Marmots, copper, and hot sauce


Usually I like seeing marmots. They represent everything I like about the high country out here. But recently our relationship has gotten much worse. The problem happened at 8:28:57 AM on July 1st, when a marmot bit through the sensor cable of the solar radiation probe for my weather station. I had left the cables weakly armored after the early-season installation and was planning to replace the armor with something stronger immediately. I got around to doing it just a day or two too late to avoid providing a breakfast for this rodent.


Finding the cables and mounting posts gnawed at was more than little disappointing. It meant I had to pull the entire set of instruments off the mountain for repairs.


Back in the lab, I found five or six places where the cables for various instruments had been nibbled, and three where it was chewed clear through. I cut away the problematic sections, stripped each cable and then all of its data lines, re-soldered the connections, heat-shrinked the joint, then waterproofed the repair job and patched the external wrapping.


And then I did what I should have done in June. I bought several meters of braided tin-plated copper sheathing and carefully enclosed each cable. It was hard enough to cut through the sheathing with metal shears, so I wasn’t very worried about teeth.


Then, back up the mountain with the weather station, the sheathing, the computer, and an assortment of tools in a backpack, plus one secret weapon.


Habanero hot sauce. We secured all the sheathing with metal wire, leaving very little to chew on – but just to be extra safe, we covered all the lines with the spiciest sauce I could buy. I don’t think anyone will want to even lick the station now.

hot sauce

My summer student, incidentally, was curious about how the hot sauce would taste on an apple. He discovered the answer shortly thereafter: it tastes awful. A culinary lesson for him, and an important lesson on protecting equipment for me. I’m glad to see our weather station back up and running, taking important data for the rest of the summer growing season and the beginning of the coming winter.

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