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.

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.

 

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!

Science, dammit!

Buckle up for some geology! Now that you’ve seen what it takes to get to the top of a 2518m high volcano, let’s see what happens when you do it a second time. Only with shitloads of stuff strapped to your back and actual things to accomplish once you get to the top.

As I mentioned, one of the best places to find recent material from Taranaki’s last eruptions is way up at the top. Looking at Taranaki’s most recent lava flows can help us in lots of ways. We can compare it to material we find lower on the volcano. We can look at fresher and more weathered material. We can look at different parts of the lava dome to see if the lava cooled at different rates in different places and try to learn what ways it affects the lava’s properties.

But the simplest thing we can try to do with those hot hot lava rocks (that are now cold) is try to figure out how old they are. If we decide that the lava dome at the top of Mt. Taranaki’s collapse was probably the last thing to happen there, then if we figure out how old those rocks are, we can probably tell when the volcano last erupted.

(The reason we don’t know this already is because the last eruption was before European settlement of the area. From this we know it must be older than at least the mid-1800s. Maori people were there at this time, for sure, but as far as I know there aren’t any datable written records or stories tied to an eruption.)

Our goal for this trip was to collect samples that I could try to date using paleomagnetic methods in the lab in Wellington. On my trips lower down you may remember me collecting rock samples that I would drill holes in in the lab later. But this time we decided to go full on and collect our cores in the field in order to be as accurate as possible.

This was a bigger job, though, so it required a bigger team. A both of my Auckland-based supervisors, Shane and Mike, and a couple fellow students from Auckland, Edgar and Jie, came with me, along with my friend Elisa, our Wellington-based paleomag expert.

For starters, the trip was longer than the first time. We’d be climbing two consecutive days, meaning we had to carry a whole bunch of food in addition to our gear (and possibly some lovely boxes of wine–we do our geology in style!). Oh, yeah…the gear. Hammer, chisel, chainsaw-sized drill and all its accessories, and more. Heck of a lot more than I had on my fun first climb.

We made our camp at the same awesome Tahurangi Lodge that I stayed at last time. It was definitely nice to have a little comfort at the end of the day.

From there, our first job was to hike to the top. Now, doing paleomag drilling is simple enough when your outcrops are by the roadside. Stop somewhere and fill up your water tanks, pull up on the side of the road, do your thing, go home. If you run out of water, just fill up again and get back to work.

 

In our case, however, we had to get all that same stuff to the top of the of the volcano to get to our sample sites, and there was nowhere to get more water once we were up there (we gave some thought to melting snow, but couldn’t come up with an efficient enough solution). That meant splitting up about 45 liters of water, a couple liters of fuel, and all the drill stuff between everyone for the trip up. It was probably the most difficult fieldwork I’ve ever done — steep enough as is, but even harder when weighed down by a super full pack.

But we did make it! Hooray! Once we were up there, we moseyed around to the western side of the summit to see the collapsed crater. That’s where the volcano’s most recent lava dome grew, then collapsed, leaving a giant horseshoe-shaped amphitheater behind. This was probably sometime in the 1800s, but we don’t yet know for sure.

In order to compare different parts of the dome and learn as much as we can about Taranaki’s most recent activity, we needed samples from lots of different parts of the dome, which meant climbing all around the collapse amphitheater and around the snow fields to pick out a few different sites to core.

Once we’d taken a good look, we picked some sample locations on different parts spread around the area and got to work drilling our cores. Drilling and orienting is a team effort. For the most efficient work, it takes two to drill–one to do the actual drilling and one to man the pump bottle to keep water running through the drill so it operates well. Then it takes another one or two to take accurate measurements and write careful on the cores and collect them to take home — that way the drillers can already move on to the next site. ***drilling note at end***

In order to learn more about the formation of the lava dome, we made sure to take samples from both the outside carapace of the dome that had cooled and remained in place as well as the fresh material that is newly exposed where the side of the dome collapsed. That way we can try to look for differences between the two types: Did one cool faster? Do they contain the same minerals? Are the mineral crystals different sizes? Did they record the same paleomagnetic field?

As you saw in the picture above, we usually drill about 8-12 small holes per site, and on the first day we were able to do five sites. Not bad for a day’s work! And we felt pretty good about having carried all that water since we used almost all of it. Imagine how upset we would have been if we’d worked so hard to get up there and then quit early because we ran out!

On the way down we were treated to some pretty awesome views or the surrounding area. The perfect circle of the edge of the park still impresses me. Combined with the shadow Taranaki casts in the evenings, it’s a pretty unusual sight.

Back at the lodge were were able to have some delicious soup packets, tea, dinner, and wine, and rest up for day two.

So did I complain about the first day being the hardest fieldwork I’d ever done? I was being a wuss. Day two was the hardest fieldwork I’ve ever done. Carrying all the same stuff up the volcano a second straight day was seriously hard work and at times frustrating (especially when constantly sliding backwards trying to climb the scree field) — early on I was genuinely concerned I might not make it! But after some tough times in the early going, we actually all made it to the top faster than we did on the first day.

The weather wasn’t nearly as good the second day, it was quite a bit chillier, and visibility was pretty low. Luckily my supervisor had a good idea where we were going. We did another four sites — some were more parts of the lava dome, but we also sampled The Turtle, an interesting feature a little ways down from the top that is very visible when looking at Mt. Taranaki from the west. Despite some tough conditions and a bit of slipping and sliding, we stayed focused, worked hard, and got everything we needed so that all our sarcastic comments about having to come up a third straight day could just remain jokes.

After staying another night in the lodge, we were able to head home with all the samples we needed to do a good investigation, and also comfortable in the knowledge that if we ever need to come back and get more samples, we’ll know exactly what to do. I’ve already gotten my teeth into testing the samples from this trip in the paleomagnetism lab down in Wellington, and though we don’t have any conclusive results yet, we’re well on our way to learning a lot more about the lonely volcano.

***Note on drilling: Mt. Taranaki is a beautiful and culturally important mountain. As such, we make our best effort to be as non-disruptive and non-destructive as possible when doing fieldwork. But sometimes the only way to do the science is to take the samples, as in this case. Before we even planned the drilling, we consulted with the NZ Department of Conservation and local iwi to get all proper permissions for the work and to make sure we did it in a way where all parties involved could be happy. When actually on the mountain, we always made an effort to drill our cores in places far off the beaten path where they won’t bother anyone, and often in areas where weathering and further collapse will likely remove them altogether over time.***

Just Me and the Big Dude

Toward the beginning of my PhD I won a scholarship from an organization that gives grants to students doing research in the Taranaki region, and as part of the bargain I agreed to come down to New Plymouth in early December to give a public lecture at the Puke Ariki, the city’s big cultural and natural history museum. I decided that while I was down there already I’d take the opportunity to do one last batch of fieldwork before the end of the year.

My co-supervisor at Victoria University of Wellington drove up and met me in Oakura (a small town in the northwest part of the peninsula), and we planned a couple days of exploring and sample collection.

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Protip: When possible, do fieldwork with your supervisor(s). They tend to pay for cushier lodging and tastier food than when you do it yourself. 😉

I’ve already told you about looking for stratigraphic sections and learning to tell apart the different types of deposits that I look at during my fieldwork. And about mapping those deposits in different places. Naturally, the next step is to actually take samples of those different deposits to take back to the lab for testing.

I had already done a good bit of sample collection on the last trip (the one forever lost to the annals of my dead hard drive), but there was plenty more to do in the same (and new) places, so off we went back into the park, up the Puniho track, and into Maero Stream.

We started by climbing up toward the “type section” I’ve already told you about, but this time we decided to push on a bit farther and see what lays higher up the stream. The first thing we noticed on the way up was a really red outcrop, different from anything we’d seen so far. Farther on up we also found a potential good spot to get into and out of the riverbed, which might be good to know about for future trips. It would be very convenient to be able to follow the easy track much further along rather than having to climb up the rocky stream bed.

We stopped at the red unit again on the way down to take some samples. What does that mean, exactly? Well, basically, there’s a few different types.

  1. Matrix and clast samples: Basically, I just scoop a bunch of stuff that I think is well representative of the outcrop into a sandwich baggie. The matrix is the sandy stuff in between the clasts (the pebble to boulder rocks contained in the matrix).
  2. Oriented core: We use a drill (I’ll show more later) to take a little cylinder, roughly the diameter of a quarter (NZ/Euro 50c coin) and around 4-8 cm (2-4 in) deep.
  3. Oriented hand sample: When we can’t drill a hole in the field, instead we just take the rock home instead so we can drill a hole in it back in the lab.
  4. Charcoal: For radiocarbon dating you need stuff with lots of carbon. One thing with lots of carbon are burnt bits of trees, leaves, and twigs.

So notice I used the word “oriented” a few times in the sample names. That’s because for paleomagnetism direction is everything. Later in the lab we’ll be trying to figure out the direction of earth’s ancient magnetic field. But to do that, we need a reference point for the direction of the rock when it was deposited. So we spend a lot of time recording with compasses and marking the rocks with sharpies so we’ll be able to test accurately later on.

Another question you may have is “what if you don’t find any big enough rocks to take as oriented hand samples?” It’s a good question, and this time out we got to test another sampling method, where we hammered a little plastic box into the fine grained material and took an orientation of it (see picture above) in order to get a sample. It will be interesting to see if it works. We also found some little charcoal bits for the first time, which should be helpful.

After some pretty lousy weather on the first day, we got much better conditions on day two. Here, we found some good outcrops right along the road to ample, which meant we could test out our drill. Vroom vroom!

We only tested a couple times, but we drilled two useful cores. Funny thing was, the drill was tough to get started…but then once it got going we couldn’t get it to shut off! A Hanukkah miracle! Eventually we just had to remove all the fuel and let it run itself down.

After finishing fieldwork on the second day, my supervisor took off for home, and I went to do the actual purpose of my trip–the talk at the museum. Basically, I got to do my proposal defense, but slightly longer and for a broader audience. It was quite fun, a good chance to get to talk to people in the area and get their perspectives on the volcano. And of course a great chance to screen Geology: The Movie (provided here for your education and entertainment just in case you haven’t seen it or want to watch again).

When I finished with that, it was time to celebrate. Fancy dinner? Chill on the beach? Nah, how about we climb a volcano instead?

I took a drive around the northeast side of the volcano to a place where you can actually drive a decent ways into the park to the North Egmont Visitor Centre. As I got closer I willed the small bits of clouds that remained in the sky to drift away. “Show yourself, you majestic fucker!” And show himself he did.

From the visitor centre I started off on the summit track. While my field area is on the western side of the volcano, this is probably the easiest route to the top, and I imagine this is the way we go when we get around to doing fieldwork at the summit. For this trip, I wasn’t intending to go all the way up and back, that takes a full day. I just wanted some quality time with just me and Taranaki and to see how far I could get in an hour or so.

The track (as far as I took it) is well paved and easy to follow–that’s not to say it isn’t quite steep and strenuous all the same. And that’s the easy part! I got pretty high up, almost to the bottom of the volcano itself, but it’s quite the climb to get to the top. Still a bit too much snow to do it at the moment, as well, but hopefully I’ll get back there in January or February when things are clearer.

That just left me with a little more fieldwork to do on the final day before driving home, as well as one important pit stop on the way home.

With that, I’m done with fieldwork for the year. After wrapping things up at the office, I’m off on a holiday visit from my parents and a whirlwind tour around both the North and South Islands.

Have a good end of the year everyone, see you in 2016!

Meet Tyrannakai, King of the Volcanoes

Fieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldworkfieldwork! Woot woot!

If you remember back when I started this thing, I promised a healthy dose of science and geology to go with the pretty pictures. Unfortunately, except for one trip report in June, I haven’t been able to follow through on that promise particularly well. But that ends today! Inform the men and women, it’s geologizin’ time! Prepare to be scienced! If you have a weak constitution or an un-curious mind, please leave now, because wimmity-wam-wam-wazzle hallelujah it is fieldwork season, and all is well with world!

Assembling the G-Team (G is for geology)

Finally presented with several consecutive days of good weather forecast, I planned a three-day field trip and asked along lots of geology and non-geology friends to be field assistants. Many jumped at the chance to do a little tramping and I ended up with a crack international team of doctors (the geology kind), engineers, PhD students, and more! Overqualified for a preliminary light field trip? Probably. Overqualified for having fun? Not a chance!

The goal for this trip was to scope out the area that where I’ll be doing most of my field work, get an eye for telling the difference between different types of volcanic deposits, and pick some good spots to come back and sample another time. After driving down, we spent the rest of the first day looking for some huge debris avalanche deposits along the coast (a side project). It took a bunch of tries driving up and down some little roads, but eventually we found what we were looking for.

For both nights of the trip, we camped in a small clearing right at the edge of the national park. As long as the weather is good, that’s definitely going to be a great cost-saving measure going forward. Camping right next to cars is easy since you don’t have to carry stuff far before you set it up, and cooking and sharing an evening with friends outside only makes the trip even more enjoyable.

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Our campsite. Pretty nice view, huh? Also, can you guess where the farmland ends and Egmont National Park starts? Hint: it’s as obvious as it looks.

The Real Work Begins

The goal of the second day was to go into the park and find stratigraphic sections of the deposits I’m going to be working with in the future so I could get practice looking at them, describing them, and deciding what type of deposit they are. A stratigraphic section is basically a place where you can see lots of different layers of rocks or volcanic deposits all stacked on top of each other in one place. It’s important to study these because it’s the easiest place to learn what all the different layers look like, since in many places only some of the units will be present and it isn’t nearly as easy to tell them apart.

Once we found Maero Stream, we hiked up and down a bit looking for the “type section”, which is basically the very best stratigraphic section anyone has found of a particular sequence of deposits, and therefore the best place to learn about them.

What I actually mean when I say “I look at rocks for a living”

Looking at a section is a multi-step process that starts with seeing what you can learn about the outcrop from a distance. How many different layers are there? How thick is each one? What can you tell about each layer on a large scale? Basically, ask as many questions as I can think of and see how many I can answer.

That’s followed by going up close and looking at each layer individually. How big are the biggest rocks in a layer? How small are the smallest ones? What type of rocks are they? Do the rocks get bigger or smaller as you look up or down? Are similar size rocks grouped together or is it totally random? Answering these questions may help me figure out other things about the deposit, like where it came from, how hot it was, and more.

After looking at the type section, we went on to look for some “reference sections,” which are basically more good spots to see a particular formation, just not quite the best ones. That involved crossing some more streams and led, finally, to some awesome views of the big guy himself.

Getting to the reference section involved hiking up the Stony River (also called the Hangatahua River), the largest, wettest river in the area by a solid margin. Even on this dry day it was pretty big, and will probably be pretty hard to cross except in the driest of times, which meant I had to look at a lot of stuff from a distance.

And that was pretty much it for the day other than the hike out. Part of doing this kind of fieldwork involves being patient and being happy with what you got done for the day. While there will be some days where I take tons of samples or look at a bunch of sites really close together, there will be others like this one where you walk pretty far just to see one particular site and have to be satisfied with that as a productive day.

The goal of the next day was to check out a few spots I had marked off outside the park to look at a different unit. While the Maero Fm. we were looking at the previous day is only up to 800 years old and from the volcano’s most recent active period, this day we’d be looking at the Warea Formation, deposits from activity closer to 10,000 years ago. The idea is to look for comparisons between the two units from different time periods but in the same area–how were the conditions similar or different the last time the volcano erupted in the same location?

So we jumped in the car and gave chase. Alright, so we weren’t driving all that fast. And the things were were chasing were inanimate objects that have been there for a few thousand years and probably aren’t going anywhere. Still, it’s more fun to think of myself as a rock bounty hunter tracking down my quarry (bad geology pun alert!)?

Whereas the deposits we looked at in the park mostly showed characteristics of a hot pyroclastic flow, the things we looked at outside the park looked different, more likely being a cold, wet lahar. Except, there was more to see…

There was one unit that had some characteristics of both hot and cold deposits! Tricky, indeed. That’s where my paleomagnetic methods should come in handy. Later on, when we come back and sample, I should be able to do pmag lab work that will give me a better idea of what type of deposit we were looking at.

With the hard work mostly over, we decided to relax and eat our lunch at the beach. And by beach I mean more rocks. Also, we made a friend!

And there’s another field trip in the books. Can’t wait to get back with some sampling gear to start the real work!

Why Did the Kiwi Cross the Road?

I’ve done a bunch of small things over the last several weeks, some for fun, some for work, and some for a combination of the two (the fact that the two tend to overlap is nice). These events were of varying levels of photogeneity (is it a real word? Don’t care, it should be.) resulting in varying amounts of photos (down to zero), so enjoy accordingly.

Volcanic Science & Risk Management Workshop

To mark the anniversary of one of Ruapehu’s larger recent eruptions in 1995-6, NZ’s Department of Conservation had a short workshop held in Whakapapa at the base of the volcano. It was my first “conference” besides AGU and it couldn’t have been more different. Rather than airplane hangar-sized rooms full of posters and hundreds of talks of all types, it was just one room of maybe 50 volcanologists. It was a really interesting chance to see the history of volcanology and the progress it’s made in New Zealand over the last 20 years. It was also a great chance for me to meet lots of volcano people from around NZ. There were a number of students and professors from most of the major universities in the country, as well as people from GNS (the USGS of NZ) and DOC (dept of conservation). Plenty of names I’d heard of but not yet met and people I may work with in the future.

One thing that was not different from AGU was the friendliness and camaraderie of the volcanology community. Everyone was keen to make new friends and to discuss geology and other stuff over a few drinks.

Skiing for Fun

While coming to Auckland in April basically meant I didn’t get to have any summer in 2015, it did mean I got two ski seasons, which is at least a small consolation. It took a while to finally get out on the mountain this winter, but we finally did it in late August.

While there’s lots of options for skiing on the South Island, on the North Island there are only two main options, Turoa and Whakapapa. They’re both located on the flanks of Ruapehu (skiing on a volcano! Oh. Yeah.), Whakapapa on the north side and Turoa on the southwest. We went for a couple days to Turoa, the smaller of the two.

The snow conditions weren’t unlike those in New England, where I usually ski. No powder to speak of, scrapey in places, but plenty of spots with pretty nice snow. The terrain was quite a bit different, however. Whereas most places I’m used to skiing have discrete trails separated by forest, on Ruapehu it’s pretty much all one open field with no real signage and “trails” only really dictated by the terrain. As a result, your path down the mountain is limited only by your imagination (also cliffs).

There were some nice bowls and higher difficulty runs off to the sides from the lifts, and it made for a couple fun and exhausting days of skiing.

Going to the Beach

Not long after I arrived in New Zealand I went on a hiking trip and ended up watching the sunset over Piha beach, but didn’t actually get to check out the beach itself. That was remedied a few weeks back when we took a trip over there, just under an hour out to the west from Auckland. It was a cold, bleak, windy day, so maybe not the best for beach-going. We took a walk around, waded carefully through a shallow stream or two (or tried to, at least–it was deeper than it looked in some spots!), and took a climb up Lion Rock, a big eroded volcanic thingy (about all the detail I can offer. Educational, no?), though we couldn’t get all the way to the top.

Afterwards we took a short hike nearby to Kitekite Falls, a pretty impressive waterfall. There was a pool at the bottom that might’ve been nice in warmer weather. It was pretty cold, though, so we just took a good look around and took off.

Skiing for Work

So here is an instance of work being awesome. As I’ve mentioned, lahars are a big hazard on New Zealand volcanoes. On Ruapehu, big debris flows have caused major damage in the past, and it’s a particular issue there because people are skiing on the volcano. Which means that there are quite frequently lots of people in the danger zones for lahars. To mitigate this, the Department of Conservation has developed a pretty nifty lahar warning system. If something were to happen, it should trip the alarm setting off sirens on the ski slopes and loud announcements advising people to ski to high ground. This is supplemented by educational material located around the ski area, on the lifts, and in the lodges.

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You see this one while you’re peeing in the bathroom. It’s nice to have a captive audience!

A warning system is only good if it actually works, though, so DOC tests the system a couple times a year. We had the good fortune to meet the people running the test at the Whakapapa conference a month or so earlier and were invited to help out.

Basically, the plan was to set off the sirens and warnings and see how it went. Our job was to wait in certain spots to see how well we could hear the sirens and to observe how people reacted. The last part of the job (the exciting part) was to ski down quickly and talk to people who ignored the warnings to find out why.

It was really cool to see hazard mitigation in action and see how people reacted (mostly correctly, believe it or not). The area I was responsible for was pretty small, but it was interesting how at any given time the amount of people varied widely. At the time the sirens blew there were only a couple people in “danger”, but if it had happened maybe five minutes earlier there would have been around 30 or more ski school kids. That would’ve been pretty interesting to see! I definitely hope I get to participate in this project again the next year.

Wellington

Just last week I took a trip down to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. Part of the trip was for work–I was meeting one of my supervisors and some other people who can help me with my project as well as checking out the paleomag lab at Victoria University of Wellington that I will be spending quite a bit of time in during my PhD. I was also visiting some friends that I hadn’t seen in a while.

Wellington seems like a really neat city, lots of really high hills (more dramatic in its hillyness than Auckland), crazy windy weather, narrow streets that are stressful to drive on, and a pretty harbor and beaches (covered in pretty shells and weird jellyfish). Unfortunately, I forgot my phone charger, so I couldn’t take any pictures. All I got was this one cool museum exhibit where they put out a table covered in white legos and let people build landscapes.

The only picture of my trip to Wellington. Oops.

The only picture of my trip to Wellington.

Luckily, I get to go back in November for a conference, so I can hopefully have a little more to show for it then.

Maybe This Will Make it Up to You

Sorry about no Wellington pictures. Enjoy this photo of the most New Zealandy road sign ever with a volcano and sunset in the background instead.

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As Kiwi as it gets