The team assembled in Kota Kinabalu, the main city in Sabah, last Saturday. I arrived there after spending a couple of days before in Kuala Lumpur picking up research passes for me and Nick. Sunday was was quite a leisurely day, recovering from our journeys and seeing the sights of KK, including the Gaya St Market and the view down over the city from the Signal Hill Observatory Tower. We also picked up our field vehicles in the evening – three massive Ford Rangers that are able to cope with the dirt roads to get to some of the sites.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were spent at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) getting things ready to head out into the field. Monday was entirely taken up with testing all the seismometers to make sure no damage had occurred during their transport from the UK to Sabah. We also connected all the GPS units, which we use for timing, so that it wouldn’t take as long for the instruments to get a fix when we are deploying them. There was a bit more testing on Tuesday and then it was time to work out how we were going to fit it all in the vehicles. When we’d assembled a pile of kit I was initially very sceptical that we’d manage it, but it all just about fit! The problem was, of course, that this wasn’t all we’d need, so we decided that we should get a van too! On Tuesday we also dug a test hole in the grounds of UMS to see how well the concrete might set. The answer was not well, but we probably didn’t put enough of the quick set liquid in. For some evening relaxation, some of us headed to the beach in the evening where there was a lovely sunset, but too many jellyfish to go swimming. Wednesday was a lot more vehicle loading and unloading and reloading, but when we finished that we set up a full test deployment of a seismometer in the hole we’d dug the day before. This was useful for working our any problems we might have – our solar panel stands moved quite a lot so some supports were ordered, and some of the regulators to connect the solar panel, battery and seismometer seemed to not be working very well so we got some spares.
After going via UMS to pick up Felix, Epip, Louvis and Brandon, and yet more kit, on Thursday morning it was time to hit the road. For our first site the whole team went to the same place – a house just beyond Kota Belud, about a one hour drive from Kota Kinabalu. Everything went pretty smoothly with setting up the site – hosepipe is quite hard to slice it turns out – until we got to the stage of testing getting the data off the instrument. The seismometer we’d installed was one of the Aberdeen ones and we’d had it merrily gathering data for a few months to test it was working, but hadn’t ever plugged it into a firewire disk so it took ages to download. Omry valiantly stayed behind waiting until it was done while the rest of us headed for lunch. After lunch we did some final checks, buried the seismometer and the wires, and built a barbed wire fence around the site to protect it from cows. Team 1 – Nick, Emily and Brandon – headed off to Kudat for the night, while my team, Team 2, and Team 3 drove to Kota Maradu. Just after 9pm there was a flurry of messages on the Whatsapp group about an earthquake that had just happened near Ranau. I hadn’t felt it, but others in the team who had been sitting or lying down had! The estimates from USGS and MetMalaysia put the magnitude at about 5.2, so a fairly big one for Sabah – and perfect timing for us to have installed at least one instrument!
On Friday it was time for the teams to head their separate ways. Me, Omry and Louvis drove for about 1 hour and 40 minutes to the AFI plantation. This was on tarmac roads for the most part, but had a 16km section on a dirt road that was a bit muddy in places. We were installing the seismometer inside a weather station cage, although the weather station was away for repairs. We were very lucky that some of the workers at the site offered to dig the hole for us, saving us quite a bit of effort. As space in the cage was a bit limited we decided to mount the solar panel on the top of the cage, which took a bit of figuring out, but seemed to work quite well. Everything else went quite smoothly, and we were done in about 4 hours, not super quick, but faster than I was anticipating. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch of bananas, melon, papaya and pineapple in the sun while making sure everything was okay with the instrument, and then headed back to Kota Maradu. Team 3 – Felix, Simone, Conor and Epip – had been installing a site that was a bit closer and when they were finished they went back to the seismometer we’d installed the previous day to see how well we’d recorded the earthquake. Everything seemed to be working well and they had a very nice seismogram to show the reporters from Radio Television Malaysia who’d joined them at the site!
Today was lots of driving for everyone. The 4WD on our car wasn’t working so we swapped sites with Team 1 as there was far less distance to travel on dirt roads to the site they were originally meant to do – from the looks of the road conditions they had, 4WD was essential! Our site for the day was by a house in the Meridian palm oil plantation, just over 2 hours drive away from Kota Maradu along a very potholey tarmac road. It started to rain very heavily as we were unloading the vehicle, so we sheltered for a short while under our giant parasol. Thankfully it was a short shower and we were soon able to get to work installing the seismometer. We were a bit concerned about some potential for ground water in the hole so we raised the base a bit and cut down the dustbin we use to cover the seismometer so it would fit. Like with the test deployment we had some problems with the solar panel regulator, but we had spares so it didn’t require too much effort to swap them. Lunch today was less nutritious, consisting of snacks I’d brought with me from the UK, but it sustained us for the 3 hour drive round to Telupid.