On the level.

6 08 2008

My last 3 days of work have been out in the field. We’re in the midst of a levelling campaign here at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. It is by far the most expensive data collection that is undertaken here in terms of sheer man-hours, and it’s not easy to execute. We’ve gone out in crews of 4 or 5 for the last week to take measurements on different “level lines,” (pre-measured routes) around Kilauea. After the data has been collected it is compared to last year’s data to detect any changes in the surface of the volcano. It’s known as dry-tilt, or single-setup levelling. SSL is the more correct name for what we’ve been doing.

The most exciting part of the whole process for me has been the location. I finally had the opportunity to go into the sections of Kilauea’s caldera that have been closed to the public since the March explosion events. Here’s the plume from nearly underneath of it.

Who thought that poisonous gas could look so beautiful? Due to the lethally high concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the plume’s immediate vicinity, we have to wear something special to do any field work nearby.

Now THAT is a fashion statement. I tried in vain to stop myself from saying, “Luke, I am your father!” repeatedly. The gas masks filter enough noxious fumes to allow us to work in SO2 concentrations up to 10 times the levels considered safe for breathing. The parking area behind me has been closed since the March explosions. It is coated with a fine layer of explosive materials now. That’s the HVO Deformation Group truck in the background.

Here is my levelling crew from today. We were right next to Halema`uma`u’s open vent, which is the origin of the plume. It was incredible.

Here’s one more shot of the amazing gas mask getup for good measure. We have to wear the helmets in case another explosive event occurs. The first notable one since April happened last Friday, so the safety precautions are certainly necessary.

Ashley and I aren’t phased by the volcano behind us, however. We’re still sending that Aloha spirit your way!


Fun with Gravity!

1 08 2008

Last Friday I helped one of my colleagues with a gravity survey of Kilauea. He’s measuring the gravity in several specific pre-determined areas around the volcano to determine if there’s a correlation between gravity changes and eruptions. Pretty cool. Behold, the Graviton EG!

This is a self-levelling electronic gravimeter. There are only a few of these in the world, so we’re renting this one from the University of Wisconsin. Yeah, I have no idea why they have one and the US Government doesn’t. Hmm. What’s going on up there, Wisconsin?

One of our stops was next to Kilauea Iki, a collapse crater off of Kilauea’s main caldera. In 1959 it erupted and formed a spectacular lava fountain between 180-240 feet high. Now you can walk across the remnants of the fiery lava lake. You can see the trail in the middle of this picture.

Here’s a picture of my gravimetry-loving Italian colleague. This picture has all sorts of cool stuff going on. Not only is he displaying the coveted USGS orange shirt, he’s also standing next to the Graviton, a USGS benchmark, our beast of a work truck, and you can see the plume from Kilauea’s current eruption behind the truck. Pretty freakin’ sweet. Also, notice the fine footwear on display. Hah. The gravity benchmarks are all near the road, so no hiking required. We generally wear industrial work boots.

Oh yeah, did I mention that I was driving? Yep. It’s a scientific fact that the bigger the truck, the more fun it is to drive…especially when you go off-road.

We ended the day by the Hilina Pali trailhead. I think the views speak for themselves.

Talk about a great end to the day. This is why geology is so much better than everything else. Hehe.

Helicopter ride to 13,000 feet.

3 07 2008

Here’s a big surprise: I’m exhausted yet again! Today was another early day, but lurching out of bed at an ungodly hour was for a good cause. You get a picture story because I’m not feeling particularly articulate right now.

Express service!

Our ride arrived quite dramatically.

The Pacific\'s out there.

Once we had liftoff, the view towards Hawai’i’s eastern coast just opened up.

Mauna Kea

To the northwest I could see Mauna Kea and the Northeastern Rift Zone (NERZ). The NERZ is where lava erupted through one of Mauna Loa’s flanks and poured down towards the town of Hilo.

Lava flows.

The different types of lava flows are readily observed when you’re up in the air.

What we were here to do.

The helicopter dropped us off and went to move the other team of geologists working on the mountain. I was with a volcanologist who wasn’t afraid of taking pictures of me. Check out my stylish flight suit. In this scene I was recording our location with a GPS (global positioning system).

Aw yeah.

It just doesn’t get any cheesier or cooler than this.

Inside the caldera.

After we were done collecting our samples, the pilot flew us back down by way of the caldera. The small cone in the middle of the caldera was created during Mauna Loa’s 1940 eruption. So cool.

The helicopter was one of the most fun things I’ve ever experienced. Flying over the world’s largest mountain in a helicopter (with no doors) on your way to do research is just a surreal activity. Ok, probably more to come. I need sleep, but there’s a 3.5-day weekend just ahead!