Skip navigation

Manage categories

Close

Create and manage categories in Earth sciences news. Removing a category will not remove content.

Categories in Earth sciences news
Add a new category (0 remaining)

Manage Announcements

Close

Create and manage announcements in Earth sciences news. Try to limit the announcements to keep them useful.

Announcements in Earth sciences news
Subject Author Date Actions

Blog Posts

20 Posts 1 2 Previous Next
0

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.

 

Three weeks of amazing fieldwork at two of the most active volcanoes of the world have come to an end: Popocatépetl and Colima, you have been very generous to us, both in terms of large quantities of promising samples and impressive levels of activity. Now that we are back in London, we want to conclude this blog for the time being with some take-home impressions of our beautiful Mexican volcanoes.

 

As scenic and contemplative these pictures may be, all the steam puff, ash clouds and fresh lava streams are a constant reminder of the immense destructive powers slumbering within these giant volcanoes, posing imminent danger to its surroundings. Both Popo and Colima have shown increasing levels of activity in the last months, making detailed real-time monitoring as well as fundamental studies of the underlying principles of the volcanoes’ dynamics even more pressing and important.

 

Using the samples we collected during the last three weeks, we, at the Natural History Museum and Imperial College will work hard in the future to contribute to the understanding of how Popo and Colima work.

 

There is more fieldwork at Popo to come in the next years, and of course we will be covering these trips at this exact place again. Until then, enjoy the pictures and be sure to watch out for a forthcoming NatureLive event at the Museum’s Attenborough Studio, where we will be talking in detail about our exciting trip to Popo and Colima! Thanks for reading.

 

Cloudy.jpg

Popo as seen from Paso de Cortes: The wind blows the impressive steam plume to the NE.

 

View from Creep village.jpg

Looking South: The mildly snow-capped Popo towers in a surreal way over the trees surrounding ‘La Cascada’ resort.

 

Volcano Train.jpg

A last view from our hotel in Amecameca: Popo bids farewell to us with a nice trail of steam puffs.

 

Colima_clouds.jpg

The danger within the clouds: Fuego de Colima. Even through the cloud cover, one can make out the gases that are constantly exhaled from the summit.

 

Colima_lobe.jpg

The black lava flow in the center of this image has been emplaced during the last two years of activity of Fuego de Colima. The ‘clouds’ you can see here are actually gases coming from this lava flow, which is still hot.

 

Steam_Colima.jpg

Twin peaks: The steaming, several hundreds of degrees hot summit area of Fuego de Colima in the foreground, and its snow-capped older sister volcano, Nevado de Colima, in the background.

0

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.)

 

FuegoNevado0.jpg

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:

 

nodome3.jpg

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

 

nodome2.jpg

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.

 

topview.jpg

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)…

 

Dome2013.jpg

…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.

 

Afterflight.jpg

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!

 

Eruption.jpg

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.

 

in the mood.jpg

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.

1

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.

 

This uncomfortably oblique photograph marks the end of this year’s fieldwork at Popo. As you can see, we have been extraordinarily successful in collecting samples:

Trunkful of Rock.jpg

All in all, we have collected twelve boxes full of pumice and lava in the last two weeks, each of them weighing about 20 kg!

 

Moreover, not only have we been doing well in bagging rocks, but we also made many important field observations, such as the relation of the different volcanic units in time and space. This is essential for the proper handling and analysis of our samples.

 

As soon as our heavy load arrives at the Natural History Museum, I will crush the rocks into tiny pieces and examine them using different types of microscopes. We are confident that this will tell us intriguing stories about how Popo works. The adventure has just begun!

 

But first, we will drive this trunkful of rocks to Mexico City, where we will also say ‘muchissimas gracias’ and ‘hasta luego’ to Julie, who will fly back to London, and also to Hugo and Guillem, who will stay in Mexico City. Chiara and me will stay in Mexico for another week, which we will mostly spend in Colima. There, about 500km West of Popo, the ‘Fuego de Colima’ volcano is currently very active, with several small eruptions every day. We are excited to go there and see some nice ashclouds, and of course, we will keep you posted about our ventures in West Mexico!

0

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.

 

After our dirty but successful pumice-rich first week at Popocatépetl, we were all happy to get that dust off our shoulders and start chasing the various lava flows that make up most of the volcano edifice. Now, if the whole volcano is built by lava flows, it should be really easy to find these rocks, shouldn’t it? The short answer is: no. The longer, picturesque answer will take you into the wild, rough and bumpy world of Popo’s lower flanks, where a good rock is as hard to find as a sleeping baby lion in the vast African savannah. Join us on the magical ROCK SAFARI!

 

Early in the morning, when Popo is still entangled by the night’s misty claws, we make our way from the hotel in Amecameca towards the south-eastern flank of Popo, the land of the sneaky rocks.

 

savannah.jpg

Somewhere down there they are hiding: the Popocatepetl lava flows!

 

No Road.jpg

On the lookout for rocks: moving in this terrain makes you reconsider what you may call a ‘road’.

 

What makes it so difficult to find these lava flows is the fact that most of them are buried by a thick cover of the Popo pumices (not again!) and lahar deposits. So in many cases the only thing we can find on top of these dirty deposits are loose boulders of rock, which we can’t even be sure belong to the place we find them lying. A tedious job requiring lots of caution!

 

Kill 1.jpg

An easy catch: can you spot the rock?

 

Kill 2.jpg

Julie finds a rock that has tried to hide away from our hammers…

 

Kill 2a.jpg

…we took care of it.

 

Such a seek-and-destroy campaign can easily take a couple of hours for one lava flow and is not necessarily successful. However difficult it may be, when you finally spot a nondescript, lichen-covered rock specimen, the adrenaline you feel while smashing it into pieces to see what species it is pays off generously.

Kill 4.jpg

Another boulder from a Popo lava flow successfully tracked down.

 

One factor that contributes to our (otherwise rather questionable) sense of adventurism during this rock safari is the daily recurrence of a group of local forest watchdogs roaming around the terrain. The first time they came, they only surrounded our car with a grim look on their faces, checking if we were hunters (if they could only know!).

 

The second time, they had machetes (they were cleaning the roads from vegetation) and we had to give them some money so they’d let us pass. The third time, it was already getting dark, and they had shotguns to guard a road against any people with mischief in mind. We certainly didn’t at this point. The good thing is that by now they know us and they greet us cheerfully every time we pass them.

 

easy catch.jpg

Obviously, we weren’t keen on photographing the shotgun watchdogs, so instead we present evidence that some lava flows are not good at hiding away. This the Nealticán lava flow, which is the most recent of Popocatépetl’s lava flows (in geological terms, ‘recent’ means younger than 2,000 years). Because of its young age, it is not covered by a lot of deposits and is thus widely exposed. Unfortunately, this flow is the exception to the rule.

 

In this manner, we have chased down a couple of lava flows in the past few days. We are very happy with the outcome of our rock safari and can’t wait to introduce these samples to their new temporary habitat while they are shipped to the UK: cardboard boxes!

1

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.

 

Time flies – we've already been here for a whole week! While Popo was smoking and steaming like a champion, we dived deeply into the dirty, dark side of geology during this week: We sampled ash and pumice from the four large eruptions of the last 15,000 years. For hard-rock geologists like Chiara, Julie and me, this was a challenging task. So much dust, so few proper minerals! But if you want to understand how Popo works, this is simply what you need to go through.

 

Armed with shovels of various sizes, a tape measure, our geological hammers (you never know!), and, last but not least, a hoe (romantically referred to as the ‘mano de gato’ - ‘the hand of the cat’), we went out onto Popo’s flanks to search and exploit its volcanic deposits. Hugo, the Popo expert, unerringly navigated us to the top spots, where we then got to work. The following series of pictures reveals what this actually involved:

 

El Tronco.jpg

First of all, we need to get an overview about what we see. In this case, we are looking at the deposits of at least three large eruptions of the last 5,000 years. If you want to know more about such eruptions, just ask us!

 

Closeup.jpg

Next, we describe the different layers we see. This includes the size and properties of the clasts, the structures, and the thicknesses of the units.

 

hoe.jpg

After that, we can start sampling. Sometimes it can be straightforward, sometimes you may need a helping mano de gato (‘the hand of the cat’) to clear the sampling site and guarantee a neat sample.

 

digging.jpg

Some or all parts of the layers might be covered with soil or debris. In this case, the shovels of various sizes come into play. This picture demonstrates that in doing so you may excavate more than rocks, such as the rubbish of what apparently was a big Mexican Fiesta (including diapers and mayonnaise).

 

Bomb.jpg

On other occasions, it might not be garbage, but a proper treasure that you dig out: A volcanic bomb! Hard-rock geologists, get your hammers and cameras ready!

 

Pumice.jpg

And this is what you get if you repeat the above steps for a whole week.

 

Now, this might have all been a bit nerdy, so I’ll finish this blog entry with an almost completely unrelated note. Of course we are not only interested in rocks, but also in Mexican culture. Naturally, when a worker in a quarry (we were there by chance, obviously) told us that there was a man in the nearby town San Nicolás de los Ranchos who would craft wonderful molcajetes (pestle and mortars), we went there immediately.

 

On the way there, Hugo explained to us that molcajetes are mortars especially designed for making salsa. Did I mention that they are made of rock? This is also why the salsa made using molcajetes tastes different than if you just use a simple blender – the sauce takes up the taste of the rock.

 

With this salsa-lesson learned, we were all quite keen to see these wonderful items. But how would we find the Molcajete Man in the village? It’s easier than you’d think: you just ask anyone on the street for molcajetes. He/she won’t be able to give you a helpful answer, but 3 minutes later the whole village will know about the lost tourists looking for molcajetes. Out of nowhere, a random girl will appear next to your car, offering to bring you to Molcajete Man. Being a lost tourist, you accept the offer and follow the girl for about 30 minutes through the village, which gives you the opportunity to take some tourist pictures:

 

San Nicolas 2.jpg

San Nicolás de los Ranchos is built on laharic deposits from Popocatépetl.

 

San Nicolas 1.jpg

Evacuation routes are signposted all around Popo.

 

Popoart.jpg

The presence of the volcano inspires local artists to draw their own conclusions on what happens in nature.

 

Finally, we reached the mansion of Molcajete Man. He looked different than I expected, but obviously he is a master of molcajeting.

 

Molcajete Man.jpg

Molcajete Man crafting a molcajete.

 

We would have really loved to get our own molcajete by that time, but these mortars are just way too big to transport to the UK. At least they are if you are already sending a garage full of pumice there.

 

Thus our pumice week has ended, and we enter phase two: rocks! I can already promise you it will be an exciting ride, so visit us again!

3

We are delighted to welcome you to our Popocatépetl blog, which for the next three weeks will be fed with facts, anecdotes, pictures and maybe even videos of our fieldwork at two of the currently most active volcanoes in the world: Popocatépetl (henceforth: Popo) and Colima (henceforth: Colima).

 

1 - First Popo glance.jpg

Our very first view on Popo, at dawn in Amecameca. Not yet convinced? Scroll down and prepare to be amazed!

 

But first things first: introductions. Our team includes Chiara, volcano-addicted petrologist at the Museum, Julie, passionate geochemist and lecturer at Imperial College, and me (Martin), their new PhD student. I'll be focusing all my energy on Popo in the coming years.

 

Together, we're setting out to shed light on what makes Popo erupt, a poorly understood yet very important issue, since there are more than 30 million people living around Popo – that’s about half the population of the UK! By analysing the rocks and crystals that Popo has erupted in the last 23,000 years, Chiara, Julie and myself are trying to find out more about how Popo works, which will hopefully help in forecasting future eruptions and keeping the people living there safe.

 

But to do all this, we first need rocks – a lot of rocks! And that’s exactly why we are in Mexico right now. Together with our local colleagues, Hugo and Guillem, we will spend our days at the volcano, looking for the freshest rocks around and putting them into plastic bags. As Popo is quite active in the moment, this is a quite exciting and dangerous task!

 

2 - Puff.jpg

Popo is in a steamy mood these days.

 

But before we dive into excitement and danger with you, we want to give you an idea of our experiences during the last 48 hours. We started in London Heathrow (25.3m above sea level) on Sunday night, arrived in Mexico City twelve hours later, went straight up to Paso de Cortes (3,400m a.s.l) to get a close grasp of Popo, then had a decent rest in our hotel in Amecameca, just to get up again at 5.30 the next morning for a 10-hour day of die-hard pumice sampling at almost 4,000m a.s.l.

 

Now we are a bit tired – so we thought we would give you and us an easy start with some Popo pictures, taken all around the volcano. You will surely agree that Popo is in good shape, and a truly admirable volcano – ‘a proper strat’, as Julie put it musically.

 

3 - PasoCortes.jpg

Popo as seen from Paso de Cortes - preparing for the big bang?

 

4 - cow.jpg

Volcanic eruptions are not the only danger lurking at Popo's flanks. Luckily Julie knows no fear and chases away the feral cow.

 

5 - pumice-strata.jpg

After the cow-shock we seek comfort in some good old volcano stratigraphy!

 

If you want to know what Popo does next, how we deal with the thin air and the cows, and how fashionably we collect both hard and soft rocks, we urge you to come back here. Also, don’t be afraid to leave comments, questions, and general thoughts about volcanoes.

0

The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival took place in Dorset on 2-4 May 2014. Our palaeontologists Lil Stevens and Zoe Hughes report back from a weekend of sun, sea, fossils and fun.

 

Saturday in the festival marquee was a busy one with lots of people queuing to sieve for sharks teeth from Abbey Wood (which they got to keep!).

 

Charlie Sieving.jpgCharlie Underwood sieving for teeth.

 

Elsewhere Museum staff were also quite busy. Mark Spencer and the Angela Marmont Centre (AMC) team were talking about seaweed using samples which they had collected from the beach that morning.

 

Mark spencer sorting seaweed.jpg Mark Spencer with some of his seaweed.

 

Emma Bernard’s shark measuring activity proved very popular - she had crowds of rapt people hanging onto her every word. People like big Megalodon teeth! Emma has also been busy tweeting for @NHM_FossilFish.

 

Emma and Ralph.jpgEmma Bernard with her popular shark activity.

 

Andrew Briscoe and Suzanne Hocking have been teaching people how to extract DNA from strawberries- incredible that this can be done in a marquee on the beach!

 

DNA extraction.jpgAndrew Briscoe and Suzanne Hocking showing us how to extract DNA.

 

In the rest of the marquee lots of other organisations had some great activities. Zoe Hughes discovered that she walks like a Velociraptor with Plymouth University and that she is as tall as an extinct fossil penguin from Antarctica with the British Antarctic survey.

 

Penguin height chart (BAS).jpgZoe has a look to see which penguin she is as tall as.

0

The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival took place in Dorset on 2-4 May 2014. Our palaeontologists Lil Stevens and Zoe Hughes report back from a weekend of sun, sea, fossils and fun.

 

Day one is schools day at the festival and we talked about science to lots of primary school children. Our drawing challenge was a great success and there were lots of really creative fossil reconstructions. We have attached the worksheet to this post so that you can have a go too! Tweet your pictures to #NHM_cephalopoda – we want to see what you come up with!

 

Emma Humphreys-Williams, our volcano researcher had a lot of fun today working out the best way to demonstrate a volcanic eruption. Her search for gently explosive ingredients sent her to a shop in Axminster where she was recommended ‘horse vinegar’ – coupled with bicarbonate of soda it seemed to do the trick. Cola and sherbet dibdab was much nicer smelling but not so impressive and very, very sticky! 

Volcano sized.jpg

Emma Humphries- Williams with her successfully erupting volcano!

 

Mike Rumsey showed us how to make a mobile phone out of minerals – clever! And Emma Bernard wowed everyone with her massive teeth – that’s Megalodon teeth, of course.

 

phone sized.jpg

All of the minerals needed to make a mobile phone!

 

Margaret Clegg has an amazing set of real palaeolithic hand axes from Swanscombe, one that was broken and discarded and one that was broken and then re-knapped to be used again. They’re amazing! Kent has been recycling for a long time!

margaret resized.jpgMargaret Clegg with her replica skulls explaining human evolution.

 

On Saturday and Sunday we're open to the public. There are lots of amazing activities and displays and we hear the sun is going to come out this weekend so we can recreate the tropical sea! With pasties!

0

We've packed the car and we're ready to go to this year's Fossil Festival! The Museum will be in its usual place in the main marquee on the beach near the Lyme Regis Museum - this is my first trip to Lyme so it's all new to me.

 

I'm looking forward to the tropical climate and warm, shallow sea...oh no, that was in the Jurassic period. Forecast for this weekend: cool with occasional showers and the possibility of overnight frosts. Ah well, we're in a tent!

Untitled.jpg

Museum volunteers Sam McCausland and Mike Smith pack the important stuff into the Fossilmobile.

 

This year we will be bringing anthropologist Margaret Clegg to talk about ancient humans, and palaeontologists Pip Brewer and Jerry Hooker to showcase some very ancient mammals.

 

You can sieve for sharks teeth with fish curator Emma Bernard and expert David Ward, and if you can find them you can take them home with you! They will also show you how to use shark jaws and teeth to estimate the body size of some of the largest sharks ever to have lived.

 

Zoe Hughes, our cephalopod and brachiopod curator and I will be explaining how palaeontologists reconstruct fossils to work out how the animals looked when they were alive. Test your palaeo-skills with our drawing challenge! Palaeontologists Martin Munt and Noel Morris are Lyme veterans and will be on hand to answer all your most technical paleontological questions - so you'd better think of some!

 

Those mysterious Museum mineralogists are planning a sparkling surprise so come down to the beach and see some very special pebbles...

0

Saturday and Sunday at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival were busy in the tent. Lots of people swarmed around our fossil table to see the invertebrates and sharks on display, talk to our experts and get their own fossil finds identified.

 

Adrian Glover was showing off his ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), sending it out into the sea to get live images of the sea floor! Alex Ball was showing people the wonders of the scanning electon microscope and the meteorites team were explaining impacts using pink gravel.

 

ROV.jpg

Laetitia Gunton launching "REX" the ROV and Adrian Glover controlling from inside the tent.


sat_montage.jpg

Just some of the Museum scientists at work on Saturday.

 

Martin Munt, Emma Bernard and I were also called upon to do a live link-up with the Nature Live studio back at the Museum, to talk about the fossil festival and going fossil hunting. We took along a selection of specimens to help us talk about some of the things that can be found in Lyme Regis.

 

David Nicholson was live in the Attenborogh Studio with Ana Rita and some specimens from the collection we selected last week. Our filming took place at the Cobb (harbour) in glorious sunshine. This did however mean that both Emma and I got slightly sunburnt! If you do come down, make sure you've got plenty of sun cream.

 

Nature_live.jpg

Martin being interviewed for the 12.30 show (top). Me and Emma talking about a nautilus and a shark with Charlotte for the 2.30 show (below).

 

It's not just specimens on display - outside you can visit a pliosaur cinema and go on the Jurassic airline!

 

Pliosaur cinema.jpg

The Pliosaur Cinema!

 

We also had some special guests come along to talk to us: Mary Anning and Charles Darwin! (well...people dressed as them at least).

 

Mary and Charles.jpg

Mary Anning and Charles Dawrin.

 

Today is the last day of the fossil festival and its looking like is will be another busy day in the tent with lovely weather and lots of people on the beach eating ice cream.

 

We hope you have enjpyed reading this blog and hope to see you next year at the festival!


1 2 Previous Next