What do we do at conferences?

Hard work, sort of: Puerto Varas

Conferences are important in geology as a way to share your research with others in your field, as well as a way of networking. Especially in a super international field like volcanology, it’s a really good opportunity to meet others whose names you recognize from papers you’ve read/cited, old friends from the other side of the world, and potential future collaborators.

As I mentioned, volcanologists usually find a way to have their conferences in volcano-y places, and Puerto Varas fits the bill. It’s fairly close to two volcanoes, Calbuco and Osorno, and was even impacted by the 2015 eruption of Calbuco. Puerto Varas is considered the “German” town in Chile, as such is has a lot of European influence in the culture. It’s also a bit touristy, so it felt a little less “Chilean” than the smaller towns I’d been in to this point.

A geologic conference usually involves lots of talks and posters. You get a big program at the beginning, and you decide which ones interest you the most or are relevant to your research. It also means if there’s people you want to meet, you can get an idea of where they might be during the conference. I had a poster during the second half of the conference, which meant the rest of the time I was free to attend as many useful talks and visit as many interesting posters as I could.

This conference had three streams of talks going at once, usually split into different categories ranging between physical volcanology (chemistry, physics, fieldwork, etc.) and volcano communications/social science, so you could hop around as things went to get a good mix of all the subjects you wanted to learn about. The poster sessions also had a mix of all the categories so you could talk to people from all parts of the volcanology community.

Many of you know that I like making films about my and others’ research. I’m not alone! I was really excited that a couple of volcanologists from universities in England were hosting a movie session one evening (the VolcanOscars!), showing self-made geology movies from conference attendees. I submitted my Vanuatu movie about Ben’s research on Yasur, and it was pretty surreal to see it up on the big screen with a room of 100 or so people ooohing at the explosions.

As part of the conference, we had a field and cultural trip in the middle. Since so much of Cities on Volcanoes is about understanding the relationship between people and volcanoes, we visited a town, Río Blanco, that had been affected by lahars (volcanic mudflows) from the 2015 eruption of Volcán Calbuco in order to see the effects firsthand and talk to some of the townspeople.

We were able to see the lahar path and some affected buildings, and we were treated to a presentation by some of the local officials on what it was like living through the eruption. They told us what their experience was, people’s reaction, the government’s response, and how they feel about the possibility of a future eruption. All in Spanish, of course, but one of the conference organizers helped to translate as we went.

After the conference: Osorno and a bit more

Once the conference had finished, I had a couple days left in Puerto Varas before the next part of my trip. To take advantage of that time, Sophia, a fellow Auckland PhD who I was staying with, and I booked a tour to Osorno volcano. In the end, we got driven there and shown around by two Chilean guys, a bit surprisingly, all in Spanish, meaning after a week of mostly English at the conference I got to hablar español un poco mas!

With my time in Chile ending, I explored PV for another day, sent some postcards, enjoyed some more Chilean food, and then, since I was in the same hemisphere, I caught a flight back to Santiago so I could fly back to the US for a quick trip home.

American montage

A few more hours in Chile: Santiago

After seeing family and doing a fun things, I had a much-delayed, fairly hellish trip back to New Zealand via Chile. The one bright spot was a long-enough layover in Santiago that gave me a chance to go into the city for a little more sightseeing. I had one last ceviche and took a funicular to the top of San Cristobal Hill.

And from there, I finally made it back to Auckland, where I could enjoy my bottle of Chilean pisco in peace.

What do volcanolgists do on vacation?

As I sit in a lab in Australia waiting for my samples to make it through quarantine, maybe it’s a good time to continue my hopeless attempts to catch up on my horribly neglected blog. So, this time…CHILE!

Part of academia is going to conferences to share your research with other scientists in your field. As volcanologists, we are pretty good at making sure those conferences also often happen to be in places with awesome volcanoes. That way we can learn about local interesting geology in addition to presenting our work. I was lucky enough to attend the Cities on Volcanoes 9 conference in Puerto Varas, Chile, last November. It’s a conference all about volcanoes and the people who live near them (hence the name), hazard mitigation, communication, and more.

I was able to head to Chile a week before the conference to have a bit of a travel vacation with my workmate Mary Anne. What did I do on this vacation? Well…there’s a lot of nice scenery in Chile, and much of it includes tall pointy mountains that hot rocks come out of…and I may have spent most of my time looking at that.

But first, Santiago!

On our way to the Región de los Lagos, the part of the country where the conference was, we had a one day stop in Chile’s capital, Santiago. Enough time to take a look around, check out some nice parks and markets, and have some great food.

 

Onwards to volcanoes: Hornopirén

The next day Mary Anne and I flew down to Puerto Montt, the city at the northernmost end of Patagonia, and rented a car so we could drive to some of the more out-of-the-way areas to the south. We were taking the Carretera Austral, the road that goes from the end of the Pan-American Highway as far south in Chile as you can go. It’s very much still a work in progress. Much of it is unpaved, and there are several ferry crossings where the road comes to an end.

Our first stop was in Hornopirén, a small town near a national park and a few volcanoes. We did our first ferry crossing and found our way to a nice cabaña with fireplace–lucky since it spent the next day raining so hard we could barely do anything!

We were supposed to head on fairly quickly to our next location, but a ferry scheduling issue meant we had to stay an extra day. The silver lining was that it meant we had time to do the things we were rained out of the first day. We had a great hike to Lago Cabrera, the site of Chile’s biggest volcanic death toll. In the 1950s there was a rockfall from Yate volcano that fell into the lake, which caused a tidal wave destroying a settlement on the other side, killing 26 people.

Onward to…more volcanoes?: Parque Pumalín

Once we finally sorted our ferry, we headed off further south. First a 3 hour trip, a short driving break, and then another short ferry ride to get to Parque Pumalín, a privately maintained conservation area with beautiful views and–you guessed it–a few more volcanoes!

The park is home to Chaitén volcano, which had a violent and destructive 2008 eruption, severely affecting the nearby town of the same name. As we drove through the park to the town where we were staying it was easy to see the effects of that eruption.

Our host gave us some recommendations for hikes the next day. Of course we were going to climb a volcano (duh…) but we had more time than that. We used to visit some waterfalls and more alerce trees. Our first hike was the Cascadas Escondidas trail, or the “hidden waterfalls”.

But of course the start of the show was Chaitén volcano. We took a few hour hike up to the top in the afternoon and got great views of the still smoking dome.

Back to work!: return to Puerto Varas

Our pre-conference week was coming to an end, so we hopped on a 9-hour ferry back up to where we started. I got to work on my Spanish quite a bit more by watching some extremely family-inappropriate pirated movies that were being shown and had a chance to get a different view of some of the places we’ve been.

Upon getting back, we had one more day with the car, so we took a trip to the the Saltos de Petrohué, a series of rapids and waterfalls near still more volcanoes!

Another thing that was fun about the trip to this point was the language. While I studied Spanish all through high school and have practiced it beyond that, I’ve never had the chance to use it in a practical setting before. In the places we went, most people spoke no English, so I had to stretch my Spanish knowledge to its limit, and it was super fun. I felt like I was improving as the trip progressed, and really happy with how well I did.

Halfway point in the trip is a good point for a break! I promise I will finish the second half soon! You believe me, don’t you?

Boom! Boom! Explosions!


Mission: See a Real Volcanic Eruption

Country: Vanuatu

Island: Tanna

Volcano: Yasur

Last August, I was presented with a can’t-miss opportunity. My officemate, Ben, who shares a supervisor with me, has an awesome PhD project working in Vanuatu. As the main part of his project, he planned to live at the base of the volcano, collecting a whole series of measurements, for three months. This includes stuff like seismic (earthquake) data, thermal (infrared) images of eruptions, gas measurements, and physical observations. For details on the project, watch the video above.

As you might expect, a project with this many facets is too big for one person to do alone. Ben (along with his supervisors) planned the project and held the responsibility of keeping things up and running the whole time, but he needed some help setting things up at the beginning and doing the work all along. To do this, my supervisor sent several of us in the department out to help over the course of the trip. I was offered the chance to go at the very start and help things set up.

Did I mention Yasur is basically the most consistently active volcano in the world? It’s been erupting more or less constantly for over 1000 years. As a volcanologist who’d never seen a live eruption before, do you think I could pass that up? Not a chance!

We spent the first couple of days in Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital on the island of Efate (Vanuatu is made up of around 80 islands). It has about 40,000 people, and, while maybe not as “modern” as you’d get in New Zealand, it’s as urban as you’re going to get in Vanuatu (and many things we had access to there would’ve been the height of luxury during the fieldwork). We had to sort the logistics of getting all of Ben’s scientific equipment from there over to Tanna, one of the outer islands where Yasur volcano is located. Luckily, in between running back and forth between shipping agencies, we also had a bit of time to explore.

I also got my first taste of Bislama, the local language. Vanuatu has over 100 different indigenous languages, the most per capita of any country in the world. There’s a decent amount of English and French spoken (they are both official languages along with Bislama) in addition to the indigenous ones, but Bislama is the one that brings everyone together. It’s a creole of French and English, with a bit of grammar and vocabulary from each. While confusing at first, it actually makes a lot of sense when you read the sentences out loud, and it’s a lot of fun to try to understand.

From Vila, we took a little Twin Otter plane (you could look right into the cockpit) over to Tanna to start our real work.

The volcano is in the southeastern part of the island, so we took a slow pickup truck ride over there from the airport (on the west coast near Lenakel, the largest town on the island…which is so small I can’t even find a population estimate on the internet). To get a good start, we quickly headed up the volcano that evening to get a first view of the fireworks…unfortunately, it took a bit to figure out how to take good pictures of the explosions, so you’ll just have to be patient (or scroll down if you can’t wait!). In the meantime we settled into our lodging at Jungle Oasis Bungalows.

It’s a nice place, but pretty basic. Don’t come out here expecting modern amenities. No hot water, electricity on generator power for just a few hours every evening, pretty simple food, lots of pretty large insects. For a week and a half, it made the fieldwork that much more involved, and even a bit fun. For three months? Let’s just say I’m not jealous of Ben on that front. Still, it was great to have real beds and a (mostly) stable roof over our heads, and Kelson, the owner, is super ambitious and entrepreneurial, so improvements are constantly being made–he apparently built a restaurant in the couple months after I left, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find things completely different if I ever go out there again!

But you want science and volcanoes, don’t you? So did we! We started right into it the next day, hiking all around the volcano to set up some equipment and scope out sites for other bits.

And then we got to the top and got to see the fun explosions! Yaaaaay!

We took advantage of the presence of Shane and Jen, Ben’s supervisors at University of Auckland, to set up all our equipment over the next few days. That involved a trip to grab all our gear that had come over on a ferry and trekking more around the volcano to get the best spots for everything. It also involved a shovel, lots and lots of duct tape, some ants, and a lot of witty scientific banter.

As a reward for our hard work, we decided to go watch the fireworks again. This time I had my shit together so I could provide you with pretty pictures!

We also had to set up the thermal cameras. Since these see infrared light, they can see the eruption’s heat signal even if it is too cloudy or ashy to see with a normal camera or a human eye. It was pretty crazy working right on the volcano’s edge with the eruptions going on. Someone definitely always had an eye on the ballistics and the plume for safety!

Another important part of our job was the gas measurements. To do this, we have to travel back and forth underneath the ash plume to measure how much of certain volcanic gases are in it. On lucky days I got to sit on the back of Kelson’s pickup truck and drive back and forth quickly multiple times to get measurements while Ben operated it from inside. On not so lucky days, we had to walk back and forth across the ash plain on foot, one of us holding the computer while the other held the FLYSPEC.

After Shane and Jen left, it was just Ben and me for the next week. We continued all of our measurements and observations daily. As exciting as it was, it was also routine. Every morning, climb the volcano, sit and observe for two hours while taking notes, check the thermal cameras. Then head back down, out to the ash plain to do gas measurements and collect ash samples. It was really cool to see the volcano change in behavior over the course of the week, sometimes explosive, sometimes more ashy.

…but now you’ve been patient, waiting for the pretty pictures. So here they are.

We didn’t go up to the summit every night, but definitely did a few more times, because it was just too good opportunity to miss.

Finally, at the end of the last night, I found the perfect location for a photo. The activity had died down quite a bit, so I had to be patient, but eventually it paid off.

And with that, my two weeks of service were done! I left Ben to stick it out for another 10. Luckily he had some great helpers take my place.

Another fun part of the trip was making the movie at the beginning of this post. I spent a lot of the trip filming everything I thought might be interesting (and probably annoying the crap out of everybody else). Then, toward the end of my stay, I made Ben sit for some formal interviews that turned into the narration of the video. Editing it all together at the end was a good excuse to continue watching explosions for some time even after I’d returned!

Note: All photos with me in them were taken by Ben, all photos with me not in them were taken by me.

 

Top of the New Zealand!

Well that attempt to get caught up didn’t go as planned…still have Vanuatu and Chile to catch up on, but in the meantime, I’ll tackle something more manageable…

Cape Reinga

I’ve wanted to visit the northern tip of New Zealand ever since I got here. Not sure why exactly…thrill of exploration? Something about extremes? It’s not like there are any volcanoes up there. But still. Point is, wanted to go there. Didn’t go there. Went part of the way there. But still not there. Now I did. Sweet as.

The opportunity arose as a final trip for my friend and traveler-extraordinaire Aurelia who was finishing up hear nearly-a-year in NZ and Australia. She was already up in Northland, so I drove up to meet her in the quiet seaside town of Whangaroa. The town also contains an interesting landmark, St. Paul’s Rock. I can’t tell you a whole lot about it other than that it is a remanent of millions of years old volcanic activity in Northland.

From there, we drove north toward the top of Northland, stopping several times along the way at some nice beaches and other stops, including Ninety Mile Beach, an extremely long, straight beach that runs all the way up northern Northland’s west coast. You can drive on it (when the tide is far enough out, anyway), but I’m a bit of a chicken, and it didn’t seem like the view would change much in two miles (or 20), so we were content to take a look around and continue on.

Next stop was Cape Reinga! We did it! Woo! Cape Reinga isn’t technically the northernmost point on the North Island. That would be Surville Cliffs, which is about three km farther north (but 30km away). But it is the end of Route 1, NZ’s end-to-end highway, so close enough…for now, anyway. There’s a lighthouse and some great views into the endless Pacific Ocean.

Next up was the Giant Sand Dunes. Remember the ordinary-sized sand dunes in the earlier photo? Forget them. These earned their name, for sure! Big enough that people rent boogie-boards and slide down them. We passed on that in favor of wandering about, geo-nerding out over the dune structures, and generally hoping we wouldn’t get sunburned.

Our campsite for the night was Spirits Bay, still way up north, with a good view of Cape Reinga. You can even see the lighthouse shining once it gets dark. The beach there was beautiful and made up of all sort of shells. There were wild horses. Sunset over the cape. What more could you want?

The next day cemented for me Northland’s claim to some of NZ’s best beaches. We leisurely worked our way back south, stopping along the way in the Bay of Islands, another of NZ’s older volcanic areas. On the recommendation of a friend, we stopped in a town called Rawhiti, which was tiny, but very nice. We got to take a walk around the beach and listen while a local guy strummed away on guitar.

Our best discovery, however, came purely by luck. We saw a sign for a beach parking lot on our right, and an awesome looking tree on our left, so we decided to make a quick stop.

That quick stop turned into a longer one, as it turned out to be one of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen. From the cool rock structures on the beach, to the clear water, the bright green hills right alongside the sand, everything about it was just awesome. Definitely a place to make a return trip.

Farther south, we found another nice place to camp for the night, so we pitched our tent and enjoyed the sunset.

Our final stop before getting back to Auckland was the Mermaid Pools at Matapouri. They are essentially large tide pools that form on the rocky area by the water, large enough to swim in. You do a short climb over a big hill, and then you’re there!

From there we raced back down to Auckland so I could go to some meetings at uni, and our 3-day trip was done!

It’s been long as, let’s catch up!

Well I’ve been pretty slack with this blog thing lately… There’s no way I’ll do justice to most of the stuff that’s been going on, so how about we just do a quick, mostly photo-based run through of some cool NZ places I’ve been in the last several months?

Rangitoto: Auckland’s youngest volcano

It’s sitting out there in Auckland harbor…Auckland’s most recently erupted volcano (~600 years ago), looking pretty and green and just a bit intimidating. Could it erupt again? Not likely (as part of a volcanic field, it’s classified as monogenetic–that is, it’s one shot only by definition), but that’s actually a pretty intense academic debate that I’ll leave alone here. Lucky for me I just got to have a nice ferry ride over, a short climb to the top, and a walk through some cool lava tubes.

More Taranaki Fieldwork and the coldest night of my life

Did a few more fieldwork trips to Taranaki for a bit more sample collection back before winter began. Mostly little of note, but on my last trip of the season, I camped overnight on the way from Auckland to Wellington with the hope of collecting a few last samples. Let’s just say I slightly underestimated how cold it would get at night and ended up so cold that by 3am I couldn’t sleep anymore and had to sit in the car. Oops. Unbelievably clear and beautiful night sky, though, and I did get my samples, so not so terrible in the end!

Also messed around with some time lapses during the sunset. So you can see what it looks like for the sun to set in Taranaki on a clear day!

I continued down to Wellington afterwards to experiment on the samples I’d just collected–here’s what it looks like from my lab at the University of Victoria perched high up on the hill above the city centre.

A bit of Auckland regional geology

A few field trips, some uni-related, others just for fun to check out some cool regional parks with some cool rocks.

Tongariro Fieldwork

I never pass up a chance to help out a fellow PhD student with fieldwork, which meant I took a couple trips down to Tongariro National Park to help out Mia, one of the other PhD students in the department who is researching the last several thousand years of tephra deposits from Tongariro volcano. We did a lot of driving around–it’s important to learn what deposits from each of the volcano’s eruptions look like (many of them have distinctive characteristics) and then identify those deposits in as many locations as possible.

Here’s an example of what we do when we investigate an outcrop–mostly walk around pointing at stuff, discuss things, take notes (in superspeed!).

Coromandel

I’ve been lucky enough to have a few friends come visit me in NZ already. And when they do, of course I take them to see something geological! Recently my friend Katherine stopped by Auckland during her trip to NZ from the US. We took a trip out to the Coromandel Peninsula to see Cathedral Cove. It’s a pretty sweet collection of arches and sea stacks formed from millions of years-old ignimbrite deposits (volcanic deposits resulting from huge pumice-filled eruptions).

Vanuatu…just a peek!

I mentioned not passing up a chance to help with fieldwork…that goes double when I get offered a chance to travel to do it! My officemate, Ben, is living in Vanuatu for three months monitoring Yasur, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. In September I got to go help him…and to see my first eruptions. That’s a YUUUGE moment for a volcanologist! I’ll try to do a whole post on that later, I certainly have enough photos!

A Little Bit of Culture

Quick pivot back from science to fun! (Not that I mean to say those things are in any way mutually exclusive. I think all my science posts are fun. But this post is all fun and no science, so be forewarned. Wooooooooooo…)

Way back when it was still nice out I took a long-weekend trip with my flatmates to Hawke’s Bay region, on the east coast of the North Island. While most of my trips are nature and tramping-based (which is somewhat governed by the fact that those are the best things to do in NZ), this trip was actually a bit more about culture and man-made stuff. The trip started with a long drive towards Taupo and then a few hours more, luckily I was buoyed by a coffee that fully justifies all the fun-making I do about the Kiwi accent.

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Saying it funny is one thing, but this?

Along the way, on the advice of our soon-to-be couchsurfing host, we made a couple stops: a historic site of a Maori ambush of some British soldiers, a nice waterfall, and an awesome bridge where you can walk on the scaffolding underneath to get a great view.

We didn’t have much planned for the first night, so we just took a look around Napier, one of the main cities in the region, while we were killing time until we could meet our host. Napier is known for its “art deco” style architecture. The whole city has the same style because it basically was completely destroyed in a 1931 earthquake, which meant all the current buildings were built at roughly the same time, hence similar styles. To me it feels like walking around inside a comic book (with the street signs being a really nice extra touch)!

After dinner in town, we drove out to the countryside (waaay out there in the dark) to meet Dave, a 50something British transplant schoolteacher who loves hosting couchsurfers in his free time. He was super nice and gave us good advice on how to spend the rest of our days in the region.

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I got my own room! It may have been the storage closet, but it was cozy and it was mine! 🙂

Based on the weather, we decided to make our next day our “nature stuff” day and go do all the outside things in the area. First up was Te Mata peak, a high point near Hastings, the region’s other big city. It was a nice nature reserve with some redwood trees and a few options for hikes. We took the longest one, a 2-3 hour hike that went to the top of the peak (it’s only 400m high, so not all that difficult of a climb). There was also a road to the top, so it was one of those instances where you get there only to find a bunch of tourists getting out of their cars…but we earned our view the hard way!

From there we took a drive over to Cape Kidnappers, a peninsula on the east coast a bit south of Napier and Hastings. It sticks a few km out into the Pacific Ocean, and got its name from an attempt by a few Maori men to kidnap one of Captain Cook’s crew members during his time in New Zealand. You can walk out along the beach under the high cliffs — if you walk far enough there is a gannet colony at the end. You can also take a tractor ride if you’re lazy. We didn’t make it out to the birds — you need to time your walk with the tides to make it all the way to the end — but we hiked out a decent ways before turning around..

Of course, more than anything, Hawke’s Bay is probably famous for its wine, so we couldn’t leave without visiting a winery! Dave had recommended his favorite, Abbey winery, so we drove over and hung out for a while. We got to taste a few of their wines and listen to a guy playing some nice acoustic covers of classic rock, a pretty chill afternoon.

That was it for the day, so after another dinner in Napier, we went back out to the country, where I noted Dave’s awesome taste in storage room wall posters.

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Anyone who has volcano posters on their walls is cool in my book.

The next day we decided to explore Napier a bit more. We checked out the botanical gardens as well as the museum (no photographs allowed!) which had some cool artwork exhibits and a really interesting exhibit on the 1931 earthquake that leveled the town. After that we decided to just take a break and lie out by the beach for a bit.

Finally, we were told the the lady in the museum that there was a conservation-based street art exhibit all around Napier, and she gave us a map to go search out the different pieces, done right on the side of buildings. So we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around town, finding awesome graffiti murals.

And that’s it! The next day we headed back up to Auckland, having successfully explored one more region of the North Island!

This Is How We Do It

A quick follow up to yesterday’s post — I made a fun video of our fieldwork trip so you can see exactly what we’re up to, and set it to a jaunty tune. Enjoy!

I’m really enjoying trying to tell stories about science through film, and I hope I can do a lot more of it in the future. I’m actually currently taking a course the the organization called SciFund on how to make good science youtube videos, so hopefully there will be more where this came from!