Field of Science

Rainforest Field Trip - Death March 2010

A front moved in last night bringing steady rain with it. While frequent rain is expected it can make doing field research challenging to nigh on impossible, and of course that is what the students are expected to be doing, field research. As the end of this field trip nears they should be putting the finishing touches on their projects, getting more data, trying new manipulations to figure out even more, or just trying to get something to work, pleeease! But the rain is interfering with many projects, so what to do? Why, Death March 2010, of course! The field station is a pretty big place and relatively few people ever hike all the way to the "back", and the reasons are simple, it's quite a ways, the trails get progressively more primitive as you go further, and the relief gets greater, more ups and downs. So my esteemed colleague, a younger and foolishly energetic fellow takes our students on his death march hike to see these more remote areas. In all the hike will cover about some 16-18 km, 10-12 mi over tropical hill and dale, stream and swamp. Not really so far a distance, but has anyone ever explained about tropical clay? Something about the aluminum silicates and micell structure (little flat crystal-like plates) makes them slide about at a microscopic level very easily, and the practical take home message is that tropical clays like these are extremely slippery. So now combine the rubber boots, the primitive up-and-down trails, and the tropical clays well lubricated by a night of rain and you have a perfect formula for a thrilling hike. So what is the Phactor doing you may ask? Why someone must survive to chronicle these adventures; someone must hose them down enough to recognize the individual bodies. Someone smart enough to know about tropical clays and the trails back there. Someone who thinks these distant realms have probably not changed very much since his last visit about a decade and a half ago. My colleague does have an ulterior motive; this will be a pretty quiet Saturday night!

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