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: