My research focuses on a particular volcano, Mt. Taranaki, and one particular category of hazard, mass flows. Mass flows are mass movements of rocks, ash, and other particles that come out of volcanoes, sometimes mixed with water. Some, like debris avalanches, are mostly cold, dry movements of huge blocks that have broken off of the volcano, while others, like pyroclastic flows, are usually hot flows of ash, rocks, and gas erupted from a volcano. Some, like lahars, are cold mixtures of water and solid particles that flow down a volcano. What makes mass flows so dangerous is that while some types usually happen during an eruption (e.g. pyroclastic flows), others can also happen shortly after an eruption, or during a period in which there is no eruption at all (e.g. lahars). They can travel at speeds up to 60 mph and distances over 100 mi from the volcano, so they’re obviously pretty dangerous.
What I’m doing is using a variety of methods including sedimentology, geochemistry, and paleomagnetism, to reconstruct the history of mass flows on Mt. Taranaki. Basically, where did they go, when did they go there, what were they made of (and how hot were they), and how often did they go to different locations? I’ll get into the methods more as I actually do them, but it always starts with going into the field. We’ll be hiking around the river catchments to find lahar and pyroclastic flow deposits and then taking good notes, photos, and samples when we find them. Hopefully the result will be a better understanding of the hazards posed by the volcano, which we will then communicate to the people living in towns and farms on the flanks of Mt. Taranaki.
While I’m in the office, I mostly read lots academic papers that relate to my research and try to compile all the useful information from them in an organized way. I also look at maps and create plans for future fieldwork, trying to pick locations that seem like good spots to visit in advance so I can have a good idea of where to go when I actually get out there. Then, once we go in the field I look at the sites in person to determine which locations are the best for mapping and collecting samples.