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Friday Science Seminar – Volcanoes!

Yesterday’s seminar was outstanding and I wanted to jot some notes down so that I don’t forget how much I enjoyed it…

Here’s the press release (modified a bit) and after that a really long summary of the parts I found most interesting. (Sadly, it’s more about her experiences their than about her discoveries!)

The Science Department hold a free seminar on Friday, April 18 from 11:00 am to 12:00 noon in the college’s Robert E. Greene, Jr. Science building on the main campus in the main lecture hall. Dr. Jennifer Beauregard, of Tallahassee Community College, will speak on volcanoes and “Explosive Eruptions of Krakatau Volcano, Indonesia”. The event is the final science seminar for the semester and is open to the public. Dr. Beauregard earned her doctorate in oceanography with a specialty in volcanology from the University of Rhode Island. As an undergraduate student, also at URI, she earned the University’s Presidential Award for Academic Excellence in Geology. Her research interest in explosive volcanism has taken her to places around the globe, including Indonesia and Japan. She has been teaching oceanography and earth sciences for over 15 years and is currently an associate professor of Earth Sciences at Tallahassee Community College.

Alison Beauregard teaches Natural Disasters and some other science classes here at my college and is in charge of the Friday Science Seminar program. I’m used to her introducing the speakers, but today was special. Not only was it the last seminar of the season, not only had it had been a very successful first season, but the final speaker of the season was her big sister and you could tell she was proud of that fact. Her introduction was the last half of the press release word for word except at the very end she tagged on the line "ladies and gentlemen, *my sister*" with a huge smile.

Her sister came up and her first comment was she was relieved after hearing the introduction because she was a little nervous about what her little sister was going to say about her. (laughter) Then her voice became a little accusatory and said to the 70-100 people assembled that when Alison invited her to speak she was told it was going to be a "small group affair" so she was thrown by the large number present. (more laughter) But she was excited to get to talk about her own research for a change instead of her normal lectures and she dove right in to it.

• Krakatau is not pronounced “Krakatoa” like I’d always heard. It’s “Krakatau”. This was the first major volcanic eruption in the days of the telegraph and the first message sent out the world has a typo! So it stuck. That’s actually similar to how my husband’s home town’s name went from Neshboro to Neshkoro. The map maker misspelled it and the town had to change all their signs!

• Serendipity = free trip to Java! - When Dr. Beauregard was searching for a Masters thesis topic the 1883 Krakatau eruption had been kind of “overdone” so her advisor suggested looking at early Krakatau history and activity because not many (actually, one could almost say "nobody") was working in that area. She was four years into her research when a book called Catastrophe came out. The author, David Keys, came across a drawing showing a theory that Krakatau had once been a big island that busted into three small islands after a major eruption. He conjectured that catastrophic events in nature caused dark ages in human history. If we are struggling just to survive we aren’t going to be seeking enlightenment and conducing scientific explorations. At the time that book came out the BBC decided to do a series of documentaries on British authors and Keys was one in the series. So to add to their production they called around to find experts in early days of Krakatau and ended up talking to Dr. B’s advisors who said to the BBC "there isn’t any real research in that area but if you will pay for us to fly out there we will do research for you!" They did! And her advisor took her along as pack-mule.

• It’s A Science Boat! – Was this a well-funded trip? Didn’t sound like it. Their "Science boat" was only a science boat because there were scientists on it. It was a modified fishing boat that had no science equipment on board. I don’t have the numbers memorized but it was something like this – 7 scientists, 7-man television crew, 1 National Geographic photographer, and 40-man ship crew. She was the only girl. She was the only girl. And not only were the islands hard to sail to from Jakarta, they had no shores. So they had to stay on the boat when they weren’t working. No camping. The crew had to take turns sleeping because there weren’t enough bed for everyone.

• The Glamour of Television Do not trust documentaries! She described how every morning when they boarded the rubber raft to land on the island the TV crew would make them take off six or seven times to get various angles for their shots and to get the right lighting. They worked for hours getting dirty and sweaty, which is not apparently TV friendly. And if they found something, even if it wasn’t really great, the crew would come back the next day to film the "discovery" (her hand quotes every time she used that word were hysterical) for the show, This was accompanied by instructions to “look more excited” and lots of reshoots. She mimed her attempts at flamboyant expressions then laughed and said everyone shot of her ended upon the cutting room floor except for one single shoot of the back of her head in a passing shot. Thankfully the crew left after six days and the scientists could get down to doing the real work.

• Her advisor is famous with National Geographic, by the way. I’ll try to get his name but she said he gets mentioned on that channel about once an hour. Some people in our audience recognized his name and giggled.

• On Their Own – It was a good thing the TV crew left, but to leave they had to take the boat. That meant they had to find a spot somewhere to camp until the boat’s return. The three islands were the remains of the original island that mostly disappeared in a major eruption. So the beaches were about the size of my desk against sheer cliff walls that rose as high as a kilometer in the air. The pictures she took were amazing. The cliffs were the inside of the original volcano and you could see the chutes the lava followed up through the volcano to get out the top. And the parts that were not cliffs were rain forest and impenetrable. Somehow they did find a patch of ground smaller than my living room and set up three tents. But they couldn’t be close to the water because the sunlight was so strong in Indonesia it destroyed the outer layer of the tents! So they pressed the tents right up against the rain forest.

• Camping with monsters - She insisted on the middle tent so to have someone on either side of her. (I would have, too) But that didn’t offer protection from the jungle behind her! All night long she could hear things moving behind and feel things brushing against the tent. They finally discovered the creatures - Monitor lizards (similar to komodo dragons). They also discovered after they set up camp that they put their tents up on top of a group of burrowing crabs, so all night long the ground moved beneath her. No sleep!

• Fire in the hole! – The whole time they were there working the new volcano was erupting. Real erruption definitions. The first week it was Strombolian eruptions which I understood to be thin lava letting gas bubbles pop easier. So it was a quiet eruption and she compared the lava/ash to soda fizz shooting soda up when you first pour your drink, It changed the second week was Vulcanian erruptions where the magma is thicker so the bubbles can’t pop as easy and the pressure builds much higher. When it does pop it’s like cannon going off and can feel the sound waves in your chest. Meanwhile the entire time ash is falling day in/day out every hour. It felt like they were working with sand raining down on them. Since they were sweating it stuck to clothes and rubbed skin raw under their backpacks. To this day when she washes the t-shirts from that trip she still gets volcanic ash from them.

• Results and had all kinds of slides showing what they discovered. They found evidence of 4 to 6 earlier eruptions, they had chemical make up of the various layers, they couldn’t confirm the author’s Dark Ages theory but their evidence fit with this time frame, and she fielded loads of questions both easy from our students and complicated from our instructors. And someday she will publish all that and I want to get the book. She was really funny in person; I hope that humor comes through in her book as well.

Some website with more Krakatau info

Sorry so long! Mostly for me :)


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 20th, 2008 12:44 pm (UTC)
SO COOL! I love volcanoes. I got to climb Mount Vesuvius as a kid, and droid18 and I got to watch Mount Arenal erupt when we were on our honeymoon in Costa Rica. Someday I really want to go see the ones in Hawaii.
Apr. 21st, 2008 02:30 am (UTC)
I didn't know you were a volcano enthusiast! That had to have been AMAZING to get to see one erupting, especially on your honeymoon. (Makes everything extra special.)

In her lecture she said it's not possible to describe what it's like, that you have to experience it. Before I thought it would be terrifying to watch, I guess because in movies people are always in imminent danger and the eruption is HUGE HUGE HUGE. Now I'm super curious and would love to see one in person, just not terribly close up - LOL. She certainly made me interested in learning more about them!

Oddly enough, Saturday night we watched the Doctor Who episode that takes place on Pompei so I had two volcano experiences this weekend...
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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