Where In the World Is Diego Garcia?

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.

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