Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why yes, I do have goals

G. K. Gilbert, in his account of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906:
It is the natural and legitimate ambition of a properly constituted geologist to see a glacier, witness an eruption and feel an earthquake. The glacier is always ready, awaiting his visit; the eruption has a course to run, and alacrity is always needed to catch its more important phases; but the earthquake, unheralded and brief, may elude him through his entire lifetime."
I recently came across this quote in A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester. What I found amusing (and cheering, in a way), is that in more than a hundred years, the field of geology hasn't changed so much that I can't look at this quote and say, "Aha! That's exactly how I feel!" Granted, the part about the glacier isn't quite true anymore, and the "his" and "him" reflect an age of the science when there were no women involved, but as for the rest of it - well, those are my sentiments exactly!

The part about the earthquake is especially relevant to me because I actually should have had the opportunity to feel several. One was the December 9, 2003 M4.5 that occurred in the Central Virginia Seismic Zone about 40 miles West of Richmond. I was a freshman at the time, and out caroling around campus with some friends. Unfortunately, being outside on the ground, this meant that I was unable to feel the quake, since the only people who noticed it in my area were on the upper floors of buildings (which apparently magnified the effects a bit). I was, needless to say, extremely unhappy to have missed feeling the most significant EQ in Virginia in decades. (There's a good writeup of that quake here.) The second time around was this past summer; I'd just come home from a month-long stay on the Big Island of Hawaii, only to find out that, ten days later, there was a M5.4 less than 10km RIGHT UNDER KILAUEA. That time, I was really pissed. I spent most of that month sitting on top of the volcano and nothing. But as soon as I left?

So you might say that I've been unlucky catching earthquakes. I have been lucky enough to visit Kilauea when the eruption was still feeding flows at the ocean entry, and it was then that I had my first real experience with hot lava (which got me permanently hooked on volcanology right then and there). The second Kilauea trip was somewhat less successful in locating the hot stuff; Pu'u O'o had recently begun the "Harry Potter" fissure eruption (July 21, 2007; they like to name the events after holidays or, if nothing else is available, book releases) and, despite a truly grueling hike out to the cone, we were only able to see the fissure source and not the active flows. (It was still hot out there, though, and we came pretty close to the flows before turning back because of safety concerns. Funny how a little thing like having to walk on partially-molten lava can ruin your hike.) I would really love to see a fountaining event, and my career goal is to work on stratovolcanoes, which means seeing a Pinatubo or St. Helens-style explosive eruption would basically make me incoherent with joy.

Glaciers...I've had even less luck with. I've seen plenty of glacier deposits, including some really spectacular moraines and cirques on the Fish Lake Plateau in Utah and striations on the slopes of Mauna Kea, but I have yet to see real glacial ice. Unfortunately, at the rate things are going climate-wise, if I don't go see some in the next ten years, there might not be much left. Certainly any dream of visiting the glaciers of Kilimanjaro is pretty much kaput at this point, and with the way the Alaska ones are retreating nowadays, I'd better book one of those Princess cruises pretty quick.


Ron Schott said...

I've got all three, though not the most spectacular examples.

I've been up close to Alpine glaciers in Switzerland and Italy (UW-Madison Weeks Field Trip, 1993).

I've been to Kilauea during Episode 55, January 2004.

And I've felt two earthquakes: one (M~3.5) in New Jersey in 1985 and another in Hawaii (M<2, but I saw it on the seismic drum just after I felt it). I also slept through the M7.3 Landers quake in 1992 about 150 miles away (on bedrock) during my first field season in California.

But you know the real achievement would be to hit the trifecta and experience all three at once. The challenge there would be surviving to tell about it.

Tuff Cookie said...

That certainly would. I suppose it might be possible if I camped out on a glacier on Mr. Rainier and waited for an earthquake to trigger an eruption, but that might get a little cold. (Not to mention I'd probably be obliterated by an avalanche or a lahar first.)

Kim said...

I cheated and went to grad school in California. But I should get double points for being made homeless by my first earthquake! (1989, Loma Prieta.)

Volcanoes: Kilauea.

Glaciers: Alps. One had signs posted showing the location of the snout in various years. We had to walk at least a mile from the 1930's signs to the active glacier in 1990.

Callan Bentley said...

I've yet to see an eruption, but it's certainly at the top of my list.

Speaking of lists, by the way, I assume everyone here has read the "Geologist's Life List" online, or seen the write up comparing it to "1000 Places To See Before You Die" in Geotimes in September 2005.

Glaciers in Alaska: I recommend the Northwestern Glacier tour (1 day) out of Seward (to Kenai Fjords National Park). Nice example of a calving tidewater glacier. Princess cruises look too foofy for me, but I can attest to the tremendous quality of the "Alaska Marine Highway System" (a bunch of ferries) that cruise up & down the Inside Passage. Not as luxurious, but then again, it's a fair bit cheaper. I wrote my trip on the ferry up the summer before last in Geotimes.

Quakes: Homer, Alaska, 1999. Sitting at a rolly-chair at my compuer, I suddenly noticed my fingers were moving forward and backward over the keyboard. From the QWERTY row down to the space bar and back up again. I realized my chair was rolling back and forth. Ran outside, and the lampposts were swaying back & forth too. Carlos Santana's "Smooth" was on the radio, and I'll forever associate that song with earthquakes.

Julian said...

I haven't seen an eruption or a glacier, but I'm one of those people who feels even the little earthquakes, so it seems. I've felt a total of ten of them over the past year. The largest of them was a 4.7, but my first one (a year ago yesterday!) was a 2.9. My best earthquake story, though, was a 3.9 this past September. I was talking with a friend about my plans to switch academic directions, and no sooner had I said the word "seismology" than the ground shook.

I remember the 4.5 in Virginia, not because I felt it, but because my parents called me and were all, "Guess what happened here today!" I guessed a whole bunch of wrong things before they finally told me.

How did you like the rest of A Crack in the Edge of the World? I read it last year and thought it was quite good.

Tuff Cookie said...


I haven't quite finished the book yet - it's my current lunch-break reading - but so far I've been pretty impressed with it. I'll also have to go back and re-read The Map That Changed The World.