It’s work time…field work, that is.

26 08 2008

It’s high time that I posted about the field work I’ve been doing lately. Before I became sick last week, I was out mapping the newest lava flows at Waikupanaha. Well, it was a gorgeous day and I did manage to snap a few pictures before the hospital called.

While hiking to where we were to begin our mapping, we heard and saw some lava bubble bursts to the left of the ocean entry plume. Unfortunately, a watched pot never boils and neither does a watched ocean entry. As soon as I pulled my camera out, the bursts stopped. Ah well, at least the ocean entry plume still looked good.

This is a view to the south, and you can see the pali (or cliff) at the right of the frame. The lava flows toward the ocean from very far up the pali, sometimes aboveground and mostly underground through lava tubes.

The way we map new lava breakouts is by putting handheld GPS units on Tracking mode and then walking along the boundaries of the fresh lava. It’s a good way to map, since you can set the GPS to record your position at intervals of three seconds. The level of accuracy is enough for our purposes. After all, the flow field changes fairly often.

Moving on to the field work I did on Friday (it wasn’t too strenuous, don’t worry)! We met up with a cultural resources guy from Pohakuloa Training Area, a massive area between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea where the Army and Marines practice bombing and combat. The samples we needed to obtain were on the military’s land, so we have to go through the proper channels to collect them.

There’s a bit of archaeology in what we were doing there.

That is a pit dug by the ancient Hawaiians. No one is sure why they dug these pits, which happen to be about 9,000 feet up the slope of Mauna Loa. We collected samples of the displaced rocks to perform the same Chlorine-36 cosmogenic isotope dating that we did on Mauna Loa’s summit. The reddish lava flow that the pits are situated in is of unknown age, so we’re also going to date that as well. It should give us an idea of how long ago the Hawaiians made the pits.

I suppose it can’t hurt to throw in a picture of the other massive volcano on this island. If you can make out a small whitish blob in the left foreground, past the plants…that’s our truck. This might give some sense of how gentle this particular slope of Mauna Loa is. Trust me, they’re not all like that!

Tonight is my last night housesitting, so my internet access (and consequently posting) should pick up a bit this week.

Whirlwind of kGPS excitement.

9 07 2008

I spent yesterday in the office sorting and cataloguing last week’s Cl-36 samples for X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis. It was a quiet and non-eventful day, so that’s why I didn’t write a new post. Today I was supposed to go to the floor of Kilauea’s caldera and learn how to do kinematic (moving) Global Positioning System (GPS) surveys. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen due to a timing error when it came to dodging red tape.

In order to go into Kilauea’s caldera, you have to wear a respirator and hard hat. This is due to the extremely high level of sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas that is issuing from the newest vent, Halema`uma`u. Because of the likelihood of lung damage from SO2 inhalation, the government requires that all new caldera researchers take a spirometer test. A record of your original, pre-caldera lung capacity is needed to compare against any possible future lung damage. I couldn’t get an appointment to visit the doctor in Hilo until Friday, so today’s caldera trip was cancelled.

The kinematic GPS (kGPS) tutorial was not, however. We visited several benchmarks outside of the caldera rim for training purposes. Here’s a geodetic survey benchmark, so you understand what we were looking for. These markers are small metal disks affixed firmly to the ground and their precise locations have been recorded before, sometimes many years ago. People who are into geocaching may be familiar with them already.

I required kGPS training because on Thursday I’m going to be part of a team that is being dropped off by helicopter on the eastern flank of Mauna Loa. Our mission is to hike down the `Ainapo Trail and record the benchmarks on the Mauna Loa level line. This will allow us to see if the volcano is deforming at all. Deformation can be a good indicator of volcanic activity beneath the earth’s surface. At any rate, the `Ainapo Trail is widely regarded as the most difficult hike in Hawai’i. Let’s just say that I’m pleased we’re carrying the equipment down and not up. We’ll be camping out somewhere on the trail on Thursday night, and we should return on Friday.

For now, here’s a picture of me with my kGPS from earlier today. That’s the summit of Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano.

Fun for all.

I suppose I ought to mention that there was an active volcanic eruption occurring behind me.

Good times.

That’s just pretty cool.

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!

The largest volcano on Earth.

1 07 2008

I’m going to apologize in advance for today’s pictures. They’re just fun ones, and certainly not my best work. A few weren’t even taken by me. I had such a long day (left the house at 5:40AM and returned at 8PM) that it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open and my fingers on the keys. Also, today’s pictures were just plain FUN.

I met my boss and 3 other geologists at his house at 6AM. We headed into Hilo for coffee before heading up the Saddle Road to Mauna Loa. If you click that link you can learn quite a bit about the mountain. For anyone who doesn’t click, the brief details are as follows: Mauna Loa is 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) tall. That’s just the part that’s visible outside of the ocean. It is the largest mountain in the world when measured from its true base on the seafloor, and is an active volcano. The last eruption occurred in 1984 and made the news all over the world.

We drove as far as we could along a twisty, bone-jarring road littered with lava. Actually, the road was made of lava. Four wheel drive was absolutely necessary. After we’d reached our limit with the car we hiked up to Mokuaweoweo, the caldera. Here you can see the lava remaining from the 1984 eruption as well as the high points along the rim of the caldera. The middle is lower because the volcano’s top collapsed in on itself.

The top of Mauna Loa

The lava in the caldera formed a lake of fire. Pretty impressive. Ok, here’s where the post gets silly.

You have to show respect.

I assure you that these four men are all professional geologists employed by either universities or the US Geological Survey. They are also wise in the ways of the rock gods. Ok, I’m just kidding. What we were doing in the caldera was collecting samples from lava flows of varying ages for Chlorine-36 dating. The simple explanation is that the sun’s rays penetrate rocks and react with minerals that are stored inside of the rocks. This creates a radioactive form of Chlorine. It is not stable, and that means that Cl-36 wants to change forms. You can measure the amount of Cl-36 in a rock to determine how old the rock is. It’s similar to Carbon-14 dating, if you’ve heard of that.

In that picture, the geologists were clowning around while taking a picture of the horizon with a fisheye camera lens. Geologists have a good sense of humor, so just take my word for it when I say that we really were working hard. In addition to the photographs, we also had to use GPS devices to pinpoint our locations, collect samples for the actual dating, and take horizon measurements with a Brunton compass. We measured flows ranging in age from 1832 to 1984.

In this photo Yours Truly is demonstrating how to erase mistakes made while writing field notes.

Erasers are good.

Note the awesome lava I’m sitting on. What was I so diligently taking notes on, you wonder? Well, if I told you it was a very large volcanic vent I wouldn’t be lying.

Getting a good look.

I was looking at the side of the vent with a hand lens (or loupe). I was suspending myself 20 feet below the surface of the caldera. I went down a bit further, but the vent kept going. It was definitely over 50 feet deep, and I couldn’t see the bottom. I had to brace myself against the walls in order to stay safe. The primary researcher on the Cl-36 project collected a sample from inside the vent, so we weren’t just goofing off. This vent was part of the 1984 eruption. It’s very disconcerting to be standing on rock that is younger than you are. Ok, one more for good measure (and because going down in there was so incredibly invigorating).

This was so fun.

Can you tell I was having a blast? The caldera floor emitted quite a bit of steam, so the reminder of what, exactly, I was in was lodged in the back of my mind.

After a long day of hiking, sample collecting, and vent exploring, I returned to the truck to see this view of Mauna Kea.

Cloud sea.

I’m going to go pass out since I’m drained and tomorrow may mean more field work. Wednesday is field work for sure, so I’ll need all the energy I can muster over the next few days.