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.

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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?

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!

The Big Tiki Tour

Alright, let’s do it. While I’ve got lots of cool pictures to share from the South Island trip, there’s too much science to get to to dwell forever on it, so let’s get the rest done in one fell swoop. I’ll go light on the paragraphs, with most of the commentary contained in snarky photo captions… Ready? Go!

Queenstown

Where the cool kids go to ski! And do other outsidy stuff! No snow when we were there, but a pretty cool town on a pretty lake with some pretty mountains, and lots of restaurants and buzz going down at night.

The most obvious and touristy (but still worth it) thing to do was to take the gondola up to the top of Bob’s Peak above the town, with a great view down over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. Bob was a pretty savvy businessman to build his restaurant/viewing platform/luge track up on His Peak. Maybe Donald could learn a little about winning from Bob. I bet Bob is tired of winning from winning so much. Anyway…

With a little more time to kill before dinner, we used the internet machine to look up more things to do, and settled on the drive north along Lake Wakatipu to the small town of Glenorchy at the top of the lake. It is apparently regarded as one of the world’s top scenic drive. Having now driven it, I won’t dispute that. The views all along were absurdly beautiful, and the windy road was pretty fun to drive on, too!

Back in Queenstown, we got to enjoy a nice dinner and a sunset-ish from the lakeshore. The next day we also took a little walk around before heading out.

After finishing, we set off on the drive to Te Anau, the southernmost point of our journey, stopping for a few diversions along the way.

Te Anau and Milford Sound

After a long drive through not much of anything, we got to Te Anau–the last outpost of civilization on the way to Fiordland and Milford Sound. It’s possible to take a multi-day hiking trip out that way, but that will have to be for another time. Instead we opted for a bus to boat tour. We stopped a few times along the road back up to the west coast, finally arriving at a boat terminal where we’d get floated out to the sea.

The ferry took us out to the mouth of the Sound where it meets the Tasman Sea. Despite clouds earlier in the day, it was actually so sunny at first during the boat ride that all the photographs were super washed-out. So I sat back and let all the silly people take all their photos and enjoyed the view and waited for better lighting.

And then on the way back, I leapt into action!

After the Milford Sound part of the tour, we made a couple more short stopoffs on the way back to Te Anau, then headed towards Dunedin to start working our way back around to Christchurch.

Dunedin+

A lot of my colleagues make a lot of jokes about Dunedin having really crappy weather all the time. So of course when we got there it was raining. But contrary to the stereotype, it was actually quite nice there while we explored for a couple hours before moving on. So by my calculation, it rains 50% of the time in Dunedin.

On the drive back to Christchurch, we stopped at an interesting geologic site, the Moeraki Boulders. Located on the beach near the town of Hampden, they’re a bunch of super nice and round, sometimes interesting fractured…boulders. I know, you’re thinking only a geologist would care about a bunch of big rocks on the beach. But actually they were pretty cool! And lots of people were there, so I’m not alone in my nerd-dom.

Christchurch

The second time around in Christchurch we actually got to look around for a short bit. It’s pretty easy to see the impacts of the huge 2011 earthquake that caused so much damage. Pretty good 1st-world example of the devastation natural disasters can cause.

Back to the North Island!

Having had a pretty low-key New Years Eve at a little park gathering in Christchurch, we flew back up north to Auckland to start the new year with a short trip around the North Island. Since I’ve been to a lot more places up here, I could play tour guide and take my parents to some of my favorite spots. Unfortunately, the weather that was so perfect on the South Island was long gone, and things were pretty ugly for most of the second part of the trip. The biggest downside to this: NO VOLCANOES!!! Seriously, I look at volcanoes for a living and the few days we tried to go to Taranaki and Ruapehu, there was more or less nothing to be seen. What a bummer. At least we got half a look at Taranaki from the plane.

We did stop at a bird sanctuary, which is cool, because I like birds (#birds). And we got to see a Kiwi! They’re nocturnal so no pictures, but they’re super big and fluffy and awesome. And the place is on my way to do fieldwork every time, so I will get my fill of Kiwi-watching while I’m in NZ. We also took a stop to see the Waitomo gloworm caves. A bit touristy, but pretty cool to take a boat ride through the darkness with all the little glowy dudes on the ceiling (but, obviously it was dark so no pictures).

After an ill-advised drive over some pretty treacherous dirt roads in a torrential downpour, we arrived at Ruapehu, where we saw…nothing. I thought if we drove up to the ski field, we might punch through the clouds and get a view. Alas, still nothing. So on to Taupo, where we at least got to see a waterfall. We also stopped by some hot pools. I’d been to them before at night during the winter. In that setting they’re pretty creepy…but still better because they’re far less crowded than daytime during the summer!

Finally, it was on to Rotorua for the final bit of the trip. On the way we stopped at the Waiotapu thermal area, kind of a Yellowstone-lite. Nice enough, but nothing quite compares to Yellowstone, so it’s not really a fair fight. We also took a look at some of the lakes that I’ve been to on previous trips.

And that’s the deal! Lots of things! It was a bit rushed, but not too bad for two weeks. With those things covered, my glaring areas in NZ that I haven’t been to include the northern part of the South Island, and the North Island’s east coast, among other things. I’ll have to fix that soon!

In the meantime, coming up…science, geology, volcanoes!

 

Cold As (Gradually Melting) Ice

The South Island tour continues…

Glaciers

Aside from driving south along the Westland coast, our goal for the day was to see some of the glaciers of the Southern Alps. Though much of the snow in the mountains melts in summer, don’t try to tell these bad boys to go away, because glaciers don’t melt. Except now they do, I guess. Slowly. Because of climate change. Actually not really that slowly. Ugh.

To really get up on the glaciers, you have to take a guided helicopter tour that deposits you up on the glacier. Since we’d had the chance to walk up on a glacier in the Canadian Rockies years back, we decided to pass on this and just take a hike up to the glaciers’ terminal faces.

After stopping in the town of Franz Josef, where (though some pretty ridiculous luck with the weather being windy in the morning and us getting to the visitor center at exactly the right time) we got to say a quick hello to my glacier guide friend Janet, we continued on to do the hike up to Franz Josef glacier, named in the 1800s for the Austrian emperor of the same name (obviously).

The glacier is retreating pretty quickly, as evidenced by markers and photos on the trail showing where it used to be. But you know, glaciers go in, glaciers go out…you can’t explain that.

Then it was on to Fox Glacier, where you can also walk up to the terminal face. Both walks were similar, less than an hour each way, fairly easy except for a few steeper hills.

While still near the glaciers, we took a trip over to Lake Matheson, a glacial lake not far away that happens to be well located to create a reflection of Aoraki/Mt. Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. Unfortunately for us, that only happens when the lake is perfectly calm, and when we were there it was too ripply to see a reflection. Fortunately, it was still quite nice.

Heading Back East

After having our fun in Westland, we started heading back east towards Queensland, taking Haast Pass. There were numerous stopoffs along the way to see various waterfalls and rivers.

Along the way, we passed briefly through Mt. Aspiring National Park. I’ve heard amazing things about this particular national park, and, while we only saw a tiny part of it, I can see why it has such a good reputation (and I’ll have to go back to see the rest of it).

The Lakes

From Mt. Aspiring parks, the main highway heads south past two big awesome lakes, Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, and you get the opportunity to drive alongside each of them.

We got to stop in the town of Wanaka itself, which had a nice lakefront and some good fish ‘n’ chips. It’s also the location of the next GSNZ geology conference, so I’m looking forward to getting back there for a lot longer next year, hopefully.

From there we finished things off for the day by heading west to get to Queenstown, passing Cardrona ski field along the way (have to come back during winter!).

As I noted (and will surely note again), it was a heck of a lot of driving, which was tiring, but the routes were so pretty and windy and fun that it was definitely worth the effort.