Friday, May 29, 2015

Large Scale Experiment Sampler Menu

When I am asked what I do, whether it be by a store clerk, a customs officer, or by a student, I have several options to describe my job. I am a volcanologist, I am a postdoc, I am a researcher, I am a geologist, I am a scientist, I pretend to be a professor, I am a doctor (of philosophy). In that list, the one that most people do not recognize is a postdoc (and I've had some entertaining responses to volcanologist). You can think about postdoctoral scholars/fellows as stuck in career limbo. We have finished our PhD's, but have not yet secured a permanent position. Some of us don't yet know what we want to be, or what sort of jobs are even feasible. The expectations of a postdoc may vary dramatically by subject, institution and funding situation. The things that are consistent are that postdocs are typically funded on short term contracts (even if those contracts get renewed regularly in some fields) and they have a boss who has more experience and more grant money than they do.

Postdocs can find themselves doing all sorts of strange things in the name of work. Such as sweeping a wall. You want to be a postdoc now don't you? Remember I also get to make my own volcanoes.

The best analogy I've ever heard for a postdoc is to compare them to a Sous Chef. They have all the formal training they are going to get. They just lack the experience, pay and permanence of the Executive Chef (or academia's case the Principle Investigator (PI) / Boss). In most cases the Sous Chef is expected to strike out on their own one day, and in the mean time they take on a lot of the responsibilities they will have later, under the eye of big chef who gets the big bucks, and big credit. There are lots of Executive Chefs and PI's who are very good at making sure the Postdoc / Sous gets not only training, but support, credit and constructive advice (I am fortunate enough to work for a very supportive PI).

But in the spirit of the Postdoc/Sous Chef comparison, I have prepared for you a menu of large scale experimental tools that are part of my job as a postdoc / volcanologist / experimentalist. It is really quite the fitting analogy as when we are planning an experiment we design our tool kit to match the unique needs of that experiment. One of the most interesting parts of my job is finding new solutions using everyday tools. Much like a chef tries to transform everyday ingredients into a menu for their customers, we transform things like vacuum cleaners into specialty gravel extractors. This menu gives you an idea of how we take the mundane and make it awesome in the name of science. Ok, we might sneak in some more exciting ingredients too, like dynamite.
The Man Made Maar project provides a range of intriguing tools and tricks for your experiment needs:

*The Garbage Bag Balloon and the flag pole both were the inspiration of our colleague Danny Bowman from the University of North Carolina. You can follow his twitter for more inspired ideas @dannycbowman .
**Inspiration for this post came from Lisa Zimmerman who tweets @UBGeology

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Calbuco volcanic eruption: Communicating a natural disaster through social media

- Janine

On the afternoon of the 22nd of April I was working on my PhD research and I distracted myself for a second to check twitter (which is all volcano and remote sensing tweets, so it counts as work for a volcanologist, right?). SERNAGEOMIN had just posted that Calbuco volcano was now on Red Alert (from green) and incredible photos and videos of the ash column exploded onto the internet. Social media gave me a window, not only into the volcanic eruption, but into the lives of those who were affected. (Translations are indicated in italics, please excuse any mistakes, I rely on the internet for help.)

To be honest I hadn’t even heard of Calbuco volcano before this moment:
(#VolcánCalbuco now on Red Alert. April 22, 2015: 18:10 hours.)

That short distraction turned into hours on the edge of my seat following the incredible flow of information out of Chile.

Twitter has become a wonderful tool for science, science education and outreach. Never before have I known so much about volcanic activity around the world, with volcanologists, scientists, hazards personnel, universities, observatories, and government organizations giving up to date information on events. I could watch information on the eruption in real time. There was no waiting for an official press release video (which would not have been in English) instead I could follow along - thank you Google Translate for helping me read all of the information! Here is a collection of some of the aspects of the eruption that were given through different groups on social media. Much, much more can be found by searching #VolcánCalbuco, #Calbuco, and #VolcánCabulco on twitter (or checking out my twitter feed).

Twitter was used to communicate hazards and hazardous areas. Tweets warned people to stay away from river valleys due to the risk of lahars (volcanic mud flows). On the 23rd of April SERNAGEOMIN confirmed that lahars traveled ~15 km down river channels and pyroclastic flows (ground-hugging density currents of hot gas, ash, and rock) deposited up to 7 km from the summit.

(The public is advised to stay away from riverbeds , since the eruption could trigger lahars.)

A 20 km restriction zone was put in place to keep people out of the most dangerous area surrounding the volcano. Updated hazard maps were tweeted over the following weeks:
(Hazard zonation of Calbuco volcano.)

As well as evacuation routes:

(We reiterate evacuation pathways by #Calbuco Volcano eruption.)

Videos were posted from officials and people in the area, showing the massive ash column and even the very moment that the eruption began (video taken by Walter Witt, he gives more information on his experience here).

Video taken by the Police during a flyby:

Sobrevuelo de Prefectura Aérea de Carabineros por el volcán Calbuco from CarabdeChile on Vimeo.

I was even watching the eruption on a live feed webcam! I was getting real-time scientific updates on an eruption in another time zone. 
Satellite images and models were posted showing ash and gas dispersal (Nicarnica kept a blog with updated information and models here).
The Servicio Nacional Geología y Minería  posted this video of the ash dispersion from the first two eruptive pulses, which on the 27th of April had produced 98% of the eruptive material so far.

The eruption was even tweeted from space!
The effects of the eruption were reported by official sources after helicopter flights over the affected area.
(Impacts of the Calbuco volcano eruption.)

As well as the effects of ashfall in neighboring Argentina.
(Ash impacts of Calbuco volcano in Argentina.)

Images of the altered crater summit, which increased it's crater count from 2 to 8, were posted by SERNAGEOMIN on Facebook.
Another side that social media showed us was how the lives of those living around the volcano were affected. On the 24th of April 6,514 people had been evacuated from the Lakes region (ONEMI). People lost their homes, their farmland, and their animals.

In three days 210 million cubic meters of ash was ejected – 1 cubic meter of ash can weigh over ton, and more if it is wet! Images quickly started coming in of residents removing ash from their roofs and of others that had collapsed under the weight. 
(The work of police continues in areas covered by ashes after eruption of volcano Calbuco)

Cleanup crews were working 10 hour days to clean ash from roads.

(#Calbuco : Machinery MOP works 10hrs a day clearing eruption affected routes and will do so for the duration of emergency)

The damage in the area was assessed and images of the impacts were posted online. I can only imagine how desperate I would be to see if my home was okay if I was one of those evacuated.

(Today Correntoso -Lago Chapo authorities evaluated eruption field #VolcanCalbuco impact on roads and houses)

Heartbreaking images of animals that were not evacuated (remember - only 15 minutes of precursory activity, no time to run home and round up your animals) came through, but the police were checking up on them.

(Police has also been aware of the pets situation in the affected area)

Food was moved in to the hazard zone for the animals that were left behind.
(Army trucks move food for animals affected by the Calbuco volcano eruption in the sector of Ralun.)

When it was safe enough animals were evacuated.
(675 animals have been removed from the exclusion zone by the eruption of Calbuco Volcano)

Including over 11 million fish.
(Emergency movement of 11 million 500 thousand fish is authorized from fish farms affected by the #Calbuco eruption)

Bees were also badly affected in the area with millions in losses.

(#VolcanCabulco Millions in losses to microentrepreneurs #ErupcionCalbuco Petrohue Ensenada area),

Social media has become a powerful tool in disseminating information from reliable sources when it comes to natural disasters (and many more fields). Know who your reliable sources are before a disaster happens, know where to get information on evacuations and health hazards. In the USA, FEMA and USGS are well represented on twitter and other social media platforms, as well as other National and local hazard management teams.

Most importantly - make a plan for you, your family, and your animals. If you only had 15 minutes would you know what to do?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Remembering the Mount Saint Helens 1980 eruption: 35 years later

- Janine

I have been a little obsessed with Mount St Helens for the majority of my life. The volcano, the precursory activity, the eruption, the science, and the stories of the people whose lives were affected. The May 18, 1980 (and onwards) eruption is a major part of volcanology history and the 35th anniversary is a day to remember the events and the people whose lives ended or were changed that day. I have included a list of resources below that show different aspects of the eruption.

I finally visited the volcano in 2013. Driving up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory I stopped to look at deposits along the way, impressed by the protruding trees that were blown down and transported by pyroclastic density currents.

Trees removed during the 18 May 1980 eruption sticking out of the eruption deposits.

Instead of jumping around excited like I thought I would, when I came face to face with the volcano, with her collapse scar, dome, and deposits I just stood there staring. Silent. I was looking at the volcano ‘seeing’ the rising eruption column and the debris avalanche and pyroclastic flows.

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake triggered a debris avalanche that transported 2.5 km3 of volcanic rock to the north and to the west. The removal of material, and therefore pressure, resulted in a lateral blast from the cryptodome that had been pushing the northern flank of the volcano horizontally to the north at 2 m (6.5 feet) per day. The directed blast moved at speeds of at least 480 km (300 mi) per hour, devastating an area an area of nearly 30 km2 and killing 57 people, most of whom were outside of the designated Red Zone. The large amount of melting snow and ice from the volcano produced lahars that buried homes downstream. Volcanic ash fell as far away as the Great Plains in central USA. (Summary information taken from USGS).

The eruption dramatically changed the landscape, and the lives of many who experienced that day. This post is dedicated to those who lost their lives, those who lost their loved ones, and those who were affected.

3D image of Mount Saint Helens 35 years later. Image includes Landsat 8 OLI and ASTER data acquired 20 April, 2015, courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

GIF of the morphological changes to the summit of Mount Saint Helens after the May 18, 1980 eruption. Courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

The following resources give accounts of May 18 and the lives of those who were affected.

Video including interviews with USGS volcanologists that were monitoring the eruption.


Timeline of events from 1978 to July 22, 1980 by The Seattle Times.

USGS gives an account of the first minute of the eruption with the Rosenquist photographs.
Compilation of the Rosenquist photographs courtesy of USGS.


Memories of those who remember the May 18 eruption (by HeraldNet, 2012).


A Scientific American article dedicated to David Johnston and James F. Fitzgerald Jr (Ph.D. candidate), the geologists killed in the eruption.

Dr David Johnston. Image credit: USGS.
This interactive map shows that most of those who were killed were outside of the Red Zone, with a short description of each. This was a source of stress for the families at the time as some reports said they were where they should not have been.

The map of those who died in the eruption, the extent of the deposits, and the Red Zone. Clink on the link given above for the interactive map courtesy of The Columbian.


A series of satellite images by the NASA Earth Observatory showing the recovery of the Mount Saint Helens area as seen from space (click on link for series of images):

Devastation and Recovery at Mt. St. Helens
NASA Earth Observatory image taken 24 September, 1980.


The science behind the eruption: in recognition of the 35th anniversary of the eruption The Geological Society of America has made a collection of 10 key, highly cited Mount Saint Helens papers free here.


Collection of USGS photos of before, during, and after the eruption here:

USGS photo collection
The May 18, 1980 eruption. Image courtesy of USGS.


A collection of photographs by Reid Blackburn, a photographer for The Columbian who was killed in the May 18 eruption here:
Contact sheet of photographs taken by Reid Blackburn that were developed years later. Courtesy of The Columbian.


Learn about the monitoring efforts that keep a close eye on St Helens here.
Survey base station measuring deformation at Mount Saint Helens. Courtesy of USGS.

Video footage taken by Dave Crockett who witnessed the eruption. The footage shows how the ash turned day to night under the eruption:


A few of the books about or including Mount Saint Helens (there are many more, these were handy sitting in my bookshelf).

Added 20th May
This video includes the KATU 6 pm and 11 pm news covering the May 18th eruption on the day. The video has footage of the devastated area, interviews with geologists, helicopter pilots, discussions on those who are missing, and survivors as they arrive to safety.

Volcanoes all around the world produce a range of hazards that can affect you far away from the volcano. It is easy to forget that this can happen in your own back yard. The below image (screenshot from the USGS volcanoes webpage, click here for interactive map) shows just how many volcanoes are in the USA alone (which is why I moved here from New Zealand!). An eruption in the USA is one of those 'when, not if' scenarios. Make sure you are prepared.

Mount Saint Helens from the west, 2013.