Friday, February 29, 2008

Instrumental Crises

At about 10:30pm last night, I found myself physically fighting for a piece of cutlery with one of the more reasonably well-known scientists in my field - both of us holding on so tightly that intervention from graduate students was required. I emerged triumphant after chivalry was forced upon my colleague. This was not a fight over climate change policy, voltmeters, or what controls cloud properties of aerosols. It was a fight for the last Spoon in a card game I hadn't played since summer camp. This was after several rounds of Hearts, Cheat and Uno - each card game gathering more scientists as they left their laptops. Spoons started with at least nine people. I made it to the final three.

I needed the break after my last few days. After the generator failure, there was a series of unfortunate events leading to a pool of water forming in the inlet of our instrument. This is not something that you would think could happen or even bother looking for normally, but the 100% humidity and driving rain caused the water to accumulate. So that when I turned the instrument on after the generator was fixed, a drop of water entered the system, was vapourized and caused the pressure to jump by an order of magnitude - which caused every alarm on the (very expensive) instrument (that doesn't belong to me) to go off. In the space of about five seconds, I closed the inlet and turned every piece of electronics off - fast enough to prevent any damage, but not fast enough to avoid another 12 hour delay as we pumped the water out of the system. Water is an incredibly sticky molecule, and can take days to get out of an instrument - and with the high humidity of the Amazon, has become the bane of this campaign for most scientists here. As Alan, our favourite guide at the workshop hotel, liked to say: Rain? In the rainforest? In the rainy season? Yeah... we knew there'd be water - but not this much water!

But the system has cleaned out and is running reasonably well again. And while this is the mid-point of the campaign for our team, it's the end of campaign for some other groups. The gas-phase measurements are leaving today - though I'll be taking over their daily cartridge samples for the last couple of weeks. The German groups have another week to go before leaving - though they'll be leaving their equipment here for us to run. The "us" is becoming a progressively smaller and smaller group, and for the last week will be three of us girls. I'm not sure if the card games are going to become more or less competitive...

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