Saturday, October 6, 2007

Christchurch Experiences: Earthquakes and Outreach

New Zealand hospitality is a lovely thing to wake up to! I am staying at the Windsor B and B, in a small building out back from the main house. At 7:30 am a gentle voice came over an intercom system from the main house and said, “Wakey, wakey. Good morning. Breakfast is now being served in the dining room. The time is now 7:30.”

You just don’t get that kind of greeting in the U.S.!

I dragged myself to breakfast, met up with my teammates, and enjoyed a glorious breakfast of kiwi and other fresh fruit, creamy rich yogurt, cereal, and a made-to-order hot breakfast of bacon and eggs. What a contrast to school day mornings when I am trying to get my kids off to school and prepare for my typical day!

I lingered over breakfast and, at 8:15, was still sitting at the table. I suddenly felt a strange dizziness and decided that I must still be suffering from the lack of sleep.

I later learned that there had been a small earthquake just north of Christchurch, centered in Hanmer Springs. I had just flown over that the previous day and noticed the fault lines so clearly visible from the air! This earthquake, a 5.3 magnitude quake on the Richter Scale, had not cause any damage – but it sure explained my sudden bout of dizziness! Like the San Andreas fault in California, this fault system is a complex array of faults. Geologists have determined that this small earthquake took place on one of the side faults. Evidently it is not an uncommon occurrence in New Zealand.

We were not doing outreach activities until the later in the day, so the ARISE team took the opportunity to wander through town, pick up items we forgot to bring (such as Ethernet cables, adaptors, sunglass holders), and visit the Canterbury Gardens again. Today was a much sunnier and warmer day, and as we wandered around smelling flowers, watching punting boats on the River Avon, basking in the sun we marveled at our great fortune to be here. We figured that we had to store up sun and warmth for awhile!

For lunch we went to a little cafe and promptly got into a heated discussion about what time it was back home. The ARISE team was from 3 different time zones in the US, plus New Zealand and Germany. (Additionally, we have a teammate from Italy, but he will not be down to the ice for another couple of weeks.) Finally, Louise picked up her cell phone and called her son in Chicago to ask what time it was. The answer: 6 hours later, but a day behind. In other words, we were calling at 2 pm on Thursday. At that very moment it was 8 pm on Wednesday evening in Chicago. In reality, an 18 hour time difference. What a strange feeling to be connected to someone in real time, and you are standing in two different days!

In fact, the time difference between New Zealand and Michigan is 7 hours (Michigan is 7 hours ahead, but a day behind.) When the U.S. goes on daylight savings time, the time difference will switch to a 6 hour gap. Conveniently, Antarctica stays on New Zealand time, so I will not have to switch time zones again once I am on the ice.

After establishing what time it was in different parts of the world, we came back to the hotel and prepared for our evening presentation. The evening event was to be geared primarily toward parents – mostly parents of the students who would be participating in the enrichment workshops the following day.

The evening started with Ken Mankoff, one of the ARISE team members who works for NASA and Columbia University as a climate modeler, and is one of the Inconvenient Truth lecturers trained by Al Gore. Ken gave a wonderful overview of An Inconvenient Truth to a very enthusiastic and supportive audience. The interesting thing was that, in the portion of the talk where Ken wanted to share “Things we can do to lessen the C02 buildup in the atmosphere” – he realized that New Zealand was already doing it all! They have windmills and solar panels, small fuel-efficient cars, water and materials recycling, fluorescent bulbs… They are an extremely environmentally conscious nation! Ken’s talk was nonetheless well received, and the audience pummeled him with excellent questions.

That talk was followed by the introduction of the ARISE team, where we all discussed what our background was, and what each of our projects would be on the ice and after our return to our schools.

Louise Huffman then followed with an overview of the ANDRILL program, the International Polar Year (IPY) and a bit about our forthcoming trip to the ice. Again, the audience asked many questions and were eager to know what we would be learning about.

In Christchurch, the Antarctic Program is a very big part of many people’s lives. Approximately 2000 people come through Christchurch each season en route for the ice. The hotel and restaurant owners, taxi and shuttle drivers often know more about what we are doing than we do! They know, for example, that everyone needs to go to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) to get their ECW (Extreme Cold Weather Gear) at precisely 1 pm the day before departure. Without even asking, the hotel owners request a shuttle to take their guests to the CDC! Similarly, everyone knows that on the day of departure, their guests leave and check out of the hotel. But often, the flights to McMurdo have to return due to unsuitable landing conditions in McMurdo. In other words, they are “Boomeranged.” The hotel owners do not reassign guest rooms for their Antarctic-bound guests until they know that the plane has safely landed and unloaded in McMurdo!

Similarly, due to their proximity to Antarctica, and their location as the “jumping off “ point, many New Zealand students know a great deal about Antarctica. We kept this in mind as we prepared for the student workshops the following day, in which we would be sharing hands-on activities about Antarctica and the ANDRILL mission to learn about Antarctica’s role in global warming.

After the adult presentations, we came back to our hotel to get prepared for our next day’s sessions.

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