Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sierra May!

Last March, meteorologists reported that the El Niño ocean surface temperatures were changing rapidly and that El Niño weather patterns were weakening,  and also by next Fall we may experience the opposite of El Niño weather, called La  Niña. 

Today, while driving from Reno, Nevada to California on Interstate 80, we encountered a May snow storm that dumped snow in the high Sierra and delivered cold temperatures as well as near-white-out conditions. High wind conditions slammed snow onto us and fellow travelers, causing slower traffic conditions, and Amber Alert Message Board warnings to carry chains.

2015 was reportedly the warmest year on record (since humans started recording temperatures), and this year seems to be basking in the El Niño's complex weather patterns...hence, snow in May.

Many friends and acquaintances have recently mentioned that they are "ready for the summer", however, I personally like cooler temperatures, rain, and snow storms. In the wake of severe drought conditions in the western United States, which we are not out of the woods by any means, even with May snow, I would think people would be more concerned about precipitation levels than "summer fun".
U.S. Drought Monitor forCalifornia
Graphic: David Simeral, Western Regional Climate Center.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln in partnership with national and federal agencies have a drought monitoring website at that shows current conditions of drought throughout the United States. In the eleven most western states, over 43 million people reside in some level of drought, and to date California is the hardest hit. California literally represents all levels of drought conditions, from no drought to exceptional drought (D4) conditions. As of today, California's drought map developed by David Simeral of the Western Regional Climate Center depicts the severity. Nevada is close with up to Extreme Drought (D3) conditions.

We do not know what the next few years will offer in the way of precipitation, and today's snow was welcomed. I feel that any amount of precip equates to the proverbial drop-in-the-bucket, and every drop matters to Californians and Nevadans alike. I hope that those 43 million people realize that despite the wonderful snow pack we received this past winter, we still need to conserve our water, and find ways to reduce our water usage. My husband and I decided to eliminate the waste of water on ornamental lawns at our place in Reno, for a natural landscape with drought-resistant plants. Not only a huge improvement of the house's curb appeal, but our water usage is much less. Win-win for us!

Our house before we moved into it in 2013.

After adding a walkway, repairing driveway and sidewalk, and installing natural landscaping, 2016.

I am all for a little "summer fun", but I am so grateful for today's precipitation in the form of rain and snow over the Sierra Nevada.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Finally...graduation is here!

As I walked to the Paul Laxalt Mineral Engineering building on campus to take my final Final exam as an undergraduate, I pondered how many times I made this same walk the past two years, and how time has flown by.  The Final was at 8AM for Environmental Geochemistry, which is basically the chemistry that involves groundwater and the hydrologic cycle. Tough class with an amazing professor, Dr. Simon Poulson.  The day was beautiful, as I walked north from the parking lot south of the Alumni building. White lawn chairs were being placed for the graduation ceremonies on May 13 and 14 on the quadrangle.  The grassy quadrangle at University of Nevada, Reno is lined with old elm trees that were planted in 1908. The quad itself was labeled as a "Jeffersonian academic village" by the National Register for Historic Places. The lawn is today called the "Mother Quad", a once-forbidden area for undergrads back in the late 1800s, fortunately, everyone can use Mother Quad nowadays.

Taking the Final was as nerve-racking as any other Final exam, however this one was special because I knew it was my last as an undergrad. Walking out of the classroom after turning in my Final packet, I realized that all I had left was to walk and receive my diploma (actually its a rolled up piece of paper saying it is an IOU for a degree from UNR to be mailed in June).

What a feeling!

How I got here to this place, to this time has been along and amazing journey. One that I have to admit was peppered with doubt, fear, frustration, success, happiness, and strength. It was not a journey I took alone. I was supported and uplifted by so many people who encouraged me when I wanted to throw-in-the-towel, or when I doubted myself. People like my mom and dad, who never gave up on me and who always told me how proud they were of me and what I was doing. My mom was there in the audience when they called my name and as I walked across the stage. My dad was in Heaven looking down and rooting me on. I carried some of his ashes in a blue crystal heart pendant as I walked because it was one of his dreams to go to college. I wore this necklace a lot at school, and especially when I needed his strength.

My mom and dad in 1952.

My sister has always been supportive of my goals as well as my two children. My professors and research professors endlessly gave of their knowledge to drive and encourage me to ask the important questions.
My sister, Rosie and I at graduation...yay my hair is blue!

My friends were all full of encouragement and support. Sometimes offering a swift kick in the butt if I needed it (occasionally I did). I might have physically walked alone at graduation, but I walked with so many people who were by my side in spirit.

Thanks to...
   Professor Eva Mo, Professor Garry Hayes, Professor Noah Hughes, Dr. Susan Kerr, Dr. Stacia Gordon, Dr. Angela Smilanich, Dr. John McCormack, Dr. Paula Noble, all my professors at UNR (you ALL were the best!!!), Rick Kauffman (my research buddy), Mike St. Clair (someone I could always vent to), Dustin Holcomb (great study buddy and fellow IPA connoisseur), and all my classmates and study groups, my family, my friends (Teresa and Kathy especially),  and to my Heavenly Father who never let me forget how blessed I am.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Geology Field Camp Part 3

At field camp the geology student must apply many aspects of their education to the their field experience. From the basics learned in Geology 101 up to your senior year geophysics class or rock-forming processes (mineralogy). All those seemingly heterogeneous lessons begin congealing into this huge mass of knowledge that helps you to put geology, and more importantly, geologic processes into perspective. You are literally armed with tonnes of info to glean from so that when you go out into the field, you are able to piece major structures, rock units, mineralogy, and other visual keys within the rocks to 'tell' you their story.

This might sound easy, however it was much harder than one can expect. Despite your best efforts in trying to interpret what you are seeing in the rock,  there is always that voice in the back of your head asking you "are your sure?", "did you forget anything?", or "do you even know what it is your are looking at?" The latter being the most annoying for sure. The insecurity of a new geologist in training is numerous to say the least. We all second-guessed ourselves, and other students we were teamed up with. Questions or doubts as to what you observed and what your partners observed can be quite different at times. It may be as little as not seeing/missing a certain contact between rock units,  taking a bad bearing (reading), or placing your colluvium and alluvium in the wrong places on your field map.

What is she talking about? All these crazy-sounding words? Well to help you out if you are not a geology person here are a few brief definitions that I hope helps.

contact: where two very different rock layers or formations make contact with each other.
bearing: a reading off a compass (we use something called a Brunton with is a compass with lots of other tools to take measurements of rocks and contacts).
colluvium: is basically the rock debris found at the base of slopes or on slopes that weather from the rock unit(s) above. Other words for colluvium is scree and talus slope or talus accumulation. The biggest differences depends on materials (homogeneous or heterogeneous, and whether or not water was involved in their placement).
alluvium: debris that is usually the size of gravel or smaller that was deposited by some type of fluid/water flow.

Okay enough with the Webster's lesson. While I was mapping our Antelope Mountain project, which was a five-day project east of Eureka, Nevada, we came across many areas that really challenged our skills. The key to making sense of what contacts and structures we saw was what we wrote down in our field book (a geologists' notebook). Note-taking for geologists is an extensive process because we are looking for so many details of the rocks that lay before us. Of course, in writing our field notes we go back to all those classes from undergrad and upper level courses to ensure we get every piece of information we can from our observations.
Example of Theodolite cellphone camera picture taken at one of many Lake Lahontan sites we visited near the end of our summer field camp.

One part of grading on all of our mapping projects were our notebooks. All I can say is that is it NOT easy to keep your field book looking beautiful and clean...and when you are OCD like me, it is downright traumatic. Equipment is so important to geology and we rely on many tools that help us to read the rocks of our wonderful planet. The best advice I can give to any undergrad geology students in their first or second year at college is to start saving your change. You will be able to save enough to help you start building your field pack with the right equipment.
Fourth day of Antelope Summit mapping project was a bit of a wash(out) as it rained so heavy for a day and a half that we had difficulty getting our vans and trucks back into the area...and you thought the Nevada desert was brown and ugly. This is located in eastern Nevada just east of the town of Eureka, NV.

You can take all the knowledge given to you, and have all the right equipment in your field pack, but always remember that the best tools that will help when you later as you put your project reports together is your field note. Take pictures with your cell phone (and always carry a ruler to show scale) in addition to your field notes. There are even a couple of cool cell phone apps you can get that work well for field work, e.g., Theodolite, Google Earth, Geotimescale 2, etc. Although as you start getting yourself ready for your senior field camp school, the best advice is not to wait until the last minute to put a field pack together...and always carry a lot of water.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Geology Field Camp Part Two

Hiking Pancake Summit was the first challenge I faced at UNR Summer Geology Field Camp. Being many, many moons older than the "kids" in my class, overweight, arthritic, and studded with neurological pain was to say the least - interesting. However, I found that "mind-over-matter" is a practice that I have mastered over the past 17 years after my injury on the job.

Each mapping day was a challenge of terrain, sagebrush, thorny plants, loose scree (rock fragments) on steep slopes, and fatigue. It was mentally as well as physically demanding due to our tight schedule. Pancake was a five-day hike and mapping with one day off (which really means you do laundry and work as much as you can on all the reports due for the project), and staying up all night to complete everything that was due on day six at 2PM.

The beauty of nature was inspiring, however I held onto thoughts that pushed me to complete each day and to not give up (believe me when I say I cried several days from pain and fatigue and wanted to quit and just go home...)

The following became my inspiration, my strength, and my daily ritual...

I thought about my two little beautiful granddaughters in Hawaii, and hope that someday they see my example and know that dreams can come true anytime in your life.

I also thought about my little California granddaughters who are really princesses and they dress like this everyday (really). I see them as often as school schedule allows, and try to instill in them the importance of a higher education. I love to teach them about rocks...and both these little ladies, I mean princesses, are excellent rock finders. [I can't wait til they are older so they can carry rocks for me as we hike around].

I thought about my late father, who recently passed away on June 14, 2015 after seven long years of suffering a disease similar to Lou Gehrig's. My dad had only a tenth grade education. He was proud of me attending a university, and took me his dream as a little boy was to go to Cal. I wished he had had the same opportunity as I found in my life to go to college and get a degree. It is an accomplishment that no one can take from you, or minimize in any way.

Last, I would tell myself that I need to put my "big girl panties" on and buck up and take one day at a time. After each completed day hiking and mapping the geology around Pancake Summit became a huge accomplishment for me. I treated each day as a "win" and that pushed me to continue.

I have come such a long way, a lot of money, and sacrifice of being with family to NOT do this. 

Truth is, I am happy I was able to finish it despite the lost of my day the last week of camp. But he was with me. I heard him on the winds atop of mountains we hiked. I heard him in the running streams and rivers we came across. I felt him every step, helping me to hike with the weight of equipment, 6 L of water, and a change of clothing. 

We all have the capability of finding strength in those we love, and those who love us...they are far away, or across oceans, and even Heaven, but they are embedded deep in our hearts and minds. They push us each step of our journey...and I cannot be more grateful for their love and support.

Dad, I wish you could have stayed long enough to see your daughter receive her B.S. in Geology, and although I know you will not be physically there in the audience of well-wishers, you will be there in heart and in spirit. You were a great father, and a true inspiration in my life. I will listen for you on the winds in my future hikes, and feel your strength as I take each step in my life.

To my little four angels (princesses) - I am doing this mostly for you.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Geology Field Camp - Part One

One of the dorm rooms at the Field Station
New Ruth, Nevada is small mining town located in central eastern Nevada, near Ely. New Ruth is the home of  the Robinson Mining Company open pit copper mine, and the University of Nevada-Reno's Evasovic Geology Field Station. The Field Station was my home for a little over a month, where we mapped geology in 3-5 day projects.

Field Camp is 6-week adventure that tests all the education, techniques, methods, and scientific theories that geology students learned from 100-level classes through the 400-level classes. Field Camp presents projects that pull together all that you learned, and allows you to deliver a completed field map, final map, geologic history of the map area, lithic descriptions, cross-sections, and stratigraphy columns.Although the Field Station is far from luxurious, it provided us hot showers, a roof over our head, and flushing privies - all good things when you have hiked all day with heavy packs. Our first night we have a beautifully colored sunset (below).

First sunset at Ruth Field Station, May 22, 2015

The "deliverables" for each project were due by the next day following the completion of the mapping/hiking days assigned to the project. If you did not work on anything after each day, it called for you to work through the night (after an exhausting day of hiking and climbing 8.22-12 miles). Working through the night however is not the best way to deliver your project to those grading them because you miss a lot of little things that can really hurt your grade. I found it much more productive to work on my deliverables each night, even if it is just setting up a template for the final item.

The first of the geology mapping planned for us was that of Pancake Summit. Pancake Summit is located about an hour west of the field station, near Eureka, Nevada.

The Pancake range is one that is truly remarkable once you start hiking into it. From Highway 50, it might not seem like a wonderful place to hike and map geology, however once off the highway, the range provides beauty, interesting geology, fossils, and critters. Afternoon clouds rolled in and giving us nice coverage, although a little rain here and there, however a few days we dodged the rain, which seemed to fall all around us, but never right on us.

Lunch break at Pancake range, day 3 of 5

More to follow...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Genoa Fault Field Trip

Been too long since my last blog...this summer I thought it would be "fun" to knock out my last Calculus and Chemistry classes, and take on a third for my core humanities. Boy was that dumb! Taking Chemistry122 in 4 weeks was crazy, and at least I had 6 weeks for Calculus, but passed it all so thankfully that was three classes eliminated from my Fall and Spring semesters.

This semester is Geological Engineering Data Analysis, Geological Structures, Optical Mineralogy I, and American Experience/Constitution Change...all the GEOL classes with labs. I am loving Optical Mineralogy as it plays into much of what I did this summer in my undergraduate research project. I am looking forward to learning a lot in GEDA using MatLab, which is supposedly an intuitive computer program we can write our own code far NOT so intuitive, but it is just the beginning of the Fall semester, so I cannot judge too hastily the goals of this particular class.

Structures landed us our first field study class to the Genoa Fault outcrop located just south of the little (and quite lovely) town of Genoa, NV.  NOT to be confused or pronounced like the coastal jewel of Genoa in Italy.

Anyways, back to the field trip. Our measurements were taken from the footwall which is where all the students are standing on top of the talus debris. The students are a mixture of mining engineers, geological engineers, geophysicists, and geologists. Guess who was done first with their measurements? Right, the geologists! It was fun though to watch the engineers figure out how to use a Brunton compass to measure strike, dip, trend and plunge.

UNR students taking measurements on the exposed footwall of the Genoa Fault. Note the hanging wall is far right in picture

The exposed section of the Genoa Fault above, is not the only place where it has been exposed for geologists to admire. There are other places, all which I would love to check out sometime in the near future. However, if you ever find yourself driving your car down Highway 395 in Nevada, just between Carson City and Minden, take the short side trip west towards the town of Genoa and the Historical Mormon Station, and turn left at the stop sign in town. Drive is fairly quick and you cannot miss this gigantic structure on your right as you drive. Take brunton and water as you will want to play...

Students working at deciphering grain size, lithification, and other data for their report at the handing wall of the Genoa Fault.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again

Sorry I have been away for such a lengthy period. First my dad was hospitalized with his third pneumonia this year, then my mom went in for chest pains, and my son-in-law for vomiting up blood. To say the least, I have spent more time in California than anticipated, as I had registered for 11 units this summer semester.

Started Chemistry 122, and hoping it goes well. 4 weeks, 2 hours of lecture each day with two three-hour labs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fortunately I am taking it with Dr. Martin, who I had for Chemistry 121.

Enjoying a wonderful summer storm with A LOT of thunder, and down pours. We all need the rain so no complaints here. I sat looking at the rain coming down, and realized just how peaceful I felt looking at it. I think as students, and definitely as adult children of aging parents, stress in ways we do not realize. I started having stomach problems of recent, and my brother who has been struggling with his own medical issues told me about Kefir. So I starting drinking it everyday and it is amazing how good my stomach is beginning to feel.

Taking Calculus 182 tests really pushed me to the limit with stress as I am not the best math student, but I work very hard and put in 8-10 hours everyday studying...but I learned a great trick from a friend who teaches. While out to dinner at a mutual friend's house I told her how stressed out I get. She shared with me some research she had read. I have tried everything, so although I trusted this woman sincerely, I doubted anything would help me stay calm. I have to admit that I was a little excited for my third Calc exam where I had planned to use this technique. It was worked so well for me I have been sharing it with everyone I talk to.

If you have test anxiety try these few steps:
  1. Sit in chair with feet flat on ground. Tighten your legs, butt and stomach muscles as hard as you can. I even clenched my fists. Hold it for 15-30 seconds. Release.
  2. Take three nice deep breaths and exhale slowly. 
Your body will react as if you just ran away from your test. The body and brain start working together and thinking that the danger has passed (kind of like the Fight-or-Flight Syndrome idea). Blood starts flowing back into your brain and you think clearer.

So hopefully this will help someone else as much as it helped me. It improved my test grades by 1.5 letter grades. If only all my classes were geology...I never feared a geology test.