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Jun 24, 2013

Project Heracles: The Field Work, Part I

Field work, Day 1, was mostly spent unpacking the car, setting up and organizing the field office, establishing the survey base, and disassembling the first batch of seismic stations that had been recording since last September. Then it was off to the supermarket for basic supplies such as 2 liter bottles of water, sandwich making material, tomatoes, cucumbers, retsina, and ouzo. The absolute basics.

Days 2 and 3 were mostly spent in that nasty form of field limbo that geophysicists are sent to when things don't work: waiting for permits, endless discussions about why things don't work, and making trips to get parts and odds and ends. But despite the threat of rain, we made our first passive seismic measurements in Midea. Hurrah!
Klaus, Gregor, Hector and Evi leveling seismometers in Midea
Evi measuring a GPS location on a rock in Tiryns (they're digging in the wrong place, Indie!)
 Another important accomplishment was checking the extent of our new differential GPS in preparation for measuring a gravity profile extending all the way from Tiryns to Midea. Measuring gravity requires precise locations, especially elevation, because gravitational anomalies – those are the interesting things – can only be well modeled if the single points that are measured with a gravimeter are well known. The tidal corrections, elevation corrections, geoid corrections, etc. and so on, all depend on the accuracy of the locations. We are using a Scintrex CG-5 gravimeter that our Belgian colleagues Michel von Camp and Thierry Camelbeeck at the Royal Observatory in Brussels haven generously lent us for the experiments.

While doing our base station tests, we stopped near the house where we had installed a seismometer last year. The nice Greek grandmother who owns the house saw us and made us come inside where she plied us with cucumbers (from her garden), melons (from the neighbor's garden) and fresh well water. I wouldn't have understood a word of her non-stop exuberant conversation if it hadn't been for our versatile and multi-talented geophysicist helper Evi Seferou. Evi kept up a simultaneous translation of Grandma's speech which alternated between exhortations (Eat! Eat! You are all too thin!) and stories about her children, her garden, and whether we wanted to stay the night and keep her company. We brought her cookies the next day, and she yelled even more loudly over the fence and gave us more cucumbers to take home.
A very nice Greek grandmother. Part of me wanted to take her home with us.
 Day 4 was also mostly spent in discussions – it seems that the Greeks are very keen on this. Then after all the tiniest details had been covered, we began to clear the East Gallery in Tiryns in preparation for the 3D laser scanning. It was rank under-gardener work with an industrial weed cutter and hand-pulling dried grasses and the occasional Spritzgurke. Science at its least glamorous. These are the pictures they don't show you in the BBC or Nova presentations about how science works.

Under-gardening on a Mycenaean ruin

Friends for life - Gregor and an industrial-strength weedeater.
 Saturday, we worked until late afternoon – first measuring the gravity along the windy road leading up the slope to the acropolis of Midea. We were only seriously interrupted once by a goat-herding Greek grandmother (the second grandmother in a series of four). She wanted us to move the car because the goats wouldn't go past it. Superstitious goats? Not fond of French cars (Citroen)? She screamed at us (and not the goats) but did not offer us either cucumbers or melons. Her daughter came with a stick and length of thick rubber hose to encourage the goats to follow her. The hose made a low frequency noise as she dragged it behind her that enticed the goats. 

Goat and grandmother
 Evi told me that all the small landholders here have goats or sheep, a few olive or orange trees and impressive gardens (for cucumbers and melons). The government pays a small amount per annum to promote the continuance of the local farming economy. It's not enough to live on. Most of the farmers produce enough for their own use but not much more. 

The road goes ever on and on - the windy drive leading to ancient Midea, for example
Just call me the human raisin because that's what I'll be after another week in the Greek countryside with average temperatures around midday of 34o C in the shade. The east European heat wave is holding strong (probably at least until September), and is now accompanied by a hot wind. This is the perfect weather for a sweaty day in the field. It's the beginning of our second week.
 We completed the planned gravity profile between Tiryns and Midea (40 points total) and three passive seismic arrays. It was not easy. Another screaming Greek grandmother – the Greek name for them is giagiá (pronounced yaya – with emphasis on the second syllable) – threatened the passive seismic crew (Klaus-G. Hinzen and Gregor Schweppe) until Evi calmed her down and convinced her we were not out to steal her land or the hidden gold. Greek men on mopeds were asking what we – Evi and I, the gravity crew – were doing on their land. Our story was convincing enough: that we are investigating the substructure, searching for local faults. One cute Greek guy asked if we were looking for gold. Apparently everyone believes there are hordes of gold secreted all over Greece. Nearly everyone has a map from someone's grandfather with an 'x marks the spot'. Myself, I would just be happy with a hidden grotto with cool spring water and some shade trees.
Hot but not bothered

Next up, Laser scanning, wildlife, and more! Greek grandmothers.

Jun 18, 2013

Women on Wednesday Interview

Reproduced below is my interview with the Pubslush blog Women on Wednesday feature. Pubslush is an interesting and potentially useful crowdfunding concept that also contributes to increasing literacy (focused on children) with giving partners (for example, Flying Kites in Kenya). They are a hybrid corporation (that is, they have both profit and non-profit status.) I am not affiliated with Pubslush and have no experience with their publishing arms and therefore cannot say anything about them, either good or bad, but they included an interview with me on their website and I'm grateful for that. My advice is, if you are interested in such a venture and want to be a part of their team, look at the terms carefully, and then ask them for more details before entering into any binding agreement - which you do even if you submit to them.

Here's the link to the interview, and again, my appreciation to Genevieve Little of Pubslush for including me.

Jun 16, 2013

Project Heracles: On the Road

will clean windows for pizza
I had always suspected there were fairies (die Feen) in Germany, but I didn't expect to meet one at an Autobahn rest stop on the drive from Cologne to Tiryns, Greece for this year's geophysical measurements. This charming Fee was short on cash and wanted to wash our windshield for lunch money.

After a short piece of road and an even shorter piece of Austria, we crossed the Brenner Pass into Italy. The sun shone as we descended to the Po Valley. I tried to calculate how many of the vineyards we passed were there only to support my annual wine intake, but thought better of it.

approaching the Brenner Pass
Early evening, we arrived in Forli, a sleepy university town just south of Bologna, where we had a scrumptious dinner at a cozy Trattoria. I had homemade ravioli in a cream sauce with green asparagus accompanied by a crisp white wine (only a small portion of vineyard) and one too many Limoncellos.

Our ferry trip next morning from Ancona to Patras proceeded with nary a problem. Rain clouds chased us from the harbor but then gave up and hugged the coastline.We sat on deck all afternoon and again the next day until we docked. The frolicking dolphins showed up during the few minutes I went back to the cabin to freshen up (and disappeared before I returned). I finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, our Worlds of Wonder Book Club selection for June. I also read Double Double, a memoir cowritten by one of my favorite mystery authors, Martha Grimes with her son Ken.

 After debarking in Patras, the drive to Tiryns was by turns laborious and grueling due to the perpetual (and seemingly perpetually halted) road construction for most of the way.

Anthemion Guest House, our regular 'field hotel' located on the outskirts of Napflion was there to welcome us, along with its friendly and accommodating proprietor, Sofia. It felt like a home away from home. We met the students for dinner (at Scuola in Napflion) and anticipated the first day of field work.

Jun 5, 2013

HERACLES: Archeoseismology in Tiryns, Greece, Year 2

T-3 days and counting to take-off. Okay, geophysical field work is not as exciting as going into space, granted, but for a solid earth geophysicist, the earth's surface - and near surface - is not only The Final Frontier, it's the only frontier. Planetary, oceanic and atmospheric geophysicists - your frontier (and mileage) may vary.

The pile of things we have to load into our departmental VW Caddy is growing by the minute. Literally. Saturday we will hit the road, driving first from Bensberg, Germany to Ancona, Italy (it's where the calf bulges out on Italy's boot). Getting on the car ferry. Then after debarking from Patras, Greece, driving the rest of the way to Tiryns where we hope to arrive on Sunday evening (and immediately descend on Scuola, our favorite Italian restaurant - even if it is in Greece, they have the best Caesar salad I've ever had in Europe).

Last year we had a monster Mercedes van from the Sonderforschungsbereich 'Our Way to Europe' of the Uni Cologne. It even had the motto, 'Our Way to Europe' painted on the side. Given the shaky nature of European relations at the time, we covered it up with our magnetic, Erdbebenstation Bensberg sign, hoping that wouldn't incite the Greek natives to come at us with pitchforks and torches quite as much. This year we're leaner and meaner since we're not taking the seismic refraction equipment with us. The passive seismic stations are still in Greece from last year where they've been recording local events for the past nine months, powered by battery and solar panels.

Our work this year will mainly be concentrated in Midea (we hope - we still haven't gotten the permission to work there - ah, Greek bureaucracy!), another fortified palace ruin on its own hill about 7 km northeast of Tiryns. (updated: we got the permission today - T-2 days. Do they read blogs there?)

The excitement (and the terror) of this year's field work is that we have purchased a differential GPS instrument that we'll be using for the first time in Tiryns/Midea and we'll be 'test driving' our new (also leaner and meaner) 3D laser scanner. Most field geophysicists are uniquely suited to these kind of experiments that I call, 'let's take a bunch of new equipment we've never tested before and go out in the field.' That's not because we're so smart, it's because we're flexible. We have to be. When you have cables and electronic devices and sensitive instruments, combined with weather extremes, precipitation and the unknown variables that always come into play during a measurement, something always goes wrong.

But it pays to be philosophical (translate: stock up on ouzo and Retsina and Mythos).

This is a big reason to look forward to the end of the working day at Tiryns.
 Our measurement plans this year include gravity measurements - this time with an ambitious plan to extend a profile from Tiryns to Midea - passive seismic (H/V), Transient electromagnetics (with a Greek colleague), and the laser scanning.

Dida from Tiryns
Käse from Anthemion House

Barbara from Midea
Our Greek colleagues from the animal world will be waiting for us as well. (Note to self: don't forget the dog and cat treats).

I'll be posting on our progress (with pictures) on the journey to Tiryns (it will be my first time to cross the Italian Alps) and, time permitting, on the measurements.

Jun 2, 2013

The Schattenreich series, A Tale of Druids, Seismology and an Evil Blonde and the Moonlight Special

Does anyone remember this?
The infamous Blue Light

 I do. I remember it used to scare the crap out of me when being dragged around Kmart when I was a kid. But my dad claims that everything, even space, scared me when I was little. For me, space was apparently not the final frontier, but the source of nightmares. I don't remember this. At least not much. My father told anyone and everyone about it (and still does), and I quote, "Sharon always used to wake up screaming, 'the space is taking me,' when she was little." Well, yeah. Didn't every kid? No? Oh, well.

Space is frightening when you're only two feet tall.

The Blue Light Special was effective in getting your attention, at least mine, but not in a good way.

So I tried to think of what would be the appropriate Blue Light Special for the Schattenreich series. But in a good way. There are two moons in the Schattenreich. And currently two books out. So instead of a blinking, scary, loud blue light, I offer muted,only moderately creepy moonlight.

And the following Moonlight Specials for June: the Kindle version of the first two books in the Schattenreich series.

From June 1 - June 13. Primary Fault. On sale on Amazon worldwide. price is $0.99 (Prices are adjusted according to your currency for Amazon outlets outside the U.S.)

"If you enjoy the occult, paranormal adventure, romance, police procedural, suspense, murder and many mixtures of each, this is the work you are looking for. Well-spaced and easy to read, Primary Fault would be a great addition to your library." ~Leslie Wright from TicToc.

FREE from June 05 to June 09, 2013. Shaky Ground. Currently exclusive to Amazon worldwide.

What readers have said:

"The plot not only thickens, it vibrates."

"Shaky Ground is solid and satisfying."

 "An intricate pleasing puzzle."

photo credit: Luz Adriana Villa A. via photopin cc
photo credit: Patrick Hoesly via photopin cc