Jul 312008

I’m back in LA…for five more days. Man, it’s been busy.

These last two weeks of GPR surveys with Dean have been an interesting experience – mainly because they were very different from the other surveys we’ve conducted together in Japan.

The first contract, in Twentynine Palms, CA, came up totally out of the blue. The ancestors of the Chemehuevi Indian tribe, as part of a recent effort to catalog and preserve their tribal culture, located Dean online and hired him to help find the specific locations of any unmarked graves in a known tribal cemetery.

So after assembling our team of surveyors (myself, Kent, Brian, and The SliceMaster), we saddled up and started the drive out into the desert.

Since we arrived earlier than planned, much of the first day was spent sipping beers in the hot tub at our luxurious spa resort. It could barely be called a day of “work,” but as always, Dean was extremely generous and paid it as such. What a way to earn a living! 😀

The second day was when the real work started. We woke up bright and early and arrived at the site to find the entire tribe (that is, all seven members) at the cemetery performing some sort of ritual with incense and feathers. After they concluded, we gathered around and Dean gave a brief lecture on what exactly we would be doing, along with a fundamental rundown of the technology and the types of results they could expect. Then they packed up their enormous SUVs, sports cars, and luxury sedans and headed back to the Casino – leaving us poor scientists to get started.

Here’s how a GPR survey goes, in general:
1) Carefully lay out a grid of 50 and/or 100m “tapes” on the site
2) Choose your antenna (different frequencies offer different resolutions and different depths, so the choice depends on what type of feature you’re looking for). This survey called for 400MHz.
3) Setup the computer and all of the radar’s parameters (Gain curve, filters, samples/scan, etc).

4) Begin sweeping up and down the surface at as constant a speed as possible, collecting the data. In general, one person pulls the antenna, one operates radar, one keeps the field notes, and one stays ahead repositioning the tapes ahead of the survey team. Typically we alternate roles throughout the day.

This is the gruntwork part of the survey: data collection. Depending on the weather, it can either be a very nice day of outdoors exercise or a particularly grueling experience.

The temperature in Twentynine palms that day averaged at 114 degrees 😉

After collecting the data and transferring it to our laptops for later processing, we usually continue for dinner at the nicest restaurant possible (The SliceMaster loves his fine dining!) before retiring to our hotel. It’s here that the true heart of the survey takes place: using Dean’s software to transform a series of virtually incomprehensible raw radargrams to human-readable data: spiffy images and 3D models of exactly what lies beneath the ground.

After gaining, normalizing, de-staggering, de-mosaicing, binning, gridding, and slicing the data to our satisfaction, we then get a few hours sleep before a morning meeting at the tribe’s casino to present our findings. I think they were overall pleased with the results, considering that they really had no idea what to expect.

There were two things that struck me most about the meeting:

1) WOW, for a tribe with only seven members, these guys seem to be doing fantastic for themselves – the casino is HUGE, it must be wracking in tens of millions per year. Now I see where all those massive, expensive trucks came from! The office where we presented the data had an overhead view of their own private boxing ring. Wow.

2) I was really impressed at the tribe’s efforts to preserve their culture and environment. They seem to be investing quite a bit of time and money into it, going so far as to cancel expansion plans upon discovering a colony of desert turtles in their build site and working tirelessly to make audio recordings of their tribe’s dying language. Even the tribal chairman, the equivalent of the president of their little sovereign nation, took a very hands-on role in the survey, coming out several times to check on our status and spending several hours discussing our results.

3) Everyone in the tribe was fantastically friendly and carried an overall very positive vibe. After the meeting was done, the chairman invited us to lunch at his (own private) buffet and spent quite a bit of time just chatting casually. It’s nice to see that even with all the millions of dollars and tons of responsibility, he can remain down-to-earth and friendly 🙂

So that was the Twentynine Palms survey. I got home with just enough time to unpack, get some sleep, and re-pack before leaving for our a week in Seattle, looking for stratigraphy on the small but culturally important Foster Island..

Apparently, traffic in Seattle is horrendous. The 520 freeway, bringing people into the city (and to the Microsoft Campus) from the surrounding residential areas, is one of the most jammed in the country – a 20-minute drive can take over 2 hours daily. Something’s got to be done. And as a response, the WDOT has setup a massive 3-billion dollar operation: The 520 Project.

It’s pretty interesting how much goes into the construction or expansion of a highway. It’s not just as simple as laying out pavement; there are neighborhoods to consider, cultural sites that will be affected, nature preserves that must be avoided, legal issues, contracting requirements, and hundreds of other considerations. Any solution that’s proposed, there will always be somebody who doesn’t like it.

In this case, it just so happens that one of the biggest problems is the fact that construction of the highway will require building over Foster Island, a historically important Indian burial ground (yep, another!). Needless to say, the Indians aren’t happy – and you might be surprised to learn how much influence and power some of these tribes have.

Thankfully, it just so happens that the WDOT has a solution: Foster Island was originally two separate islands, before the Montlake Cut lowered the water level of Lake Washington in the early 1900’s and turned the two Foster Islands into one. If they can determine the exact location of the two historic islands, the highway can be built between them, avoiding the disturbance of any important Indian sites.

Enter Dean and his radar equipment: a non-invasive way to see exactly what’s under this surface. This would be his first purely geological survey (that is, using Radar to look for stratigraphy vs archeology), and the largest contract he’s ever had in the United States.

However, as the process was similar to the Twentynine Palms survey, I’ll just list a few interesting memories from the week-long trip:

1) This was the longest road trip I’ve ever taken, from California to Seattle. On the way up, we stopped in Ashland, Oregon for dinner and a bit of frisbee, and stayed at a hotel a little farther up the highway.

2) I’ve mentioned a few times how incredibly useful my TyTn (Windows Mobile phone) has been while traveling internationally. Man, it’s even better domestically! In addition to the huge benefit of having GPS in an unknown area, helping to locate hotels or anything else you may need, having unlimited data access on a 3G network has been a lifesaver. Normally 16 hours in the car would be total dead time. But not anymore! Thanks to a clever little piece of software called WmWifiRouter and a cigarette-lighter power inverter, myself and everyone in the car had a high-speed Internet Access Point with us nearly the whole way there.

3) The weather in Seattle really sucks.

4) The first day we arrived, every single hotel in the Seattle area was booked. Completely. I’m talking everything in a 50-mile radius, in every price range. None of Dean, Brian, or myself had experienced anything like it – we sat in the car for well over an hour calling literally 50 or more hotels, and every single one had the same thing to say: “Sorry, we’re completely sold out.” Even calling the corporate headquarters, where they have the ability to search by location, informed us: The neareast availability we have is 58 miles outside of town. Wtf!

…And that’s about all that’s popping into my head at the moment. So, back to packing for Japan!

  2 Responses to “Master of Slices”

  1. sounds look work is going well….nice

  2. It’s going 🙂

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