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Calculating Climate Change


Three researchers from the University of Utah–math professor Kenneth Golden, math doctoral student Christian Sampson, and electrical engineering grad student David Lubbers–are bound shortly for a two-month research mission on an icebreaker in Antarctica. This is the 15th excursion for Golden and the second trip for Lubbers. He was an undergraduate on his first trip in December 2010 and that experience influenced his academic future. Lubbers will be blogging periodically from the ship, and below is the first installment.

A week from now I will be on a plane to Hobart, Tasmania.  From there I will board an icebreaker to Antarctica.  I am now well into familiar territory, lurking with stress, excitement, anxiety, and hope. 

I packed my bags to attend an east-coast wedding and found myself toting a two-scale set of matching trepidations.  A chuckle escaped me when I realized the parallels this small trip had to the upcoming excursion.  Did I remember everything I needed to?  Have I forgotten anything?  My mind ceaselessly returns to the items I have packed, effectively reminding myself that any fear I may encounter is irrational, that I am in fact well prepared. 

In stressful times there is comfort in the familiar, so logic comes to my aid.  Sleep-inevitable moments are spent in rehearsal.  Disaster after disaster is conceived to ensure either remedy or prevention exists among the various items and skills packed away.  Self-confidence in my improvisational abilities is something I was unable to don on my last trip; I welcome the protection it provides.

An internal dialog ticks away in a self-reassurance regarding my micro-scale trip: I have extra socks and a second dress shirt.  The wedding present, a stained glass window, is well protected.  I have extra contacts.  We confirmed the rental car will be waiting at the airport. . . 

The dialog regarding the macro-scale trip follows the same sentence form, but macro-scale items are replaced for micro ones.  We have extra drill batteries and a second drill.  The expensive equipment, precision electrical meters, is well protected.  We have extra gloves.  We confirmed the carnet information will be pre-approved and waiting for us in customs. . .

This trip will be very unlike my last trip to Antarctic field camp K131.  Instead of camping in a shipping container over 2.5 meters of frozen ocean I will be aboard the Aurora  Australis, and may be working on as little as .5 meters of ice.  The dry, sandblasting Antarctic wind will be replaced with one that is wet.  At least this time around I will have running water.  Note to self: The luxury of each shower I take is not appreciated to the extent that it should be.  Work on that. 

I am excited for this new experience.  I am reassured to know that the unknown will be littered with the past familiarities that even now brighten my dreams.  I will get to see the Antarctic sky again, and ponder upon its ceaseless indecision.  Icebergs and ocean swells await me.  I will get to see and perhaps hear penguins frolicking again, ever curious about the pink-faced intruders punching holes in the ice.  I can’t wait to see them scuttle and slip around only plunge into the ocean from whence they came.  There awaits euphoria and extra energy that comes with unending daylight, and the depth of sleep that can only be spurred by satisfied exhaustion at a hard day’s work.

Excitement drowns the small apprehensions I feel.  The promise of new memories and friendship sparked by a goal that spans cultures is incredibly appealing.  The tenacity with which humankind endeavor to understand our world provides a hope for our future not present in other inherent traits.  There is a single anticipation that easily outshines all others.  Regardless of what we encounter, I await the opportunity to expand my narrow but treasured knowledge of this complex and beautiful world.