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17 June, 2000

In the Pits (Snow Pits that is)

It was a surreal evening. My favorite part of the day on the Summit is evening. Because the sun never sets here, it is low on the horizon casting a reddish hue over everything after about 8:00 pm. The wind stopped blowing so the temperature seemed warm at -20C. A mystical fog lifted from the snow making the landscape fairyland like. I took a long walk away from camp to a snowfield that had large boulders due to piled snow. I walked among the boulders with the light shinning through the crevasses (Lynn you would love this light) and took pictures. This was about midnight-oh so beautiful and peaceful.

I worked today with Dr. Mary Albert from CRREL (Cold Region Research Engineering Laboratories from Hanover NH) and her research assistant, Ted Shultz. Mary's research focus is on the physical process causing air-snow transfer. She is making measurements of: (1) inert gas tracer measurements through the fern (up to several meters below the surface), (2) density and microstructure of snow layers (down to 4 meters), (3) the permeability of snow (at surface and depth), and (4) diffisivity of the snow (the ability of snow to diffuse a gas through the upper layers in this case the tracer gas is SF6).

My first task was to help Ted take snow samples to test for density in various layers in a 4 meter pit (12 feet deep). It was cold in the pit at -32C. We were working so it didn't seem to be so cold. My next task was to assist Ted (and Aaron, a grad student from UCAL- Irvine) take air samples in a diffisivity chamber. This apparatus consists of a 30 cm cylinder that is placed in the snow. A tracer gas, SF6, is injected into the air above the snow (10 cm) and mixed with that air. Samples are taken at intervals up to 20 minutes and the samples are tested with a gas chromatograph to determine the amount of diffusion that went into the snow. I enjoyed working with Mary and Ted. Next week Mary will be leaving and I will be able to help Ted when he needs it.

Severe altitude sickness has affected another member of Camp Summit. When altitude sickness becomes severe enough, a condition called HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) persists. This is a problem where the victim's lungs fill with fluid. Unless they are brought down in elevation, the problem can get much worse and professional medical assistance is necessary. It is impossible to get anyone down from Summit because of the delay in flights in and out. The next flight out is scheduled for Wed. June 21. To make accommodations for this condition, the victim is placed in a Gamov bag. The victim lies down inside the bag and pressure is increased to simulate a lower altitude. The victim remains in the bag for 2 hours or until they freak out due to claustrophobia (which was the case here). Repeated treatments of the Gamov bag will help the person adjust to the altitude.

Ciao, Cathi

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