What It’s Like to Work As a Volcanologist

There’s science you do in a lab, and then there’s science that requires hands-on—and sometimes treacherous—work. For volcanologists, that’s all part of the appeal.

In "Volcanology: Life in the Field," filmmaker Zach Voss provides a short, behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to study these often unpredictable landforms. The Santa Maria and Santiaguito volcanoes near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala are the area of focus for the scientists in the film—the latter of which erupts every hour, making it a perfect "laboratory volcano."

The volcanologists discuss the danger and excitement of the job, and that constant push and pull to get close to the action for the sake of retrieving data, but far enough away to stay safe. The dynamic nature of their subject means it can often be difficult to get samples and measurements for further study, far away from the danger zone.

As volcanologist Bill Rose says: "These are not people who stay in their lab. These are people who really go out and look at things and see what’s going on, and there’s no substitute for that. And that's why this place is so extraordinary."

Voss’s short was picked up by National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase, which you can learn more about over at the NatGeo website.

Banner image: Wikimedia Commons

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Human Activity Has Permanently Altered Earth, for Better or Worse (Mostly Worse)

Modern humans have roamed Earth for just a few hundred thousand years. In the grand scheme of things, that's a very short period. But in that time, we’ve triggered mass extinctions of plants and animals, polluted the planet, and developed nuclear weapons—and our legacy will linger in both nature and the geologic record long after historical records have been lost, according to Ted-ED’s video below.

Modern humans have altered the Earth’s landscape and atmosphere so profoundly that some scientists say we’ve ushered in a new epoch called the Anthropocene, or "new age of humankind," from anthropo (human) and cene (new). Before this, we were living in the Holocene (meaning “entirely recent”), which began around 11,700 years ago and faded sometime around 1950.

The 1950s ushered in both the plastics revolution and the atomic age, both of which permanently introduced chemicals into Earth’s fossil record. Meanwhile, humans have also shaped long-term plant and animal evolution with agriculture, fishing, and hunting. In short, our actions have long-term consequences, even if the human species ends up being a blip on the geologic time scale. Remember that the next time you drink from a plastic bottle, or see a cloud of smoke billowing through the sky.

This Just In
Spelunkers Discover New Caverns in Montréal's Ancient Cave Network

An ancient cave system beneath a Montréal park is much more vast than experts believed, the National Post reports.

In 1812, a farmer discovered a cave underneath his property in Montréal’s present-day Saint-Léonard borough. Once used to stockpile ammunition and conceal soldiers during the Rebellions of 1837, the Saint-Léonard cave system in Parc Pie XII is today a tourist attraction and historical landmark. But some speleologists (cave experts) suspected there was more to the natural wonder than met the eye.

Beginning in 2014, two amateur explorers named Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc began searching for undiscovered passages in the Saint-Léonard caverns, according to National Geographic. By 2015 they had some leads; in October 2017, they used drills and hammers to break down a cave’s wall to reveal a new cavern.

The stalactite-filled chamber has soaring 20-foot ceilings, and it's connected to a serpentine network of underground tunnels. These passages formed during the Ice Age around 15,000 years ago, when glacier pressure splintered underground rock.

So far, Caron and Le Blanc have explored between 820 to 1640 feet of virgin cave passage, and expect to find even more. They believe the vast network sits atop an aquifer, and ultimately leads to the Montréal water table.

Spelunking the Saint-Léonard cave system is challenging—some passages are filled with water or require special climbing or rock-breaking equipment. The explorers hope that the caves will be easier to investigate during the dry season, and that the receding waters will allow them to reach new depths below Montréal’s surface.

[h/t National Post]


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