Monday, 24 August 2015

The final week - The Labs!

So this is my last post for the Canaries fieldwork.

The last week of the internship we spent in the InVolcan labs at ITER (the Institute for Technology and Renewable Energy).

This is where we learnt about the equipment used to analyse all the samples we had spent the last three weeks collecting, how to run samples for ourselves and how the data is used to generate diffuse degassing maps referred to as sequential Gaussian simulations (sGs). These maps can be used to highlight the locations of fractures and faults that are actively used as gas conduits.

At InVolcan they use micro-Gas Chromatography as this is more sensitive to CO2 and Quadrupole Mass Spectrometry as this is more sensitive to Helium. In both cases these are quantitative analyses, simply looking for the overall values of these two gases within the total gases that are rising to the surface - providing information about the total gas composition. At InVolcan they also use Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry to analyse CO2 in more detail. This fancy bit of kit determines the ratio between two different Carbon isotopes 13C/12C. With this information, it is possible to determine the source of the carbon dioxide rising to the surface - is it's main source of a biogenic nature or a magmatic nature. As InVolcan monitor and analyse in this way every year, they can also compare past results and study any notable changes.

Running samples through the micro-gas chromatography system

Island residents and visitors alike can be safe in the knowledge that Mount Teide, along with many other volcanic systems in the Canaries and other locations including Cape Verde, Iceland and Nicaragua are regularly monitored, so any changes will be identified, monitoring will be increased accordingly, and, if needs alert levels will be changed.

Of course, it is not just the monitoring of diffuse degassing that is monitored. There are many more techniques used to monitor the behaviour of a volcanic system that ultimately contribute to what happens with alert levels and the safety of the islanders. 

Buenas Noches or I really should once again say Lala Salama!

Day 22 - 24 - A few extra curricular adventures

Firstly, please let me take a moment to apologise for the very late finishing of this blog! The last week in the Canaries was quite a busy one and on my return to the UK, the following five weeks were very busy with plans for Kenya fieldwork - from where I now write this, one week in!

So after arriving back on Tenerife after a very early sailing from La Palma, I spent Thursday recovering from the lack of sleep and catching up on some of my own work. And Friday ended up being an unplanned beach day because the Tenerife interns had not yet finished their sampling due to a bad tyre blow out that also damaged the wheel!

So Saturday we finally went on a little Tenerife based adventure that led me to climb my third 'Decade Volcano' - summiting Mount Teide.

The decade volcanoes are 17 volcanoes listed as being worthy of detailed studies in light of their large, explosive and destructive pasts and their proximity to populated areas. The other two decade volcanoes are Mount Vesuvius and Mount Etna (with many others climbed, but not included on this list.

So, the day started at 9am when Ignacio collected us from the apartment, followed by a winding climb through the mountains, stopping at a fossilised pine tree and of course for a Barrachito!

Fossilised pine tree in lava

Once arriving at Mount Teide's cable car station we met with David Calvo from InVolcan who would be our guide, and a camera crew who would be filming the Tenerife interns as we were on La Palma. I suppose using a cable car to take us most of the way is cheating, but it was incredibly hot.

The ride was only about 5 minutes, and once out and grouped together, we started the final 'permit only' ascent. Once we had all reached the top, we continued beyond the barriers across the steaming crater to the top of the west flank where we could see Pico Viejo from above, a view not seen by many.

About half way up the final leg with Las Canadas caldera behind me

Once the filming commitments were completed, we had a wander around inside the crater, paying particular attention to the incredibly hot fumaroles

A view across the summit crater of Mount Teide

The view of Pico Viejo as seen from the west flank

Once the filming commitments for the Tenerife interns was completed, we had a walk across the crater where there are high temperature fumaroles and sulphur deposits - nice smell of rotten eggs that clings to everything. David explained the temperatures have gradually increased in very recent years and along with soil gas sampling across the Canary Islands, the temperatures and the composition of the fumarole discharge is also monitored. 

Once climbing back down to the upper cable car station, we went to have a look at one of the geochemical monitoring stations. Although Mount Teide is part of the annual Volcanic Risk programme, the monitoring station also monitors remotely, the composition of the diffuse degassing on a regular basis, concentrating on the gases that are not always included in the annual monitoring programme. 

A sceond adventure took place on MOnday evening after a day in the labs. We finally got to visit one of the many huge lava tubes. 

The original plan was to visit a tube that is open to the public, but we would have had most of the time in the tube to ourselves as we would have been visiting after hours. However, Ignacio and Sharon thought it would be more fun to visit one that was not on the tourist trail.

So after our day in the labs, off we went on a little drive for about an hour we arrive at our destination where two cavers are waiting to kit us out with hard hats, head torches (to be expected), followed by gloves, knee pads and elbow pads! 

A small climb down a steep bank and we are ready to go. After having to step on the knee of one of the cavers in order to reach a narrow ledge, it was an almost commando style crawl through the entrance that then opened up above our heads by several meters, very impressive!

All kitted out and ready to go caving. In a lava tube!

The cavers know the lava tube well, so we were in safe hands. They were telling us about how the caves are sometimes used to drain away waste water which is a problem for the island as the aquifer is just below. They also spoke of how new species of animals and insects were being discovered in the network of lava tubes sometimes on a daily basis! But as so little is still known about the caves, the government are very reluctant to invest in the protection of the caves. Yet this place is well deserving of SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). We were in the lava tube for about 2 hours, moving approximately 300m in under Mount Teide.

Inside the lava tube - at this section the roof was in the region of 10 meters above our heads. Yet other areas we had to crawl along on our fronts!

We spent about 10  minutes sat with all our head torches switched off, which was really odd. It was so dark that if it wasn't for brain signals that tell us our eyes are open or shut, there would be no way of knowing - does that make sense?

By the time we came back out of the lava tube, it was dark and we were all hungry! Time for some food and to head back to our apartment ready for tomorrow in the labs.

As I have been so busy the past 2 months, I am finishing this off from my new field location, Menengai caldera in the East African Rift Valley. so it is not Buenas Noches, but Lala Salama!