At The Edge Of Oblivion

3 09 2008

Today I did another amazing thing. I suppose if I keep calling everything I do amazing people won’t know how to distinguish daily stuff from special stuff. Either that or you’ll all become geologists! My evil plan will finally come to fruition!

Ok, in all seriousness I did something incredible. So you know the vent in Halema`uma`u I keep writing about? Today I helped install a time-lapse camera where the red dot in this photo is located. Keep in mind that the dot is about the size of 3 adults standing right next to each other, and make sure you click to see the full view of the image.

We also walked all along the rim on either side of that dot to perform maintenance on the ash-catching stations we have set up. I was directly over the vent and it was thrilling.

Here you can see the initial setup phase with the monster sulfur dioxide plume in the background. That’s the tripod.

Here’s the conversation I had with the geologist in that photo just seconds after I snapped the pic.

Him: “Hey, do you hear those loud banging noises from the vent?”
Me: “Yeah! They’re so loud! It’s amazing.”
Him: “If you hear a particularly loud one, get ready to run.”
Me: “Oh, right. Rocks can be ejected.”
Him: “You do realize that we could die, right?”
Me: “Yep!”
Him: “Ok, can you hand me those pliers over there?”

Not your average conversation at the office, was it? Let’s just say I pondered my time on this mortal coil for a minute whilst gazing into the swirling maw of Hell.

Maybe I should take up modelling hard hats? Anyway, here’s the end product of our efforts:

In the foreground you can see the solar panel that is responsible for powering the camera. The grey case on the ground is the battery, and the camera is in the open case on the tripod. The camera case lid is shut once we’re done adjusting it. The reason we installed it is that the vent has been growing. The lip and side walls have been collapsing quite a bit lately, so that first picture in this post actually shows the vent even smaller than it is now.

The noises issuing from the vent were otherworldly. I now understand perfectly why ancient Greeks and Romans believed that Hephaestus or Vulcan, respectively, was hammering away inside of the volcanoes. It honestly sounds like someone is forging things in the traditional hammer-and-anvil way. The booms are loud, metallic, and frequent. Sometimes it sounds like metallic popcorn, and other times it sounds like the resonating, drawn out intonation of a gong. It’s not always noisy like this. In fact, everyone is remarking on how unusual the noises actually are. I feel privileged to have heard them.

For those who are curious, I threw several rocks into the vent. I stopped after it belched out a massive plume that immediately blew in our direction. Making Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, angry while perched on the lip of the vent was not on my To Do List for today.

Also of note: Both my photography and my person are present on the official HVO website! Visit the Kilauea Eruption Update page on HVO’s site to take a look. August 28th is the magic date. Those of you keeping up with the blog will recognize some of the images! The Quicktime video from August 31 is definitely worth a watch, too.


T-minus one week.

18 06 2008

At this time next week I’ll be winging my way over the vast Pacific Ocean, headed towards three months of work on the world’s largest active volcano. That’s incredibly soon, isn’t it? I have this week off from school and work, so I’m attempting to get some of my household in order. My husband will take care of our animals and the bills that I usually pay. Without his support and that of my parents and professors this whole excursion would certainly not be possible.

In preparation for the trip I’ve had to acquire some new gear. To this point, all of my geology field work has been in environments like Death Valley and the Mojave Desert. The windward side of the Big Island of Hawai’i receives well over 100 inches of rain every year. In addition to actual rain gear, this trip to Hawai’i demands new field boots. My typical geology footwear is Caterpillar brand steel-toed men’s work boots. I’ve had the same pair since 1999 and they’ve stood me in remarkably good stead. However, the volcanologist I’m working for informed me that I should bring steel-toed boots under no circumstances. Upon reflection, I realized that the ambient heat from any active lava flows would make steel a very unpleasant substance under which to keep my feet. New boots were a must.

I managed to find these boots on sale for only $45 at JC Penney. Excellent! I broke them in a bit on a trip to Arizona (Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater, the Grand Canyon) last week and I think they’ll be ready for some lava action next week.

As for other gear I’ve obtained a few new pairs of work pants, an amazing new backpack, and a new tent. I still need a small mummy-style sleeping bag and a ground pad. A few more long-sleeved thermal undershirts wouldn’t hurt either.

Due to the luggage weight restrictions imposed by the airlines, I won’t be taking my trusty and beloved rock hammer. The Hawaiian Islands are all composed of basalt anyway, so it’s not like what I’ll be encountering is tremendously surprising. I know that I will feel slightly off for a while without the hammer, but since it tips the scales at 20oz, it’s certainly not worth carting across the ocean.

If anyone has questions or comments about the gear I’m taking with me, feel free to leave a comment below this post. The departure date draws inexorably nearer! (And yes, I’m ridiculously excited.)