Thursday, March 30, 2006


Uno mas dias.

We flew our last research flight here in Mexico yesterday, and it was a banner flight for many instruments. One of the people on board measures SO2, and he reported a concentration of 300 ppb at one point as we flew over a refinery just south of Mexico city, and later he figured that it might be closer to 500 ppb after he did a calibration. This is very VERY high! CN spiked at the same time, as did sulfuric acid, and we could even smell the pollution in the cabin.

I got some great pictures that show the pollution really well:

Here you can see the haze that obscures the mountains in the background, as well as the contrast between it and the blue sky above. Just below the clouds is the massive layer of pollution that we were approaching.

Now we're over Mexico city, and we could barely see the ground due to the pollution. Just below us the ground was somewhat visible, and a little further away was almost completely obscured.

Here we are not far above the downtown area, and you can JUST make out the skyscrapers in the upper half of this photo.

And finally, contrast that against this last picture, where we are out of the pollution to the east of Mexico City, and can actually see a few layers of mountains off in the distance.

So today I am packing up both my personal belongings and our equipment for the shipment home. I am to fly on the ferry back to Jeffco in Boulder, which means that I don't need to get up at 0400 for the 0700 departure on the once-daily Continental flight that goes through Houston. Ours is a direct 4 - 5 hour flight, mostly at altitude, with only some of the instruments running due to a very short 15-minute preflight warm-up. Then I have two (2!) weeks and two days before I ride the ferry up to Seattle for INTEX-B. I'd better get packing...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


I got to see sunrise this morning from 9000 feet, just above a layer of fluffy clouds. Of course, that meant that I was awake REALLY early. We had an early morning flight with a takeoff time of 0400 local time, which meant that we had to be at the plane at 0300, which meant leaving the hotel around 0230, which meant getting up around 0200. And somehow I'm still awake. The crazy part is that not only did I get up at 0200, I was awake at 2300 last night for over an hour because I had a harsh fever. I have no idea what my temperature was, because of course my thermometer is at home in Boulder. Regardless, I've had a cold for a few days, mostly in my throat and yesterday it found my sinuses. I had a mild fever on and off yesterday, but it hit me hardest a couple hours after I went to sleep. I was almost resigned to having to miss the flight (very intersting from a radical point-of-view, or so I thought going in) when I fell asleep around 0030 this morning. But when my alarm woke me up at 0200 I was in the middle of my fever breaking and I figured I could muscle through. As it happened, by about 0500, I was feeling great!

Getting ill in a foreign country isn't much fun. It's not terrible when you've got a lot of colleagues who are all outfitted with Tylenol Cold, Advil Cold and Sinus, and Sudafed Non-dowsy (where is that trademark symbol when you need it?) And really, a cold isn't that big a deal - just give me some nice soft tissues and I'll be happy. What I'm more concerned about is the streak that I have in my elbow. I noticed it not long after arriving here in Mexico, and it has pretty much stayed the same. (That means that I'm pretty sure it happened here, but not positive.) I would have expected it to darken, or lighten, or do *something*, but no: it's the same. The only thing that has changed is that the little red spot on the left (see the picture) used to be more of a raised bright red spot, like a bug bite.

Anyone have any idea what this could be? I've looked it up, and I'm pretty sure it's not Lyme disease, and I'm also pretty sure that I didn't get bitten by a brown recluse spider, although really - I'm not a doctor and I don't really have the best knowledge on these matters. I do know that I had strange pains in my left arm a couple days ago, and that I have had a couple instances over the last week where I have felt a tightness in my chest, like I've been having trouble breathing. I'm trying to not be too freaked out about that. After all, there is a lot to be said for what we go through on the plane - I've almost gotten accustomed to the feeling of "not having your land-legs back" that always hits me about an hour after we land. It's a sudden buzz-like sensation where the world starts to vibrate just a little, and you can't catch up. It lasts anywhere from a half hour to a couple hours, and then goes away without much fanfare. Considering how much we're jostled about on the plane, it's not terribly surprising.

Friday, March 24, 2006

home on the range

as becky has mentioned two weeks have passed by on her trip to mexico, one week has almost come to an end as a single parent. last week my mom (marianne) and my aunt jill were here for a great visit. they left bright and early sunday morning, so kai and i have been on our own ever since. because it was just the two of us i decided that we should go out a bit more at night than we usually do during the week, it has certainly made the week go by faster. i also worked at the rec centre four days this week which helped as well. kai and i are are doing well and each time he asks for his mom i tell him how many days until she comes home. when i told him today seven more days, he said " no today daddy". he will usually ask when he is in trouble and i am getting cross with him. outside of these times he has been doing great.

as becky has previously posted we went to the banff mountain film festival not too long ago. while there we took a look at the booths of the different sponsoring companies and non -profits represented. one of these booths was the colorado mountain club, which was gong to be holding a draw for a free one year membership. becky and i both entered and low and behold just last week they called to tell me i had won. i received a free membership as well as a choice between two courses they offer, i picked their basic rock school. for two nights in april i will attend lectures and then three climbing field trips. the really nice thing about this whole thing is that becky was going to give me a climbing course for my birthday and now instead of spending the money on a course i can buy my own gear and not have to rent or borrow.


As of tomorrow, I will have been here in Mexico for 2 weeks, and it has gone by really quickly. My days consist of either "no fly days", where we are given access to the plane for 8 hours and allowed to work on the instruments, "fly days", where we are given 3 hours to do preflight preparation (and work on the instrument, where necessary, given that we can't tear things apart too much) and then anywhere from 6 to 9 hours of flights, and "hard down days", where we aren't given access to the plane, and we ARE given access to tour around, relax by the pool, go shopping, etc. Evenings usually see us in either the local taco bars, the 100% Natural restaurant (just think "Boulder food"), an Italian joint with amazing seafood dishes, an Argentian steakhouse - most expensive by FAR, or a few other haunts that have been scoped out time and again for good food. The locals usually eat around 8 or 9 PM, and we have also settled into eating at a similar time, partially due to the workload, and partially because it just seems to fit.

I'm just coming off two consecutive fly days, and I got a few pictures that are worth sharing:

So here I am in my seat... ambient temperature ranges from about 30 to 35 degrees C, and the air coming out at my feet ranges from about 35 to 43 degrees C. That's the reason for the piece of very technical cardboard that is taped to the rack at my knees. Our keyboards are handheld, which doesn't make the aircraft guys very happy - they prefer to have everything strapped in. Hence, we have to stow them for takeoff and landing. It is VERY loud on the plane, and although I can get by with no ear protection, we are almost always wearing these noise-cancelling headsets. They're more for communication than anything - we have a number of channels to talk to either everyone, or a few people, or just the people hooked into our station, but most of the time my co-workers and I just wear our headsets a little off one ear and we shout to each other so that we can stay connected to the rest of the scientists on board, and more importantly to the mission scientist who lets us know when we're going to change headings and/or altitudes.

Yesterday we flew over the Yucatan, and one of the main things that they've got going for them down there are constant fires. Here you can see both the fire burning down below, as well as the smoke and haze that are created as a result.

We has some pretty spectacular clouds to view yesterday, too. These were from near the end of our flight, just before we had to turn around to avoid a pretty nasty thunderstorm. Fortunately, the thunderstorm was not in Veracruz where we were headed. Our landing, though bumpy, wasn't that bad. It's hard to see, but in the first picture here there are rows of mountains below us.

This was actually from Sunday, when we did our last intercomparison with the NASA DC-8. The two planes fly "wingtip to wingtip" (from this far apart) and we are essentially sampling the same air so that we can compare our two instruments. The DC-8 is a much larger and longer range plane than our C-130, but it has a similiar suite of instruments, so it is worthwhile comparing their results. They were based out of Houston, but they've already started their downtime in preparation for Intex-B, which is the project we're involved in that starts in mid-April.

This is from the last "fly day" that I didn't fly. Instead I "toured around" and got to go check out the local beach. No, I didn't go in. There are very questionable practices of local businesses dumping their sewage into the gulf here in Veracruz, and it's not recommended that we foreigners go swimming in the ocean. There are many people who do, and we admire their... uh... constitution.

Monday, March 20, 2006


I've coined a new phrase for our instrument. It's the "NCAR 4-channel CIMS", but I've decided that it is essentially the "NCAR 2-out-of-4-ain't-bad-channel CIMS". Although yesterday, we were only operating at 25%, so I guess that wasn't "not bad".

I had my first complete bust of a flight. We had back-to-back fly days, which are interesting scientifically when everything is working, but there were some contamination issues in the HO2 inlet on Friday, and although we changed some of the most contaminated lines, the flight on Saturday proved that we hadn't done enough and it was necessary to pull the inlet off Saturday night, bring it back to the hotel, and wash the entire thing in a sink in my room here at the hotel (all 100+ pieces, ~80 of which of are o-rings and screws.) Then, yesterday morning the plan was to get to the airport 3 1/2 hours before the 11:30 flight and put the thing back together... well, it was a good idea in principle, but there just wasn't enough time. My boss and I were describing it last night to another colleague (the one who's rack is right behind us in the aircraft, and essentially breathes hot air down our necks) during dinner that there are essentially about 40 things that can easily go wrong with the inlet when you're putting it back together, and about 10 of them are obvious ones. This time it wasn't one of the obvious ones, and we were in a mad panic (big adrenaline rush) to put the thing back together just before the flight, with the flight crew watching us sideways from about 09:30 right up until 10:55, when we finally put our pylon back on (the cover over the inlet.)

We managed to get most of it to work, but there is still a fundamental problem with it, and as a result I measured about 8 1/2 hours of background HO2 and RO2. (sigh)

Today we have a hard down day, my second since I arrived down here, and as a result the inlet will have to wait until tomorrow before I can address it. We're not flying until Wednesday, though, so I'll have all day tomorrow at the plane. I just hope it'll be enough for me to get things working before the next flight.

In other news, I'm sadly stuck here in Mexico today on Keith's 34th birthday. Happy birthday, my sweet husband. I miss you. Everyone else, please be good to him. He's embarking on 2 weeks of single parenting, now that his mom and Aunt Jill have flown back to Toronto. And while we're on the topic of Keith's birthday, happy first day of spring, Christian.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Public Relations


Today I am going on my first flight here in Mexico. We’ve had two days of working on the plane from 8 until 4, fixing minor issues, troubleshooting others, and running calibrations so that the data that gets generated is as accurate as possible. It’s been both hot and humid, but still bearable. A portable A/C unit with a 6” hose pumps cold air into the back of the plane, but it is debatable whether or not that affects those of us in the front when all the rear doors are open. At least it’s a nice cool place to go stand. Truthfully, I’ve been working on the outside more than the inside, setting up calibrators and fixing inlet problems: standing on a ladder or sitting on the ground in front of a rolling instrument rack box. All this makes me a little more visible to the press.

Each day there have been people from the local Mexican media coming by to interview, photograph and film us working. I’ve been both photographed and filmed while working on the outside of the plane at our pylon, which is likely one of the more interesting-looking parts of the plane. As one of only a few women working in and around the plane, I’m hopeful that a depiction of women doing this kind of work will help to continue to change the mindset about gender roles in science.

Unfortunately, one of the first publications printed soon after the plane arrived here two weeks ago allegedly said that a group of American scientists were in Veracruz to show how badly polluted it is here in Mexico. Not exactly the spin we were looking for. I thought it might be wise, therefore, to give a quick explanation of exactly WHY we’re here, and since it’s early and this is from my memory, please don’t quote me on the precise numbers:

In atmospheric chemistry, a lot of research has been done studying the air in remote, less-polluted atmospheres: polar regions, over oceans and in remote forests, where the chemistry is easier to understand and predict. Far less research has been done studying the chemistry of highly-polluted urban air. Currently there are approximately 10 megacities (cities with populations greater than ten million people) in the world. Some of these cities are in the US, but many of them are in less-developed nations. Over the next 20 years, the number of megacities in the world is expected to more than double, again with most of the megacities in less-developed nations. Mexico City happens to be a megacity that is close to the US, and thus logistically reasonable for a measurement campaign. What we are primarily interested in with Mexico City is what is happening in the air that leaves Mexico City: 1 day, 2 days, or even 3 days later. Under certain predictable and somewhat regular conditions, both satellite measurements and models have shown large concentrations of carbon monoxide exiting the city and moving to the northeast. The processing or aging of this “plume” is what we are studying. For instance, today we will be flying north from Veracruz and then making east-west tracks across Mexico north of Mexico City to measure a cross-section of this plume as it is moves out to the Gulf of Mexico. Combined with other aircraft and ground-based research stations, we are hoping to learn more about the driving factors associated with the chemistry of this urban plume.


I wrote the above this morning and tried to put it up on the blog, but thanks to the incredible demand for bandwidth here at the hotel, I was unable to do so. I've since been on that flight, and it was pretty incredible. Our rack puts out an unbelievable amount of heat, as does the rack right behind our seats, and halfway through the flight I pulled out a voltmeter and thermocouple and measured the temperatures around us. The air around my seat was about 38 deg C, and the air coming through the fan below my knees was 43. No wonder I was feeling rather warm...

So here is a little treat from our travels today. This is from somewhere southeast of Mexico City, taken as we were flying back across Mexico to Veracruz (the time-to-go-home! leg) :

Monday, March 13, 2006

Star Gazing in Mexico

Beunos dias! I arrived here in Veracruz just over 24 hours ago, and was instantly overwhelmed by how unbelievably humid it is here at sea level. I'm pretty sure that I haven't been below 4000 ft. since we moved to Boulder last year, and that means that I'm not used to humidity at ALL. Not only did I leave freezing cold temperatures in Boulder for mid-90s here in Veracruz, but the pores on my face instantly opened up and I felt like I was walking through a dense fog the moment I deplaned.

Anyhow, when I woke up this morning, this was the view from my hotel room. I suppose it could be worse...

Oh... you want to know what I meant by star gazing? Well... I just spent the evening watching Mel Gibson. Yeah, the Mel Gibson. He's apparently here in Veracruz filming a movie. This afternoon while I was sitting at the pool, I was told that he was staying here in our hotel, and that he'd been spotted in the fitness room a week or so ago, but no one had seem him lately. Cut to this evening, when a couple colleagues of mine and I went to the lounge at the hotel next door. As we walked in, we saw one of the waitresses giving someone a neck massage and one of the guys I was with commented that evidently you can get massages from the wait staff. We laughed at that, and looked around for a table. As I looked around the room, my gaze passed by the table where the guy was getting the massage, and I realized out loud to my co-workers "yeah, that's Mel Gibson."

We found ourselves seats, and one of the guys graciously offered me the seat with the Mel Gibson view. So the rest of the evening (2 1/2 hours or so) we chatted, had some food and drinks, and I watched Mel Gibson. In case you're wondering, he looks the same in person.

That's all. I need some sleep. More soon, maybe even with some sciencey bits.

Friday, March 03, 2006


Last week, before it flew down to Mexico, Keith and Kai went to the airport to check out the C-130 (a.k.a. the blue plane). Kai was pretty excited, as you can see.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


I will be the first to admit that I don't like moving. I try to avoid moving whenever possibly by finding places where I can foresee living for a good length of time. Of course, occasionally there are circumstances that fall outside our control and/or take precedence in which moving becomes necessary: a new job, a job loss, an increase or decrease in numbers of family members, choosing to own rather than rent, having to rent rather than own, or even an eviction (be it friendly or unfriendly.)

I lived in the same house for the first 21 years of my life. Over the last 10 years I have lived in five other places, so I only experienced moving in my adulthood. There are some good things that can come out of moving, of which the most important to us is purging. Keith and I have got purging down to a science. Occasionally, we're actually too good at it, and we've come to regret not owning something that we've ridden ourselves of a year or so later, but we try to hold our possessions loosely, so any regret is generally short-lived. One of the other great things that moving presents is the opportunity to reorganize. Typically, when we move, I end up deciding where everything in the kitchen gets to live while Keith has control over the closets (linen, storage, spare room, etc.) Then there is the fun of deciding where all the mirrors, shelves and pictures get to hang. It can take a couple months, but it can be very rewarding.

To answer the question that may be going through your mind: no, we're not moving house. We really like our place, and we plan to live there as long as we can't afford to buy something and I am working in Boulder. (Aside: I never knew that having a place on a quiet street with a fenced yard and an attached garage that has a door to the house would be so important to me.) But I am moving: my work. The entire division I work in has been relocated from our old building to a brand new building across town.

So here's why this is so much fun (and I use the term loosely), in old fashioned pro/con terms:

Con: we left a building high up on the Mesa with a beautiful view of Boulder and the Flatirons to move to a new building that has a view of the highway and a railroad track on the opposite and very flat part of town.

Pro: my new lab is directly across the hall from my new office, rather than four floors down and on the opposite end of the building inside another lab.

Con: my old office had a huge window overlooking Boulder, and my new office has a small window in the door that overlooks the hallway.

Pro: my old lab was in the second basement with no windows, while my new lab has two walls of windows for plenty of light and a frame of reference to day/evening.

Con: my new lab is a sea of cardboard boxes and pink bubble wrap.

Pro: I have the opportunity to reorganize my entire lab to make things easier to find and use.

Con: I don't know what many of the things in my lab are, let alone how to organize them.

I could go on, but I will spare you the rest of the details. After all, I have some unpacking to get back to.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Banff Mountain Film Festival

Something really strange happened this week: Keith and I got a babysitter for Kai TWICE in three days! It was one of those coincidental things. On Sunday evening a friend of mine from ACCESS (Atmospheric Chemistry Colloquium of Emerging Senior Scientists - a.k.a. free schmoozing trip to Yellowstone and Big Sky) who has been in Boulder for 6 weeks wanted to go out for drinks with all the Boulder ACCESSories one last time before she moved to Berkeley. Then last night, Keith and I went to the first of two Boulder showings of films from the Banff Mountain Film Festival. No, we aren't going tonight, but I am curious to find out what films they will show.

A quick run-down of the films we saw last night:

Soul Flying or High Fly Summits (France) - a film about some rather insane skydivers who don suits with webbing between their arms and legs and between their legs and skim down the slopes of Mount Fuji and Mont Blanc before opening their parachutes. It was entertaining, but likely my least favourite of the evening for lack of production quality.

Person as Projectile (USA) - a fairly short film about the art of falling while skiing. The skier in the film skies off cliffs and falls anywhere from 20 m to more than 140 m, landing on his back, and *most* of the time he continues to ski down the hill. The post-production is what made this film worthy.

The Magic Mountain (Canada) - a 50 min film about a Canadian woman, Cynthia Hunt, the founder of HEALTH (Health, Environment and Literacy in the Himalayas) who is working in Ladakh, northwest India. The film is very inspiring, but seemed a little out of place.

Balancing Point (USA) - a film by a local Boulder filmmaker showing the "reverse destruction" of balanced rock sculptures. This was certainly one of the most creative films of the evening.

Harvest Moon (USA) - a 39 min film about a Swiss expedition to climb Thalay Sagar (22,650 ft.) in the Himalaya of northern India. Definitely a nail-biter. I have no desire to do technical climbing in the Himalaya.

The Hatch (USA) - a 17 min film about the time once a year at the Gunnison river (southwest of Boulder) where millions of 1 1/2" long salmon flies hatch and the salmon bite at anything with reckless abandon, and about the fight against allowing the river to be dammed. In terms of production quality, this was one of the best films of the evening. In terms of making me interested in something I had nearly NO interest in prior to last night, it was certainly the best film. Gunnison isn't far from here... and Keith has fly fishing gear. If it wasn't for the flies swarming all over everyone, I'd be there!

Solilochairliftquist (USA) - a 4 min film about the musings of a skier on a chairlift in Telluride, CO. Kudos for the best title of the evening. This was definitely the funniest film of the evening, with the audience in stitches during almost the entire 4 minutes. This is one that I'd love to see again.

So as you can see, there were a number of American films, at least three of which were from here in Colorado... I seem to remember the festival showings that I've been to in Toronto being a little more... international. Anyhow, as I said earlier, I'm curious to hear which films are played tonight.