Christopher Emersic Official Website
Home A personal account of my experiences during my career Read about my research (Coming soon!) Want to learn some background science?  Here it is in simple terms (Coming soon!) See all the presentations I've given on visits or at conferences (Coming soon!) Read about my involvement with the media and how to contact me (Coming soon!) Read my blog thoughts about random lightning things that I come across A friendly chat forum for the atmospheric electricity community and general public where we can talk all things thunderstorm and beyond (Coming soon!) Some links to other webpages of interest
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology A once-in-a-lifetime experience on a summer field campaign
Prior to making the move permanently to New Mexico, a friend and I went for a road trip out there so that, amongst other sightseeing, I could scout out a place to live.  It was an amazing experience driving around Socorro for the first time.  I couldn’t believe how different it was to Oklahoma.  A real dry desert town with a very distinctive, almost sandy look.  It was a bit of a challenge initially finding a place to live as everywhere seemed to be full and the only available properties were a bit naff.  However, I did find a lovely apartment complex eventually and applied for residency.  That was accepted later after I’d returned back to Oklahoma, and eventually it was time to leave.  I’m not one for long drives, but I managed the 10+ hour drive back there again and arrived late evening. The entire town grew on me immediately.  Easily one of the friendliest places I've ever lived.  I later put it down to being so isolated; all people have is each other and so there's a much greater sense of community there.  Once I’d settled in, it was time to start the new position.  The New Mexico Tech campus is very quaint and it was such a privilege to be working with Graydon Aulich and Paul Krehbiel.  The entire team was brilliant and everyone was a complete expert at what they did.  There was also a lot less initial paperwork this time round—what with it not being a federal position. Initially, we began preparing for the field campaign I would be part of out in West Virginia.  This involved a lot of equipment setup and construction: soldering and assembling a few components for the lightning detectors, adjusting antenna for the wavelength we wanted, packing crates with the equipment etc.  Then we had an initial campaign which involved a two week trip out there to scout out suitable locations for our LMA systems.  Interestingly, I wasn’t in New Mexico for long before leaving, so at that early stage, the place hadn’t fully grown on me yet.  What a completely different place West Virginia is; green, with dense, hilly woodland and relatively humid in comparison to the dry, dusty, mountainous and desert-like New Mexico.  That was a very difficult two weeks initially out in West Virginia.  We worked incredibly hard and very long hours making preparations for the main campaign.  We initially flew out to Huntsville Alabama to collect some of our equipment from colleagues at the university before a long drive up through Tennessee, Kentucky, and then into West Virginia.  We drove around the green hills, speaking with many local people there to see if we could set up our lightning detection antenna in their gardens etc.  We also set up slow and fast antennas to measure electric field changes from lightning discharges.  Our ultimate objective was to measure underground transients (electric signals) caused by lightning in the area.  As such, we spent a lot of time underground in Sago mine and set up lots of exotic equipment to measure electric fields and other brief voltages that lightning could cause.  After all setup was complete, on the surface, we had a fully functional lightning mapping array with slow and fast antennas and a couple of Rogowski coils on some local pipework to detect voltage transients.  Underground, we had several field detectors and other equipment to measure lightning induced voltage spikes.  I think we worked consecutive 15–17 hour days during that period without break and I probably overdid it, as I felt unwell by the end.  But it was a great learning experience though. After the two week setup campaign, we flew back to Socorro for a couple of weeks to get things ready for the main campaign.  One of the most impressive things about flying to New Mexico is how the ground seems to meet you in the air.  It hardly feels like you land because the place is so high up above sea level and mountainous—my ears certainly didn’t pop during descent! Once things were ready, we flew directly to West Virginia this time, got our rental cars again and headed back to Buckhannon.  The next 5 months were incredibly busy; long working days, 7 days a week as we set additional equipment up underground and continuously maintained our other instruments and lightning stations.  Any storms that came through meant the data had to be collected from each lightning station and analysed to help provide direction for any modifications.  I became very good at finding optimised routes through all the back roads of the region to get to all the stations as quickly as possible.  I managed to get things down to a fine art so that all stations could be visited in a single day.  (I've put a number of panoramic photos of our LMA sites at the bottom of the page.)  I must have driven thousands of miles during those few months, checking on stations.  I quickly got to know people at each location and they were all so friendly about letting me come to their properties to collect data; one of my fondest memories will be of the people there.  There was one retired family there who very much became my surrogate grandparents—always baking me chocolate chip cookies when I went round and feeding me up!  They even had a vineyard and lots of fruit all year round.  I became friends with the similarly-aged son of another family whose property we had a station in, and he would love coming with me to visit their garden on my rounds and literally eat the fruit from the trees.  They even had bees! We were also privileged to get to visit a couple of other working coal mines during our time there; one a shallow surface mine, and another was a standard mine.  We had some of our equipment set up in the shallow mine for a brief period to help us take additional measurements, and it was a very unique experience in there.  We rode in not on rails, but on little wheeled man-cars.  We had to lie back and keep our heads down, as the tunnels were only a metre or so high in places.  We got good use out the investment we made in knee-pads for that part of the project!  The other working mine we were visitors to for a day was really an impressive sight.  There were so many people working on many different things in such an orderly fashion.  It was almost like watching an ant or termite colony at work!  We spent most of our time in the Sago mine though—sometimes several hours a day down there.  It was a horizontal mine and we’d enter on man-trips which were on rails.  It would take a good 45 minutes to get the couple of miles in or so to our working area.  It’s a very unique environment; rocky ground, black walls (sprayed with limestone to whiten them up), cool and damp, pits of acidic water dotted around the place.  We’d always be protected with steel toe boots, hard-hat, head torch, overalls, and battery packs.  At first, I thought all that was overkill, but after you’ve hit your head a few times (and we all did!), you quickly learn the value of hard- hats.  I’d often be downloading data from the instruments down there.  Occasionally the others would head off down one of the tunnels and it was really amazing sitting there on my own with only my helmet as a light source.  Outside my little circle of light there was just blackness and at times it felt like I was surrounded by nothingness.  If you turned the light off, there was absolutely no light or sound and it was very surreal.  Incredibly silent and completely dark.  Occasionally on my own, there’d be the odd small rock fall down in some of the other tunnels we didn’t go down, but it would really thunder and send your heart into your mouth.  The thing about working in a mine is that there is no clean surface—even the air was dusty, despite the ventilation.  We’d all come out covered in black soot and it was always a source of amusement.  The miners were really great people, very professional and complete experts down there, always looking out for our safety.  You really did feel they cared about you.  They were constantly checking the wall and ceiling integrity and chipping away loose material that could fall off and break limbs. Things didn’t always go to plan though in the mine on the project.  A few moments spring to mind.  One day we got to the mine only to find out that the roof had collapsed in the night onto the rails we use to get in.  This turned out to be a bit of a nightmare as we had to travel up to the cave-in, then carry all our heavy equipment across difficult, slutchy terrain for large distances.  Another problem I remember was when our man-trip derailed turning a tight corner, and it took us over an hour to prop it back on.  One day we arrived at the mine site to find the ventilation fan had failed, preventing us from even entering. We had a few good storms too during the project which not only did I want personally for the thrill of watching them, but also scientifically to aid with our measurements.  One of the better storms produced a lightning strike which cut power to our hotel for a while.  At the time, I had access to NLDN lightning data which essentially gave me information about where the lightning was striking and what the properties of the lightning were (e.g. how many strokes in the flash and what current it carried etc.).  I started a fun little pet project where I filmed a storm, and later, correlated the lightning flashes observed with the NLDN data based on the time of arrival of the thunder signatures.  The NLDN really is quite accurate! Fortunately, the project lasted until autumn, and this allowed us to experience an amazing West Virginian season change.  The colours of the forest on the hills were stunning.  I managed to take a couple of photos, albeit a day or two after it was at its best.  I've never seen a sight like it before; it was incredibly beautiful! Toward the end of the project, I received news that the NSF grant I’d applied for back when I was in Oklahoma had been successfully funded!  It was decided that once the field campaign had completed, it would be better for my career to leave my position there and work on this funded project.  After we’d packed up the kit, I flew back to Socorro and began making the transition.  I was faced with the decision of either moving back to Oklahoma again, or staying put.  Given that it was a complete hassle moving my life across the country and that I’d signed a 1 year contract at my apartment complex in New Mexico, I decided to stay there.  I hadn’t even been in Socorro for very long either really given that I was mostly based in West Virginia.  I realised that because the nature of the proposal I’d written was mostly data analysis, it was possible to work remotely and remain in New Mexico and stay with the scientists I’d been working with who were able to help advise—given that they invented the LMA systems producing the data I was analysing.  The next 6 months of this new short project turned out to be the most enjoyable of my life (continue).
Postdoc 2 summary My postdoc position at New Mexico Tech predominantly involved an intensive field campaign out in West Virginia.  During the summer of 2008, we set up a mobile LMA lightning detection network and other electric field sensors.  Our objective was to measure the underground electrical signals that lightning could produce.  We spent a lot of time underground in the mines there making our measurements, as our work was important for mine safety—and West Virginia has a large coal mining industry.  I got to see several thunderstorms on this project and recorded some good lightning footage too!
Lovely autumn colours in the hilly woodlands of West Virginia, 2008 Paul, Monty and Graydon examining a mine map 2008 Paul Krehbiel (2nd from left), Harald Edens (2nd from right) and Christopher Emersic (Right) with miners at Sago Mine in West Virginia (Left to right: Harald, Roger and myself) This photo was taken underground in Sago mine in total darkness.  The flash did its job! Lovely autumn colours in the hilly woodlands of West Virginia, 2008 Lovely autumn colours in the hilly woodlands of West Virginia, 2008 Lovely autumn colours in the hilly woodlands of West Virginia, 2008 Lovely autumn colours in the hilly woodlands of West Virginia, 2008  Dr Christopher Emersic Airport site  Dr Christopher Emersic Bennett site  Dr Christopher Emersic French Creek site  Dr Christopher Emersic G site  Dr Christopher Emersic Sago Mine 2  Dr Christopher Emersic Sago Mine 1  Dr Christopher Emersic Ivy site  Dr Christopher Emersic Nailbarn site 2  Dr Christopher Emersic Gas Well site  Dr Christopher Emersic Nailbarn site 1 Sago Mine 4  Dr Christopher Emersic Sago Mine 3  Dr Christopher Emersic  Dr Christopher Emersic Ricottilli site 1  Dr Christopher Emersic Ricottilli site 2  Dr Christopher Emersic Ricottilli site 3 Sand Run site  Dr Christopher Emersic Antenna site  Dr Christopher Emersic Sago Mine Surface 1  Dr Christopher Emersic Sago Mine Surface 2  Dr Christopher Emersic Sago Mine Surface 3  Dr Christopher Emersic  Dr Christopher Emersic Ten Mile site 1 Ten Mile site 2  Dr Christopher Emersic
Locker rooms where we got changed and stored our items Interesting baskets and chain storage in the locker rooms This was our magnetic field sensor.  A very elegant design! My Second Postdoc Experience My Second Postdoc Experience This is a fully assembled LMA antenna, complete with guide-wires and burried cable in flex conduit leading to the LMA box The slow and fast antennas