (you have to look very hard to see it).

At first, the southern sky was so foreign to me that I didn't recognize any of the stars except those in the constellations of Orion and Canis Major - which can also be seen in the northern sky. But after some help from the guys on the bridge (and a neat navigation program on their computer), I've finally seen the Southern Cross that everyone mentions. Some other familiar favorites are the Pleiades, and the Big Dipper. I didn't even think that I would be able to see the Big Dipper in the southern hemisphere, but early in the morning, part of it is visible just above the northern horizon.

It really isn't easy to pick out constellations, because there are thousands of stars in the sky. After a while, I became content to just lay on the picnic table on the deck or on the ropes in front of the bridge and watch the stars sway back and forth with the rocking boat. With a cool breeze and the sound of the waves crashing against the bow, it's quite possibly the best way to end the day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Perfect Sunrises

One of the best parts about working from midnight to noon is that I have many chances to catch the sunrise. I think I have watched more sunrises in the past 3 weeks than I've seen in my entire life. And, as long as the sky isn't completely overcast, every sunrise is absolutely perfect. My favorite place to watch them is on the small piece of deck in front of the bridge, just behind the bow. A bunch of large, coiled ropes provide a pretty comfy seat, and the cool, humid breeze coming up over the bow is the best. If I wasn't so eager to watch the sun come up, I probably could take a pretty nice nap there.
I hope you enjoy these - I certainly did!