I am always looking for ways to make teaching and assessments more than an essay or exam, but also to try and make these things a bit more world relevant. I may have an unfair advantage here, with a fantastic subject to teach like volcanology! Last academic year I started, alongside colleagues, a new third year module in 'Applied Volcanology'. In this module, we covered three main aspects:
At the beginning of the Volcano Challenge Week (which was actually ten days in the end), the students were thrown into an ongoing, but fictitious, volcanic crisis (at a real volcano). Every two or three days, new monitoring information was released, such as gas composition and amount, seismicity, deformation, and overflight data. From this progressive release of information the students were then asked to write a risk report with an assessment of most likely eruption scenarios, and if possible their probabilities. Given the uniqueness of this assessment, in comparison to those that the students may be used to, they were supported with a specific lecture on hazard assessment and decision making, but also a seminar. In this seminar students were given a short scenario, mimicking the Volcano Challenge week but for a different volcano, and using their expert opinions to gauge what most likely hazards would be, and also think about setting alert levels (see Figure below).
Unfortunately, initial plans were for all of this to be in person (scheduled for April/May 2020), however, the content was also quite suited to an online setting using students in breakout groups to discuss the various ongoing and changing fictitious volcanic crisis events.
My third trip to Latin America, and third different country. Following on from Nicaragua and Peru, Guatemala was the destination. This trip was my first for a while, an unfortunate and somewhat stressful serious of last minute events leading up to a summer field campaign to Vanuatu meant that that trip didn't happen. I have thoroughly enjoyed every visit so far to Latin America and Guatemala didn't disappoint.
A couple days in Guatemala city to begin with, to reorientate sleeping patterns, prep equipment and bump into fellow volcanologists, then off to San Francisco de Sales on the flanks of Pacaya volcano with colleagues from Sheffield and Liverpool, and our local guide. A quick 45 mins jaunt up the volcano (without equipment this was a breeze!) to take a look at the lay of the land and fly a drone to take a look at the activity of the volcano. The results, a direct view into one of the three vents and a look at the lava flows coming down the flanks. An easy route back down in plenty of time to prep equipment and get an early night's sleep.
That first night was an experience. In bed at 9 pm, hoping for a cracking amount of sleep, to be awoken at 12:30 am by a rooster (which sounded like it smoked 80 a day), unusual I thought, can't possibly last long. Oh boy was I wrong. It lasted all night. Then, mercifully, it stopped for 30 minutes. Sleep at last. At 5 am; hoooooonnnnkk, the first 'chicken bus' of the day (the affectionate name for the local colourful repainted US style school buses) announced its arrival, at 5 am. OK, there can't possibly be more, can there? Well at 6 am-ish fire crackers, who knows why, but there they were going off at 6 am. The first nights sleep didn't go well and only improved through the week on use of headphones. It's all well that the first days UV camera fieldwork was a practical no go due to clouds and that napping could happen.
On this trip we were performing a combined gas and geophysical (seismic and infrasound) campaign, certainly envied the geophysical setup on the flanks and then that was pretty much it bar changing batteries on the Sheffield lower cost instruments every day. The remaining 5 days of fieldwork were spent plume hunting, we just couldn't get the right angle on the plume (ideally perpendicular to plume travel). An additional issue was that the plume was travelling so quickly that it grounded almost as soon as it was released (the gas travelled directly along the flanks) meaning that we couldn't get a clear view of the plume, and that ideally we needed to get as close as possible or get lucky with the weather. Well, luckily both happened, on Day 2 the plume temporarily lofted from our roadside position and on Day 3/4 we managed to find a good view at Finca El Amate, a local and very hospitable farm discovered by our guide. This also involved a fun truck journey over older lava flows whilst sat in the back, most enjoyable. Day 5 though brought the data home, a change in wind direction and a lofting plume, blue skies, perfect UV camera data. There was a very excitable moment heading out just before 9 am. A casual glance into the sky, hang on a minute, is that plume? That was unusual for our time there! A hasty and rapid ascent with equipment led to 4 hours of great data. Pacaya treating us well on the last day.
I also took the time to do a few video blogs whilst out in the field, here is the first, the remainder should follow on:
I am always looking for ways of innovating my teaching and attempting to come up with new ideas to communicate the material and ideas to students. So here is one such idea which initially stemmed from some teaching I delivered on planetary volcanology but that I now use across my volcano teaching. The idea is an acronym 'MAGATH' which, when used, (maybe!) helps us to understand volcanic processes throughout the solar system, in terms of how the volcanic activity is generated and the volcanic products or phenomena which may then be produced, along with some of the major controls on volcanic behaviour. So here it is, MAGATH, and what each of the letters stands for:
M is for Material. Here we get to the crux of the matter straight away, not all volcanic activity has to be molten rock, indeed, there are several planetary bodies which exhibit ice-based volcanism. Within this we can also have significant variety of rock or type of ice. For example, on the Earth we have basalts, a low-viscosity rock when molten, which commonly exhibits low explosivity styles such as strombolian or lava flows OR we could have a rhyolitic magma which may present in far more explosive Plinian styles of behaviour. There are of course a large number of possible types of material, and nuances to this, but the first step is the understanding that these materials can vary greatly (and themselves have varying properties related to things like silica and crystal content) and can then subsequently effect the volcanic activity type or phenomena which occur.
A is for Available Gases. The gases which are contained within magmas are one of the major drivers of explosive volcanic behaviour. Beyond this we can then begin to probe into what types of gas there are, the major constituents on Earth being water, carbon dioxide, and sulphur dioxide, amongst a number of other gases. These gases form bubbles within magmas, it is how these bubbles behave and interact within the conduit which can then lead to the variety of styles of activity that we see at the surface. If we were to take a basaltic magma and add a certain amount of gas to the mix, what style of activity would we see? If we had only enough gas to produce small millimetre sized bubbles we may produce passive degassing, if we were then to grow the size of bubbles in a basalt to metres in length we could generate strombolian activity.
G is for Gravity. Have you ever seen the plumes of Io (a moon of Jupiter)? Gravity plays a role in their height and trajectories. How far will a lava flow travel? How high will an eruption column be? Gravity plays a key role in all such questions. Gravity also links very closely with the theme of the next letter A.
A is for Atmospheric Pressure. A great example here is to compare the atmospheric pressure of Earth (around 101 kPa) to Venus (around 9300 kPa). Atmospheric pressure will effect the rate of exsolution of gases from a magma, this is the formation of bubbles as a magma rises to the surface. A higher surface pressure means that more bubbles can stay dissolved within the magma, and as gas is one of the major drivers of explosive behaviour this means that we need a higher gas content for magmas on Venus to generate explosive behaviour. Coupled with this, if any activity were to occur, the volcanic products, an eruption column for example, wouldn't reach the same height as on the Earth, this is directly related to the thickness of the atmosphere (which is related to the pressure). Another good example is comparing the trajectory or distance of a volcanic bomb, on the Earth a bomb is subject to a number of forces (air resistance, gravity etc.), at a location such as the Moon where there is little to no atmosphere AND where gravity is lower, a volcanic bomb could travel further.
T is for Tectonic Environment. This one is key and is intrinsically linked with Plate Tectonics. Roughly speaking we can attribute certain styles of volcanism to certain tectonic environments (e.g., spreading margin, subduction zone, hot spot), we can then build an expectation of style of activity we may expect, so with a hot spot in an oceanic setting (oceanic crust) we may expect more basaltic style behaviour, such as the Hawaiian island chain, whereas at a subduction zone we may expect more explosive styles of behaviour perhaps related to the production of ashy eruption columns.
H is for Heat Generation Mechanism. Volcanism or volcanic activity is, simply put, some form of surface evidence or product of the heating of material (see the link back to the first letter 'M', what material has been heated!). The question is then, what is the mechanism of heating? We can broadly narrow this down to two main mechanisms, the radioactive decay of isotopes and tidal forces.
So, MAGATH aims to help students identify: the key factors which act to control style of volcanic activity, how the activity may behave in the atmosphere, and how it is generated. It can then become a framework to build other content around, as needed, and importantly these factors interact. And of course there are many complexities which effect volcanism beyond the examples given here, which are just a flavour. To delve into more I would have to write a book! There are already some great existing volcano books around for more detail and elaboration though. Anyhow, I hope this may be of use, after a quick google the other common use for 'MAGATH' is a German football manager, so all good on that front. I also think it is quite similar to the word 'magma' so could be easier to remember, who knows whether this is actually true or not!
As long ago as October 2016 and January 2017 (in academia this really does feel like an age!) I wrote about my ongoing work with colleagues at Sheffield on developing a low cost method for measuring sulphur dioxide release from volcanoes. This work has somewhat 'exploded' since these initial posts, enough that the University of Sheffield media team decided they wanted do a little video feature on it (see below). Here is a little quote from this video by yours truly:
Its really exciting to be part of a project which you see from first concept through to finished package.
That's just it, from an idea, which I seem to recall was hatched in the pub out of necessity, to a working instrument which has now been lent to people for work across the globe and has even been picked up by NASA, all in all, very exciting!
During this time we have developed the cameras, from duck-taped monstrosity measuring sulphur dioxide emissions at Drax Power station, through to slightly less duck-taped monstrosity camera at Etna. We finally had a boxed and robust version for work at Masaya, and in recent work we have adapted the cameras to operate from mobile phone batteries and be charged using solar power! We have now got to the exciting stage of distributing and lending our equipment out to collaborators across the globe (see above graphic), which has led to a well travelled PiCamera (our affectionate but functional name for the Raspberry Pi UV Camera) and some exciting developing science. Our work was also recently picked up by the Hackspace magazine which involved an interview with the volcano group here at Sheffield.
Overall, it has been a relatively quiet summer on the fieldwork front, but I finally managed to get a paper I had been working on for a while out into the world: "Periodicity in Volcanic Gas plumes: A Review and Analysis", this paper tells the story of the patterns (periodicity) we have detected (up to this point) in measurements of gas release and starts to synthesise the meaning of some of these.
This year I have been lucky enough to land some field class teaching time in New Zealand. The trip is an existing course for Level 3 BSc Geography students which visits the South Island. As a volcanologist this was a little daunting given that the active volcanics are on the North Island! Preparation involved a bit more background reading than usually required, but throughout the trip, which involves such a vast diversity of topic areas, from: glaciers in the Southern Alps, fluvial processes, earthquakes and faulting (and more); I discovered how fascinating the landscape of the South Island is. The trip really does cover an amazing suite of geographical phenomena. The one thing it was missing though, some volcanoes...
A week before the trip was due to leave, rainfall of epic proportions, landslides and a bridge removal on the west coast meant a change of itinerary, and opened up the opportunity to investigate some volcanology. I am always a bit wary of taking students to look at old volcanics as it can sometimes be a bit difficult to see what is going on, not so with Banks Peninsula! Some fantastic lavas, sediments and debris flows of Lyttelton volcano. I must admit that I am indebted to the PhD thesis of Samuel J. Hampton (University of Canterbury) for the field sites (thesis called: Growth, Structure and Evolution of the Lyttelton Volcanic Complex, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand). Over the week and during preparation I have learnt all sorts about the specifics of the geology and evolution of Zealandia, its great to apply knowledge to different locations. This is something I hope the students get out of the trip too. Coming to New Zealand enables them to see such a range of features within such a short space, really enabling them to use the suite of skills and to test their interpretation of landscapes. In an unrelated observation I may have also had the Howard Shore Lord of the Rings soundtrack mulling round my head.
The trip has also been a great opportunity to learn from colleagues who, as far as possible, focus on their specialist fields. I must admit it has been 'cool' learning and visiting the glacial environments, which used to be my favourite topic area during early undergraduate and my A Level days. The response to glaciers to a changing climate in the Southern Alps has been quite eye opening. The chance to see Earth moving processes such as landslides and faulting has been exceedingly interesting as well.
I am currently sat on a glacial moraine, overlooking Mt Sefton, having a thoroughly enjoyable relax, listening to some top tunes and writing this blog post. That's it from me (I'll upload this when I have internet). I have a bit more of this view to enjoy...
Spectacular Yasur just about sums it up. An archipeligo of islands in the Pacific, Vanuatu is home to some of the most unique and interesting volcanoes worldwide, including my target destination, Yasur. I am paticularly interested in a style of volcanic activity termed strombolian, that which is driven by large bubbles that ascend and burst at the surface. A style of activity I have written about lots before. Yasur is unique because of the frequency that these explosions occur and the number of vents at the summit which produce activity. The archetypal Stromboli (see post here), produces activity from 3 or 4 vents every 5 - 10 minutes (ish), this of course varies. Whereas at Yasur explosions were coming from more than 5 vents (it was difficult to tell how many exactly) and occurred more frequently, from seconds aparts to just a few minutes. So, two volcanoes with a potentially similar mechanism for driving the activity but visibly different behaviour at the surface, a perfect reason to study Yasur, all thanks to a Royal Society research grant.
The journey to Vanuatu was a lengthy one from the UK, with stopovers in Singapore and Brisbane, before arriving at the capital Port Vila. A few days in Port Vila to acclimatise and sort out officialdom then off on a short internal flight to the island of Tanna. Arriving at Tanna really felt remote, perhaps not as remote as up near Sabancaya, but the tiny concrete airport building and vast lush green forests (I want to call them jungle but not sure I can) were quite something. Picked up in a 4x4 by our lodge owner, its a short 1 hour excursion across a mixture of paved, roads in progress, and dirt tracks. The approach to our 'jungle huts' crossed the ash plane created by the frequent explosions and as we neared the volcano I experienced the familiar buzz of visiting a new volcano.
Arriving at dusk it wasn't possible to take a look at the view, but the next morning after breakfast, up to the treehouse and there it was (see photo on left), the prime measurement spot used for the next few days. The following 7 days were a mixture of hiking around to different spots, heading up to the summit area to observe the activity and make thermal measurements, meeting a wandering pastor, and meeting friendly locals.
My favourite moment, returning from a hike up to the summit in the pitch black on a crystal clear night, pausing a moment to take in the prominent Milky Way streaked across the sky with strombolian activity roaring in the background, if only I was a good photographer...
It has been a busy year of travel, now some time to write results up. I certainly hope to return to Vanuatu soon!
It has been a mad period of time after getting back from Peru, hence the reason it has taken so long to write this last post! It was a great last few days at the workshop, spending the last couple days listening to some talks and instructing on the use of our Raspberry Pi ultraviolet cameras. One evening we had some telescope time at the hotel we were staying at, pretty cool looking through and seeing the four Galilean moons around Jupiter which was clear enough to see the striping!
On our last day in Yanque we had planned to head back up to Sabancaya to get some more data, but alas, the weather Gods were against us, and it still involved a really early wake up time, before 5 am. Plume in the wrong direction and clouds over the summit. Thats the way remote sensing is sometimes! See the video blog below. In all I think we got some decent data from the first day of fieldwork, so not a disaster but its always good to get as much data as possible. A little disappointing but it did mean a visit to Colca Canyon! Quite an impressive area to visit with some condors thrown in too. After this straight back to Arequipa. Heading back down to Arequipa was actually a huge relief on the lungs as far as oxygen content was concerned, but certainly not for all the pollution! A relaxed time for about 24 hours before the trip home, which was a little unorthodox to say the least. Certainly learnt a few things about booking flights for the future, and certainly worth keeping in mind for an upcoming Vanuatu trip, must buy those flights soon.
Flights on the way home should have been - Arequipa to Lima to Amsterdam to London Heathrow. So, off to flight number one, at Arequipa discovered a 30 minute delay on our flight to Lima, leaving us an hour to connect to a different flight, this sounded tight to us (me and Tom)...but we were assured this was enough time and were even given row one seats. Pretty sure we sat next to a Peruvian footballer and someone who behaved like a politician. They were personally greeted, this is all the evidence we had, definitely concrete sightings. Landing at Lima, up like a flash, and....we had the joys of the bus journey to the terminal followed by a 10 minute wait to collect bags. Legging it from the domestic terminal to the check-in desks, we were too late. Shuddering to a halt in front of the security cordon we were stopped by a guy with a lanyard who immediately looked at us, stated "KLM - follow me!" and he was off at speed! Assuming that this guy was waiting for us we followed at a matched pace, until some alarm bells started ringing...guy tried to grab my bag to start wheeling it, we were moving away from the terminal, and he even started to get a little agitated when we questioned him about officialdom., pointing at his faded plastic lanyard. A brief return to the terminal showed us that the check-in was closed (in fact we would have struggled to make it if the flight was on time!), we therefore decided to follow, at an increased distance, until it appeared the guy was probably legit and we ended up at airport offices. After an hour of haggling and negotiation we knocked down a 10 day wait for a return flight (mental!), £4000 each for business class the next day, to flights 5 hours later with a lengthy Atlanta layover.
Anyhow, we got back, eventually, and that was it for Peru. Overall, an incredible experience and one I hope to repeat very soon.
The morning chill was still in the air as I stumbled out of my room. There is just that little something about going to a new volcano that generates an indescribable excitement which makes getting up super early bearable. Everyone was quite quiet in the 4 x 4, so I decided to plug in and listen to some tunes. We left Yanque, passed through Chivay, and after getting to the plateau on the road to Arequipa turned off on a relatively unmarked dirt track. At this point Sabancaya appeared less distant and was producing a nice ashy explosion, a quick stop for some photos and then away we went.
As we continued to drive I was struck by the peace and quiet of the plateau. Two songs then channelled through my earphones: A Distant Discovery by James Horner (from Deep Impact) and Exogenesis Part 3 by Muse. These songs, whilst demonstrating my eclectic music taste, mirrored the calm of the landscape, punctuated by the volcanic activity of Sabancaya. I found myself reflecting on my journey so far and the decisions which I have made to get me to this stage and where I may be in the future. It was that kind of location, hopefully that helps, my contemplations (unfortunately or fortunately?) will remain my own.
At points the landscape felt a little like we were on the Martian surface, just with a little bit more green stuff! Eventually we reached a spot nestled by a stream and what looked like a deserted somewhat luxury farmhouse. Part of the purpose for coming to Peru was to teach others to use our Raspberry Pi ultraviolet cameras. We decided to set up some cameras in the current location whilst others went further up the mountain. An intensive period of instruction and troubleshooting but also managed to get some great data at the same time. Bonus!
The air was so thin up near Sabancaya that it was really nice to start heading down again, the oxygen flooding in makes one feel quite sleepy! The cure - head to the hot pools on other side of Yanque, once you have found where they were of course! See the accompanying video post below.
Up we went again to Ubinas on Day 2 in Peru. This time with significantly more sleep under my belt, about 8.5 hours in total. I felt amazing! A return to Ubinas was debated the night before, but it was decided that a return may as well happen as we have another day for measurements. So through the traffic and erratic driving we went, up the now familiar windy gravelly roads. We seemed to get up to Ubinas much more quickly this time, I even had time to track the altitude at our highest point, maxing out at about 4644 m, definitely the highest I have ever been!
Unfortunately, what greeted us at the summit were extensive clouds, and even some thunder and snow over the summit of Ubinas. We played the waiting game for maybe 2 hours, but the horizon was surrounded with clouds and the clapping of thunder. A little disappointing! Perhaps I have an idea for the data collected on Day 1 but we shall see what pans out.
Back down we decided to go to our favourite little shop, buying them out of Inca Kola in the process. Nommy nommy. Just a short post given the relative lack of volcanic happenings, more from me soon.
Arriving into Arequipa at 6:30 am I was starting to regret the plan of heading straight into the field. I was absolutely shattered, along with Tom Wilkes from Sheffield. Nevertheless, head up we did with some Chilean collaborators (the two Felipes!). A brief stop to have a shower and then off we went in our rented, and as I was about to find out entirely necessary, 4 by 4.
This is my first visit to Peru. A place I have wanted to visit for a long time, so long I forget when I first wanted to travel here, lured by the mix of history, culture, and more recently the geology/volcanology. Travelling through Arequipa I was struck by similarities with Nicaragua, although the driving is by far the worst I have experienced on my various travels. Once through the bustle of Arequipa you start heading into the foothills and gain altitude very quickly, all the time accompanied by the looming Misti volcano which over looks the city. What a setting!
We ascended on winding gravelly roads, quickly reaching altitudes of >4000 metres. A level we would stay at for some time. We passed frequent herds (?) of llama and alpaca (and the other two types whose names escape me) and some very small mountain villages before emerging onto an incredible sight (see photo) a plateau containing, if I recall correctly, a saline shallow lake. All complete with wild flamingos! In the distance was our target volcano, Ubinas. After about 2.5 hours of driving, maybe more, we crested a small mound and there it was, Ubinas. Something immediately concerning for a remote sensor became apparent. There didn’t appear to be any gas coming out. However, on continual hopeful staring at the summit area we did eventually see sporadic emissions of gas from the summit area.
So we set up with our sulphur dioxide measuring ultraviolet cameras to get some data. See the video whilst up at the summit. After an hour(ish) of data, the clouds came in starting to obscure the summit, we decided to head back down. For me this was great as the lack of sleep mixed with lack of oxygen at altitude I think was starting to take its toll.
On the way back, we stopped at a little village where one of the Felipes spotted a random building which appeared to be a shop. In we went to get sustenance as we were ill-prepared and didn’t bring lunch. Here me and Tom discovered Inca Cola, a little like Irn Bru but slightly less sweet and super tasty. This is also where I started to feel a little unwell. It was difficult to tell whether this was a result of exhaustion and lack of sleep or the start of acute mountain sickness or caffeine withdrawal or a mixture of everything. A small amount of nausea and a mild headache. Some coca cola (not the Inca stuff!) started to settle my stomach so the nausea passed quickly, as did the headache. Over the next hour we descended rapidly, the mild symptoms fully passed and I just felt exhausted.
The evening was filled with dinner and an icebreaker to the workshop we are piggy-backing along (more in another post). I was probably not at my most chatty whilst mingling! A quick dinner then asleep by 8:30. And so ends Day number 1, which felt more like 3 days. I wrote this lengthier post than usual on the way up for Day 2 which you will hear about soon! See the accompanying video diary below.