After having spent a day and a half in Singapore, it was time to fly to Diego Garcia on 25 Oct for the main part of my Indian Ocean adventure! I met up at the hotel in Singapore with Rachel & Adam, the two Colorado State University atmospheric science grad students who are on Diego with me, and we took a taxi to the Singapore military airport at Paya Lebar. The cabbie didn’t know where exactly to drop us off, and neither did we. Rachel & Adam had a hand-drawn map that someone had emailed them, but it apparently didn’t contain enough info for our cab driver (or even a military guy at a bus stop who we asked for help) to understand what it was a map of. Oh well! Eventually we got to the right place. Obviously no pictures were allowed because it was a military airport.
At the terminal we met Heather, the NCAR technician who’s here as our supervisor on the island. She was supposed to fly out the day before, but the DC-8 was on the fritz (she still had to wait for 6 hours at the airport the day before, though), so instead she wound up flying out the same day as us. After about 2-3 hours of waiting in the small terminal we boarded a bus that drove us out on the tarmac to where the C-17 was sitting. The safety briefing about the plane seemed pretty standard, until the guy at the microphone got to the part about lifejackets. Then he paused for a bit, clearly trying to figure out what to say next, and then simply said, “Umm, the lifejackets are pretty self-explanatory, you all know how to put one on.” I thought that was pretty funny, and not “by the book” like you’d expect the military to be.
The flight itself wasn’t as wasn’t freezing cold like we were warned it would be. I had on jeans and a t-shirt, and if anything, I was too warm during the flight because of the heat vent right above my seat. So the long sleeve shirt, hoodie, hat, and gloves that I packed are all useless until I land in Colorado in late November. However, the plane was pretty loud. When I had my earplugs in the flight sounded about as loud as a normal commercial jet, but I could barely hear the person next to me, so they were definitely doing their job. Also, the seats were quite uncomfortable, mainly because of the lifejacket that served as a “lumbar support.” During takeoff and a bout of turbulence mid-flight I was also really wishing there were windows to look out of while we were seated (each side had only two or three small windows in the entire main cabin). Here are some photos from the flight:
In the top right photo, my seat was next to the guy in the foreground at the bottom left corner (I sat to his right), so my view was staring at the boxes in the foreground. Scenic!
Eventually we landed in Diego Garcia at night, and got a cool stamp in our passports for British Indian Ocean Territory. There was even a British diplomat of some sort on the plane, and he was excited to get a BIOT passport stamp. We got a ride to our hotel from one of the students that we were replacing, and then Heather, Rachel and I walked down to the Ship’s Store (the general store) to buy a beer or two to celebrate that we actually landed on this remote tropical island. It was exciting to be here at long last.
Next time: some photos and stories from our first couple days on Diego! I’m going to try to make the posts about the island more bite-sized and frequent, rather than infrequent and novella-sized.
My flight from Perth landed in Singapore back on Sunday evening (23 Oct), but with less than 48 hours in the city before my flight to Diego Garcia, I decided not to waste any time and get started on exploring Singapore! So I checked into my hotel (which is the nicest I’ve ever stayed in, the Crowne Plaza at Changi Airport), dropped off my bags, and hopped on the train into the city center.
My first mission was to find some dinner, so I went to one of Singapore’s best hawker centres, Lau Pa Sat, near the Raffles Place metro station downtown (it took forever for me to find my way out of the underground mall at that station — Singapore’s quite fond of endless underground malls, it seems). Hawker centres are essentially food courts with hundreds of stalls selling various foods and drinks, and are generally pretty cheap (and cheaper than the actual “food courts” in malls). Apparently you can’t say you’ve been to Singapore without going to at least one hawker centre. After much wandering around, I settled on some Indian food for S$7 and some sugarcane juice for S$2. Sugarcane juice is quite tasty, I might add, even though the “pea soup green” color might not look terribly appetizing. It was also most welcome to have a cheap meal after burning through money like crazy for food in Australia.
After that I wandered around the CBD and Colonial District areas a bit, making sure to check out Merlion Park. The Merlion, a half-mermaid half-lion fountain, is probably Singapore’s most famous icon. And even though it was nighttime, the humidity in Singapore was oppressive (it’s practically on the equator, after all). Being in Singapore made me absolutely adore air conditioning more than probably any other place I’ve ever been. It was cool to see the CBD and waterfront at night though.
On Monday the 24th I took the train back into the city, first to the Little India neighborhood, roughly following the walking tour that my Lonely Planet guide set out. It’s a neat, colorful, scented place. The district was also even more abuzz and decorated than usual because Deepavali, a Hindu celebration, was going on. While walking around Little India I also went into a couple of Hindu and Buddhist temples. The Hindu temples in particular had many visitors because of Deepavali. Many candles and food sacrifices were being offered to the idols.
From Little India I walked over to the neighboring Kampong Glam district (referred to by tourists as the Arab district). After getting a good lunch at Cafe Le Caire (rated by Lonely Planet as the best Middle Eastern restaurant in Kampong Glam), I then checked out the beautiful Sultan Mosque. To go inside I had to put on a blue robe-like garment since I was wearing shorts. It was interesting to read the info boards promoting Islam. Some of that info sure didn’t seem to jibe with what’s going on in the world in Muslim countries today (especially about attitudes toward other religions or status/treatment of women)… In theory I wasn’t allowed in the main prayer hall since I am not Muslim, but one of the tour guides said I could go inside and pray to “see what it’s like.” I said that I was a Christian and respectfully declined the opportunity. The young man gently persisted, saying that Islam and Christianity were “pretty much the same.” I basically told him that I didn’t agree, but politely got out of that conversation. I just didn’t feel like that was the time or place to start a theological discussion, especially with a person who I didn’t know. After leaving the mosque I walked up past the Kampong Glam cemetery (and another mosque) on my way to a metro station.
I took the metro over to Dhoby Ghaut to check out the National Museum of Singapore, as much for the history lesson as for the afternoon respite in air conditioning. I only checked out the Singapore national history gallery, which was pretty neat. They handed out headphones and a media player to guide you through the exhibits. There really weren’t descriptions of the artifacts on the walls, only numbers to punch in to the media player to read or listen to a description. It was cool to see the history of Singapore from around 1000 A.D. to English colonization to Japanese invasion to Singaporean independence.
After an hour and a half in the museum I took the metro up to Newton to have dinner at the Newton Circus Hawker Centre. The touts for the various stalls were quite aggressive there, and the food was a lot more expensive than at Lau Pa Sat the night before. One tout said he had cold Tiger Beer (the ubiquitous Singaporean lager, which is actually pretty decent), and when he could see that I was at least interested, before I knew what happened he’d opened the beer for me and set it down on the table and put a menu in my hands. At that point I figured I should just sit down and find something to order. The Tiger Beer was well deserved anyway at the end of such a long, hot day. And you have to sample the local beer when traveling, right?
I made it back to the hotel in time to go for a quick swim in the pool, which, disappointingly, was no deeper than 4 feet. And as hard as they tried to create a tropical getaway atmosphere at the outdoor pool, the hotel and pool is still situated between the air traffic control tower and a runway. But oh boy did that pool feel good after walking around all day in the tropical heat and humidity!
There’s still more of Singapore that I’d like to see, especially Sentosa Island, but that will have to wait until after I get back from Diego. There wasn’t time to go see any more of Singapore the next day because of our flight. More on that — and Diego Garcia — coming up next time!
What a week! My third visit to Australia is over and done with. This one went by really quickly, just six days. This was by far my shortest visit yet to Australia. While a six-day visit from Colorado wouldn’t be worth it because of how expensive it is to get there and how long it takes to get there, a six-day visit from Singapore is worth it. Here’s a rundown of some of what I did and saw in W.A. (Sometime after I leave Diego Garcia I’ll post full photo albums on Facebook.)
Mon 17 Oct: South Perth
After my arrival in Perth and getting a chance to wash up and whatnot, Bob & I grilled some steaks at a park along the Swan River in South Perth. The river nicely reflected the city lights of the Perth CBD. I also made the discovery that jet lag + very little sleep in the previous 72 hours + about half a bottle of wine = EARLY bedtime. It felt so good to sleep though!
I’d also just like to say how much I prefer Qantas to United or almost any American-based airline, especially for longer flights. On my flights between Singapore & Perth, every seat had its own monitor and media controller, so I watched two movies instead of sleeping. The food is also actually decent on Qantas. As an added bonus, Qantas serves ice cream after dinner, too! So there are more reasons why Qantas is my favorite airline, beyond the fact that it usually means I’m flying to/from/within Australia.
Tue 18 Oct: Fremantle
On the 18th Bob & I drove down to Fremantle, a vital port city at the mouth of the Swan River (Perth is 20 km upriver). We went to the Western Australia Maritime Museum. The Maritime Museum has a 1960s-era submarine on display, the HMAS Ovens, and we got a tour through it from a former submarine sailor with the Royal Australian Navy. That was pretty neat, and my first time ever in a submarine. The Maritime Museum also had a host of other ships on display too, including the Australia II which won the America’s Cup in 1983, and a boat on which some guy made three consecutive world circumnavigations (one westward, two eastward).
Bob went back to Perth to go to work, but I stuck around in Fremantle for lunch at a brewery called Little Creatures (selling shirts that said “Drink a Little,” haha). This is where I was once again reminded just how expensive eating out is in Australia. My pint cost A$10, and my pizza (intended for one person) was A$21 (A$ and US$ are roughly equivalent at the moment).
Then I also visited the Maritime Museum Shipwreck Gallery. The museum was all about shipwrecks off the WA coast, focusing on four Dutch East India Company (VOC) shipwrecks, the Batavia (1629), the Vergulde Draak (1656), the Zuytdorp (1712), and the Zeewijk (1747). Many artifacts from all four ships have been recovered, and a part of the wooden hull of the Batavia has been recovered and reconstructed as well. The story of the Batavia wreck and mutiny is really a fascinating one.
Wed 19 Oct: Cape Leeuwin & Cosy Corner
On the 19th Bob & I drove 3 hrs down to the South West, a top vacation spot for Perth residents. It’s an area filled with spectacular beaches, more than a hundred wineries, and more than 300 caves.
Our first stop was all the way down at Cape Leeuwin, the southwesternmost point in Australia, where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. The odd currents that this creates, combined with numerous rocks and islands off shore makes Cape Leeuwin one of the most dangerous capes in the world; almost two dozen known shipwrecks have occurred offshore there. Cape Leeuwin’s picturesque lighthouse is the tallest in Australia, and is still in use. I took a tour up to the top, which provided some spectacular views.
After Cape Leeuwin, we made our way back up the Indian Ocean coastline on Caves Road to Cosy Corner Beach, Redgate Beach, and Ellenstown Beach, before spending the night at a hostel in Margaret River, the main town in the region.
Thu 20 Oct: Yallingup & Cape Naturaliste
On the morning of the 20th Bob & I took a private surfing lesson at Smiths Beach near Yallingup. It was Bob’s first ever lesson, and my second. In my first lesson, which was almost exactly 7 years ago at Lorne, VIC, along the Great Ocean Road, I never managed to stand up on my board, and only successfully rode into shore on my knees once. This time I was determined to do better, and I did! It took me a few tries, but I managed to stand up a few times on my board! I still couldn’t get up to my feet every time, but I know I made big progress. And with only two of us in the lesson, our instructor gave both of us quite a bit of very helpful attention and suggestions. The weather was also fantastic for the surf lesson.
Following the surf lesson we popped down the beach a couple kilometers to a place called Canal Rocks. These are metamorphic rock outcrops through which the pounding surf has carved several canals, making several islands. This was one of those special places where I could’ve spent all day watching and listening to the roaring waves.
After Canal Rocks we swung by a winery called Windgate. In the Margaret River region you can hardly throw a stone without hitting a winery, there are so many. Apparently I was uncouth with the order in which I tasted the various wines, but oh well. I didn’t buy a bottle (since I only had a couple days left in Aus), but Bob did. Believe it or not this was the first winery I’d ever visited and done a tasting at (my parents and I drove into a winery in New Zealand in 2004 but didn’t pop in for a tasting). Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Colorado are not exactly prime wine regions, to say the least.
Then it was off to Ngilgi Cave (pronounced NIL-gee). The tour of Ngilgi Cave was semi self-guided, and was quite interesting. Ngilgi is especially known for its numerous shawl formations, which are stalactites that resemble sheets or curtains; Bob & I thought they looked like strips of bacon. Mmmm, bacon… I think that Ngilgi was the first cave I’d been in since Mammoth Cave in Kentucky with my parents back in 1994.
After being underground for an hour, we popped up to Cape Naturaliste for a bushwalk. I didn’t feel the need to get a tour of the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse since it’s short and well inland. On that walk the wildflowers were quite spectacular, and we spotted a few whales in Geographe Bay as well.
Then it was back to Margaret River for the night again. Here’s a funny story. While Bob was off swimming laps in the local pool, I was sorting through some photos on my laptop in a common area of the hostel. At one point this eccentric-looking girl walked up and asked if she could sit on the couch too. Before I could even move all my stuff off that side of the couch, she plopped down. She had long blonde hair, a hat, a backpack, a CD walkman, a long white flower, an Australian hymn book, and a big bottle (white wine?) that she kept drinking from. She really gave off the crazy vibe (or the hippy vibe, I wasn’t quite sure at first). She had headphones on listening loudly to music, and I noticed she was very frustrated that her computer wasn’t working. Eventually, out of the blue, she blurted that she worked for the CIA. That caught my attention. I decided to play along and asked several questions. I’ll sum up her rambling, incoherent story. She said she was 34 years old (she looked about 23), that she was from Margaret River, and that the CIA recruited her when she was 16 to be a typist. She also said that the hostel was on UN property, and that that meant that WA cops couldn’t come on the property. She said her house had also been broken into three times, all three times with only her U.S. passport (despite being an Aussie) being stolen and nothing else. She then started quoting her passport numbers to me, and started them all off with an ‘H’ (which they don’t). Then she said she had a New Zealand police badge, because her mother was once a secretary for two years for NZ PM Muldoon during his tenure. It was bewildering trying to keep up with everything, haha. Eventually she got up and walked off for a moment, and the hostel clerk asked me if I knew her. I said no, and that she was “bat-shit crazy.” He said he’d heard reports from other hostel employees and guests of a woman fitting her description that was becoming a problem. A minute later I saw the hostel clerk trying to escort her off the property. I heard him ask, “You have to leave, can I get you a taxi?” To which she replied, “I don’t do taxis.” That was the last I heard or saw of her, but I definitely got my fill of crazy for the night!
Fri 21 Oct: Penguin Island & Perth
Bob had to work on the afternoon of the 21st, so we hit the road back to Perth in the morning. Along the way we stopped in Rockingham, a southern suburb, to take a ferry over to Penguin Island. Penguin Island is quite small (only about 45-60 minutes to walk around), but is a sanctuary for many types of birds, including seagulls, pelicans, terns, and fairy penguins. There’s also a penguin centre on the island that is home to several rescued penguins. We checked out a feeding there before heading “back to Australia,” as the ferry operator termed it. (I’m pretty sure we didn’t need our passports for the 5-minute ferry ride to the island though, haha!).
After Bob went to work, I made my way down to the Perth Mint. Unfortunately I was 20 minutes late for the last tour of the day, bummer. I’d hoped to watch gold being poured into bars, and to touch a huge gold nugget. I wandered back through downtown Perth, and made my way to Kings Park, a huge 9 sq. km park just outside of and overlooking the city centre. It was already early evening, so I didn’t go too deep into the park, most of which is unlit. I did stick around for some nice nighttime views of the city, though.
Sat 22 Oct: Rottnest Island
I got up in the morning and took the train down to Fremantle, where I caught a ferry out to Rottnest Island, about 20 km off the coast. There I rented a bicycle, as that’s the best way to get around the island (only a few support vehicles and small tour buses are allowed on the island; no personal or rental cars). The weather wasn’t great that day, about 70 degrees with occasional sprinkles or light rain (and steady rain for the last 30-45 minutes I was on Rotto), so instead of lounging around on one of the many fantastic beaches, I decided to ride my bike around to see as much of the island as I could. I did a complete circuit of the island, including all the way out to the western end, Cape Vlamingh, where I sat and watched three pods of whales offshore for several minutes. All told I biked somewhere around 30 km, which made me quite sore since I hadn’t ridden a bike in about three years! My favorite beach of the day was Ricey Beach. There was absolutely nobody there, and I wanted to linger more than the 20 minutes that I did, but I was still several kilometers away from Thomson Bay with less than an hour until my ferry left. I did just barely catch the ferry on time.
I had a hankering for fish and chips, so when I got back to Fremantle I went to Cicerello’s, one of the most famous seafood places in W.A. Considering everything was fairly expensive, I decided to splurge a few extra bucks for the “Cicerello’s Delight,” a A$32 seafood sampler plate, plus salad and chips. I was in shock when I went to pick up my order from the counter because it was so enormous. It caught the attention of some other diners too, who asked what it was. There was a bowl of clams, about a dozen kalamari curls, a couple prawns, and a couple fish filets (not sure which fish though). It was a lot of food! I managed to finish about 80-90% of it though (all except for a few kalamari twirls and a few chips), which prompted the manager to say to me, unprompted, “That’s a good effort! Many people can’t even finish half of that!”
A little damper was put on the day when I found out that an American diver was killed by a shark off Rottnest Island that afternoon, probably about the time I went for a dip at Ricey Beach, and only a couple beaches over from there. Kinda freaky. It’s the third fatal shark attack in the last two months in Western Australia: one was in Bunker Bay two months ago, not too far from where Bob & I had our surfing lesson; one was a couple weeks ago at Cottesloe, a Perth suburb with a very popular beach that Bob frequents (and which I visited last year); and now the Rottnest one. All the cases happened with cloudy skies, because sharks have a harder time identifying distinct shapes when it’s overcast. Still, it’s not worth living in fear of a shark attack, because it’s more likely that you’ll be struck by lightning or killed in a car accident.
I flew back to Singapore on Sunday the 23rd. My six days in Aus went by so quickly. I always wish I could have more time in Australia, but I guess that just means I’ll have to come back for a fourth visit someday! I just wish it weren’t so far away. I still have several other places on my Aussie bucket list to visit, including Uluru, Kakadu, Ningaloo, and Tasmania. Oh darn, a few more trips worth of sightseeing!
So now i’ve been in Singapore for a couple days (blog entry coming eventually), and my flight to Diego Garcia is scheduled to leave this afternoon. There’s a decent chance the flight will be delayed, but whenever I get there I’ll be with only 128k internet for four weeks. I’ll update my blog here occasionally, but there likely won’t be too many photos accompanying them. Let the main act of my Indian Ocean adventure begin!
My Indian Ocean adventure has begun! I left my house at 6:30am on Saturday morning (after only 4 hours of sleep because of the awesome David Crowder Band concert in Denver the night before, which I’ll post about at some point). Tim picked me up and dropped me off at an RTD bus stop on the Boulder-DIA route — I have an RTD pass so it only costs me $5, which is a sweet deal. There was another NCAR guy on the bus to the airport, so it was good to have some conversation.
While waiting at my gate at Denver I gave my parents a farewell phone call, booked my flights home for Christmas on Southwest, and then my first flight to San Francisco left about 10am. On that flight I chatted with a guy who works for a company in Boulder that makes LIDARs (including for NCAR). He grew up in Eau Claire, is a huge Badger fan, and proudly told me how much he and all Wisconsin fans hate Penn State and our “88-year old troll of a coach.” And then he went on a rant about how much he hates Nebraska and how he hopes they don’t win a Big Ten title for at least 15 years, haha. Methinks he doesn’t like change in the Big Ten! On another note, the Flatirons and Rockies were beautiful to fly over. I could see my neighborhood in Gunbarrel too!
In San Francisco I had barely enough time to snarf down some lunch (figured I’d better take advantage of my last chance to get good Mexican food for six weeks!) before it was time to board our 1pm flight to Hong Kong. Mechanical problems of some sort (a valve needed to be replaced?) forced us back to the gate for awhile, so we took off about an hour and a half late. On that flight I sat next to a guy originally from New Zealand but currently from New Orleans, who was on his way to a marine shipping conference in Singapore. We chatted quite a bit about global warming and the politics of all that, and also the relationship between science and religion, even though he wasn’t a Christian. He was a cool guy. I also managed to get a bit of sleep scattered throughout the 13+ hour flight.
I have decided that I much prefer flying Qantas for trans-Pacific flights than United. On Qantas each seat has its own screen, so you can choose what you want to watch, whereas United has one single viewing option at a time in the economy cabin, and most of it was crap. I also think Qantas is a touch more spacious, with slightly larger seats and slightly more leg room. I could be imagining things though.
Because of our 1.5-hr delay in San Francisco, we landed late in Hong Kong and had to go straight to board our flight to Singapore. Interestingly we had to go through another two security checks (including one metal detector) before being allowed onto the Singapore flight. The checks weren’t quite as stringent as the ones in the U.S. (didn’t have to take off my shoes, for instance), but my guess is that Singapore has tighter security than many other countries that have flights to Hong Kong (or maybe even HKG itself), and so wanted that extra security for inbound flights. (Or at least that was my guess until I went through security this morning, when I didn’t even have to walk through a metal detector!) That flight left a half hour late despite everyone boarding in time. It was also a 747, just like the SFO-HKG flight, and I had the same exact seat. I really felt like I had just done that…
So we landed at Singapore at about 12:15am this morning (Monday the 17th). After going through immigration and claiming my bag, I asked around where the “nap rooms” were that I’d read about (Lonely Planet advertised nap rooms in the airport that you could rent for up to 6 hrs for just S$40). Apparently the nap rooms are back behind security, and I needed a boarding pass to get back there. Of course since it was now 1am, the Qantas desk was closed. So I found a “viewing gallery” that had some rows of chairs set up. I tried to sleep from 1:30am to about 4:30am, but those chairs were not comfortable to lay on. Maybe I briefly fell asleep once or twice?? Eventually I gave up and went downstairs to wait for the Qantas ticket desk to open up, which it did at 6:30am.
I should just add here that Singapore’s Changi Airport is by far the nicest airport I’ve ever been in. It really is luxurious. There are plenty of free lounges everywhere, it’s incredibly spacious, very clean, and even the bathrooms are awesome. Also, once I got through security this morning I was immediately approached by an airport staffperson asking if I needed anything. I asked where the free internet kiosk was, and the woman gave me the username and password so that I could get on with my own laptop, instead of having to use the free computers. (Hence I could post this!)
Anyway, now it’s been 35.5 hours since I left my house, and in that time I’ve gotten maybe 4-5 hours of sleep. In one hour (9am Singapore time) my Qantas flight to Perth is scheduled to take off. After that 5+ hour flight, I’ll finally be DONE with airports and planes for a few days! I can’t wait! And I can’t wait to be back in Australia again! I’ll try to post at least once while I’m in Perth visiting Bob. Until next time…
Many of you probably know about this by now because I announced it on Facebook a couple months ago, but I’ll be living for a month this fall on Diego Garcia. I’m pretty excited about it!
Where is Diego Garcia?
DG is a tiny atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And when I say it’s in the middle of the Indian Ocean, I do mean it’s in the middle of the Indian Ocean: it’s about 1200 miles south of the southern tip of India, and about halfway between Africa and Indonesia. It’s pretty close to the equator, sitting at latitude 7º south. DG is shaped kind of like a “V”; it’s about half a mile wide, and about 45 miles long from tip to tip, with a lagoon in the middle of the “V”. The average elevation of the island is only about 4 feet about sea level, with a high elevation of 9 feet. In most places my head will be more than twice as high above sea level as my feet, haha. Here’s the Wikipedia entry about DG if you want to learn more.
What’s on Diego Garcia?
It’s a British-owned island, and used to be a coconut plantation, but the only thing on it now is a U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force base. We’re not allowed to take pictures of or write about anything happening on the base, understandably. So I’ll only be posting photos of things like sunsets, beaches, palm trees and weather balloons. The internet there is slow, though. Like 128k slow. So don’t count on my posting too many photos from there while I’m still on the island. There are a few other amenities too, such as a Smash Hit Subs, a Hot Stuff Pizza (which delivers anywhere on the island!), a burger joint, a couple other fast food places, a grocery store, a good gym, a golf course, tennis courts, and a two-star hotel. We’re also not allowed to go swimming on the ocean side of the island because there are no lifeguards, there are no emergency medical services on the island, and because it’s a marine preserve. We can swim in the lagoon, but it has some “interesting” wildlife.
What will I be doing on Diego Garcia?
I’ll be helping out with the DYNAMO field project. DYNAMO stands for DYNAmics of the Madden-Julian Oscillation. The Madden-Julian Oscillation, or MJO, is an atmospheric phenomenon that, at its core, is a series of slow, eastward-moving waves across the tropical oceans (especially in the Indian and Pacific Oceans), with alternating 1-2 week periods of increased thunderstorm activity and decreased thunderstorm activity. The MJO ends up affecting a lot more than just tropical weather, though; it affects ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) and even such things as whether the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. will see flooding rains or not. There’s a lot more to the MJO, but that description will suffice here. The Wikipedia entry about the MJO contains more info.
At any rate, my primary responsibility for the month I’m on Diego Garcia will be launching radiosondes (weather balloons) every 3 hours, 24/7. I’ll be down there with two other grad students from Colorado State University and one NCAR professional. On the 16th of June all of the students going to DG over the course of the project came to NCAR for a training and info session, so we learned how to launch a weather balloon. I’m definitely not confident to launch it solo at this point, but the plan is for we grad students to launch the balloons by ourselves during daytime shifts, and with one other person during nighttime shifts. That means there’ll be quite a few nighttime shifts to cover.
Does this have anything to do with my dissertation research?
Nope! But it will greatly expand my horizons, by giving my experience with a field campaign, and exposing me to the MJO, an area I’ve only been briefly exposed to in the classroom. It’ll be a resumé-booster, that’s for sure!
So how did I get this opportunity?
Back in January my advisor, Sue, sent me info on an NSF (National Science Foundation) Student Travel Fellowship application for DYNAMO. She said, “I think you should apply for this.” I was somewhat confused because it had nothing to do with my PhD research, but she said again that I should apply for it. So I did. My head said I didn’t have a shot at the travel fellowship because my research has nothing to do with the MJO, but I still had an inexplicable feeling that I was going to get the award. And in April, I did! Technically this is from NCAR and not NSF, however. My official title is “Student assistant for sounding operations.”
When will I be going to Diego Garcia?
I’m slated to be stationed on DG from approximately 18 Oct-19 Nov 2011. We won’t know our exact dates for awhile though, because we need to take a U.S. military flight to get to DG, and the military won’t release their flight schedules for awhile. Our most likely route is flying there from Singapore on a DC-17, but there are only three flights per week to/from Diego Garcia. Also, being civilians, we’ll have the lowest flight priority, so if the military suddenly needs to move a lot of troops through DG, we’ll get bumped to the next flight. With that uncertainty, any personal travel I do will most likely be before I go to Diego Garcia, rather than afterward. I just hope we get routed through Singapore, because if we’re not, then we’ll be riding on DC-17s all the way from Virginia, going through Germany and the Middle East along the way. Spending that much time on a DC-17 would be quite unpleasant.
Where else will I travel?
I’m still trying to decide that. Right now northern Australia (to see Kakadu NP and Uluru-Kata Tjuta NP), New Zealand (to see family friends because I didn’t make it to NZ last year when I was in that part of the world), or possibly even someplace totally different like Thailand or Malaysia. I need to come to a decision in the next month or so. But whatever I do, I want to make sure to take advantage of getting a free flight to (most likely) Singapore!
I’m looking forward to my month-long adventure on a tropical island this fall! I sure have been blessed with many wonderful opportunities, and thank God for them.