Thursday, July 29, 2010

Role and impacts of the geoblogosphere (July Accretionary Wedge)

Not that kind of impact! Courtesy NASA/Don Davis.
David Bressan over at History of Geology poses the questions du mois: How can geoblogging impact society and "real geology"? Should and can we promote the "geoblogosphere"? Are blogs private “business” or public affairs? Are institutions undervaluing the possibilities given by this new method of communication?

To avoid a really long post in response to all of the questions - though they're certainly worthy of dicussion! - I'm going to stick to one, and talk about how I see geology blogs impacting society and non-virtual geology.

When I first started this blog, I'm sure I wasn't thinking that I would be reaching a very wide audience - I was mostly aiming for the geology graduate student who was looking for advice and maybe a little commiserating once in a while. The volcanology part seemed logical, since that's what I wanted to study, and the blog itself was a good way to hone my writing skills. But after a little while poking around the existing geology blogs, I became aware that we were reaching a wider audience, and not just a scientific one. People who may not even have taken a geology class were finding the geoblogosphere and starting to interact with the bloggers - commenting, asking questions, looking for information. Looking for education.

The geoblogosphere is a fantastic way for a person who doesn't have access to continuing education, or who never had an opportunity to take a geology class in high school or college, to learn a little bit about the Earth. Not only do they get to read what we as geologists find interesting, but they can ask us to talk about what they find interesting - through emails, comments, requests for posts, etc. It's a step toward breaking down the idea that scientists are somehow elitist and removed from society. I don't want people to think of us like that; we're not from another planet, after all, even if we sometimes study them.

I don't think geoblogging is only breaking down barriers between Earth and space scientists and the non-scientist public, either. Personally, I've found that geoblogging has opened up a whole new social and professional group to me - one that I never would have been able to build from the "traditional" routine of academic collaboration and conferences. I hope that someday I'll be able to collaborate with my fellow geobloggers and broaden the impact and usefulness of my work. And I think that's a worthy goal for E&S scientists as a whole: not to only bury themselves in a narrow area of research, but to remember that acquiring new knowledge depends on a foundation drawn from many disciplines.

In the past, collaboration depended on the post office, the telephone, and face-to-face meetings; the final products of our research on conference schedules and journal editors. With email and blogging, we now have an even faster and more powerful way to share our work with each other and the public. Though it certainly will not - and should never - replace the systems that have developed over centuries of research, I think geoblogging is a wonderful way to supplement them.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fundraising update: $10 for Guatemala

Geologizing is still on hold for a bit (it's amazing how hard it is to get your brain back into 'work' mode after field work happens), but here's an update on the fundraising drive for the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory in Guatemala. Donations have started to come in, but this is the official kickoff, and guess what? The International Volcano Monitoring Fund has made it incredibly easy (and affordable!) to help support volcano monitoring in Guatemala. Want to know more? Here's a message (and a flier) from IVM-Fund President Dr. Jeff Witter:

(Click on the flier for a bigger version!)
"Today we launch the first official fundraiser for the International Volcano Monitoring Fund. Please take a minute to read the attached flyer, which highlights the great volcano monitoring support program we have recently established in Guatemala. Please consider making the requested $10 donation. With your help, along with the support of the geology and scientific communities at large, we are hoping to raise $10,000 for Guatemala volcano monitoring. With this money, the IVM-Fund will help outfit the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory with volcano monitoring equipment so that Guatemalan scientists can keep watch on one of Guatemala's most active and dangerous volcanoes. The IVM-Fund Guatemala program intends to make a meaningful impact, improving safety at Guatemalan communities near Santiaguito volcano.
"A sincere thank you in advance for your support and for the continued support of those of you who have already donated. 
"Please contact me (Dr. Witter) directly or check out the specific project webpage for more detailed information on how we're supporting Guatemala: To make a donation, please click on the DONATE NOW button at:"

Ten dollars for volcano monitoring is something that even a grad student can afford, and I hope that everyone who reads this will consider helping with a donation!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blogging break again

I'll be busy volcanologizing for the next two weeks, so the blog's on break again. Hope you're enjoying your summers!

Monday, July 5, 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 southwest.

On the drive to the park visitor center, there's some fantastic columnar jointing in the tuff. (Columnar jointing occurs when hot volcanic material, either a lava flow or pyroclastic deposit, cools from the outside in and shrinks, forming cracks. These cracks often create geometric shapes that extend down into a deposit, creating columns.)

In the Frijoles Canyon, there are scads of cliff dwellings and the ruins of villages of the Ancestral Pueblo people, who moved into the region around 10,000 years ago. (They were formerly called "Anasazi" by archaeologists, but today's Pueblo people consider the Navajo term disrespectful). The village below was most highly developed in the late 1400s, and contained multistory dwellings and storage buildings. 

The cliff dwellings at Bandelier are located mostly on the south side of the canyon, which means that they stay cool in the summer and warmer in the winter. It was a very hot day when I visited, and there was a significant temperature drop once you were sheltered by the cliffs. 

Many of the cliff dwellings used to have structures built in front of them, leaving the caves as back rooms. Holes for the ceiling poles are still visible in the tuff, which is relatively soft and quite easy to hollow out.

One of the most interesting sites in this area of the park is known as the Alcove House, a huge shallow cave in the canyon wall. It holds a reconstructed kiva and the remnants of dwellings, but it's quite a challenge to reach  - and not at all fun for anyone who's afraid of heights! Like many of the other cliff dwellings in the park, the Alcove House is only accessibly by ladder; unlike the dwellings in the earlier photos, the ladders are very long (140 feet altogether). The photo below shows one of three that you have to climb to get up there!

It's a little hard to take photos of the whole alcove when you're in it, but the view down Frijoles Canyon is excellent. It also highlights how the natural propensity of the Bandelier tuff to erode into caves - something that the first visitors to the canyon certainly noticed and took advantage of!

I only had one day to explore Bandelier, which is unfortunate (it has more than 70 miles of trails), but I'm glad I had the chance to visit on this trip. This area offers a fascinating blend of volcanology and archaeology, something that I (with my sadly unused archaeology minor) really appreciate.