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A team of geologists from the Museum and Imperial College are in Mexico carrying out  fieldwork at two of the most active volcanoes in the world: Popocatépetl (Popo) and Colima. Catch up with their adventures in this series of blogposts.


Popo times are over (never mind the blog title), but for Chiara and me the journey continues: Colima volcano, here we come! We have planned three days in Colima, and since winter in Mexico is generally a time free of clouds and rain, we are fairly confident that we will get some great shots of this impressive volcano. But alas!, as we arrive at the tiny Colima airport, we find that the view of Colima volcano is somehow underwhelming:

 

Comala.jpg

Harder than spotting lava at Popocatépetl's flanks: Whoever finds Colima volcano in this photograph is a true eagle-eyes and deserves an honorary display in the Museum's bird galleries.

 

The weather in Colima remains tropically hot, damp and cloudy for the next one and a half days. Chiara makes the best out of the bad conditions by giving a spontaneous talk about her work at the University of Colima, while I use the time to give you some background information about Colima volcano:

 

Fuego de Colima, as the volcano is called, has been very active in historical times. There were large eruptions about every 100 years in the past, which directly leads us to the alarming part of the story: the last major eruption took place in 1913! And the volcano has certainly woken up in the past few years, with volcanic domes - very viscous lava forming a plug in the crater - frequently being built and subsequently destroyed. (By the way, this is exactly the same type of activity as we see at Popocatépetl, even though the volcanoes are very different in other aspects.)

 

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Fuego de Colima, and its snowcapped older sister, Nevado de Colima, form an impressive mountain mass towering above the State of Colima. Fuego de Colima has been very active in the past few months.

 

Especially since last summer, Colima has produced several small- to medium-sized eruptions every day; one of the largest since 2005 happened while we were peacefully collecting pumice at Popo:

 

 

It seems that Fuego de Colima is preparing for something bigger in the foreseeable future, and authorities are on alert in order to protect the ~300,000 people living in the vicinity of the volcano.

 

After intense rainfall during the second day, the weather clears in the evening, raising our hopes to finally see some action. And as it turns out, we get even more action than we were daring to dream of: we get offered a flight in a small airplane around the volcano on the third day of our stay. Obviously, this is an offer we can't refuse, especially after we are being reassured that the pilot is very experienced and knows how close he can get to the crater without getting into eruptive trouble. So off we go! Take a look at the stunning pictures we were able to take:

 

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Colima volcano, airplane view: gases are constantly emitted from the crater region. The surface of this area is several hundred degrees celsius.

 

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Even though there is some zoom involved in the picture, we are disquietingly close to the place where the explosions happen. The channel in the foreground of the picture is in fact a lava flow descending Colima's SW flank.

 

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A steamy view to the North, with the newest lava flow going down the left side of the picture. The very top of the volcano is a flat or even slightly concave surface (just as a proper crater should be)…

 

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…In December 2013, the summit looked very different. Here, we can see a fully intact, hemispherical dome. The explosions that have taken place since then have literally blasted off the cap of the dome.

 

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After the flight: Chiara is happy about what she has seen, as well as about being safely back on solid ground.

 

As soon as we are back at the airport, the volcano starts an impressive performance of steam and ash emissions. We congratulate ourselves that we are not in an airplane above the top right now and take more pictures!

 

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This eruption column is about 4 km high and contains very little ash, as can be gathered from the bright colour. However, if you look closely, you can see some ash falling out of the cloud towards the ground.

 

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Night falls, and Fuego de Colima continues its show.

 

We could show you plenty more pictures of Colima erupting, since it continued similarly throughout the rest of our stay (and is still ongoing!) and we were quite trigger-happy. But this blog entry is already quite long, so if you want to see more of Colima volcano, we would like to refer you to the freely accessible webcam that delivers live, high-quality pictures right to your computer screen. As I said, there are several eruptions like the ones shown above every day, so if you spend some time with it, chances are that you will be live witness of a proper volcanic eruption!

 

Sadly, our time at Colima is already over now, and also our field campaign draws to a close. Stop by here shortly for final, picturesque remarks about our work in Mexico.

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Boomerang in Antarctic conservation

Posted by Conservators Aug 22, 2012

Author: Martin

Date: 21.8.2012

Temperature:  12 degree C

Wind Speed: n/a

Wind chill: n/a

Sunrise: About 6am

Sunset About 7pm

 

It might sound exciting, but it really is not much fun to be on a boomerang flight. Yesterday we were all set to fly to Antarctica to replace the current team of international conservators working on  artefacts from the historic huts from the heroic era.

 

Five hours in a cargo plane to Antarctica, ¾ of an hour circling and unsuccessfully  trying to land and 5 hours flying back to arrive where we started from in Christchurch. Boomerang flight is indeed a very appropriate name.

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Exciting views of a continent under ice – Credit: AHT/Falcon

 

It is also a timely reminder that it is the weather which so often dictates what we can or can't do in this remote place. Patience, flexibility and the ability to accept it are useful qualities to have when working in Antarctica.

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Flying back – Credit: AHT/Falcon

 

Compared, however, with what the early explorers had to endure, a boomerang flight which delivers us safely back to Christchurch hardly deserves a mention. Scott and Shackleton and their men had to cope with conditions on their journeys which are incomprehensible to us today. They literally put their lives on the line in order to go where nobody had been before and they could never be sure whether they would come back at all.  

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Going again in Antarctic conservation

Posted by Conservators Aug 22, 2012

Author: Martin

Date: 19.8.2012

Temperature:  12 degree C

Wind Speed: n/a

Wind chill: n/a

Sunrise: About 6am

Sunset About 7pm

 

 

I am about to go 'to the ice' with the Antarctic Heritage Trust for the fifth summer in a row. The main focus will be conserving artefacts in and around the historic hut of Robert Falcon Scott at Cape Evans. While a lot of the pre-deployment briefings and preparations here in Christchurch have become a pleasant routine, the sense of privilege and excitement about being able to live and work for a while in this indescribable part of the world never changes.

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Enjoying Antarctica in Christchurch – Credit: AHT/Lizzie

 

Often people ask what it is that makes me want to go again. The answer is threefold and usually the same every time. I get to work with a small international team of wonderful people on  a project with world heritage status and all of that in an environment which never ceases to overwhelm me. So as long as I answer like that I am happy to be involved, look forward to going again and don't mind encountering -25 degrees C  tomorrow.  

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US Airforce plane ready to go – Credit:  AHT/Falcon

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Author: Georgina
Date: 14/03/12
Temperature: -8.7c
Wind Speed: 7 kts
Temp with wind chill: -16c
Sunrise: 6:58am
Sunset 9:02pm


The last few weeks have seen a great many changes as Scott Base has made the transition from summer to winter mode.  The summer is a hectic period of 24-hour daylight when there can be  as many as 90 people on base at any time, made up of science teams and project groups as well as support staff.  Now however, we are down to our full winter complement of 14; a skeleton base crew of 10, plus our 4 AHT conservators.  Officially this change was marked by the flag ceremony, a tradition dating back to 1957, when the youngest person on base is tasked with lowering the old summer flag and hoisting up the winter version; a small pennant-type standard that can better withstand the inclement weather to come.

 

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Flag ceremony at Scott Base © AHT/Susanne


Now, postcards and letters home have been hastily written to make the last mailbag, and last-minute orders of supplies and fresh vegetables have been received.  Finally, last Tuesday our crew gathered outside to toast the departure of the final flight from Pegasus Air Strip. Now there will be no movement on or off the continent until August.  An exciting time for all.

 

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The McMurdo ice pier used during summer for off-loading ship cargo; no longer needed and destroyed at the start of winter with high explosives

© AHT/Georgina

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Author: Susanne
Date: February 15, 2012
Temperature: -8 °C
Wind Speed: 32 km/h
Temp with wind chill: -17°C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A


One of the most adventurous things we get to do in Antarctica is to take a helicopter ride to visit the historic expedition bases at Cape Evans and Cape Royds. After several safety briefings, we suit up in our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear and head to the helicopter pad. This can be an intense experience with a loud, heart thumping rotor beating overhead, but the flight crew and Scott Base staff move us safely on board and on our way, enjoying the fantastic scenery that Antarctica has to offer.


After unloading our gear and survival bags at Cape Royds, the helicopter was quickly off to see to another science team. We had a few hours to enjoy the base and appreciate the daily life that Shackleton and his men endured before packing up to meet the helicopter at our scheduled time.  In the meantime the weather had changed.

 

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Setting up camp near the survival wannigan in a Condition 2 storm © AHT/Georgina


After several hours of waiting and regular radio contact with Scott Base, the weather was continuing to worsen to a Condition 2 category with low visibility and high winds. We quickly realised we would be staying the night at Cape Royds. All eight of us snuggly fit into a survival wannigan nearby which provided some sense of relief and a respite from the cold. The survival bags had enough food for three days and tents to provide shelter for the night. Our time was spent as I imagined in a similar to the early explorers by telling stories and playing games with the limited items in the survival wannigan. The following day, the weather continued to change dramatically between beautiful open skies and reduced visibility. Our only chance was to find a window of opportunity for the helicopter to safely travel between Scott Base and Cape Royds. That window came just as we were breaking into lunch and that feeling of hearing the chopper blades in the distance was indescribable.

 

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Relaxing in the living room area © AHT/Georgina

 

This experience was a true testament to how unpredictable the weather can be. Safety precautions, serious training, and regular scenarios are a reminder that we do live in an extreme environment. We were thankful to have the necessary items we needed such as a primus stove, food, and shelter, and I was that much more humbled by the experiences that the men from Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition men endured for several years in the spirit of exploration and science.

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Posted by  Jane


Date: 23rd February 2011
Temperature: -11.5°C
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -15°C
Sunrise: 00.28
Sunset 03.48

 

Last  week Scott Base hosted an emotional memorial for the victims of the Mount Erebus crash that occurred in November 1979. The sightseeing plane crashed into the side of Mount Erebus killing all 257 people on board.

 

Photo 1.jpg

The memorial service, overlooking the Ross Ice Shelf and pressure ridges.credit Troy Beaumont

 

The 115 family members of the victims were flown down on a New Zealand Defence Forces Boeing 757 to Pegasus airfield. They were then bussed to Scott Base for a memorial service at a Koru which looks out at Mount Erebus. There is an identical Koru at the crash site, but it would have been impossible to take everyone there for logistical reasons.

 

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Blessing the Koru. credit Troy Beaumont.

 

The Koru at Scott Base is a memorial for people at Scott Base and McMurdo, dedicated to all those who have died in Antarctica. Unfortunately, the weather began to deteriorate following the memorial, so we were not able to provide the full guided tour of the base before our guests had to leave but we did take them down to the base for a quick afternoon tea before being bussed back to the plane.
 

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Posted by Julie

 


Date: 2/2/2011
Temperature: -10.4
Wind Speed: 9.5
Temp with wind chill: -15

At breakfast the morning  when we were scheduled to leave, Jane said, “I don’t feel like we’re going to Antarctica.”  Guess what – Jane’s psychic!  We checked in and were given a short briefing, we boarded a C17 US military plane, and we flew five hours to Antarctica wearing our extreme weather gear.  And then we circled around… and around… and around… After about an hour of circling it was no big surprise when we were told that due to weather conditions on the ground, we were not going to land.  And so, we turned around and flew five more hours back to Christchurch – i.e., we were “boomeranged.”

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Jane and Sarah react to the announcement that we’re going back to Christchurch  © AHT/Julie

 

There aren’t many windows in the belly of a C17 (it’s like a machine room with wings, and the noise is deafening), but there are a few portholes.  We took turns at those windows and got a look at Antarctica: blue water with tabular icebergs and “pancake ice” on the approach, and then blindingly white mountains with blue and purple shadows on the continent (the photos don’t do it justice).  At one point we were invited up to the cockpit for a few seconds, where we had a panoramic view of Antarctica from the air.

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Antarctica from the cockpit of the C17 © AHT/Sarah

 

The next morning was déjà vu.  We got ready to leave again, but with one difference: when we asked Jane how she felt about the flight, she said she felt good about it.  Guess what, she was psychic again!  After flying back to Antarctica for five hours, we suddenly banked, put down the landing gear, and landed on the ice airstrip.  It was a beautiful day on the ground, and on our short drive from the airfield to Scott Base there was even a group of Emperor penguins near the road.

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Posted by Cricket & Diana

 

Date:             18 August 2010
Sunrise:          Below horizon
Sunset:
Temperature:  -32C
Wind Speed:  30 knots
Temp with wind chill: -65C

 

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Boarding the C-17  © AHT/C Harbeck

 

We boarded the U.S. Air Force’s C-17 plane just after lunch along with almost 120 other people and left Christchurch, New Zealand, for Antarctica, where we will be spending the next 6 months working on the artefact collection of Scott’s 1910–13 Antarctic expedition.  We were in awe of the plane.  Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III is the preferred plane for these types of transport because it has a large carrying capacity and can fly to the ice and back all in one day and on one tank of gas.  It’s a huge plane, which, having watched the previous day’s flight take off, appears a heavy and pokey beast when leaving the ground.  However, in the plane, it felt much different. We were surprised by the speed and force, which jerked us back into our seats.

 

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Inside the C-17 © AHT/D Komejan

We were 2 of 3 “Kiwis” (slang term for New Zealanders) on the flight with the remaining passengers heading for the U.S. base, McMurdo.  Our departure time was unusual since most flights during late winter leave Christchurch in the early morning in order to land on the ice during a small window of daylight.  Our afternoon flight was scheduled so that the pilots could practice landing during the Antarctica nighttime with their new night vision goggles - a daunting initiation to the ice!  Our flight covered 4000km in only 5 hours, and we deplaned in time to see the last glow of sun.  Stunning.

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Jane wrote:
Date:                       11 August 2010
Temperature:            -28.7°C
Wind Speed:            10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -45°C
Moonrise:                 Below horizon
Moonset:                  Below horizon

 

It’s almost Winfly (the start of flights into Antarctica following four months of total darkness and six months of isolation for the New Zealand team on the Ice). On Friday we are expecting the first flight since the 5th of March. The Winfly flights are bringing new people and supplies- including fresh fruit and vegetables. Whilst the prospect of new people is a bit daunting after spending almost six months with just 211 other people (which includes all from Scott Base and the American research station at McMurdo), we are all looking forward to the freshies (fresh fruit and vegetables). Hopefully T3 polar syndrome, which causes memory loss among other things, will not get the better of us, causing the freshies to be collected and the new people to be forgotten out on the ice runway.

 

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View of Scott Base from the windfarm at midday.
© AHT/J. Hamill

 

It is still dark but now the sunlight is beginning to make a welcome appearance on the horizon in the middle of the day. Today I travelled out onto the Ross Ice Shelf to check on one of the science experiments measuring the sea ice. The sky was overcast but a tantalizing glow over the Transantarctics heralded the return of the sun. We have another 7 days to wait until it climbs above the horizon, but it is really beginning to feel like the long dark night is finally coming to an end.

 

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View of Mount Erebus at midday with Inaccessible Island in the Ross Ice Shelf to the left.
© S.Sun

 

We are finishing up our work in the lab and getting ready to hand over to the summer team of conservators who arrive on Saturday. It’s hard to believe that we have been here over six months and even harder to imagine we will be leaving in just over a week!