When I signed up for the Potential Field Magnetics I had no idea what a great experience was in store. The most important thing was that I learned many of the techniques I needed for my research. But probably the most interesting was that somehow, our course ended up with no guys in it. For those not familiar with the state of women in graduate-level science studies, girls are still very much in the minority (though you couldn’t tell by looking at the geology department at USF). So having a PhD level science class with an all female enrollment is very unusual!
Our instructors decided on a pretty ambitious field project for the course. We were going volcano hunting in the Amargosa Valley of Nevada. A magnetic survey by airplane a number of years ago had detected several anomalies beneath the desert sand. These anomalies were given letter designators; anomaly A, B, C, etc… The resolution of this survey was very low, so little was known about the actual features of this buried volcano Our goal was to do a high-resolution walking magnetic survey to fill in details that the aeromag survey couldn’t see. The area in question was large for a ground-based survey and would require a fairly intense walking schedule to complete in the time frame of the trip. So we borrowed a second magnetometer and split into two teams to cover more ground.
While preparing for this trip, it became apparent that we girls had some unforseen challenges to work out. Case in point, the design of of the magnetometer and it’s harness. Some of us were a little too skinny for smallest setting on the waist strap. But the biggest problem (pun intended) was that the designers clearly assumed the wearer would be, um, well, flat-chested. As you can see in the picture one of my friends took, the unfortunate placement of the computer screen meant some or all of the screen was not visible. Luckily we worked in teams, and if needed, your walking buddy could check the read-out for you (I’ve heard that the newer versions of this system have addressed this little issue).
We flew into Las Vegas then drove out to Amargosa Valley, which is a strange place. It’s the kind of strange that only Nevada can put together: vast flat desert surrounded by beautiful and desolate mountain ranges, and long, straight roads with a few quirky buildings. The only thing for miles around our study site was the Longstreet Casino Hotel – which feels like walking inside an eccentric aunt’s living room from the 1980’s, the Area 51 Truck stop/cafe/strip club, and a few derlict buildings from tourist eras gone by.
The weather was actually pretty nice, the spring brought mild temps and breezy days. We had to wait out a rainstorm one morning, which turned out to be a great thing because a few days later when we explored Death Valley, the rain made the wildflowers bloom all over the desert! I’ll share some Death Valley photos in a later post.
The mountains were strikingly beautiful, especially when the rainstorm came through. I could not resist snapping a few landscape pictures while we were out working.
Our data turned out to be fascinating, and a little creepy. When we compiled the map of our survey after the first two days of work, the magnetic anomaly looked like a clown or jester smiling at us from under the sand. We thought it was a fluke of how we had walked the survey lines, so we intentionally walked some more lines over the “face” to add some resolution. Nope. Only made it worse. This anomaly was called Anomaly B on aeriel surveys of the region, so we started calling it the Bozo Anomaly.
All the walking in the deserts sand was very hard on feet, ankles and knees, and by mid-week, the effects were starting to show in blisters and bruises.