Wed 20 Jan 99 14:01

Well, howdy campers.

It's the Eid al-Fitr holiday here in the great Middle East, and with that, even irreligionists like myself get a batch of days off for the end of Ramadan and the attendant feasting and supping.

With 6 full days off, and being supremely bored, I was reminded that Qatar University here in town has an Ad-Hoc program for us ExPats to take all interested parties out in the field and explain our respective fields. This, for geologists is precisely that, going out with a caravan of 4WD vehicles and doing a bit of field geology. Oh, yes, for all you snow-bound characters, it's currently 34C here, winds light and variable, and with the ubiquitous excessively placid blue sky.

the name of the program for ExPats has the clever acronym of "IDEA" (hey, I said it was clever); which stands for "InterDepartmental Educational Adjunct". It's interdepartmental because my particular specialty not only covers field geology, but also paleontology and a bit of archeology thrown in for good measure. Everyone hopes to have a good IDEA...


Well, we saddle up and head for the Dune Sea to the south of the country, where the Pliocene, Pleistocene and Holocene crops out and access is relatively easy and non-injurious.

Well, we caravan out, some 30 Land Cruisers, Nissan patrol and the odd Mitsubishi Galloper strong. We all get our maps, compasses and split up into 5 or 6 special interest groups ("SIG's"); where each IDEA has his own GPS and laser ranging apparatus. Reason being, that there's very few benchmarks out in the desert, and even those are constantly at the mercy of the shifting and ever-blowing sands.

Since we're split into groups and at any one time, ranging up to and including some 50 km^2, when a real find is located, a device called the "DIME" (Digital Interface Monitor Emblem) is attached and programed into the GPS for location later; it is a digital sort of low frequency transponder, developed from technology used by offshore drillers and jacket setters where benchmarks are even more transitory).

The way it works is rather simple. When something is to be marked for later retrieval, a series of wooden posts are pounded in a triangular manner around the find, and the DIME is set, programed with the GPS and attached to one or more of the posts.

That's the theory, at least.

Everything works well, especially all the hardened electronics and computer gizmos, but attaching the DIME to the stakes is the real problem. It can't be nailed, screwed or fastened with any sort of metal contrivance as that farkles the magnetic field and causes all sorts of goofy spurious signals. Many sites have been lost to the shifting sands this way.

Velcro doesn't work too well, as the sand fills the hooks of the receiving piece of velcro and soon renders it useless. String or fishing line work, but that's temporary (they melt). Glue or mastic are out as these are supposed to be temporary. Even plastic sleeves don't work due to the heat out there (it can reach 60C 1 foot about the sands).

Well, my group and I went out and searched some local outcrops, but those have been thoroughly examined; so we struck out for some on the seemingly near horizon.

Let me tell you, everything in the desert is at least 3 times as far and three times longer to get to than originally planned. We finally got to the suspicious looking-outcrop and note that it's pristine. Evidently, no one's been here for at least a few decades.

After searching for only a few minutes, we uncover an ancient inhabitant of the Pliocene sea. It's one of the usual "bulldog" fish, some full 2 meters in length. It's in great condition, lying on it's bedding plane. It's easily 98% complete, with good looking gastralia and preserved stomach contents. It's a grand, though not Earth-shattering, find.

One of the locals notes that the sky is getting rather dark off to the west. In this country, dark skies at noon don't mean thunderstorms, it means sandstorm. And they move in quickly.

So must we.

We start pounding in stakes, mapping the locality and prepare the DIME. By this time, the wind is howling, the visibility is dropping quickly and the caravan is headed our way for a quick (thankfully) evacuation; as the lightning in these storms can really ruin ones day. Unfortunately, the DIME won't stay in place. We tried everything: shoelaces, wax, duct tape...nothing worked.

Until one of the guys in the group suggested some Doublemint. It hardens quickly, is relatively sticky and seemed to resist the onslaught of the sand well. 2 well chewed packs later, we're back in the 4WD's and headed out of the storm to overnight at the Sealine Resort.

We arose early the next morning, and after a hurried meal of yaws and goiters, we set out to try and retrieve our prize. We all went to the general area where we were picked up, and everything looked totally different. Fully, hectares of sand have shifted in the interim. Hell, we couldn't even find the outcrop.

We all set out with our GPS's and sought to triangulate in on the DIME we left there the previous night. After 3 hours of fruitless searching, the original group reported a weak signal; fully 4 km distant to where we were currently searching. It was the best lead so far, so we piled into a Land Cruiser and sped over.

We arrived to find one of the crew digging a ever-shifting pit in the loose sand. After about 10 more minutes of digging and shoring, one of the local fellers stands up, holding the sticky, gritty, grime-encased transponder.

Grinning like a maniac, loudly and quite happily he exclaims: "Here it is! Looks like an IDEA whose DIME has gum!"

True story.



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