The ham­mer that wouldn’t get lost

Popular Science - - CONTENTS - PA­TRI­CIA RYBERG, AS­SIS­TANT PRO­FES­SOR OF BI­OL­OGY, PARK UNIVER­SITY

In 2010, I was on my first re­search trip to visit Antarc­tica’s Skaar Ridge, a 2-mile-long stretch of rock and fos­sils near the side of a moun­tain. It can be ac­cessed only via he­li­copter, so it doesn’t see much foot traf­fic. The last re­search team to visit did so back in 1990, and they had left be­hind one un­for­tu­nate ca­su­alty: my col­league Pro­fes­sor N. Rubén Cú­neo’s ham­mer.

We joked about res­cu­ing our fel­low sci­en­tist’s old tool, but the odds of find­ing it were in­cred­i­bly slim. A hunk of metal and wood could cer­tainly sur­vive a cou­ple of decades in that bar­ren, frozen land­scape, but Skaar Ridge is a big place, and wind con­stantly blows the snow around in Antarc­tica. There’s a rea­son it got lost in the first place.

You can imag­ine our sur­prise when just two days in, we spot­ted a han­dle pok­ing out of the snow. How were we cer­tain that it was Cú­neo’s, you ask? Its head was painted baby blue. The 2010 ex­pe­di­tion car­ried only ham­mers painted flu­o­res­cent pink, to make them eas­ier to spot if and when we dropped them into the snow. We’d learned our les­son about baby-blue ham­mers back in 1990.

2010

1990

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