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Field work with Nature Live

4 Posts tagged with the volcano tag
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It was only a matter of time: yesterday morning CENAPRED (Mexico's National Centre for the Prevention of Disasters) raised the alert level on Popo from yellow phase 2 to 3. This is the third highest warning on the seven step scale.

 

The Mexican newspaper, La Jornada reported almost a week of 'high amplitude tremors, with persistent emission of ash and gas that reached over 3.5m above the crater.' Incandescent fragments rising up to a kilometre high issue from Popo at present, where our team stood 5,000m up back in February. I ponder this as I type to you from the safety of the terracotta 'womb' of our beloved Museum.

 

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Popo during quieter times in February. Dave, Chiara and Hugo survey their impending climb.

 

Who best to contact than Chiara, who knows more than most about the psychology of this restless giant? Following the recent activity of volcanic tremors and earthquakes she explained that, 'In the last couple of weeks, the dome has been destroyed. The caldera [a cauldron like feature, formed by the land collapsing after an eruption] is full to the brim and the fear is that lava may begin to flow outside the rim.'

 

There are currently no plans to evacuate but she said, ' The area within which you cannot go has been extended. At least until we know which of the two scenarios will now happen.'  By this, Chiara refers to Popo returning to a normal level of activity or continuing this temptestuous episode.

 

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A letter to Popo. If you're going to erupt, don't do it without me. 

 

'It's very hard to tell what will happen at the moment. Popo is a very dangerous volcano.' It's here that despite being on the telephone in another part of the Museum, I sense that smile crossing her lips. The one I remember from our fieldwork in Mexico in February. ' I sent an article about this to Dave last week,' she continues, 'I told him what we need to do right now. Is to go back ...'

 

Watch this space to see how things develop!

 

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After a 24hr door-to-door journey from London, Lee and I secure our hire car and take on the streets of Mexico City. The traffic carries us along as it weaves and bobs haphazardly; the pavements are alive with switched on, purposeful looking residents. We’re roused from our jetlag by the hustle and bustle of the roads but crash back down to earth the instant we reach the hotel.

 

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It's bumper to bumper, the vehicles have indicators but I've not yet seen one lit.

 

There are approximately 24 million people living in Mexico City (that's almost 4 Greater Londons!) and it’s impossible to prepare for the field work ahead without considering the impact this volcano has had on the people that live in its shadow. 15 eruptions have occurred since the Spanish arrived in 1519 A.D. with an unknown quantity before. Then, after fifty years of quiet, in 1994 a series of earthquakes signalled that eruptions had started.

 

A cloud of ash could be seen over its peak and it fell on the nearby city of Puebla. Civil defense evacuated 19 villages (a population of 31,000 people) east of Popo. By Christmas of that year, the total number of evacuees reached 75,000 and a ban on climbing the volcano for non-scientific visitors has been in place ever since.

 

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A local squeezes through traffic.

 

We make an early start and drive to Amecameca, the town we’ll use as our base from which to climb Popo. Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ and breakneck-speed Spanish pumps from the radio as we tackle the GPS and the ‘soup’ of traffic. The map and the actual roads don’t always match but wrong turnings show us more of a landscape I already love.

 

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Municipal buses don't come any cooler.

 

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Gentle hustle on the busy streets.

 

Popo was visible from Mexico City but as we travel out in our car, the built-up scenery subsides to be replaced by quarries and swathes of red earth as the volcano begins to dominate our view. If Lee climbs like he drives he’ll conquer this giant, no problem. I stare in awe at the smoke plumes rising from its summit and think, ‘Will my climbing boots melt up there?’

 

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View from our car on the 115 to Amecameca.

 

Checked in at our base in Amecameca, we explore the town and gaze up at Popo. You find yourself wanting to see it from wherever you stand.

 

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The bar at Hotel Fontesanta, with neon palms and cutlery timepiece. Oh, and Popo on the horizon. 

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Sunset from nearby town San Pedro Nexapa

 

We’ve arranged to meet National Park official Agustin, to gain access to the park and get closer to Popo. Lunchtime’s late in Amecameca and by 16:00 we’re greeted by a hulking great man with a warm demeanour and an unhurried efficiency. Gabriella and Gisella run the education programme and agree to an escorted drive part way up Popo. Lee and I depart for lunch. You’ve never seen two people eat cactus quesadillas so fast or with so much excitement.

 

A winding 3,600m drive up to Paso de Cortes, our breathing begins to feel heavy, our heads light. In the thinning atmosphere, I feel oxygen rich and starved all at once. Coordination feels clumsy but our sight is fixed. Lee has climbed further to grab some establishing shots of Popo and has been noticed grinning uncontrollably by one of the rangers. 'Emotion' he says knowingly as he gestures toward him. Chiara and Dave arrived Friday night and the sampling begins on Sunday.

 

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Popocatepetl: Don't hold your breath, you'll need it.

 

We arrived here by car and this is the closest view non-scientific visitors see. From here, another 300m drive up is Tlamacas and from there, the ascent on foot begins. It’s been so valuable to take in the landscape before the science begins, to spend a little time at altitude and with the people who live with this volcano.

 

‘It’s exciting to live so close to Popo’ says Nacho, one of the park rangers with an incredible smile. We smile too and whether this is in agreement or the lack of oxygen to our brains, I cannot say. One thing’s for sure, the next 9 days are going to be pretty wild.

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Team Popo

Posted by Jo - Nature Live host Feb 1, 2013

By the time you read this I will be well on the way to the Popocatepetl, perhaps even there already... so while I and the rest of the team start preparing for the real work on the most active volcano in Mexico, here's the who's who of the Museum staff on this Field work with Nature Live trip. Let's start with the people here to do the fun stuff, the scientists:

 

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Chiara Maria Petrone is Research Leader in Petrology, a branch of geology that studies the origin, composition, distribution and structure of rocks. In this role she leads the Museum research on active volcanoes and the generation of igneous rocks. What drives this research is to understand how active volcanoes work and to study the rocks to gain insight into their future activity. Likening her work to psychology, she strives to discover the hidden history of the volcano, from the initial magma formation and mineral crystallization till the final eruption.

 

She has a PhD in Igneous Petrology from the University of Florence, studied Mexican volcanic rocks as a post-doc fellow at the University of Kyoto (Japan) and at the Carnegie Institute of Washington DC (U.S.A) Since studying her PhD, Chiara has developed a wide knowledge of the volcanism of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, where Popocatepetl is situated.

 

Her C.V. is positively strewn with active volcanoes including Stromboli (Italy), Santorini (Greece), Vesuvius (Italy) and the Mexican Volcanic arc and she bravely giggles when one highlights the dangers of a volcano like Popo. It’s new to Chiara and she’s keen to climb and study it. Hers is a truly exciting journey to follow.

 

Dave_Smith.jpgDavid Smith has a Masters in Geology and joined the Museum nearly 20 years ago. His official title is Petrology Collections Manager and he is responsible for the care and preservation of approximately 200,000 rocks and ocean sediments. Want access to material in the collection? Dave’s your man. The Museum’s Collections are in incredible order due to Dave’s deft curation but the work required on these vast numbers could keep Dave busy for another twenty years. And STILL not be completed.

 

Occasionally Dave appears on television showing specimens from historical expeditions and how they are used to enhance scientific knowledge today. The interest in the collection is not only from research scientists but artists too. Whenever he gets a chance, Dave likes to take photographs.

 

His subject interest is wide but he but prefers graphic architecture and abstract imagery. The latter I know because he first provided me with a blog photo you couldn’t see his face in. Once a year he teams up with three friends to form a rowing crew called 'The Muppets' for a Berkshire Regatta. Wearing the appropriate wig, Dave is 'Animal.' I cannot wait to see his fieldwork outfit.

 

And now your intrepid reporters:

 

Lee_Quinn.jpgLee Quinn has been part of the special effects team at the Museum for seven years with an applied arts degree from Camberwell College and a BA in special effects from South Bank Uni. Specialising in audio, he provides the most entertaining of his own on work assignments with his animated chat and if you've ever visited exhibitions such as our Wildlife Photographer of the Year, you'll have heard the soundscapes he's composed too.

 

He'll not deny the idea of climbing an active volcano appeals to him, 'I bungeed off a crane in Orlando when they were first invented, so this is a natural progression for me!’

 

Lastly, I’m Jo Kessler your devoted blogger, camera-shy reporter and member of the Nature Live team at the Museum, blessed with the role of developing events with scientists and presenting them to public and school audiences. Whilst having a lifelong love of the natural world, I spent my first working decade in the music industry, representing hugely talented and inspiring role models. So, little has changed in that respect.

 

When volunteering at the Museum in 2005 (do it if you can, the rewards are endless) I completed a BA in furniture and product design but soon felt ‘the call of the wild’ and made natural science my career intead. I’m so excited by the science at the Museum my drive is to share it. So, bombard me with your thoughts and burning questions and they’ll be answered (volcano jokes notwithstanding) ...

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In just over a week we fly out to Mexico to prepare for the arrival of Museum scientists Chiara Petrone and Dave Smith. We will be following them as they ascend the 2nd highest volcano in North America and the most active in Mexico, Popocatepetl.

 

Familiar with field work on active volcanoes such as Stromboli (Italy), Santorini (Greece), Vesuvius (Italy) and the Mexican Volcanic Arc, this is new territory for Chiara, whose aim is to collect samples to bring back to the Museum to study.

 

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In early February, we'll be following Museum scientists as they perform their field work on Popocatepetl - the 2nd highest volcano in North America and the most active in Mexico. Image: Cvmontuy

 

Working alongside our scientists is Professor Hugo Delgado-Granados, a researcher from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The team are hoping to discover the entire history of the volcano from the rocks they collect, spending a working week hammering in the outcrops and climbing up to 5,000 metres, carrying rocks on their backs.

 

Reaching only a few hundred metres from it's very peak, the crater area is at present, too dangerous to climb to as 'Popo' is in an 'eruptive mood'. Let's hope this mood stays stable enough for us to climb and find specimens that will help them fully understand this incredible, natural phenomena.

 

Join the adventure and post up questions for the team on our blog posts, and come along to the Museum's Attenborough Studio where we'll live-video-link on the 5, 6 and 9 of Feb. Altenratively, kick back and watch us on a live-web-stream here. Whatever you do, do take part. We'd love the company as we scramble up a constantly erupting volcano with backpacks full of black rock.