Neverending summer.

15 09 2008

Well, I have some excellent news that I’ve been keeping under wraps for quite some time since I didn’t want to jinx it. A few weeks ago my boss at HVO mentioned that a scientist friend of his from Woods Hole asked him to join a scientific research cruise to the Loihi Seamount. Since Loihi is definitely something I’d like to research in the future, I promptly freaked out. I demanded to know what his reply was, and he told me that he’d been there, done that. I informed him that he was nuts. To that, he asked if I wanted to go. Cue another freak out.

My amazing boss then put in a good word for me with the scientist, and after an interview and much airline and school wrangling…I’m going on a research cruise! That means that instead of leaving here tomorrow to return to California, next Sunday I fly to Oahu. I’ll meet up with the boat and we’ll depart on Monday, 9/22. We’ll return to port on October 12, and I’ll fly back to California the next day. That’s about three weeks at sea! Since marine geology is what really butters my bread, this is one of my strongest dreams come true. Now, here are the details.

The cruise is actually going out under the auspices of the FeMO Iron Microbial Observatory at Loihi Volcano. The boat is the R/V Thomas G. Thompson, a NOAA-owned and University of Washington-operated vessel. If you click the ship’s link you can see all of the details, including the berthing setup. I’ll be in berth #35! Excitement. If you read the FeMO link, you know that they primarily study biology. I will most likely help out with that, but I’m there for an experiment in sampling volcanic glasses. My boss on the ship is from WHOI, as I mentioned before. That’s not all of the awesomeness, oh no. It gets better.

I assume most of the people who read this blog have watched the Discovery Channel at some point. Many of you may have heard of the ROV Jason. I certainly had, and using ROV and submersibles to do research was another of my life’s goals. You can guess where I’m going with this, can’t you? Jason will be on board, and we’re using him to collect the samples. Absolutely incredible. Words just can’t do justice to how amazing this whole summer has been (and continues to be).

I think this is an appropriate time to thank the people who’ve made it all possible. Thank you to my parents, for obvious reasons, and because they’re the best parents anyone could ever have. They gave me chemistry sets and helped me with science fair projects since as early as I can remember. Thank you to my professors at California State University – Los Angeles, and in particular Dr. Kim Bishop. They are magnanimous enough to allow me to make up the coursework I’ll miss while on the cruise, and Dr. Bishop is taking over my teaching duties while I am gone. Thank you to everyone who reads this journal, whether I know you in real life or not. You have made documenting this journey of a lifetime a true pleasure. If you have specific questions you’d like answered, please leave them in the comments of this post. It’s often hard for me to go back and pick the questions out from the comments, so let me know what you’d like answered!

Ok, just so this post isn’t all texts n’ links, here’s a picture of the R/V Thompson!


Sorry for the interruption!

22 08 2008

So dear readers, I must beg your apologies. Last week I was out in the field almost every day, and then I had a trip to the hospital. The diagnosis was inconclusive, somewhere between a kidney infection and appendicitis. After a night in the Hilo hospital I was itching to get back up to HVO. I am now full of antibiotics and slightly worse for the wear, but I’m going back out in the field tomorrow! It’s a light field day, so I won’t have much chance to strain myself. It is pretty cool to go into an emergency room right after you’ve been mapping lava flows. The ER staff is a bit more impressed than they would be otherwise. Still, I don’t recommend spending your time in Hawai`i surrounded my medical professionals (unless you’re here for a conference, of course).

Ok, so here’s the amazing truck I drive for work. It’s my boss’ truck, and it has rock-crawling tires for jaunts up Mauna Loa. The front bumper has been sawed off for better clearance, too. It’s a beast.

I planned and am about one third of the way through conducting a survey of the gravity of the Ninole Hills in Kahuku Ranch on Mauna Loa’s Southwest Rift Zone. There is a gravity anomaly there that could indicate the presence of an older, proto-Mauna Loa that has since been overtaken by the new Mauna Loa. It was my boss’ idea of course, but it’s really amazing to be conducting the survey with very minimal supervision.

Over the weekend one of my entomologist friends was able to get the two of us into the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, a normally off-limits endangered bird conservation facility. Our goal was to see the Alala, or Hawaiian Crow. There are only 60 of these birds left alive in the entire world, and they are all in captivity. Breeding them is exceptionally difficult as their genetic diversity is very limited. The females have notoriously poor egg quality, and they just don’t have the survival wherewithal to make it in the wild any longer. This is probably the most rare creature I’ve ever laid eyes on, and I won’t forget the experience any time soon.

The Conservation Center has two Alalas together in the educational aviary, and they’re not a breeding pair. The male has cataracts and the female has a degenerative ovary disease. They were still beautiful and obviously intelligent birds. The female has her left leg banded and the male’s right leg is banded.

She was enjoying a thawed mouse snack, and from the way she ripped into it her wild heritage was clearly evident.

This is the male, and he barely stayed still long enough for me to snap this picture.

At any rate, there will be more geology this weekend! It’s good to be back. A special note to Sherry and Randy from FL: I hope you didn’t miss the entries too much!

Adventures in liquid hot magma!

12 08 2008

Ok, I’m lying a bit while referencing Austin Powers. I haven’t played with active lava…YET. Tomorrow we’re going to the active flow field and I’ll hopefully get to poke lava with a stick. Here are some pictures of the lava flows from Sunday to tide you over until I have an adventure to relate!

Here’s a lava pool on Kilauea’s flank called the Thanksgiving Eve Breakout (TEB) vent.

Here’s a flow issuing from TEB.

Bear in mind that these aren’t my photos, but rather pictures taken by one of our geologists on a helicopter overflight. I’ll have a much different perspective tomorrow…up close and personal, I hope!

Lava Pools.

3 08 2008

Since I haven’t uploaded my photos from Wednesday’s fieldwork, for now you get to see the Kapoho Tide Pools. I snorkeled these last weekend.

The pools are as shallow as two feet and as deep as 15. The coral in the pools closest to shore was bleached, but the corals farther out were vibrant and beautiful. I saw two unicornfish, known locally as kala, fighting in a tidepool. Very intriguing to watch, since when they were finished with their skirmish they both resumed nibbling the same piece of fan coral.

Here’s what the sky to the south looked like towards the end of our tide pool visit.

More adventures tomorrow!

P.S. – For Richard: We haven’t processed the data yet, but when we do I’ll let you know if we find any gravity anomalies. For the anonymous reader who asked, the Graviton EG costs about $100,000 USD. No joke.

The Upshot.

17 07 2008

The knee injury I sustained on the `Ainapo Trail last week was not improving at all. Last night after walking a few miles to view the point where the lava flows meet the ocean, I was ready to just give up and get some crutches or a wheelchair. Fortunately for me my boss wants me in top shape, so I was sent to the doctor today. After an hour’s drive into town and two hours of languishing in the urgent care waiting room, I had my exam. No ligaments are injured, and my x-ray was normal. After palpating my knee and performing a few manual tests, the doctor diagnosed it as hemarthrosis. Delightful!

Essentially, my knee joint has a blood clot inside. Gross, right? The good news is that it will heal relatively quickly with rest. Obviously, this whole “rest” concept is a bit foreign to the HVO staff. I pleaded and wheedled and managed to persuade the doc to allow me up to three miles of hiking per day for the next ten days. That is me on medical rest, folks. I was prescribed a marvellous knee brace that turned me from a pathetically hobbling gimp into a nearly-normal, upright human. Painkillers and anti-inflammatories are also wonderful. Ahh.

Pictures of the amazing ocean entry explosions tomorrow. I shot over a hundred (an obscenely high number for me…I’m conservative with my pictures), so going through them will take some time. I’m house/dogsitting for the next 5 nights, so I should get the new pics sorted fairly quickly.

Quick Plumage

14 07 2008

Kilauea painted quite a lovely picture last night, and even though I haven’t looked at my `Ainapo Trail pics I thought that you might enjoy these. They were taken slightly before midnight last night. The moon was nearly full and the stars were out en masse.

I told you it glowed at night.

And a slightly closer view:

That glow is intense.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has visited and/or commented. The incredibly positive response this site has garnered from family, friends, colleagues, and complete strangers is my motivation to continue publicly documenting my ongoing adventures in volcanology. I can’t believe it hasn’t even been three weeks yet!

`Ainapo Trail pics and story will appear tomorrow, I promise.

Oh, I should also mention that Okmok volcano in Alaska erupted today. The Alaska Volcano Observatory site has some interesting information about the eruption. One of their scientists has been here at HVO for a few weeks, and he was supposed to be on seismic watch at AVO today. The poor guy missed out! I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll have some explosive activity while I’m over here. It’s every volcanologist’s dream.

Damage Report!

12 07 2008

I have returned safely from my `Ainapo Trail survey, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I am beat. Literally. It looks like I was in a fight. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. The bottoms of both of my feet are covered in blisters. Each heel is covered by a blister. All of the available bottom surface of both big toes is consumed by blister. Several smaller toes are in on the action, and I have a few random blisters on the balls of both feet as well as sporadic, small blisters elsewhere. It is thoroughly disgusting and incredibly painful.

In addition to the blister invasion, I can’t really move my lower body. My pack weighed 43lbs, and when I was carrying the kGPS the weight totalled 61lbs. For reference, I weigh 130lbs with clothes on. If you are not a fan of math, that translates to about 47% of my body weight. As a result, I slipped and fell on a few occasions. Yesterday morning I managed a stunning kneeplant into some a`a lava, which as you hopefully recall is the pointy, unforgiving kind. Half of my left knee is swollen, all of it is bruised, and there are a few bloody spots to be found. My wounded knee (haha) decided to rebel early this morning and consequently made the rest of our epic journey fairly unpleasant. Walking on a normal surface would’ve been a challenge, and the windward side of Mauna Loa is anything but normal.

I am also the proud owner of eleven new bruises (that I can find without assistance), assorted scratches, and a plethora of achey body parts.

I love my life. Seriously.

Since I’m too pathetically sore to stand up and procure my camera from the foot of my bed, pictures and a description of the survey will have to wait. Also, there’s a small piece of basalt in my eye. This ought to annoy me, but how many people complain about lava chips from Mauna Loa invading personal eye space? I am going to appreciate this chip! Ok, I’m going to appreciate it for about 30 seconds and then get it out.

Here’s a video of the brand new eruption near Pu`u O`o to tide all of you over until I can write more.

The helicopter they were using to shoot the video? That’s the one I’ve ridden in twice now. I do the same sort of thing, except minus the video camera and over Mauna Loa instead. I’m hoping to get out to the active eruption site in the helo next week. Time to go nurse my battle wounds!