Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Animals of the Atacama

For the LINCOLN LIONSToday Liz, Rick, and Justin drove up into the Andean Mountains to study the Salar de Huasco. At the highest point we were 13,828 ft (4214 meters) above sea level. DeKalb, IL is about is about 880 ft above sea level, so we were really high in the mountains. At this altitude there are more animals than in other parts of the Atacama Desert.

We saw lots of interesting animals. 

Domesticated llamas graze on the grass near the water. Notice the ribbon around this llama's neck. The farmers do this so they can tell which llamas are theirs. Llamas are used as pack animals by Andean cultures and llama wool is used to make sweaters and other cloths. 

Also in this area is kind of wild llama (or alpaca) called a vicuña. The vicuña are endangered and only live at high elevations in the Andean Mountains of Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.

We saw two kinds of interesting birds. Rhea are a large bird, like an emu or an ostrich, that cannot fly. How about the pink birds in the background? Do you know what those are?

Those are flamingos! Wild flamingos live in many of the high elevation lakes in the Andean Mountains. Here is a closer look at some of the ones we saw today.

Although this picture is not an animal, we where really excited to see this, too. This is a Llareta. It is a kind of plant that that grows on rocks and only lives at elevations above 10,000 ft in the Andean Mountains.

This last picture is of the Salar de Huasco. We are going back to this area tomorrow and will talk more about our research here in our next post. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tree Hugging!!!

We are working very long days--breakfast is usually at 7am and we work until dark around 8pm.  Yesterday, Justin and Liz spent the day collecting more Tamarugo cores, while the rest of us sampled wells near La Calera.  We met up in the evening for some wonderful Chilean hospitality.  We were hosted by Marco and his sister Roxanne at their eco-camp called La Huarenga.  After getting a tour of the amazing facility, we enjoyed an impromptu meal of walnut pasta (Sue's favorite meal of the trip!).  Then...back to work.  In order for Liz and Justin to understand how Tamarugo trees responded to water availability in the past, they must assess how they are growing today: this is essentially uniformitarianism, which means the present is the key to the past.  To understand how the trees are growing, Liz and Justin installed dendrometers on two trees and one miniature weather station.  The dendrometer will measure tree diameter and is useful for estimating a tree's growth rate, while the miniature weather station will record air temperature, relative humidity and soil moisture, which may help explain the tree's growth rate.
Marco showing his solar cookers--the one on the left can reach 450C!!!

Marco is a retired geologist and has a wonderful collection of fossils.  Here, he is showing us a gigantic megaladon tooth.

Justing and Liz installing a dendrometer, which is a steel band that hugs the tree.  As the tree expands, the steel band pulls on a measuring device.

The days are long.  Here, Liz and Rick are collecting Tamarugo leaf samples as the sun sets.

Searching for Water in the Desert

On Thursday, we hiked up Quebrada Huatacando in search of a hot spring.  It turns out that we couldn't find hot springs, but we eventually found water.  This was problematic for our investigations of hydrothermal fluids in the area, but we learned a great deal about the nature of quebradas. It turns out that water is flowing within these features and it occasionally daylights at seeps that create small streams.  Below is a picture of Rick and Justin on a spectacular hike up Quebrada Huatacando--note the yellow sulphur deposits on either side of the stream...at this point we thought a hot spring was "just around the bend," but it never was...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lizard for Lincoln Lions

Hi Lincoln Lions!  Thanks for reading our travel blog.  You are all asking great questions.  I responded to your comments farther down the blog, but I thought you might like a picture of this super-cool lizard.  I even took a video of it running, but that will have to wait until I get back.  Perhaps I can stop by when we return, and show you the video and talk about the Atacama Desert in South America.  In the meantime, enjoy this picture.

A lizard sunning on a rock in the Atacama Desert.  We took this picture just for our friends at Lincoln Elementary School.

Salar de Llamara

After a full day of tree coring on Tuesday, we spent most of the day on Wednesday collecting water samples in order to learn more about the sources of water in the Atacama Desert, which is one of the driest places on Earth.  One particularly interesting place is called Salar de Llamara (photos below), which is a natural spring where under ground water (groundwater) flows to the land surface.  This area is particularly important because water is scarce in the Atacama Desert, so this spring is something like an oasis providing water for the extremely sparse vegetation.  It is important to know that this water is not drinkable for most animals because of the very high salt content; however, we did notice some brine shrimp swimming in a few of the pools.  Nevertheless, this water is extremely important for the local mining economy, which pumps groundwater from the area to support their mining operations.

Rick collecting a water sample at the Salar de Llamara.  Notice the white material all around--this is salt!

Rick and Ryan at the Salar de Llamara.  The water is beautiful, but extremely salty.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tree Coring

It was unexpected, but it happened...success in the field was early and often.  After driving more than 2,000 feet uphill from Iquique to the Pampa del Tamarugal Basin, we decided to test out Justin's new tree-coring drill on a Tamarugo tree that is ~400 years old.  Justin and Liz will use this tree core to infer what climate was like in the Atacama Desert during the time in which the tree was alive.  By coring numerous trees that were alive over the last 10,000 years, Justin and Liz will be able to learn much about how the climate changed during Holocene time.

Justin using his new tree coring drill to extract a tree core from a felled Tamarugo tree.

Liz holding the tree core!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Leaving Iquique

This morning, we packed the rental truck to maximum capacity!  We're leaving Iquique and driving up the Pica, which is at the base of the Andes on the east side of the Atacama Desert.  We should be doing science by the end of the day :-)

Justin eating breakfast while keeping watch on the Nissan Navarra, which is known in the US as a Nissan Frontier.  All rental trucks in this area are bright red and conform to the safety standards required by the Chilean mining authorities.  There are a lot of red 4-door pick-ups around here!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Today was spent gearing up for a week of field work in the desert.  Justin, Rick, & Liz rented a 4WD pickup truck, and retrieved Rick & Liz's lost luggage from the Iquique Airport.  While they were doing this, Sue and Ryan did some sightseeing.  The image below was taken from a beach with basalt outcropping in the foreground; the juxtaposition between ocean, city, and desert is striking (the desert is apparent in the bone-dry ridge rising up behind the skyscrapers).  Using your imagination (or Google Earth), it is also interesting to note that a deep ocean trench lies just off the coast of Iquique (all of South America, actually).  This trench runs along the western coast of South America, where the Nazca (oceanic) plate is sliding (or subducting) below the South American (continental) plate.  This trench provides cold water from the ocean depths to the surface, which is partially responsible for the extreme arid conditions in this region of South America.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

We've Arrived!!!

We're finally here.  Rick, Liz, Justin, and Ryan left DeKalb, Illinois, at 1130am on Saturday, November 1, and arrived in Iquique, Chile, ~300pm on Sunday, November 2.  The trip was long, but it went (fairly) smooth.  We met up with Sue Swanson in Santiago; however, Rick's clothes and Liz's research supplies didn't quite make it.  They should arrive in Iquique tomorrow...we'll see!  The weather here is mild with highs in the mid-70s and lows in the low-60s (Fahrenheit).

For our first night in Chile, we kept things simple...get familiar with our surroundings, eat, and rest.  We had dinner out at a local surf and turf cafe--the food was amazing.  Steaks, ceviche, fresh seafood, papas fritas, and Chilean malbec.  It was a good way to start the trip.

Tomorrow, we get a rental truck and gear up for the research.  In the meantime, here is a picture of the U.S.-based research team, clockwise from left: 
Dr. Ryan Pollyea - Assistant Professor of hydrogeology at Northern Illinois University, 
Ms. Elizabeth Olson - Ph.D. student at NIU specializing in stable isotope geochemistry and climate change, 
Dr. Sue Swanson - Professor of hydrogeology at Beloit College,
Mr. Richard Jayne - M.S. student at NIU specializing in basin-scale fluid flow and geostatistics, and 
Dr. Justin Dodd - Assistant Professor of stable isotope geochemistry at NIU.

For the LINCOLN LIONS:  Our trip yesterday started in Chicago.  Then we took airplanes to Miami (Florida), Santiago (Chile), and Iquique (Chile).  Ask Mrs. Phelps if she can show you a map of these places on your overhead screen.  What kind of animals do you think we'll see?  What kind of food do you think we'll eat?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

DeKalb, IL is 4,453 miles from Iquique, Chile.

On November 1, 2014, a research team from the Department of Geology & Environmental Geosciences at Northern Illinois University (NIU) and Beloit College will embark on a 4,453 mile journey from DeKalb, Illinois to Iquique, Chile.  The purpose of this trip is to study the hydrology of the Pampa del Tamarugal Aquifer, which is the sole source of municipal, agricultural, and industrial water in the region.  The research team includes Dr. Justin Dodd and Dr. Ryan Pollyea from NIU, Dr. Sue Swanson from Beloit College, and two NIU graduate students, Elizabeth Olson and Rick Jayne.

In this blog, we will document this epic journey for our friends at NIU, Beloit College, Naperville Central High School, and the dinosaur-loving kindergarteners at Lincoln Elementary School!

Stay tuned...