Welcome (back) to Paradise!

12 08 2009

Hello and welcome to the 2nd edition of VolcanoSummer – Hawai`i! This year brings a much shorter visit to the Big Island and a somewhat familiar agenda, with exciting new faces and places added for your viewing pleasure. I arrived in Hilo via Honolulu on Sunday and was promptly met by the excellent Dr. Mark Kurz of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and his nephew, David Kurz. We acquired the soon-to-be Dr. Brent Goehring of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and made the familiar trek up to Volcano, Hawai`i. This is the town outside of Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, where our research group has rented two lovely houses for the duration of our expedition. We settled in to discuss the trip and await the arrival of the remaining members of our science party, Dr. Joe Licciardi of the University of New Hampshire and Shasta Marrero and Michelle Hinz of New Mexico Tech. Check out our awesome group!

CRONUS-HI09 Group

Our group was assembled to perform calibration work for the CRONUS-Earth Project using Mauna Loa lava flows. CRONUS is an international effort by geoscientists to use cosmogenic isotopes in dating many types of geologic features around the world. You may be scratching your head and wondering what the heck a cosmogenic isotope is, so I’ll give you the short version. The sun continually bombards the Earth with cosmic rays, and when some of these rays strike the ground they interact with certain elements contained in the rock. These interactions cause the elements to change into a slightly different version of themselves known as an isotope. You may be familiar with the concept of Carbon-14 dating, where scientists employ analysis of an isotope of carbon in order to date how old something is. CRONUS uses similar concepts but with rocks instead of carbon-based samples.

We are here in Hawai`i as part of an effort to determine just how accurate cosmogenic isotope dating methods can be. We are sampling lava from flows that we already know the ages of, whether through Carbon-14 dating of burned plant material (charcoal) or from historical accounts. The samples will be sent to laboratories for analysis, and we’ll be able to clearly see how accurate this dating method is. The benefit of cosmogenic isotope dating is that we are not limited as severely as we are with Carbon-14, and much older ages may be obtained. Basically, I’m hanging out with a bunch of geochemists who are into travelling the world and ascertaining the ages of various geologic features such as lava flows and landslides. It’s all in the name of science!

Ok, so that’s the detailed stuff. Let’s move on to the part you’ve all been waiting for: pictures!

Lava Ball the First

In this photo Mark, Brent, and Shasta are debating the merits of sampling from this particular lava ball. They’re standing on a roughly 900 year old Mauna Loa a`a lava flow. Site selection is key to our undertaking, as anything that could shield the rocks from the cosmic rays will throw off the dating technique. Also, the surface that is selected for sampling has to be the rock’s original surface. Erosion wears rocks down, and that type of material loss would make the rock appear younger than it actually is since the sun’s rays would have bombarded the eroded surface for less time. Scientists also like to use site selection as a means to argue amongst themselves. (No scientists were harmed in the making of that joke, FYI.) In the foreground of the picture you’ll find a 6lb sledgehammer, which can be used for sample collection or warding off greedy competing scientists. In the back right of the picture you can see Kilauea’s summit plume, which repeat readers may remember from last year. The summit eruption is indeed still going, in case anyone was wondering.

Plume Backwards

Hurricane Felicia never materialized by HVO, but the typical tradewinds were affected enough to cause the plume to blow in the direction opposite its normal route. Seeing the plume is like having a giant (and intensely awesome) welcome mat rolled out in greeting. The vent has increased substantially in size since I left HVO last September, and it now spans approximately 130 meters. To put it in perspective, that’s larger than a football field. Amazing.

I’m about to fall asleep while typing, so this’ll conclude tonight’s post.

P.S. – It’s great to be back!

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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!