24 October 2009

GSA Update #3

Posted by Jessica Ball

I always head to GSA with good intentions (i.e., actually writing about things the day they happen), but I usually end up joining the ranks of those catching up with their writing instead. (There’s nothing wrong with this, since I’m not getting paid to write on a schedule or anything, but it annoys me when I do it.)

Tuesday at GSA was another great chance to see talks; lots of discussion about volcano hydrothermal systems, degassing, hazards, and risk communication. In addition, I (and Jim Lehane from Dino Jim’s Musings) were asked to be on a the eGSA ad hoc committee! We had a really interesting discussion about how GSA communicates with its members online, and ways that we can incorporate new technology to help GSA keep up with current online trends (such as geoblogging). Some exciting topics came up, including the possibility of a GSA blog, an improved GSA Connection newsletter and maybe even a meeting-oriented Iphone app.

Anyway, on to a few talk summaries:

  • Conduit convection vs. deep degassing at open vent volcanoes: melt inclusion evidence from Popocatepetl Volcano, Mexico by Paul Wallace. In this study, melt inclusions were found to indicate variable degassing at different depths in a volcanic system; CO2/SO2 ratios of volatiles dissolved in the inclusions were used to determine the pressure and depth of exsolution. The CO2/SO2 relationship is something that I was taught about in a volcanology field course I took in Hawaii; CO2 degassing occurs at depth and SO2 degassing when the magma reaches a more shallow location, and increasing amounts of SO2 are often taken to indicate a likely eruption (or at least magma moving into a shallow part of a volcanic conduit).
  • Back off: We’re scientists! Myth vs. reality and how to communicate risk related to natural hazards by Jeff Rubin. Jeff was one of the teachers of the short course I took on Sunday, and this talk was a great summary of the important points that came up during the discussions he led. One of the biggest problems with mitigating natural hazards is the assumptions that people in charge make about how non-scientists and non-officials will behave – especially thinking that they will panic. In reality, panic is extremely rare and in many cases precious resources and personnel are wasted on trying to prevent it. What folks in charge should be concentrating on is communicating clearly and honestly about hazards, and maintaining credibility (by not withholding information unnecessarily, or refusing to admit a lack of certainty, for example).
  • The preacher vs. the volcanologist: Origin of the word “pyroduct” by Jack Lockwood. This was one of the history of geology talks, and it was a great tale about Reverend Titus Coan, who went to Hawaii in the 1850s to help spread Christianity to the natives and in the process made some important observations about volcanoes, and the more famous James Dana (of Dana’s Mineralogy), with whom he corresponded. Coan’s letters to Dana about eruptions at Mauna Loa were the earliest field descriptions of activity at that volcano, and they caused a long-standing argument between the two about the existence of lava tubes. In short, Coan described them and Dana (who had not been to the field and actually looked at them) republished his work but denied that lava tubes (or “pyroducts”, as Coan called them) existed. (Only after Coan’s death did Dana even partially relent, in fact.) Dr. Lockwood left us with a moral to the story: Good field observations trump office speculations every time!
  • Blogs as a resource and social support network for women geoscientists by Kim Hannula (of All of My Faults Are Stress Related). I was really looking forward to this talk, because it presented the results of one of the surveys that’s been bouncing around the geoblogosphere in the past months. The point of the survey was to find out why women read (and write) geoblogs, and the results were pretty interesting: women geoscientists in academia read and write blogs to make their experiences feel more normal, and to get advice and connect with role models. This wasn’t so much the case for geoscientists in industry, and Kim has promised some further research on why the responses were different. You can read her summary here – as one of the PIs of the study, she’s better at summarizing it than I am!

In the course of the meeting, I also helped out at UB’s recruitment table, and it was really nice to get to meet prospective grad students and try to get them excited about grad school. It wasn’t just an opportunity to talk about how great UB’s volcanology group is (although I definitely did), but also a chance to answer questions about grad school in general, which is really valuable for incoming students. There are a lot of things that I found out by trial and error, and if I can make it easier for someone else, I’m all for it. There was a great turnout (and not just for the swag), and I’m looking forward to see who comes to visit in the next few months.

And on Wednesday, I rested….just kidding. On Wednesday, noticing a lack of volcanology-related sessions, I decided to tromp around Portland for a bit. Sadly, it was a pretty soggy morning, and most stores didn’t open until 10 (which probably kept me from spending money on things I’d have to stuff into my already-full bags), but I enjoyed the chance to see a bit of the city. I’ll have to go back and visit some volcanoes, because I didn’t see any in the whole time I was there. Darn!

All in all, a great meeting – it’s not often that there are talks on volcanology every day, and I felt like I learned a lot and made some good connections. (And I couldn’t beat the geobloggers meetup for a good time!)