Thar She Blows

The recent eruptions from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano this past week has caused havoc with European air carriers, bringing everything to a virtual stop. Something along the lines of 60,000 to 80,000 flights have been disrupted, stranding passengers and cargo in place, having a huge effect on the economies of numerous countries. And to think, this is a pretty minor eruption, with a historic record of followup eruptions that have taken place after the first ones in surrounding Volcanoes.

Volcanoes are one of the world’s most powerful forces of nature, literally fire from the Earth itself, a force that has proved to be incredible devastating throughout planetary history. During my college years, I minored in geology (a trait that I seem to have inherited from my father, who is a professional geologist), and it remains a field that I continue to find fascinating, beautiful and awe-inspiring. In 2005 and 2006, I travelled to the American Southwest with the geology department for two separate trips to study the regional characteristics in the beds of rock below the surface of the Earth.

While most of my geologic interests centered around sedimentology and stratigraphy (studying sedimentary rocks, and interpreting the conditions in which they were laid down, respectively), there are some parallels with studying igneous rocks and the larger structures that are formed in the presence of volcanoes. Walking in and around volcanoes is an awe-inspiring thing to do, and it’s an experience that I would really like to repeat sometime in the future.

Volcanic activity occurs when molten rock from the Earth’s mantle pushes its way up into the crust and onto the surface. There are three general methods in which this is presented: shield volcanoes, cinder cones and stratovolcanos. There are a couple of other out there, but those are the general types. The formation of each respective volcano depends greatly on the surrounding environment in the crust in which it is formed. There is a key element that helps to dictate the type of volcano that erupting magma forms: Silica.

The explosive nature of a volcano depends greatly on the viscosity of the magma, which in turn determines the gas content within the magma. From Princeton University: [Viscosity is the] resistance of a liquid to shear forces (and hence to flow). In a nutshell, this means that something with a high level of viscosity will have a higher resistance to flow: it’s thicker. Something with a low viscosity will have less resistance. The move viscous something is, the better it is at releasing gases trapped within the magma. The more gas within magma, the more explosive potential within a volcano.

This is why features such as the ones that created Hawaii constantly erupt with little disruption to anyone outside of the lava flows: the gasses within the magma allow for it to escape, and as a result, there are a number of very smooth flows of molten rock that spreads out from the origin, resulting in what is called a shield volcano, because of the shape that it forms. Here, the magma is classified as Mafic, which has a lower silicone content within the minerals that compose the flow – the resulting rocks tend to be rich in pyroxenes and olivines, and are darker in color. The other major class of volcanoes is the Stratovolcano, which form over major subduction zones, such as what you would find ringing the Pacific rim. The magma here tends to be classified as felsic, with a much higher silicone content, which is more viscous in nature and allows for more gas to be trapped within. These volcanoes tend to be very tall, with high peaks composed of alternating flows and debris from prior eruptions. Cinder cones tend to be found on both types of volcano, and are usually one-time events that build mounds of basalt to some impressive heights.

File:Krakatoa eruption lithograph.jpg

The Stratovolcanos are the ones that are problematic, because they have effects that stretch far beyond their immediate vicinity, as we’ve been seeing with Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, and more notably, with the Krakatoa eruption of 1883. This was one of the most violent eruption (About 13,000 times the strength of the Hiroshima atomic bomb) in human-recorded history, and had profound, long term effects on global climate. Following that eruption was a marked drop in global temperature (1.2 degrees C, according to Wikipedia). Eruptions of this nature do far more than throw out lava from the vents: pent up energy within the magma builds, then explodes, vaporizing rock and throwing up a massive plume of ash, debris and dust. Larger particles come down the quickest, given their mass, and the further from the volcano you go, the smaller the debris. The dust thrown up in an event such as this rises and moves to the Stratosphere, where it can be carried around the globe. This pumps other gasses into the atmosphere, which in turn helps to deflect sunlight from the planet, allowing for a cooling event to occur. The dust and gasses in the atmosphere has the added effect of filtering out sunlight, leading to some spectacular sunsets.

Another notable event was the 1816 ‘Year without a summer’, which had in turn been caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora the year before, which is likewise one of the most powerful eruptions in known history, at roughly four times the Krakatowa eruption. In this instance, a massive global cooling occurred, affecting the Northern Hemisphere by destroying crops and precipitating a famine. Here in Vermont, snow fell each month of the year, and the eruption would have an affect on the planet’s climate for years to come.

Most of the major eruptions in recorded history have been relatively minor, with explosions of Krakatoa and Mount Tambora occurring long before the advent of modern society and globalization. The dust that is thrown up into the air by the explosion is very fine, and has the ability to completely ruin mechanical engines, resulting in the grounding of air traffic around Europe, and soon, most likely Canada. Keeping in mind that this was a relatively small and localized eruption, imagine what will happen when there is another eruption on the scale of one of those eruptions. In that instance, we will have quite a lot more to worry about than stranded passengers.

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Education …

 has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.
G. M. Trevelyan (1876-1962) British historian  

 

During my senior year of college, I took a course on Norwich University’s history. Initially, I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea of the course, because honestly, how intertesting is the history of one’s own institution? I ended up loving the course, and wound up typing up a piece on the Norwich University students who fought at Normandy, and went to France to talk about it. 

 

One of the things that I really took away from the course was the school’s founder, Alden Partridge, and his ideas about education. He was an incredibly patriotic man, who believed in the idea of a citizen soldier, but who also believed in a well rounded education. One of the big things that I learned was the idea of experiencial learning, and how much of the school’s history was set around this style of learning. Partridge would take students out on hikes, marches, field trips, while bringing in experts on all sorts of vocations, but also making sure that his students got out of the classroom and into the field, where students could learn something hands on. 

 

While I majored in History at Norwich, I also minored in Geology, which I think Partridge would have liked – a mixture of sciences and arts. The Geology department at the school is absolutely fantastic, and those classes are amongst the ones that I miss the most while at the school. We took field trips – lots of them. It wasn’t uncommon during some of my courses that we would get together on a weekend and end up in the middle of New York while looking at rocks along the way to see how the rock beds changed as we went further into what was a sea. More memorable, however, was the geology trips to the American southwest, where we visited and studied the Colorado Plateu and Grand Canyon. I feel that because I saw this all close up, I understand it far better than I ever could have by mere examination in a book. 

 

Over the past couple of months, I’ve gotten hooked on a webpage called Not Always Right, which features stories from people in service postitions and their odd, funny or disturbing encounters with customers. While reading these, I’m often astounded at the sheer stupidity of people featured in them, and it makes me a bit sad at just how ignorant, backward or just plain oblivious people can be, and while listening to the radio on a program about the state of education or something along those lines, the root problem to this can be solved by some of Partrige’s ideas when it came to teaching – experiencial learning can help to solve some of the problems. 

 

I think that the biggest problem that the United States faces when it comes to educating students is that our education system is largely out of touch with how life really works. Thinking back to high school, I can narry remember a class in which I learned something useful that I apply to today. Most of my social interactions I’ve learned from summer camp, where I could work with people in the real world. But in school, I never really learned how exactly Shakespheare fit in with a job or anything along those lines. 

 

The general consensus seems to be that our education system is very out of date and needs to be revised because a lot of students aren’t learning what they really need to learn. The content is there, but it seems to me that people aren’t making the connection between the academic world, and how to apply things in real life. Looking back to High School and College, the best classes that I had were the ones that the teacher worked to link the class’s content with real world applications. In classes such as tech, mathematics, sciences seem to have concepts that are much mroe easily applied in the real world, while classes such as history and other social sciences are a bit tricky, but it is doable. 

 

What the US needs to do is look to experts in the education field and to see just how kids are learning nowadays. The argument of “It worked for me” just doesn’t work because the world that we live in is constantly changing – what might have worked for a politician years ago might not even apply now. 

 

Learning and education is the most important thing that we can spend money on – teachers shouldn’t be cut back, and we need programs that help to support failing schools, rather than undercut their support when they clearly need it the most. But above that, we need to teach people how to think, reason and operate in the world once they come out of the educational system and into the real world.

The Best Driving Road in Vermont

Yesterday, I left work early to go to a talk by P.W. Singer at Middlebury College, about the book that I just reviewed, Wired for War. It was a fascinating talk, but it didn’t really tell me anything new from the book.

However, the talk was in Middlebury, in Western Vermont, where I’ve only been a couple of times, and to get there, I had to do a bit of driving. Ever since I got Maxine, I’ve been wanting to really drive her, and that’s precisely what I got to do. (One thing though – don’t buy magnetic stripes for a car. I hit 50 mph and they flew right off. Bah!)

About ten thousand years ago, there was a global ice age that covered much of North America in a mile-thick ice sheet. This sheet ground over the state, shaping the surface to what we have today, and forcing the crust down. It’s still rebounding, at about an inch a year, if memory serves. Central Vermont in particular still retains a memory of this. Valleys, running from north to south, held huge swaths of ice that would later become glacial lakes as the earth heated up and melted back the ice. As the ice sheets melted, sediment was dropped, and ice jams kept these lakes in place until more melting occurred.

That’s what’s happened with the route between Montpelier, Northfield and Moretown and Middlebury. To get from point A to point B, I went up Route 100B. Because my directions from Google Maps were abysmal, I went with the vague knowledge that I have of the area and continued down Rt. 100, through Waitsfield and into Warren. Past Warren is Granville, a tiny town that seems to have been squeezed between two sets of mountains. Looking at a topographic map, one can see the lines get closer together, and as you enter this area, the mountains loom steeply on either side, and close together, while a river borders one side of the road.
This is the best place to drive that I’ve been to thus far.

The road is narrow, and curves around in a number of very sharp turns as the road meanders through this pass. Ten thousand years ago, it was the floodgates of a glacial lake, which in turn carved a path through as the ice melted. Driving past the trees, I can imagine the force of the water going through there. Large boulders litter the sides of the roads, and at points, it feels like you are driving through a canyon.

In Maxine, this was a joy to travel through. I’m a big fan of the British automotive magazine show Top Gear, hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, where they have extolled the virtues of European automobiles while denouncing American made cars. One particular complaint that I remember from them is that American cars can’t go round corners without problems, i.e. crashing. While on this ten or so mile stretch of winding corners, I found that my MINI could pull some impressive speeds over the speed limit. Maxine held her own wonderfully, being fairly low to the ground and wheels out to the corners. I never felt her slip or misstep once, and fortunately, the one car that I came across was going around the same speeds as I was.

It wasn’t the speed that I was thrilled with, although that made the ride exciting. (And, I did make sure that I was well within my limits) It was the curves, which really allowed me to test out the maneuverability and my own skills at turning around corners. This is something that I would have never dreamed of doing in my old Chevy Prism, which would have had to go far slower and would have likely gone off in the ditch if I’d driven like that. I do, in the future, need to remember to actually put away my CDs and not have anything in the passenger seat when I do this again.

One out of Granville, I reached the town of Hancock, which I had never heard of prior to today. From there, I turned onto Rt. 125, which the signs indicated led to East Middlebury, and recognizing a town name, I turned right, and found another stretch of curvy roads that went up and over Middlebury Gap. Overtaking a large truck, I followed someone in a Honda Fit, which handled the corners just as good as I, and we shot down the mountain. This drive was particularly nice, as it passed right through the Green Mountain National Forest, and through Breadloaf, Ripton and East Middlebury, all along this road, which was marked as scenic, which I can completely believe, driving along it. The only problem along this stretch was the sheer number of bumps from the frost heaves.

I reached Middlebury for the talk (I was running late, arriving about a half-hour after the talk started) got my book signed, and went back off, thinking that I would travel up to Burlington and back down, as it was falling dark. Driving up Rt. 7 from Middlebury and over to Rt. 116, where I remembered that I could go from Bristol to Waitsfield over the Appalachian Gap on Rt. 17. This is where the drive got interesting. As a child, my Grandparents lived in Lincoln, and to get there, we would travel over this route, which featured a road that twisted and turned far more than the Granville section. Maxine’s tires squealed around the corners, and I almost hit a guard rail at one section (thank god for snow banks, which only filled my front tire with snow). In daylight hours, and when there will be no snow on the ground in June, this will likely be a fantastic drive that will really put Max to the test. The top of the mountain features a small parking lot at an intersection of the Long trail, and it provides a fantastic view of both sides of the state, all the way to Lake Champlain on clear days. The way down is even better, with the same curves down past Mad River Glen and back into Waitsfield, closing this fantastic section of driving.

I honestly can’t wait to retrace my steps when the roads dry out and smooth down a bit, because this was an exciting drive through the Vermont countryside, something that I’ve been meaning to do ever since I first drove Maxine home. That particular section of Vermont is very beautiful, and there are several sites in the region with historical value (Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point) that I’m intending on visiting again. When I do, I know just how I’ll get there.

Geology in Action

This past weekend, Vermont’s been hampered by a lot of rain. According to my dad, between Friday and Saturday, we got 6 inches on ground that was already saturated with water, and this happened:


Just below my house about a mile



Above my house about a half mile

Yep, the road washed out. That’s the first time it’s ever happened, at least in the years that I spent there. I got a call from my dad at about 8 am on Saturday, saying that they were pretty much cut off from everything, although power wasn’t affected. Apparently, much of this happened Friday, and when crews went in to fix things on Saturday, it was all washed away again in the afternoon with another storm.

The second picture is just part of the washout – it’s a lot worse above where the road curves around a bit – the entire road was cut, washed down to bedrock. When I went up to take a look yesterday, the town’s road crew had put in some temporary measures on both sides, but according to the local paper, about $500,000 in damages had been done.

It’s an interesting, practical lesson in erosional geology – it goes to show just how much power is behind water and what it can do to human infrastructure. It was actually pretty cool to see the bedrock under the roadway (apparently my geology professor had mapped the area, and suspected that there was a bed there, and was just proven right). The canyons that were cut were deep – 6 or so feet in places, with only one lane open for traffic to pass by.

It’s certainly something you don’t see everyday.

More London Happenings

So, I’m still in London, visiting various places and things like that. I spent Thursday recovering from Normandy (my knees were really starting to hurt – I need insoles for my shoes, I think). Yesterday, I went to the British Museum and National Gallery, which was cool, as always – those museums never get old. Although I was a little annoyed – the National Gallery had several sections closed until June, and of course, they’re the ones with the artists that I like the most. Oh well.
Went out on Saturday night with Sara and Rob to a pub and then to Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which was fun, but like Dead Man’s Chest, didn’t quite get to the level of the first movie, although it was better than the second one. I’d give it a C+. I don’t know if I’ll type up a proper review, but it was fun to watch, although probably 40 minutes too long. I also finally caught up on Heroes and watched the last episode, which was amazing. SPOILERS – High body count, with Linderman, Ted and D.L. killed off, which I didn’t quite see coming. Nathan choosing to be a good guy was also a great point, as was his carrying Peter up into the sky. Sylar’s death was pretty well done, although I would have liked to see another hero or two take him on. And the ending – OH GOD HIRO IN THE VERY FAR PAST. That kicked ass, and I cannot wait to see the second series.
Went to the Imperial War Museum today, which I liked more this time around. Maybe because I’m in a bit of a military history mindset or something, but it was more interesting this time. There was a fantastic exhibit on the Falklands War, as we’re currently in the 25th anniversary of it. I didn’t know a thing about the conflict, and now I’m dying to get a couple of books on the subject. Max Hastings, who wrote the brilliant Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy, also has a book out called The Battle for the Falklands, which he was a correspondent for. I really want to get that, and Amazon’s listing it used for $1.90 or so, plus shipping. I might get that when I return, because from what I saw today, it’s truly a fascinating battle. The D-Day exhibit was also very cool, and the one on the Holocaust was disturbing. But it was a cool visit. I’m going to try and find the Burlington House, the home to Geological Society of London, and contains the first geologic map, drawn up by William Smith one of the biggest contributors to the field of Geology.
The weather’s been typical London/English – Wet. Plus, the wind completely destroyed the umbrella that I found and fixed, and I mean really destroyed it. And carried it off as well. I haven’t been taking a whole lot of pictures because it’s been overcast, and as a result, crappy lighting.
And, because it’s 12:36, I’m off to bed.

This is a Water Stop

Kinda how I’m feeling today – slow, not really tired, but unmotivated. One class was cancelled, I skipped my next one to catch up on some work and to eat lunch. Class this afternoon was short, and I got my work in.
It’s dreary out today, and it’s been raining out all day, and I went back out in the field with George like I did last week to help him with some of his river studies. However, it meant that we both got completely soaked taking water samples. My cast is soaked, as are my books and jeans, and it’s going to be forever before they’re dry.

Year In Review: Work

My summer was a big change as well. I worked at a Geo-Hydraulic Consulting company that my Dad works for, writing reports and doing fieldwork, something that I enjoyed a lot. I learned a lot about the field that I was working with, but also about myself. I learned not to make excuses for a poor job, and to take blame when I messed up. I learned how to prioritize, how to focus on a job and to finish it on time. It’s something that I carried with me when I went to my next job at Camp Abnaki.
This was also a change from my prior years, a larger challenge, because I was now working in a new role: Village Director, a promotion of sorts. I was the guy with the radio, the one that people looked to for the decisions, when they needed help with something, and the guy who came down on them when they didn’t do their job, when they slacked and mouthed off. It was an interesting adjustment this time around. I was in charge of my friends and learned how to distance myself from things that I might not ordinarily do. And despite that, I’ve always wanted the job, I’m not going to deny that, but I genuinely missed being a counselor, where I could put my head down and worry only about myself and my own cabin, not about the other counselors, or the overall picture of what was going on. I learned how to deal with bitchy people who couldn’t and/or wouldn’t realize that they’re doing a crappy job.
It was hard. My dad told me at the beginning of the summer that Management was the hardest job that I’d ever do. I didn’t believe him when he said it, but after this summer, it turned out to be correct. It was hard, exhausting, rewarding and exciting all at the same time. I got to see a side of Camp that I really hadn’t put as much thought into before, and really took a look at what the job required, on all levels. And I’m going back to it. Hopefully.
And during the school year, I tutor people in geology. But there’s not too much that’s interesting in that.

Year in Review: Travel


I’ve developed a taste for travel. This year, I traveled even more about the States, visiting Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Hit some major landmarks, such as the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam and Zion National Park. Visited some not so common places that you’ll never hear about, such as that little convenience store, run by three Mormon women in dresses, where I was able to call home for the first time in a week. I slept over in an airport after a seven hour drive down and through New York City to get out there in the first place, and that first campsite at the Valley of Fire, surrounded by ten meter tall dune cross beds.
I took off from school for half a week and flew out to Indianapolis, Indiana to attend a Star Wars convention, dressed up as a Storm Trooper. I stayed out in a hotel right across from the Convention and every morning was surrounded by thousands of fans of the series. I met some of my favorite authors, Timothy Zahn, Matthew Stover, Karen Traviss, Jan Duursema, and Joe Corroney, as well as the other workers on the Clone Wars Site that I work on. I met some crazy people there, some interesting ones and some people that I still talk to, even after several months. I went with my family to New York City, to Carnegie Hall, not once, but twice, to watch my brother perform with first the Vermont Youth Orchestra and then a national wind ensemble that he was accepted into. I found, each time that I was there, that I really enjoyed walking around the streets with such a large number of people. I also found that I especially liked Central Park, and walking in general.
Those were the major trips. My geology class took a day and we drove out to Central New York, looking at the rocks and examining a progression of strata as the mountain ranges shed material off. I went to Maine to visit my friend Sam at school, taking a much needed break from Vermont. 400 miles and a hundred dollars on the credit card later, I still maintain that it was a good idea. Then of course, there were the spontaneous trips up to Burlington with Eric or to meet with Rachel over the weekends. Then there were the times when I hiked around my house, ten miles at a time.

Sore


Full field day yesterday in Glacial- we went out looking at varves and deposits in a proglacial lake system, which was pretty interesting, and helped take my mind off of things. Site number one was in Warren, where we got to cross a pretty cold stream and then up a wet, clay rich enbankment, which was lots of fun. The entire thing was composed of varves, which was really cool to see for the first time, after learning about them over the past two years. Varves are a glacial deposit that are linked to melt seasons in a pro-glacial lake. Basically, Glaciers dump a huge amount of sediment into a basin, and after the larger things settle out, such as sand, silt is carried further and deposited. During the time that the lake then melts over, currents essentialy stop and clay is deposited. Then the melt season comes and the cycle is started over again. The result is a silt-clay layering that represents an annual cycle, as accurate as tree rings. And when it’s wet, it’s really slippery. We had one person fall and bash his head, and I slipped a couple times. Got my boots soaked when we crossed back over the stream.
The second site was different, a huge sand deposit that showed ripples and other lake bottom structures, with a few varves thrown in. Fell there too. We also got kicked off the property, because some idiots decided to build houses on top of the enbankment, which is about 60 ft high, and eroding back fast.
Then comes the annual haunted hayride. First night was last night, went off pretty well. We had just a couple people from the club come, but we had a couple of rooks help us out. We ended up running a flying monkey, which was interesting, but we were also given a chainsaw, and someone brought their airsoft M4 and a paintball gun. Basically, they were soldiers on patrol, and I was a chainsaw murderer, who gets shot, comes back to life and killes them, then takes off after the wagon. Worked pretty well.
But know my knees and back is pretty sore, and my voice is starting to go. Two more days…

Desert… in Vermont…

Field day today. I’m taking what I think is my last geology class to finish out my minor here at the university. It’s Glacial Geology, where we’re learning about the most recent ‘Ice Age’ and the features and depositional results of glacial masses. Vermont is an excellent place to study glaciation- the entire state was buried under two miles (Yes, miles) of ice for a long period of time. When they retreated, they left behind millions of striations, grooves and cubic feet of till and other things that are caught up. So today, for lab, we visited the Gross Sand Pit, where a number of geology classes visit, because it’s an excellent place to view a number of features left behind by a retreating glacier. Today was lots of digging in loose sand, looking at layers and figuring out exactly how they ended up in the way that they did. Lots of fun stuff, save for a couple things: 1- Next time I’m bringing goggles. Today was pretty windy, and sand was blowing everywhere. 2- Sand is finer grained than gravel. Thus, it gets everywhere. 3- My nalgene. Sand pits are pretty dry, and with a hot day like today, it’s not terribly different than any desert that I’ve been in- hot, and the air is so dry that it literally sucks the moisture out of you. We did find some outstanding examples of topset and foreset beds. Now, to write a report and figure out a stratigraphic section for the entire place…
Was happy to get a 95 on my Civil War exam. I’m really enjoying that class.