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University of MInnesota graduate student Ryan O'Grady measure plastic tubes containing core samples from about 140 meters under Clear Lake. The samples will yield information on the climate and environment from 140,000 years ago.

A drilling platform rests on Clear Lake in front of Mt. Konocti. Scientists from U.C. Berkeley are drilling for core samples which will yield information on the climate and environment from hundreds of thousands of years ago.

University of MInnesota graduate student Ryan O'Grady measure plastic tubes containing core samples from about 140 meters under Clear Lake. The samples will yield information on the climate and environment from 140,000 years ago.

I admit I wasn’t thrilled when told I’d be shooting images on a drilling platform on Clear Lake during the worst light of the day. The action is 140 meters under the lake and on the platform, a spinning tube with a loud engine. A U.C. Berkeley grad student changed my attitude. While describing the project before heading out on the boat, I joked he was very excited over a bit of “play dough”. His eyes lit up, I believe sparks were shooting out his ears when he told me, “I will be talking about this for the next 50 years. When I’m in academia, all my students will hear the stories from this project.” The sparks got me.

His energy, and those of his fellow grad students of the project, was infective. It was the coolest mud I’ve ever photographed. This was a planned press event, with the Chronicle and KQED along for the boat ride to the drilling platform. There was no opportunity to change the shoot time to sunset, but it sure would have been pretty with the work lights balanced with the sunset. In the 90′s and early 2000′s, I’d have gone back on another day to reshoot the story, but short staffs don’t allow for two days of long drives in these hard times for newspapers.

A quick description: Clear Lake’s geology is very rare across the globe. Most lakes are ephemeral, formed during the last glacial period, then gradually silting up, then becoming a large meadow, then a valley floor. Think of Yosemite Valley, once a glacier pushing forth a damn of rock to form a large lake before becoming the valley over tens of thousands of years. Clear Lake has experienced earthquakes allowing the waters to drain off before silting up. It is one of the oldest lakes in North America. Because of this, it is one of the few places in the world where geologists can take core samples for a pure look at life 140,000+ years ago. The “play dough” will be sent to a core sample library in Minnesota–the site of the sacred core sample boneyard— before it is divided up for scientists around the world.

I’ll link to the story when it is posted later today.

CLICK HERE for a link to the photo gallery.

A drilling platform rests on Clear Lake in front of Mt. Konocti. Scientists from U.C. Berkeley are drilling for core samples which will yield information on the climate and environment from hundreds of thousands of years ago.

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