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23 March 2014

Edinburgh: Old Town and older volcanoes

My PhD advisor relocated to Scotland last year, and I finally had a chance to visit her in Edinburgh. And wow, what a great place for a geologist to go!

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1 March 2014

“Is the volcano erupting yet?” (A quick Pompeii review)

So, you may have seen me mention on Twitter that I was planning on seeing Pompeii this week – and I did, properly fortified with some nice cider at a nearby pub beforehand. I’m not going to give you the full rundown of the science and history of the eruption, because David Bressan is already working on a series of excellent posts about that. Instead, I’m going to treat this as a quick-and-snarky guide to whether you want the movie to feature at your next “bad geology movie night”.

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12 December 2013

Volcanic eruptions bubbled beneath Earth’s largest extinction

Long before the dinosaurs died off, the “Great Dying” killed nearly all life in the ocean, 70 percent of terrestrial animals and even insects. But this mass extinction more than 250 million years ago – Earth’s greatest natural disaster – is still a scientific mystery. Little evidence remains of why and when life on the planet crashed to this long pause.

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Holy city of Islam lies in volcanic peril

Researchers have designed a new model to predict the riskiest areas of Al-Madinah, the second holy city of Islam that sits at the northern tip of a dangerous volcanic field. The model could improve evacuation and building planning for the city.

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24 February 2013

So you want to be a volcanologist?

In addition to my blogging and on-again-off-again relationship with Twitter, I like to take my geologizing to places outside the office. Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk with a girls’ STEM club at my old elementary school about being a volcanologist. I actually do this fairly often, and I’m always really impressed by the questions the students come up with. They’re always inquisitive and thoughtful, and often catch me off guard – which is good!

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27 January 2013

Benchmarking Time: Mount Terrill, Fish Lake Plateau, Utah

The next benchmark in my collection is another from Fish Lake in Utah. This is one of my favorite places to do field work, despite the fact that quite a bit of it is vertical and I was cursed with a malfunctioning set of knees. Occasionally I do make it to the top of things, and as we know, geologists like to put benchmarks in high places. Mount Terrill, on the northern part of the Fish Lake Plateau, is one of them. It’s an interesting mountain – long and lean instead of round and bulky – and it’s one of the best places on the Plateau to get a look at the Osiris Tuff, which is the volcanic unit I studied as an undergrad.

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18 January 2013

Water in really big groups of hot rocks: When you can’t say “hydrothermal alteration and lava dome collapse hazards”

By now you’ve hopefully seen the geo-meme that Anne Jefferson over at Highly Allocthonous started using the Up-Goer-Five text editor, which forces you to write a description of something using only the thousand most commonly used words in the English language. (It’s based off of this XKCD comic.) Anne challenged the geobloggers to write about their own research using this method, and as much as I enjoy adapting my writing for a wide audience (that’s why I got into blogging!), it’s darn hard to write about hydrothermal alteration in lava domes when you can’t use any of those words (not even dome). Thank goodness rock is still in there, or I’d be in trouble! As it is, I had a bit of trouble describing lava domes and hydrothermal circulation:

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15 November 2012

Mini Maars: A followup

In August, I wrote about some experiments on maar formation being conducted at UB’s facility for experimental volcanology (to which I mainly contributed by digging holes). Well, there were some camera crews around at the time, and we’ve just received the link to the video and interviews they recorded about the experiments!

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10 April 2012

Volcanology Etymology

In my liberal-arts-undergraduate life, I ended up taking a few linguistics classes to fulfill the requirements for my anthropology minor. I actually had a lot of fun, especially when we started talking about the etymology of words in modern English (otherwise known as, ‘stolen from everyone else’). Working out the component parts of a word is one of my favorite tricks for learning new vocab (I also play this game when I’m trying to deal with other languages, especially ones with a Latin base. It really works!) So this weekend I started thinking about the specialized vocabulary that geologists use.

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25 March 2012

Geologist’s bookshelf: Older offerings

I’m a bit of a pack rat when it comes to books, especially geological ones. I’ve got quite a few that I’ve collected but never really had time to read. (When you read journal articles at work all day, sometimes you really don’t want to read about more geology when you go home. Because I also have a lot of fantasy and scifi books, those are what tend to end up on the bedside table instead.) More often then not, the books I collect are older, because buying a lot of new ones can get expensive when you’re on a grad student budget.

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18 January 2012

Magma, P.I. (Or, I Go On Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour And Try To Sound Good)

So if anyone caught my tweet late last Thursday, you’ll know that I was interviewed on Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour, an internet video show on TWiT TV. Dr. Kiki (otherwise known as Dr. Kirsten Sanford) actually got in touch with me during AGU, hoping to tape a show, but electronic issues on my end of things delayed the interview until last week. Still, it was a lot of fun (and I hope I didn’t flub any of the geology too badly!)

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13 January 2012

The volcanology library: choosing the classics

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll have seen the post I did on essential reading for volcanologists last year. Recently, a fellow grad student and I were having a conversation about “classic” journal articles/papers in volcanology – which were our favorites, and what we consider “classic” (this doesn’t necessarily equal old, but often includes things like review papers, which try to treat a particular topic comprehensively in only a few pages). She suggested that I try something new this year: every few weeks, do a review of one of these “classic” papers – papers that give excellent overviews of a particular topic, or were the first to suggest a now-prevalent idea, or are referenced by just about everyone at one time or another.

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11 December 2011

AGU 2011: Day 3

Well, as usual, the hectic pace of AGU caught up with me (and my laptop started having fits), so I’m behind on my meeting posts. So, we’ll go back to Wednesday’s activities:

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8 December 2011

AGU 2011: Day 2

Tuesday was the first chance I had to attend a press conference (one of the perks of being an AGU blogger!) I was especially excited about one of the first of the morning, which was by Hawaii volcanologist Don Swanson about explosive eruptions at Kilauea. Dr. Swanson worked (and still works) at the USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory, so he knows Kilauea intimately (especially the information that can be drawn from …

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23 August 2011

“How to Build a Volcano”: Followup from Dr. Ed Llewellin

I was lucky enough to get an email from Dr. Ed Llewellin, one of the volcanologists featured in National Geographic’s “How to Build a Volcano”, with commentary on my review of the show. He’s given me permission to post excerpts from his message here, which will clarify a few things that I commented on, as well as expanding on the science presented in the show and correcting a few faulty …

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31 March 2011

Buffalo gets some (experimental) volcanic action

Volcanic eruptions are both relatively unpredictable and very dangerous, and it’s difficult to collect direct observations of volcanic phenomena. Because of this, volcanologists are always looking for safer and more practical ways of collecting data from volcanic processes. When they can’t derive it from eruptive deposits, they turn to experimentation – usually in a laboratory setting. While this is definitely a useful approach, there are problems inherent in “benchtop” experimentation. Scaling down a volcanic process and using artificial materials (or already-erupted volcanic ones) can have varying effects on the usefulness of the resulting experimental data, something that volcanologists must take into account when drawing conclusions from experiments. Accordingly, a big part of geological experimentation is finding ways to reduce the complexity of natural processes in a way that still produces useful data.

One way to mitigate this problem is to do as little down-scaling as possible. This is the goal of a new experimental facility that the University at Buffalo is developing, and it was the subject of a recent EOS article of which Dr. Greg Valentine, one of the volcanology professors here, is a co-author. The article is “Large-Scale Experiments on Volcanic Processes”, and it ties in with a recent conference our Center for Geohazards Studies coordinated last September.

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2 March 2011

Geologic models

The discussion that came up in my fluid dynamics course today was about the different kinds of models we use in geology, and how we make sure they’re useful. The main categories that we discussed were conceptual models, mathematical models, experimental models, and geologic maps. (I’ll hit the maps part of it later on; rest assured that there is a good reason for calling a map a model.) The goal of a model is to distill the basic principles of geologic phenomena into a simplified version of what you’re trying to explain. For example, no one can tell exactly where every single particle of ash in a volcanic plume will go, but with models of plume behavior, we can get an idea of how the plume as a whole will behave, and where the majority of those particles will end up.

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5 July 2010

Bandelier National Monument

One of the neat things about Los Alamos is that Bandelier National Monument is only a few minutes away. The volcanic tuff at Bandelier erupted from the Valles caldera about 1.25 million years ago, but it’s not just a site of geologic interest; it’s also an archaeological site. Bandelier refers to Adolph Francis Alphonse Bandelier, a Swiss-American archaeologist who conducted research into the history of the Pueblo people in the American …

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25 June 2010

Los Alamos & environs

While I was visiting Los Alamos recently, I made sure I got out of the lab to do a little hiking. Here are the photographic results: This hike was on the Quemazon trail, which starts in the western part of the town of Los Alamos. (There are a number of trails that can be accessed from the neighborhoods around the lab – even a few you can hike to get …

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18 May 2010

Reflecting on risk

USGS photo of the May 18, 1980 eruption. I don’t have any stories to share with you about the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, since I wasn’t around then – and the other geobloggers are doing a fine job of collecting reminiscences already. Volcanologists, like everyone else, sometimes joke about their jobs, but it’s anniversaries like today that have prompted me to reflect on it instead. I love the work …

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