The Explorers Club, Northern California Chapter

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Around the World Under the Sea

With Norbert Wu, FN-97

For most of us, the underwater realm is a mysterious, unknown place. Around the World Under the Sea brings the audience up close to the wonders of this underwater realm. Imagine swimming with a school of hammerhead sharks, riding through the water on top of a giant manta ray, and diving under the ice in Antarctica. This talk features Norbert Wu's finest images from the greatest diving spots in the world, along with recollections of his experiences and adventures as an underwater photographer and filmmaker. The photographs have been drawn from Norb's acclaimed large-format book, Splendors of the Seas, and his new book, Around the World Under the Sea. The photographs are spectacular, but his humorous anecdotes of life as an underwater photographer are what make this presentation so enjoyable. This presentation shows both topside and underwater views of the world's most renowned diving locations: the barrier reefs of Australia and Belize, the astonishing richness of the seamounts of Costa Rica and the Galapagos, the tropical diversity of the coral reefs of Palau and the Solomon Islands, the lush kelp forests of California and British Columbia, and the surprising life in the frigid waters of Antarctica. This presentation has overwhelmed diving and non-diving audiences alike. Wu's photographic skill combines the vision of an artist's eye with the knowledge of a marine biologist.


Norbert Wu is a photographer, cinematographer, and writer who specializes in marine issues. In the course of his worldwide travels, Norbert Wu has been bitten by sharks, run over by an iceberg, stung nearly to death by sea wasps, and trapped in an underwater cave. He has photographed in nearly every conceivable locale, ranging from the freezing waters of the Arctic and Antarctic to the coral reefs and jungles of the tropics. His writing and photography have appeared in thousands of books, films, and magazines, including feature articles in Audubon, GEO, International Wildlife, Le Figaro, National Geographic, Omni, and the covers of GEO, Natural History, Time, and Terre Sauvage. He is a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences, and he serves as contributing editor to Photo Techniques, Shutterbug, and Nature Photographer. He is the author and photographer of eight books on wildlife and photography, the originator and photographer for several children's book series on the oceans, and his photographic library of marine and topside wildlife is one of the most comprehensive in the world. He has worked as chief still photographer for Jacques Cousteau's Calypso; as research diver for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; and as cinematographer for numerous television productions. His background includes degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering from Stanford University and doctoral studies at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He is a technical, certified nitrox and rebreather diver, both of which allow extended bottom times and other advantages. He co-authored the feature article on marine biodiversity in Encyclopaedia Britannica's 1996 Yearbook of Science and the Future, and was awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) Artists and Writers Grants to document wildlife and research in Antarctica in 1997 and 1999. His recent projects include filming the revolutionary new Deep Flight submersible for National Geographic Television, tiger sharks for Survival Anglia, and great white sharks for PBS. His underwater photographs of Antarctica appear in the February 1999National Geographic magazine. As an independent photographer and filmmaker, his projects support his commitment to ocean exploration, research and conservation.

I want to express special thanks to Camilla Mateo, Norb's Office Manager, for providing me with all the text and photos for this newsletter. The photographs are copyright © Norbert Wu unless otherwise noted --Mike Diggles


California Meeting

Friday January 22nd was an unusual Explorers Club evening. It started as a dark and stormy night - an ominous start to discussion on climate predictions. Dr. Benjamin Santer studies and tests various Global Climate Models. He examines these models to see how well they represent current and historical climate conditions, and then examines their predictions of future climate change. To get us all up to speed, he started his talk with Climatology 101 - which natural and human factors influence climate; how global temperature has changed historically; how scientists can glean information on climate variability by studying ice cores and tree rings; how different atmospheric gases and particulates modulate climate; and what scientists know about the characteristic climate "fingerprints" resulting from changes in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, volcanic ash, aerosol particles, the energy output of the sun, and others. Using graphs, maps and a number of probing questions from Ben's almost-six-year old son, Nicholas, we all became amateur climatologists before dinner.

It was a dark and stormy night... and some how the University Club got the idea that we had canceled dinner. As most members enjoyed a social hour in the club room, the ever calm and resourceful Jerry Athearn, MN-82 got on the phone with Brandy Ho and ordered take out dinners for the group. (What we would have given to see their expression when Jerry said, "I want to place a large order.") Dinner would not arrive until 8:30, so Ben graciously agreed to start his talk to a room full of hungry people and take a break when the food arrived.

While we dissected egg rolls and stir-fried chicken, Dr. Santer dissected historic global temperature fluctuations and helped us apply our amateur degrees. He showed us worldwide temperature dips that occurred from major events, such as the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. He explained that Mount Saint Helens had not shown the same effect because the eruption was lateral, and thus did not inject tons or ash into the upper atmosphere (as a side note, Dr. Santer was one of the last people to climb Mount Saint Helens before it erupted on May 18, 1980).

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is a by-product of fossil fuel and biomass combustion. It has increased by roughly 30 percent over the last century. Over the same time period, global average temperatures have risen by roughly half a degree Celsius. Dr. Santer showed that climate change is complex, and models of climate change that only take into account changes in CO2do not do a very good job of replicating known climate change patterns. Those models that add in additional components, like sulfate aerosol particles and stratospheric ozone, provide a better depiction of known climate changes. The main reason for testing these models against known conditions is to get some confidence in how they will predict unknown conditions in the future. Dr. Santers finally showed some projections of the global climate patterns that could occur if we were to double or quadruple CO2emissions.

Climate predictions have become headline news. Dr. Santer left us with the scientific conclusions from the models and carefully avoided stepping into the policy quagmire.

Nevada Meeting

Dr. Robert Wharton, Jr. FN-84, the Vice-President for Research at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada spoke at the second January meeting, held in Sparks, Nevada, on January 30th. Dr. Wharton spoke about the long-term ecological research program that has been underway in the McMurdo Dry Valleys and their intriguing lakes, compared working in this remote region to future work on Mars.

The McMurdo Dry Valleys constitute the largest part of the Antarctic continent that is not covered year-round by glacial ice. One of the fundamental research questions was what types of life can survive in the harsh conditions of these valley lakes. Ever during the austral summer, the lakes in the Dry Valleys area are covered with three to five meters of ice. So, once the research teams reach the study area, they must fight their way through this ice layer to study the lake chemistry and productivity. They first used ice augers to open small holes to the lake water to take grab samples and later used larger heater coils to melt a hole large enough for diver access. (After having the coil freeze solid, they came up with the idea to use antifreeze in the coil rather than hot water.) Divers could then access the lake, using ice ladders to scale the five-meter ice face leading to and from the water.

The ice layer is not only a barrier to easy human access to the water; it blocks almost all light from getting into the lake. Despite the near darkness, researchers have found thick algae mats thriving in the lakes. Diatoms and other small, unicellular organisms can also survive under these difficult conditions. The lake water is supersaturated, since the ice cover prevents any photosynthetic gases from leaving the lake, and the algae mats are filled with gas bubbles. Researchers have also found that fungi have colonized rocks in the Dry Valleys - using the freeze and thaw cycles to penetrate the outer layers of the rocks.

Many of the conditions in the McMurdo dry valleys seem almost otherworldly. Dr. Wharton's research in the Antarctic is being used to infer possible life on Mars and to target sampling areas for future Mars missions. He showed how many of the conditions at his research area could be comparable to Mars, at the time when there was some liquid phase water on Mars. He then asked whether anyone believes that there could have been life on Mars. Those true believers can sign up of the Mars "trial runs" where, to simulate the 3 year trip, you will spend nine months in orbit around earth, one year in the Dry Valleys and another nine months in orbit. If you survive the trial runs, you can put your name in for the real mission to the Red Planet. (Any volunteers should contact Dr. Wharton for more details.)

For many bay area members, the trip to Sparks was as much fun as the talk. Jerry Athearn, MN-82 arranged for a group rate from Amtrak. We avoided the traffic and traveled to Sparks by train. There was a blue moon over the Sierra on the trip east, and fresh snow in the mountains for the trip home.

Alan (E-67) and Ann Hutchison arranged a great meeting at the Nugget hotel and, for several Nevada members, it was the first meeting they had ever attended. This meeting seemed to be quite a success and we hope to have further meetings in Sparks/Reno/Tahoe in the future.


First I want to recognize the significant contributions of my predecessor, Bob Schmieder, FN-86. The Chapter owes much to Bob's vision and hard work, perhaps most notably, the advent of the Golden GateAways. These and the corresponding off-year events have put our Chapter in a new league. Bob's vision has also led our Chapter to significant outreach in the forms of student grants and educational ties. I personally thank Bob for his leadership.

While Bob has expressed his disappointment with regards to a relatively stable membership and the Chapter's financial situation, the responsibility rests on all of us. This Chapter depends on its members and if we want more out of it, we have to put more into it.

As reported by our Treasurer, Jerry Athearn, MN-82, the Chapter is now in debt by several thousand dollars. (This is currently covered by 'float' and personal IOUs with some of your officers.) Our deficit results from both losses related to the GateAway and our long-standing practice of subsidizing the costs of producing and mailing our Newsletter by charging a little extra for our monthly dinners and not always being successful in our execution. As a group, we need to review this funding approach and decide whether we need to revise it, perhaps by either charging a subscription fee for the Newsletter or finding new funding. One of my personal priorities is to keep fees for our events low enough to not discourage participation by anyone supportive of the Club's goals.

Two of our members, Les DeWitt, MN-96 and Hank Skade, MN-90 have graciously volunteered to assist Jerry Athearn on a Finance Committee to work on this issue. We welcome ideas and participation from any others who feel they can help.

Another area where I believe we can be more proactive is in the realm of membership. Issues include: making sure we are providing the services and benefits our members want; tracking membership applications with headquarters to ensure applicants achieve the appropriate membership status easily and within a reasonable time frame; and encouraging new members by reaching out to explorers and supporters of exploration and demonstrating an organization worthy of their attention.

To date, I have two volunteers willing to serve on a Membership Committee, Greg Miller, MN-96 and Don Heyneman, FN-78. We are looking for additional volunteers.

I would also like to report on, and respond to, comments from many of you in response to the recent survey. Three messages seemed consistent in the comments:

  • 1) "Keep meetings on time and end them no later than about 10:00 PM." I will work diligently to achieve this goal. It means that those of you who wish to socialize before we sit down may have to arrive earlier, as we will try to sit down promptly at 7:30 PM. Those who have difficulty getting to our venue by 7:30 may wish to let us know ahead of time so we can make sure seating is reserved.
  • 2) "Emphasize 'exploration' (science, etc.) as opposed to 'travelogues' at the monthly dinner presentations." Please provide your specific speaker recommendations to our Vice Chair, Lesley Ewing, FN-93, who will try to follow this course.
  • 3) "Keep dinner meeting costs affordable." As mentioned above, pricing policies will be a discussion topic for the Finance Committee. Some of our past venues have essentially priced themselves out of the market for us. If you have ideas (or special connections) for reasonably priced locations that fit our needs, please pass on your suggestions. Let me just end with the reminder that this is a membership organization we are what we make it. Bring your ideas and hopefully your energy to make good things happen. I will provide reports from time to time on our progress and other ideas.

    Bill Isherwood FN-70

    Monthly Story from the Earl Explorers

    As a bit of background (from Jane)

    When we became a new school site last fall (1998), we became the Earl Elementary "Explorers," a first for our school district! (The other school sites have animals as their mascots.) The students and the teachers chose the name of an explorer from a variety of fields and named their classroom in his/her honor. Many of the grade levels selected explorers from their social studies and/or science curriculum, others chose pioneers in art or music. Ms. Laura Maze's third grade class chose a local celebrity as their explorer:

    George Lucas

    George Lucas is our classroom explorer. He travels around the world to make movies. He made "Willow," "American Graffiti," "Star Wars," and "Indiana Jones." In "American Graffiti," he created "sound as environment." When he was a teenager, George was a terrible student. He lived in Modesto, California, which is about twenty miles north of Turlock (where we live) in Stanislaus County. In third grade, we are studying explorers in Stanislaus County. Even though he was a terrible student, he grew up to be a director. He grew up in Modesto. Even his employees call him "George." George Lucas has accomplished many things. He's made many movies. He's written many books. His company is called Lucasfilm. We are proud of George Lucas.

    Ms. Laura Maze
    /Third Grade
    Dennis Earl Elementary School
    Turlock, CA


    Fm Mervyn [Bronwyn] Eade
    To: Mike Diggles
    On looking through your web site, we came across a Memoriam on Gordon Fountain. My grandparents who lived in Dunedin, New Zealand often spoke of a young American lad they met in the 30's while part of Admiral Richard E. Byrd's Antarctic Expedition. I wondered if it was possible if we could obtain more information on Gordon from when he returned from his trip to the Antarctic. My grandparents lost touch with him when he returned home to the USA. We would also like to know if there was a photo of him on any of your sites on the Net especially the photo's of the guests at the 15th Annual Carey Baldwin Memorial Garden Party. We would appreciate any help you could give us. Thanking you. -Bronwyn Eade

    (I emailed back to New Zealand about Gordon's passing attached a scan of a photo I took at Erna's party. I also asked if I could put this note in the newsletter. After I wrote a note to Marjorie to check with her, here it is. -Mike Diggles, FN-92)
    Just a note of interest: I'll be participating on my third North Pole expedition at the same time as Schurke's trip [from Expedition News]. On our trip, we use no dogs but instead manhaul all of our gear. I will be acting as Assistant Guide. We'll be meeting Schurke's group at the North Pole and sharing the expense of the chartered Russian AN-24 jet from there to Resolute. -Jeff Mantel, MN-97
    From: Karen A. Brush, Ph.D
    To: Mike Diggles
    [...on the topic of the fun of having Nick Santer at Ben's talk -MFD] Possibly I am not a proper webmaster as I have not yet acquired a 6 year old during meetings (although I have a 5 year old god daughter I baby-sit sometimes). She doesn't like dinosaurs much (odd child!) but I think I am about to win her over to snakes and jelly-fish.

    [...for the turn of the millennium] We are planning tentatively to flee NYC for Long Island as the city may be too crowded to move. The thought of the Y2K bug messing up the street lights, resulting in a vast gridlock, is a bit too horrid. My father [Charlie Brush, MED-50] has decided that planning for apocalypse is funny and we live in fear of finding the basement filled with cases of M&M's and power bars. I have promised him a plough and a pair of oxen for his birthday, although I'm not sure if they'll be very happy in the garage.

    Write me a news blurb about your research sometime? The [NY] site can always use more copy and it's nice to cover day-to-day research as well as the latest bizarre stunt. It's a good way to foster useful contacts between members in related fields. Otherwise we never really know what anyone but the flag carriers are up to. If you're updating your site soon you might note for general member consumption that I welcome such "this is what I'm working on now" stories or even single paragraph entries. -Karen [Brush, FR-93]


    Palenque cut-away, copyright © Irmgard Groth

    The March meeting will be held at the St. Francis Yacht Club on Friday the 26th. The speaker that evening will be Dr. Merle Greene Robertson, FN 90. Her topic will be The Boy King of Palenque and His Son. The Boy King, King Pacal (603 - 683 AD) followed his mother as ruler of Palenque (located in modern day Chiapas Mexico) and ascended to the throne at the age of 12. In addition to her talk about King Pacal and his son Chan-Bahlum, Dr. Robertson will talk about Palenque and the early 19th century explorers of Palenque such as Teobert Maler and Alfred Maudsley.

    Dr. Robertson has worked at Palenque for the past almost 30 years. She is currently directing the "Cross Group Project, Palenque" which made major discoveries in 1998 and for 1999 will probably be the most important dig in Mesoamerica, and will return briefly from Palenque to be at the Explorers Club meeting.

    In 1996, Dr. Robertson carried Explorers Club Flag #152 while recording new discoveries at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. The Mexican government awarded her the Aztec Eagle, the highest award bestowed on a non-national. She has authored over 60 scientific articles and 14 books, the most important being the 4-volume set, The Sculpture of Palenque, published by Princeton Press.

    Reservations for the February meeting


    Please return this reservations form no later than Tuesday, February 16, 1999 to:

    Jerry Athearn
    The Explorers Club
    Northern California Chapter.
    7037 Chabot Road
    Oakland, CA 94618
    Jerry's phone: (510) 653-2572

    Please reserve spaces for the Norbert Wu talk, at the Fort Mason Center Officers' Club on Friday, February 26, 1999.

    $40/person... $45 if postmarked after February 20; $50 at the door. Cocktails, 6:30 PM, Dinner, 7:30 PM, Speaker, 8:30 PM.

    Your Name: _______________________________________

    Your Address: _____________________________________


    Guests: ______________________________________


    Date created: 02/08/1999
    Last modified: 01/21/2002

    Web page by: Mike Diggles, Webmaster, Northern California Chapter of the Explorers Club. email to Mike

    c/o U.S. Geological Survey, MS-951, 345 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025. (650) 329-5404

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