World Transformation: Scientific Adventure
 Scientific Adventure
picture 11 Jun 2004 @ 15:18, by ming

From Synergic Earth News: The New Scientist Interview -- To geologist Simon Lamb, mountains are much more than lumps of rock. He has spent much of the past decade in Bolivia trying to find out how they evolve. What does it feel like to spend all that time in the mountains? It is extreme. The altitude is a problem. You have half as much oxygen as at sea level and that is stressful because you never feel completely well. It is hard work to move around, you have to force yourself. The other problem is that there is little infrastructure there. If your vehicle breaks down or somebody gets ill you quickly go from a situation where everything is fine to one that is life-threatening. You might have your breakfast and plan to do something, then by lunchtime you are fighting for your life. It takes a while to recover from that. Eventually, it takes it out of you psychologically. You become more reluctant to take risks - that becomes the biggest problem. When I first went to Bolivia we were adventurous, because we didn't know what could go wrong. We did an awful lot of things that later on in the project I wouldn't have dreamed of doing. What sort of things go wrong? There was one time when we wanted desperately to get to the summit of a volcano to sample some gases, but we couldn't see a way to get there. Then a miner said he knew how to take a party of people up the volcano. In fact he was humouring us: he didn't know the way at all. First he took us up the wrong volcano, so we ended up having to climb two volcanoes instead of one. After all this effort we were determined to get the gas sample. It got dark, the guide panicked. He knew he was in trouble and he more or less abandoned us. We were floundering around in the dark trying to feel our way down. We were at our limit. I was pig in the middle between the guide far in the distance and the other two people in our team behind. I was using a flashlight to signal to them where I was, while keeping an eye on the guide and shouting to him. It was a close thing. When you are in the mountains, does anything distract you from your geology? Definitely. You suddenly step back and say this is an incredible place to be. We have seen herds of vicuna, and foxes. You can be driving through Bolivia's Alto Plano, come over a hill and see a huge lake covered in flamingos, and they all suddenly rise up. There can be moments of immense beauty, especially late in the day when you get this wonderful low evening light - a rich light, it has a lot of orange in it - and the landscape becomes almost like a painting. It's fantastically beautiful. You do fantasise that you want to get back to civilisation, you want a hot shower, a meal at a restaurant, you want to pamper yourself. But when you get to the city it comes as quite a shock. You immediately regret being back, and straight away you are looking forward to going away again. That's the great thing about these long field trips: you always have the thought that you'll be off again in a week and a new adventure will start. I feel privileged to have experienced all that. (03/08/05)

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