"Every planet has its own weird customs. About a year before we met, I spent six weeks on a moon where the principal form of recreation was juggling geese. My hand to God. Baby geese - goslings! They were juggled."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Today is my fifth day in Alaska, and it's 60 F out. Not bad! Currently FREEZING in a Borders in Anchorage, though. Trying to work on my thesis revisions, but it's just not happening. It's like climbing or hiking a really difficult route - you use serious amounts of physical and mental energy getting to the goal, but when the goal's in sight, you collapse...not quite there, but almost.

The geology we saw on our trip from Socorro, NM, was spectacular. I've always loved northwest New Mexico, but it just got better after we left the state. My last impression of Utah was a never-ending desert with mountains in the distance you could never reach because it was so flat. My new impression is that Utah is a dynamic state, packed with history and exposed geology. We drove a ways into Arches National Park to see the Windows section, but saw the enormous Moab normal fault, hoodoos, fins, balancing rocks, pretty much all manner of amazing desert formations.

The next day, we realized our hotel was located a mile north of a geyser. A cold geyser - one that ejects water and CO2. When we arrived on site, the geyser was gushing away noisily. CO2 poured out the top of the pipe and refracted light...I wondered how much it expels a day. Shortly after, the geyser ceased and mudpots just 30-40 feet away began filling with water and bubbled away. About 30 minutes later, they completely drained, and the geyser began bubbling up again. Totally fascinating.

We spent two full days wandering around Washington state, including a day on Rainier to measure the temperature of the springs in Longmire meadow and to see a really fantastic video of the park in Paradise. I took my mom to the northwest side of St. Helens to peak into the breached crater, but we only got *just* close enough to see the very northern tip of the dome. Coldwater Visitor Center was closed, as was the road to the Johnson Ridge Observatory. Another attempt at getting to the JRO spoiled. Someday, right?

I thought the northern Canadian Rockies would top all ranges I've ever seen, until we spotted the St. Elias mountains. They closely resemble the enormity of the Himalayas and extend 300 miles - the Magdalena Mountains in New Mexico are only 18 miles long. The St. Elias are just 10 million years old - once more to compare, the volcanic rocks of the Magdalenas are about 32-28 million years old.

Totally stunning.

Curving around the Yukon and into Alaska, a very narrow view of the Kluane ice field was visible. The ice field is the largest non-polar field in the world, and I think I read the ice is up to 2,200 feet thick. Wish we could have seen the interior closer.

Finally reaching Denali National Park, we were able to drive to mile 33 on the Park road due to good road conditions (a first this time of year since 1980). We only got a short glimpse of Denali from 76 miles away. The drive showed me how much work I have to get done at Denali, and how hard this work will be to complete.

We tried to find some glaciers on the Kenai Peninsula, but it was raining hard the entire day yesterday. Portage would have been our best bet, but the boats are out of service until May and the lake is frozen over. I walked down to it from the gate but there was nothing to be seen.

And now, I have to finish this thesis forever. Santiaguito just had its biggest explosion since 1989 - not something I would have expected for a lower extrusion rate.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I miraculously passed my thesis defense. It was truly brutal, though. I'm disappointed in myself for not performing the way I practiced. My defense took about 20 minutes from what I'm told. I just started crashing - whenever I messed up, I just imagined it snowballing in my mind to the point where I wouldn't be at all successful. The audience asked some good questions, but I had a hard time with a few of them. The committee interrogation took about 1.5 hours, really was a painful experience. When they excused me to discuss, I sat in the office swearing to my friends surrounding me that I'd failed. Alas, when my advisor opened the door inviting me back it, he immediately shook my hand. I haven't seen him smile that broadly in a *long* long time. Maybe he's just excited to get rid of me?

So a bunch of us hung out and camped at San Lorenzo canyon to celebrate. Toasted champagne and all that. We assumed the weather would be cold and super windy, but NM shocked us! The entire night was gorgeous, minus a little wind. Woke up at 7 a.m. to the sun shining on the conglomerate cliffs.

Got to pack! Heading to Alaska tomorrow!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The night before the defense

Tomorrow I defend my master's thesis in geology. Now that the day is really finally here (it's actually 12:30 a.m. so TODAY is the day!), I sort of wish I had been able to prepare further in advance. I'm a neurotic speaker. I tweak and poke at my presentation until the very last second, and tend to write up what I want to say - and if I can't get those words right, I get thrown off.

This is exactly the case, now. My thoughts are sort of finally coming together just now after repeating the entire presentation to myself all day. Memorization has never been a strong point. Like the dates of Santiaguito - it began extruding in 1922 with Caliente. Activity shifted 700 m west to La Mitad in 1939 (took me forever to erase '1938' from my mind and replace it with '1939'). Activity shifted again in 1949 to El Monje, and once more to El Brujo in 1958. Caliente began erupting concurrently with El Brujo in 1968, and El Brujo ceased activity in 1977... Caliente has been erupting ever since. And extrusion rates! Extrusion rates of 0.6-2.1 m^3 s-1 are 'high' and last for 3-5 years at Santiaguito... 'low' extrusion rates of 0.2 m^3 s-1 last from 10-12 years.

And THEN I've got to remember all the calculations and numeric results of my project.

It's odd, but I haven't felt any anxiety about this presentation until just a couple hours ago. I used to love giving presentations in my undergrad, but things were different in grad school. I lost my confidence and feel I'm only just now building it back up again. If only I could just remember the whole speech I wrote out for this, despite my aversion towards prefabricated talks.

Half the car is packed and ready to go. If I don't pass, the trip to Alaska is going to be a pretty depressing couple of weeks. I can't think about not passing though, it can't be an option.