August 16, 2012
Here are some pics from our journey down the mountain yesterday:
Last morning in the Andes
Raul stopped by his grandmother’s farm to get some potatoes for breakfast, and to deliver to his family in Lima on our way back to the hotel.
And as a treat on our last day in the highlands we saw a herd of dozens of alpaca. yay!
A successful field session all around! Last night we arrived back in Lima. Tonight I gave my talk at the Geological Society of Peru. About 25 people came – not bad for a last minute meeting. And it was simultaneously broadcast to 5 other universities across Peru!
A few people were avidly interested, and we had a good discussion during the question session about other sequences in Peru, and other records of the mass extinction. Afterwards, a couple of people wanted copies of the slides. I chatted and had a bit of wine – finally!
Dave and I have both been a little sick – it seems inevitable with so much international adventuring. I’ve just got to keep my act together so I can finish up at the university tomorrow. I’ll discuss our results with Dra. Rosas, show her some fossils, and hopefully get started to plan my next visit here!
August 9, 2012
I keep promising myself I’ll go to bed sooner…
It’s been a whirlwind of microscope time and also getting to know our collaborator and her beautiful university. She took us to lunch and a tour around the campus. The arcitecture is a mix of mid century, local cubey-modular, and very modern.
Plus they have deer – wild deer – grazing around campus. This campus is surrounded by bustling Lima on all sides, so there’s nowhere for these deer to go but on campus. They’re totally docile and get along with the students. They don’t even eat the flowers!
Here’s a model the mining students made of the Chilean mining collapse and rescue route – I recognized it from a diagram at the Smithsonian from my visit last month. The Smithsonian has the escape pod on display. It’s so eerie.
We were in a rush to pack up so I had Dave catch a picture of what I’ve been doing all this time. Very glamorous! I especially love the dopey racoon face I have; combination of blinking and the goofy impressions the eyepieces leave on my face.
In the morning a truck picks us up early. I’ve packed everything back together with my gear ready for action. As we’ll be at elevation – over 5k meters! – we will not hike much tomorrow. I’m so excited to finally see these rocks. I’ve been looking at photographs and, now, microscopic images of them for so long. And before this trip I was holed up in my Los Angeles apartment for months doing math. It will be AMAZING to see real rocks, and hunt for our favorite fossils, once again!
August 8, 2012
Time for bed and a big day tomorrow. Nothing drastic to report. I’ve been ghost hunting all day.
Most things that live on planet Earth go extinct without leaving a fossil behind.
Today I’ve been ghost hunting. I’m searching microscope slides for pieces of ancient sponges that have been almost entirely obliterated by time and minerals.
It’s hard enough to even begin to preserve microscopic glass needles from a squishy sea floor sponge. Then the sediments became rocks, got buried under kilometers of other rocks, got cooked by contacting hot volcanic eruptions, and got uplifted and exposed in the enormous Andes mountains. A lot goes on during 201,300,000 years!
Maybe I’ll find more, and maybe I won’t. Either way, Friday we head to the Andes to look for fossils. I want to know what the marine ecology looked like on the shores of Pangea after a mass extinction. It’s not like I expect this to be easy. It’s time travel, and ghost hunting. I’m a Greek myth right now!
August 7, 2012
Ah, a quiet night in Lima. So much work to do! But this blog is a welcome way to procrastinate and process what we’ve done today.
I got to sleep around 3am; customs took about an hour longer than we expected, but was otherwise pleasant.
Honking notwithstanding, life in the touristy areas of Peru seems surprisingly laid back. Visitors and locals seem comfortable with their setting. The streets around Miraflores are packed with tourists, business people, ditch diggers, taxi workers, security guards, and police in determined expressions.
Dave and I walked to the coast to get our bearings, then headed to the Pontifica Universidad Catolica del Peru. Like our beloved USC, PUCP was a giant construction zone with classes out of session. We met with the chair of the engineering and mines department, Dr. Rosas. We had much to discuss; our field work starting Friday, her plans for new geology classes at the University, the rocks themselves. Dr. Rosas earned degrees published in Spanish, German, and English. Amazing!
And she’s an enviable organizer. All the microscope slides from her dissertation research are carefully numbered, stored in wooden boxes, and keyed to descriptions in her dissertation. Yikes! Dave and I marveled; what if a plucky young student from another contient comes to look at MY thin sections in 20 years? I should probably at least formalize my terribly haphazard system of nicknames for sponge-bearing rock units…
Then the best part – her new petrographic microscope with a color camera and computer attached. Heavenly! I’ve gotten spoiled using sedimentologist Frank Corsetti’s scope at USC, and didn’t guess I’d have access to a scope camera here.
So with a few hours to go, the hunt began. Microscope slides of rocks are fascinating; you can see every crystal of every grain of sand, the details in bubbles of muck that formed around sea shell fragments, even little burrows from microbes that bored into shells. The detail, however, is daunting. Overwhelming. In fact, the crystals are often new features that obliterated fossil fragments. I can play with the light and focus to find the ghosts of shells that disolved 200 million years ago. Spooky, no?
At first I felt like a kid in a candy store with so many slides – hundreds! to look at. Soon, though, it felt overwhelming. After all, Dr. Rosas worked on these for years herself. Is there anything special, some little clue, hidden among some of the slides that will help us decide where to look for fossils on Friday?
All day long people ask us, “Oh, when are you going to Cuzco?”, that being the hub for Machu Pichu travel. No one can really understand why we’re staying in Lima. At least half of the science that seems to happen on these expeditions happens in our heads, happens in hotels, happens while we’re standing in line at customs on the way back to US soil. When I’m not in the microscope room I’m thinking about the minerals and fossils I saw today. We’re talking over dinner about what to say in my talk next Wednesday.
Oh! Yes. Dr. Rosas invited me to give a talk at the Geological Society meeting on Wednesday. I jumped at the chance – but it will be a ton of work. Though I can do the talk in English, the audience will be “economic geologists”, miners. We speak very, very different languages. I may as well try to give the talk in French!
Yes, we made it to Lima and it’s beautiful! A great flight, no troubles. In a little later than expected. I’ll be up around 10:30 local time tomorrow, and ready to go to the university.
We took a taxi through town from the airport. Much of it feels like home, like Los Angeles. But the poverty is more pronounced, the building codes and practices more haphazard in the poor areas. For various reasons we’re staying at a fine hotel in the very clean touristy area of Miraflores. It’s beautiful.
I was able to converse with the cab driver well enough particularly because we drove along the coast. We talked about when people go to the beach, comparisons to LA. He was very familiar with Santa Monica and Malibu beaches from television. When reviewing spanish recently, mostly I could remeber sentences about going to the beach. I thought they would be totally useless in our academic setting, but at least I could use them tonight.
It really reminds me of an Eddie Izzard bit about how we know stock phrases of other languages that become impractical in daily situations. If anybody can post a link in the comments I’ll love you forever!
Well buenas noches! Pictures and posts I wrote on the plane tomorrow. Now for a good night’s sleep!!