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Rough Science 4 Death Valley: Ellen McCallie's diary: Aerial Surveyor

Updated Tuesday, 29th August 2006

Ellen McCallie's diary about the challenge for the Aerial Surveyor programme, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 4

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Science in flight: The team take to the air in a helicopter Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Day 1

Challenge: Determine the center and magnitude of the 1872 earthquake that occurred in this area by using botanical and geological skills.

  1. An aeroplane flight will give us the macro-view
  2. Determine the extent (length) of the earthquake
  3. We know the depth (15km) because this is standard in this area
  4. Determine good places to take measurements along the fault—looking for horizontal and vertical movement
  5. Find oases and describe why they are there—blocking water

Make instruments
Flight: Owens Lake to Big Pine. In Lone Pine, it is obvious that there was vertical and horizontal movement—a river and oases in a straight line. At Big Pine there is a cinder cone.

One of us threw up in the plane—I won’t say who. Not a smooth ride.

Day 2

Talk about a great day that was impossible to film! It’s nearly impossible to get a camera to see what it takes an extremely well-trained eye to see. As the light changed over the course of the day, it was tougher and tougher to make out evidence of the earthquake. In any case, we did make good measurements for both vertical and horizontal components of movement.

The oases were a refreshing and useful break…

Iain and I worked on calculations.

Day 3

For me, testing the balloon (Kathy and Jonathan’s challenge) turned out to be the best moment in this Rough Science series.

The day started early because we needed cold air in contrast to a warm sun. It was cloudy over Darwin Mine. No one was confident, but several of us were hopeful - willing to give it a “Rough Science try”. We changed location several times to try to get the sun from behind the clouds. Finally we found that the sun was out over the same place as we tested Jonathan’s rover in programme one.

The camera and sound crew got their stuff together quickly and were filming us, not so much because they thought anything would happen, but because they are professionals and their job is to always be ready - waiting, waiting, waiting for something to happen. Well, happen it did! As we took turns filling the balloon by wafting air into it by fanning the opening with cardboard (think of fanning a fire), we joked about how this was going to be our first big failure and it was made of binbags. Then, all of a sudden the balloon jumped off the ground and soared twenty feet into the air. Half of us just stood there dumbfounded, the other half screamed in amazement and delight. It worked; it worked! We ran around underneath it, waving. We jumped and hooted. All I could think about was building one of these at home with the kids in the neighbourhood.

Great success! Plus, the earthquake magnitude and location we determined were pretty close, too. Mike B. was due for great success this day as well—he scrubbed the carbon dioxide out and left oxygen in for healthy breathing. This is one amazing show to be a part of.





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