Monday, May 8, 2017

Where did all the geologists go? To the field!

Wow, it is the two year anniversary of this blog! We wanted to take a moment to thank all of our readers who have visited the blog over 100,000 times! While we write because we love talking about volcanoes and our work studying them, it is nice to see that there is interest in what we’ve taken the time to write about.  So a heartfelt thank you!
Alison and Janine in Puerto Varas Chile, attending Cities on Volcanoes 9 in 2016. Orsorno and Calbuco volcanoes can be seen in the beautiful background.

Geologists exeunt

The end of the spring semester approaches here in the northern hemisphere, which means  that academic hallways are extra chaotic as everyone tries to finish out the semester. This is also the time that the geologists prepare for a mass exodus to the field. While geologists will do field work whenever the field area allows, summers are particularly known for emptying departments of faculty and graduate students. For some it is a time to get that much needed data for their current research project, for others it is a time for training, like field camp. Those students not running off to field work are likely in a lab or tied to their desk finishing their dissertations like our very own Janine.
Time to get out waterproof notebooks, cameras, pencils, hand lenses and all the other tools that make field work happen.
My summer adventures will keep me quite busy from May through to the very last week before classes start in August. I don’t always schedule this way, but this year it was hard to resist all the great opportunities. I’ll be heading to Idaho with a new graduate student for two weeks this month to check out rocks new to me and them. Then I’ll be tagging along on our field camp based in South Dakota to learn the ropes so I can help out in future years.
For geologists the field is one of our best classrooms. Students get a chance to test out their powers of observation and tackle messy three-dimensional problems. Field camp is just one of those chances to get noses on rock. Here students look at a peperite (a magmatic intrusion that mingled with wet sediment) in a volcanic conglomerate in a quarry in Mexico.

After that we have the second half of an NSF funded Research Experience for Undergrads run here in KC. Back in January we went to Baja Sur in Mexico to do the field portion of the experience (and hide from winter) and July will be the lab portion. Then finally in August it will be the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s interior (IAVCEI) conference in Portland Oregon. I’ve signed up for a field trip to see Crater Lake and Newberry Caldera. Janine will be helping run a trip looking at many deposits from Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood, and then we'll hang out with a bunch of other volcanophiles for a week talking about new research and working on collaborative projects. The summer ends with the solar eclipse! Kansas City is lucky enough to be very close to totality, I only need to drive 20 minutes to get the full 2 minutes of totality. It will happen during my very first volcanology class of the year, so I need to decide how to get my class in position to enjoy it.
Field work can involve many things, and going through photos afterward is always a good way to remember some of the fun bits, like the painted lizards in AZ that just kept begging for us to take their photos.
Field work is this broad expanse of activities that take place anywhere we can find a good reason to go. Field work for me involves anything from collecting rocks, images, and notes about rocks for my research projects. We could be looking for features we spotted in satellite images, following the notes of previous field seasons, or exploring new territory. More and more my field work involves training students how to make good observations and prepare for future projects of their own, but I also take the opportunities to head out to the field with an expert on the area and play the role of student again myself. Below is a list of things to prepare for any field adventure.
A small maar in Baja Sur Mexico stands out in the aerial photography (image from Google Earth), but would be hard to spot until you are right on top of it in the field.
Some of my work involves some remote sensing, using aerial photographs and satellite imagery to look at large areas all at once from my computer. To calibrate and validate what we learn from these images it is important to go into the field and compare what we see on the ground to what we saw in the imagery. Even for projects that are all about field observations, it is good to do research before heading out also really important for knowing where you want to go, and what you might expect on the way (dirt roads or paved, no roads at all?). One recent example is the crater in the image above that caught my eye in a Google Earth image near our REU research area. It was noted on only one map, but otherwise had been ignored by previous researchers because they had some other goal in the area. I dragged our group of students and a colleague along some fun dirt roads to locate the crater. Having the images with us and GPS coordinates meant we knew right where we were going, even if we couldn't see the crater until we were right on top of it.
Edge of small maar crater near La Reforma caldera (in the back on the right) and Tres Virgenes volcanoes (left), Baja Sur, Mexico. The crater cuts into the ground surface and has minimal ejecta deposits, so it is not obvious until you've reached its rim.
We can also collect imagery data in the field. That can include good old field pictures, gigapixel images, and various multispectral images (near infrared or thermal infrared). Some field work can also involve much heavier and more involved equipment, particularly for geophysics studies. Most field crews these days will at least have a GPS of some sort and notebooks to keep track of the all important whats and wheres of the work they are doing. If you have any electronic gear make sure to bring extra batteries, chargers, and all the protective carrying cases you need to make sure your gear gets in, works, and gets out of the field.
On the edge of Meteor Crater in fall 2016. A gigapan on the left will take gigapixel mosaics of rocky outcrops. The instrument on the right is a thermal infrared camera we were using to help try out new techniques to image hard to reach or vertical outcrops. Thermal infrared is useful for investigating the texture and mineralogy of rocks.

Another important field tool is the field vehicle! I've had a wide range of field vehicles from big meaty trucks, Land Rovers, small sedans, and luxury SUVs. You get what is available locally and hope for a vehicle with good clearance, and when lucky, four wheel drive capability. I have a tendency to name my vehicles things like Fattypuff, Utsala, Stiletto, and Silver Bullet. So many field stories revolve around vehicles, so most field crews take a healthy does of experience to help get you into and out of any mishaps.
We called this beast El Gordo. You could fit three of the trucks we drove in Chile inside this beast.

Probably the most important tool for any field geologist is their boots. These are a very personal choice, but one thing they all have in common is being rugged. Rocks in general, and volcanic rocks especially, are very tough on boots. The footing is frequently unstable, hikes long, temperatures wide ranging, and sometimes the air or water can be acidic. I've been through a number of boots in my time and keep finding new ways to destroy them. Taking care of your feet is an important priority for any field trip.

Duct tape has been used to repair many a boot. This pair of fancy flipflops managed to barely get me through our recent trip to Baja. I have a new pair I'm breaking in of the same all leather style for my next trip.
Field work also can mean making new friends. The experience of spending most of your day hiking, eating and sharing vehicles with the same people for a few days is a good way to get to know your group. I have also learned to look out for other friends like wildlife, landowners, and interested passers by. So remember to take your patience and good will.
A tarantula hanging out on the trail to my bathing hole in Baja. She kindly sat still so I could photograph her.
Field food is another element that makes these trips memorable, in both good and bad ways. When traveling I love to try local food, but we frequently have to cook for ourselves. Some meals become instant classics, and some become fodder for future anecdotes. So remember to take some bravery and maybe some antacids on any field adventure.
If you get to work in Baja find your favorite taco stand. Basically any of the seafood tacos are worth it (fish pictured above). 

My field gear also involves whatever clothing I'll need for the climate I'm working in. For me this always means sun protection from hats to long sleeves. Layers and water proof shells are also a field workers friend. After a few years you end up with a good collection for most any condition, though eventually that favorite jacket or hat needs to be replaced. For my field work this month I've got all my camping gear, and permits lined up, now I just need to pack the rest of my gear and make sure I've submitted grades before I go. 

For anyone looking to double check their packing list, here's a introductory list from Janine and myself, happy travels! Some items may or may not be needed depending on your trip, or there may even be extras (like crampons and bear spray) that aren't listed here, it doesn't  hurt to ask for suggestions from trip leaders or more experienced group members.  

Every trip and everyone has special packing needs, its good to think about it in advance. I, for one, never can leave without my trusty field duck. A sense of humor is a good thing to take into the field.
Day pack
Socks (don't skimp on these, your feet are important)
Clothes for hiking and back at camp (including a comfy pair of shoes)
Gaiters (covering the top of your boot or snake protection)
Long pants and shirts are good even in hot climates, lets you keep your skin less scraped, burnt or bit
Measuring stick / scale bar / ruler
Pencils (may need colored pencils too)
Hand Lens
Field guide / air photos / maps
Hat (some locations that means warm and cold weather)
Sun glasses and back up glasses or extra stuff for contacts
Sun screen and bug spray
Rain gear
Water bottles (several)
Bandanas (I use them for everything from dish rag to hair tie to hanky, note bring more than one so they don't have to do double duty!)
Duct tape
Sample bags (cloth, paper bags then plastic is also useful)
Plastic bags (for electronics or in case of rain)
First aid / regular medications / stomach settler/ anti diarrhea / antihistamine / chap stick / emergency blanket
Extra shoe laces 
Sleeping bag
Bowl / plate / silverware
Hard Hat
Swim suit
Chargers for camera, phone
List of important phone numbers on the trip and for folks at home

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