Friday, April 24, 2009

Is there a pre-death version of the Darwin awards?

Because these people all deserve them.

In an attempt to find some older videos of the eruptions at Santiaguito, I came across a number of these clips on YouTube. Apparently there's a tour group in Guatemala (which I will not name) that not only takes you to see the volcano, it takes you onto the Caliente dome. Onto an active, erupting lava dome.

My head just about exploded when I saw this, and it took a good five minutes before I was capable of coherent speech. And then my reaction was:

These are stupid, idiotic, crazy, insane people.

Do not ever, ever, EVER do something like this.
I'm studying Santiaguito because the domes are capable of - and have - killed people in the past. All of you geologists - heck, everyone with the smallest ounce of self-preservation - know that being anywhere near an exploding volcano is a spectacularly stupid idea. This is not Kilauea - this is the equivalent of multiple bombs going off every few hours. All those rocks scattered around the videos? Those are ballistics, and they obviously made it that far. Even one the size of a golf ball can kill you, even if you're wearing safety gear - which the people in these videos are not. The reason that they're are so excited is not just that they're seeing an eruption - it's the adrenaline that their bodies are pumping out so they can run like hell in the opposite direction.

I will be climbing the inactive lava domes at the far end of the complex because I need to collect samples and look for structural features, and I can't do it from remote sensing data. I will be nowhere near Caliente, for damn good reasons. Not only am I taking precautions with a helmet, gas mask, gloves, etc. etc., I will be as far outside the ballistic fallout zone as possible, and you know what? I'm still going to be nervous as hell, because I will be on an active volcano.

If you're ever in Guatemala, for God's sake don't go on this tour. Climb Santa Maria, watch it from a few kilometers off, but don't climb onto Caliente and watch it erupt from twenty meters away. Quite frankly, I am amazed that no one seems to have died doing this. I understand that there is little regulation of tours like this in Guatemala, and no regulation of who can go where on the volcano, and that most people don't know much about volcanoes, but I find it hard to believe that anyone would want to make a living by taking people to hang out next to an exploding mountain. Guatemalans can be pretty poor, but there's got to be a better way for them to make money than this.

(There seems to be a lot of volcano-related stupidity going around lately - at Arenal, the Kamchatka Peninsula and Tonga - although I take it these tours have been going on for a while. I for one hope that they stop, but I'm afraid it will take deaths for that to happen. And I won't call it a tragedy, because there's no way you can do this stuff and not know how freaking dangerous it is.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Go out and hug a rock - trees are so passé.

(Although you might want to make sure the rock isn't really pointy, for obvious reasons.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Funding resources for geology graduate students

I have a bit of a plea for the geoblogosphere this week. I've volunteered to do some website work for the geology graduate student association here at UB, and one page is going to be dedicated to useful resources. I'm compiling a list of Earth science-related scholarships, grants and fellowships, and I want to make sure that I don't miss anything.

Can everyone have a look at what I've come up with so far, and tell me what I can add to it?

Here's the rundown
(I've left off a bunch of the organization names to save space):

AAPG Grants-in-Aid
AASP Student Scholarships
AAUW American Fellowships (Dissertations)
AAUW Career Development Grants
AEG Foundation Research Fund
AEG Tilford Fund/Scholarship
AGU Mineral and Rock Physics Outstanding Student Research Award
AGU Student Travel Grants
ASPRS Awards & Scholarships
AWG Chrysalis Scholarship
AWG Winifred Goldring Award
AWIS Educational Foundation Predoctoral Awards
Clay Minerals Society Student Research Grants
Clay Minerals Society Student Travel Awards
Department of Energy Co-Op Jobs
EPA GRO Graduate Fellowship
EPA STAR Graduate Fellowship
Farouk El-Baz Student Research Award
Fred L. Scarf Award
Graduate Fellowships in the Physical Sciences
GSA Graduate Student Research Grants
Horton Research Grants
Lemke Scholarship Fund
Marliave Fund/Scholarship
Martin L. Stout Scholarship
MSA Grant for Research in Crystallography, Mineral Physics, Mineral Chemistry, and Mineralogy
MSA Grant for Student Research in Mineralogy and Petrology
NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program
National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship
NOAA Educational Partnership Program
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
Paleontological Society Student Research Grants
Patterson Memorial Grant for Field Work
Science, Mathematics And Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship
SEG Foundation Scholarship Program
SEG Student Research Grants
Sigma Delta Epsilon Graduate Women in Science Fellowships
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Graduate Student Fellowships
Spackman Award
WAIMME Scholarships

Suggestions? Advice? Shameless plugs for something you're involved in?

PS - I'm setting this up for students at SUNY Buffalo, so anything that's limited to a particular school, or a state or country that isn't New York or the US is no good.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In the field, "Geologists wear gray and khaki"

And it's true, as you can see by the lovely photo of my foot in Guatemala. (There are very few photos of me because I wasn't exactly photogenic after the whole food poisoning and not eating for three days episode.)

There have been a few field gear posts going around recently, and I thought I'd contribute a few photos of myself in full field attire. (OK, I'm way behind and I wanted to post something to get myself writing for fun again.)

One of the latest versions, taken in Hawaii two years ago. I still have those boots, although they got a little gooey on the lava flows later on in the trip.

My current ensemble usually includes...

Hat: Either my fully-insured Tilley hat, which floats and has a hidden compartment, or a cruddy baseball cap that inevitably gets turned around backwards and makes me look really dorky, or a bandanna of some sort. My hair will frizz in any humidity, and I have about a million of those little flyaway hairs that never seem to grow out. (I will occasionally, and in the right states, wear a straw cowboy hat. It tends to get crushed whenever I pack, though, so it's looking pretty battered.)

Face: Occasionally sunburned, but mostly it just gets really freckly. And, since I don't wear makeup in the field, it always ends up looking like I have some sort of pox by the end of the trip. The desert air does nothing for my skin, probably because I'm too busy slathering sunscreen and insect repellent all over it. Sometimes I'll wear sunglasses, although it's been a struggle to find a non-dorky looking pair that I can put prescription lenses in. I'm hoping the current ones last for a while, because they were not cheap.

Neck: Always a hand lens, occasionally with a pen or mechanical pencil attached when I'm too lazy to put it back in my bag or pocket. Camera if I can't fit it in the backpack or pockets or want to keep it handy.

Top: Grubby T-shirt or sports tank, with a button-down of some sort over. Sweaters (khaki) or fleece (clean if we're going to be around civilization, grubby if not) over top, with optional raincoat. I rarely wear a vest because I haven't found one that doesn't make me look like either an escaped fisherperson or an overzealous tourist, but that could always change. Sometimes I'll spring for a safety vest if I'm going out on lava flows, for instance. (This has always struck me as slightly unnecessary, since any clothing that isn't black will stand out on basalt, but I'm all for safety.)

Pants: (Or trousers, for the overseas crowd) Zip-off hiking pants for warm weather, army surplus cargo pants for cooler weather, and my newly-acquired women's Carhartts for whatever will rip up the other two. My main requirements are that I have to be able to fit my field book into at least one of the pockets, and that there are belt loops big enough for a normal-size leather belt. (This is often a problem with the hiking pants, especially when they come with those silly clip-belts, but I can usually solve it with some creative cutting.)

Pockets: Digital camera, cell phone (sometimes), granola bars, colored pencils, pocketknife, rocks. I expect a high carrying capacity from pockets in my field pants, which is the biggest reason for the belt.

Belt: Complete with Brunton, GPS, and whatever else I couldn't fit in the pockets.

Boots: My current favorites are Asolos, although I may have to replace the most recent pair after the next big trip because I melted most of the tread off in Hawaii. Mine are orange and black, which I think is particularly appropriate for a volcanologist.

Backpack: Everything else! I'm particularly fond of the ones with holes and clips for CamelBak-type water bags - the only drawback to these is that it's hard to keep track of how much you're drinking. I always carry an extra bottle or two of water, especially if I'm in the desert. Also a first-aid kit, more snacks, extra clothing, lots of blister stuff, maps, clipboard, sample bags with rocks in them (if I haven't just thrown the rock in the pack), bug spray and sunscreen, more rocks, markers and pens, batteries, and rocks. Did I mention rocks? I'm kind of compulsive about picking stuff up.

My hair was a lot longer then (oh man, was that really five years ago?) A post-freshman year incarnation, enjoying the Sound-of-Music-esque scenery of the La Sal Mountains in Utah.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Just a little celebrating

I usually try to be modest, but I'm just so excited by this that I felt like posting:

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Awardees

(Sorry for the repeat, folks who follow on Twitter - it's only this once, I promise!)

Not only am I the only applicant from UB that received an award, I beat out all the engineering, medical and life science applicants - and at UB, we have a lot of those.

It's actually a big relief, too - I don't have to worry about how to pay for my next trip to Guatemala for field work, or having to borrow money for tuition, or (and this is the big one) moving to a cheaper apartment next year. Woohoo!

Here are the numbers:

This year, 30 out of 950 award recipients were for "Geoscience" (~3.2%)

For the past few years, the breakdown of applications looks like this:

Representation of Submitted Applications by Gross Field

2007 2006
Total Number of Applicants 8582 8339 8162

% % %
Chemistry 6.6 6.4 6.7
Computer and Information Science and Engineering 5.3 5.4 6.4
Engineering 27.5 26.2 25.2
Geosciences 3.1 3.3 3.8
Life Sciences 29.1 30.0 28.3
Mathematical Sciences 2.9 3.2 3.0
Physics and Astronomy 5.3 5.5 6.0
Psychology 8.4 7.5 7.6
Social Sciences 11.9 12.5 13.0

So, for 2009, the geoscience winners represent ~3.2% of the total awardees - on a par with the application rate for the past few years, but boy, does that seem low to me! NSF's restrictions on applying - having no more than 1 year of graduate experience, no matter what degree you're starting - do make it a bit difficult. I think it's definitely unfair that PhD candidates can't apply unless they've come straight from undergrad or work (although a PhD who has an MS already would have a bit of an advantage in writing and experience over one who doesn't).

Still, I think we need to up the representation for the geosciences - and I know there are capable students out there! It's a pain getting the thing written in time for the deadline, but boy, is it worth it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Poor land-use planning and volcanoes

So it looks like someone is already moving in on the new land created by the eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai
near Tonga*. That's right - with enough Pa'angas, you could own some of the newest land on the planet, if you don't mind digging yourself out from under the tephra every few days. The article I found didn't say much about who's claimed the land, but it seems to have been through a loophole in Tongan land use laws (one that their Royal Land Commission will no doubt be fixing soon). I suspect we'll soon see signs on the more stable parts of the island calling the new land "Trump" and advertising the finest in pumice exfoliating stones.

Now, I've heard of this sort of thing happening in Hawaii - people buying up and selling land on the slopes of Kilauea or Mauna Loa that is very likely to get run over by the next lava flow. The land is usually covered in lava already (not a fun building surface), and completely uninsurable. So, if you have a movable house - a yurt, for instance - and you don't mind packing up and moving for a bit when the next flows come through, I guess you're okay. (This would probably necessitate having a tank or other AWD vehicle in order to get back to your house, though.)

But speculation before the land's even done being formed is a bit much. And, despite the fantastic views and desirable location (get away from everything!), I should think that the danger of living next to an active volcano might bring down property values a bit. Then again, if you're a volcanologist, this could be a plus. Any takers out there in the geoblogosphere? I bet we could probably afford the place if we pooled our resources, although my contribution would have to be much smaller due to my grad student status.

Given the intense tourist interest in the eruption, the
article is unsurprising, though. Bunker on the beach, anyone?

*Wow, really? No comments? Either the blog is getting too boring, or I was really believable on this one. Or everyone is too paranoid to believe anything written on April 1.

Happy belated April Fools...and no, I still wouldn't be surprised if Trump jumped on the Tonga Pumice Stone idea.