Thursday, March 27, 2014

The final install: Atauro Island

My last day for field work in Timor Leste gave rise to the installation of the 8th and final station.  Compass Charter arranged for us to leave Dili at 7:30 in the morning, and return from Atauro Island at 3:00 in the afternoon.  We were all worn down from the prior week of furious paced driving and field work, but there was a sense of jubilation as we began the day.  Most of the crew had never been across the Wetar Strait to visit Atauro Island, providing an extra element of excitement.  We loaded up the gear on the boat and headed north towards the village of Beloi.

About 3/4 of the way to Atauro, we were floating above 3 km of water at this point.

The ride was absolutely fun.  The water was calm, and the low angle lighting of the morning gave an etherial feeling to the start of the day.  As we approached the island, the volcanic nature of the Atauro was apparent, as well as the fact that the island is actively uplifting - there are wave-cut terraces along the south coast that form a stair step pattern that appear to be marching uphill in succession.  The boat nested adjacent to the beach in Beloi Village, right along the stretch of beach where Barry's Place is located.  We unloaded the gear and set out to continue forward with our on-the-fly logistical planning.

The boat crew, an Aussie tourist, the seismo crew, and the gear - all sprawled out on the inviting shore of Beloi.
As much as we wanted to simply jam the seismometer into the sand and spend the rest of the day lounging on the beach, we managed to track down Beloi's town administrator and some motorbike/boxcart transportation.

Rolling in style down the road.  Armando and Marcel are protecting the gear...and doing so with great style and finesse.  This was the most enjoyable ride of the entire field season - a perfect contrast to the rigors of driving across Timor's brutal roads!
We made it to the Administrator building and were convinced the site would be secure enough to leave the equipment.  It is also about as far from the coast as we could manage, a good thing for the quality of the record.  The installation took at least three hours due to the intensely hot overhead midday sun roasting us all like fried bananas and the fact that I did not bring a cable that allows for use of a laptop and therefore, a faster program configuration.  Nonetheless, we persevered - with the aid of Marcel climbing a nearby coconut tree and delivering some nectar of the gods - and established the final seismic station.

The 8th station in Timor Leste.  Beloi district Admin., Eugenio, Ol' sweaty L, Marcel, Bela, and Armando posing in front of station.  The watchgoat off to the right just walked out of view.
We had about an hour an a half to relax on the beach and have some lunch before catching the boat back to Dili.  We had lunch at Barry's, then we strolled out to the beach to swim, rest in the shade, and pick up some local fish.  Armando had the best looking haul of freshly caught beasties:

A few beauties destined for Armando's barbecue back in Dili.
The ride back was just as pleasant as the morning's, but had the added sense of accomplishment.  I probably had a bit of a high from heat stroke as well.  Talk about cheap thrills.  Even better, we saw a few different species of marine wildlife along the way.  Flying drift fish jumped out of the boat's wake and cruised above the water surface for 10's of meters.  Tony, the charter captain, spotted a group of dolphins and doubled back so we could watch:


A truly excellent moment.  Looking back on Atauro, the light was diffuse and the water was smooth. A perfect end to a productive field campaign.

Leaving the new and improved Atauro Island, seismometer and all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The balance between good and evil

It was a mixed experience completing the install in the town of Same.  The travel was brutal, but the destination was excellent.  Heading south from Dili, the road to Same traverses a set of high topographic ridges and emerges in the lush southern side of Timor Leste.  We set out midday on Sunday to be ready to work on Monday morning.  The road condition is beyond disrepair, yet busses, trucks, 4WD cars, and motorcycles use the thoroughfare like any other road.  The 100+ km stretch winds high up into the misty tops of the interior mountains, and there is rarely piece of road that allows for a vehicle to go above 3rd gear.  The total trip was over five hours, and played out more like a full-body workout than a road trip.  We had a full crew packed into the IPG Land Cruiser, with little room to spare.  If I didn't fully brace myself for each massive pothole or section of completely broken road, I would be thrown around the car like a rag doll.  My arms and shoulders are tired from clutching to the edge of the seat and window of the car.  Worst of all, the precious seismometer was being subject to all of this violence, and I worried that it would be damaged.  We arrived in Same around 6 pm after passing through a short-lived downpour.
The setting of the town is spectacular.  Steep topography rises along the northern margin - the same topography we descended to arrive in town.  The clouds sweep up the rise and gather along the high points of the surrounding mountains.  The slopes are covered in lush vegetation - trees suited to specific elevation ranges along with dense undergrowth.  Delicate pine-like trees provide shade for wild coffee plants.  Sunset time came along, and did not disappoint.  The interplay of the mountain horizon, massive thunderclouds, and rich hues of colored sky provided excellent reward for a hard-travelled day.
In the morning, we visited the local District Administrator and once again were given the go ahead to install on their grounds.  The road into town that passed in from of the Admin complex was recently repaved, providing a strong contrast to the aforementioned treachery.  The station went in smoothly, and it appears that the sensor survived the ride to its temporary home. 

The station in Same.  This photo just missed the formation of lenticular clouds in the mountains above.
The return trip home was a bit more comfortable because we had gained some space in the car.  We encountered a group trying to clear the road of a massive downed branch.  Marcel, Armando, and Eugenio jumped out to help cut the branch in half - with a machete.  Good ol' Timorese ingenuity.  The road was quickly cleared and we passed through, but not before I was able to snap a few photos, including some shots of coffee plants.  Along the way, the crew reaped the usual bounty of local produce.  
The crew picking up goods at produce stands.  Coffee plants are growing behind the stands, with large shade trees above.  Marcel is strutting through the road like a boss.
A close up of the coffee plant.

About an hour out from arriving in Dili, we found out there was a problem with our plan to get to Atauro Island.  It turns out we needed to deliver a letter to the Maritime Police three days in advance, which was not done.  Once we made it back to IPG, I managed to track down a charter boat company who will help us out...Compass Charter to the rescue!  The last install will feel somewhat ceremonial, I am really looking forward to it - both to arrive at our final goal and to be that much closer to going home.  Stay tuned for the last few posts of this journey, the next few days should be interesting!





Saturday, March 22, 2014

Observing local earthquakes

With a day off in Dili, I had a chance to look over the data recorded overnight in Maliana and Oecussi.  It is always valuable to look at data while in the field, as it gives a chance to make any adjustments.  Also, with the upcoming presentation I will give to IPG, I will be able to show examples of the record that we will be creating.  I looked up local earthquakes from the USGS real-time webpage and found a few good candidates.
A catalog of earthquakes that occurred between 19-21 March in the region.  The event depicted by the light blue dot was recorded in Maliana, Timor Leste.

Because the two records I looked at were from the nights of 19 and 20 March, I had about 12 hours of data to look at from each station.  Maliana recorded data on the night of 19 March, and we were lucky to have a magnitude 5.2 earthquake occur off to the east in the eastern Banda Sea.  The record from our station clearly recorded this event:

The record for the entire event.  The P wave arrived in Maliana around 7 minutes after the earthquake occurred.

A zoom into the P wave arrival.  The middle trace is the vertical component - it shows the P arrival well.

A zoom into the S wave arrival.  The top and bottom traces are the E-W and N-S components, respectively. 

An encouraging sign indeed, especially in light of my concern that this station lies on the perimeter of a large sedimentary basin.  The record from the Oecussi station also revealed a few verified events, but displayed a lot of noise from motorcycles passing by on a nearby road.  I won't be surprised if we relocate the station in the future, but the record will make it clear if this is necessary.  For now, it is time to finish up the installation - on to Same and Atauro!

Friday, March 21, 2014

A priceless moment, roadside purchase

One of the enjoyable things about traveling in Timor Leste, is that all locally grown/caught goods are sold everywhere along the roadsides.  When returning to Dili, the crew is always looking to bring home fruits, veggies, and fish for their families.  I snapped this photo during one of these purchases.

Putting on the hard sell.
I am happy that the old man who showed up to sell his collection did not get any business.  I ate a few of these at Eugenio's house the next day.  They were barbequed/smoked until they were reduced to 1 cm wide morsels of salty, oily goodness.

Western sites are in after a trip through Indonesia

We continue to move along with the install.  The past few days brought us to Maliana and the enclave Oecussi.  Heading back to Eugenio's home town Maliana, he, Armindo and I set out for the Administrator's complex.  This was great because we had just returned from a three city install the days before, and the momentum was moving forward.  We had obtained the proper visas to go into Oecussi, including a double entry visa for the whole crew plus a vehicle permit.  Maliana is entirely within Timor Leste, so it was no problem to go there, put in the station, and stay for the night.  It had been raining fairly hard the previous two days, and the evidence for that was in the rivers that we crossed along the way.
River crossing in normal conditions.
The same vantage point on the back end of a heavy rainfall.  Josh West will analyse the sediment being carried down these rivers to decipher the uplift rates around the Banda region.
The install in Maliana was smooth, we arrived late but still put in all but the fence.  The next morning we finished up and gained some confidence in the equipment's configuration by visiting post-install.  It seems that the upgrades to the data recorders make for a more smoothly running system.  I downloaded the 12+ hours of data from the overnight recording, and will hopefully have recorded an earthquake that we can show off once we get back to the IPG office in Dili.

After leaving Maliana, we headed back to the coast to meet up with another IPG member and head towards Oecussi.  This traverse requires an entry into Indonesia, and then returning to Timor Leste. 
Side note: The history of this enclave within the Timor portion of Indonesia goes back to Portugese's original colonization of Timor Leste - when Portugal first took over the area, they based in the island of Alor and then made first contact with Timor at Oecussi.  The legacy of this first contact has remained, and Timor Leste now controls the small portion of western Timor that is entirely surrounded by Indonesian territory.

Leaving Indonesia, returning to Timor Leste.

The crossing of the border involved many steps that included customs, police, and immigration.  The paperwork for the vehicle wasn't exactly right, so we had a bit of a roundabout procedure to get through.  After about 90 minutes, we were on our way through Indonesia headed towards Oecussi.  The economic gap between the two countries was immediately apparent in the road quality - we had been chattering along rough roads to make it to the first border, then smoothly passed through Indonesia, then had a bone-rattling ride through the enclave until our final destination, the town of Pante Macassar.  Science doesn't know about the borders, but the vehicles certainly do!

Apparently, we were traveling in tandem with Timor Leste's military, which we discovered once we were in the queue to meet with the Oecussi Administrator.  We were waiting alone to establish a station location, then a troop of 12+ infantry entered the building to arrive at a meeting.  We patiently waited our turn and then met with the Admin.  Every office we have met with so far is fully on board with our project, and this was no exception.  We accepted a few suggestions on where to go to install, but ultimately settled on putting the station at Eugenio's older brother's house.  It was a brutally hot afternoon, so we cooled out in the shade for a few hours before we started - we were not going anywhere for the night because the border to re-enter Timor Leste via Indonesia closes at 4:00pm.  We cranked out the install like a well-oiled machine, and will return in the morning to have a look at how it is doing.

It was entirely dark at this point, and the stars were out.  I did my best to identify familiar constellations, but lacked many of those I am familiar with in the northern hemisphere.  We had some coconuts prepped on site, and savored the delicious juice and flesh of nature's perfect rehydrator.  DE-LI-CIOUS!

We wrapped up the station in the morning and travelled back to Dili.  It was an especially sunny day, and the ocean was a deep dark blue.  Alor Island was quite visible:
Alor Island, Indonesia, across the Wetar Straight.  We plan to put a few stations there once things are going with the Indonesian portion of the deployment.  The buildup of thunderclouds above the portions of exposed land is a common phenomenon here.

We stopped in a the same place for lunch that I posted earlier.  At this point, I have no fear about digging into the local cuisine.  I had a few different types of barbequed fish, and more coconut flavored rice balls.  So far, we have six stations operating as of Friday, 22 March.  The final two are slated to be installed on Monday and Tuesday in the town of Same and Atauro Island, respectively.  I leave Wednesday in the afternoon after I will deliver a farewell lecture to the IPG staff.

The food was delicious, don't be confused by the stupid look on my face. Eugenio and Alecio also approved.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Moving along with the installation, halfway there!

The past three days marked great progress with our installation.  We packed up three stations and five crew members and headed east to Baucau, Los Palos, and Viqueque.  With sensitive equipment in tow, we had to travel slower than the breakneck pace I previously wrote about - something I am entirely fine with.  Our first day of travel was on Sunday, our goal to make it to the far east in Los Palos.  One of our crew members is from the town, so he was our local guide for the night.  There is a strong sense of pride for one's home here in Timor Leste, and I could sense that as we went from place to place.  Along the way, we were stopped by people who were along side the road.  It was worth the stop, a HUGE crocodile was resting on the opposite bank of the river:
This photo doesn't do it justice.  The croc's hind legs and back are in view.  I thought I saw big gators in Louisiana, but this is far bigger than any reptile I've seen!
We made it to Los Palos and arrived at the hotel.  It was more of a family home, and a good experience.  It was my first night here under mosquito net and without air finally felt like field work had began.
Los Palos hotel, sleeping in the elegant comfort of a mosquito net.
In the morning, it was sunny and hot.  We arrived at the Los Palos local Administrator's complex to install the station.  After three hours of work, we had the station completed.  A good start to the day.
The crew wrapping up the Los Palos station.
Our goal for the day was to install two stations, and we were on pace to make it.  Off to Baucau to get to the second site.  The view along the way was better than my previous trek through the area, the weather was clear.  Los Palos is perched up on a high plain, with steep canyons incised along it edges.  The road winds its way down through the topography through lush tropical foliage.
Coconut and palm trees along the road.  Cool and humid.

Baucau was in our sites by 3:00pm, we were lucky to avoid rainy weather in the afternoon.  The Baucau Administrator's complex was our destination, during our last visit they suggested they would find a location for us somewhere in town.  That did not happen since our last visit, so we suggested a location on site.  It was an imposing location - the Baucau Limestone formation outcrops close to the surface throughout the city and is certainly present on site.  There was very little soil in sight, and a lot of foliage including yams, squash and lots of weeds.  After clearing out the vegetation and stirring up millions of mosquitos, we progressed along.  The crew dug into the sparse soil and we constructed the station around the outcrops of limestone.  After two stations and a long day, we were all worn out, yet I seemed to be the only one that clearly displayed it.  We set up in a nearby 'hotel' that felt more like a dungeon to me. 

Eugenio contemplating how we managed to install a station in the Baucau Limestone.
Hotel room in Baucau.

I was happy to head out to dinner to have our third straight meal of Bakso, a staple meal of rice, salty broth, veggies, and a chunk of protein.  For $2 a piece, it isn't bad at all.  After finishing dinner, the entire restaurant seemed to light up a cigarette in unison, so I stepped outside to take in a spectacular full moon. 

We set out early the next morning to go south to Viqueque.  The trip toward the south side of the island took us over some higher topography in the interior, bringing on a welcome cool lot of air.  There is a terrific landscape throughout the island, with impressively steep cliffs rising to mountain tops shrouded by clouds. 
The landscape near the high crest of the interior, the roadway between Baucau and Viqueque.  The air is cool and breezy, a welcome change.

We arrived in Viqueque for the first time, meaning that we needed to meet with the Administration to ask for permission to install.  The building complex we arrived at ended up being the station location, which seems to be a recurring theme here, mostly owing to our need for long-term security for our equipment.  Presentation of the project was brief and successful, and we were beginning the install within 30 minutes.  By this time, the crew was running quite smoothly, and we had the station built in a little over two hours.  Kapow! Halfway done! 
The crew finishing the Viqueque station.  Armando on left, Marcal on the fence, Mr Alex behind fence, and Eugenio in supervisor mode.  This crew has come together nicely!

The ride back to Dili was a bit more frantic than the previous few days of travel, but nothing like the first day in the field.  We were all happy to make it back to town a little after 5pm.  The hotel I've been staying in for the past few weeks now feels like a five star luxury suite - what a difference a few days makes!  On to install two more stations in the next few days, I'll be heading home in a week, hopefully with all eight stations up and running...

Current installation map, the 4 red symbols are in, the two in the west are next.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Timor Leste's first seismic station

It has finally happened.  We wound are way up the steep incline south of Dili towards the village of Dare to install the first seismic station of the Banda Arc project, as well as Timor Leste's first seismic station.  The original site at the local church didn't work out, and it was our good fortune that this is the case.  That site may have worked, but it was fairly close to the road and there was not many options for where to place the station.  Eugenio and Armando made numerous trips over the past few days to scout out our eventual location that is hosted by a private land owner.

Four of us packed up the IPG Land Rover this morning in preparation for the day.  We set out around 9am and met up with Eugenio at the site.  The property is a complex of buildings ran by a family that has developed a self-sustainable education program aimed at liberating people from the despair of poverty.  The complex hosts hand-operated agricultural training facilities and a nursery that generates income. There are countless flora I've never seen in person: coffee, clove trees, cinnamon, durian, chinese ginger to name a few.  As we climbed 600+ meters to get to the site, I found the climate different than in Dili - it is cooler and wetter.  And it provides a spectacular view of the city.
The crew touching up the fence.  Dili is down below, and Atauro Island is visible across the Wetar Straight in the distance.  We took over a plot of corn that just finished growing.
The installation went more smoothly than almost any first install I've been a part of.  Typically, worker are to eager to get going and rush into mistakes.  This crew let me demonstrate the beginning of construction of the various components, and did well to take it from there.  We put the sensor vault in the ground, constructed the solar panel mounts, then finally built the electronics box.  The last step of constructing the fence required a little improvisation, but it came together nicely.  I was confident with the equipment as I had spent the prior day inspecting their state of health.  But I am always sceptical that it will work until it is all verified in place.  We sealed up the sensor vault and configure the data digitizer.  Once the sensor was online we could show the sensitivity to the instrument.  It never gets old to tell somebody to come look at the computer screen, only to have them see their own footsteps!  Especially non-scientists.

The crew (photo taken by Mr. Alex): Armando, Leland, Bela, Eugenio, Mr. Jaoquin (onsite helper)

It was a promising day, and the next 3-4 days will consist of the installation of three stations in Baucau, Los Palos, and Viqueque.  Stay tuned for updates.