The MAGnificent 7 Conquer the Nevada Desert

MAGnificent7 survey team When I signed up for the Potential Field Magnetics I had no idea what a great experience was in store. The most important thing was that I learned many of the techniques I needed for my research. But probably the most interesting was that somehow, our course ended up with no guys in it. For those not familiar with the state of women in graduate-level science studies, girls are still very much in the minority (though you couldn’t tell by looking at the geology department at USF). So having a PhD level science class with an all female enrollment is very unusual!

Our all-female, PhD level geophysics class.

Our all-female, PhD level geophysics class. That’s me in the red shirt in the back row.

Our instructors decided on a pretty ambitious field project for the course. We were going volcano hunting in the Amargosa Valley of Nevada. A magnetic survey by airplane a number of years ago had detected several anomalies beneath the desert sand. These anomalies were given letter designators; anomaly A, B, C, etc… The resolution of this survey was very low, so little was known about the actual features of this buried volcano Our goal was to do a high-resolution walking magnetic survey to fill in details that the aeromag survey couldn’t see. The area in question was large for a ground-based survey and would require a fairly intense walking schedule to complete in the time frame of the trip. ┬áSo we borrowed a second magnetometer and split into two teams to cover more ground.

While preparing for this trip, it became apparent that we girls had some unforseen challenges to work out. Case in point, the design of of the magnetometer and it’s harness. Some of us were a little too skinny for smallest setting on the waist strap. But the biggest problem (pun intended) was that the designers clearly assumed the wearer would be, um, well, flat-chested. As you can see in the picture one of my friends took, the unfortunate placement of the computer screen meant some or all of the screen was not visible. Luckily we worked in teams, and if needed, your walking buddy could check the read-out for you (I’ve heard that the newer versions of this system have addressed this little issue).

The girls-eye

The girls-eye “view” of the computer screen on the magnetometer ­čśë

We flew into Las Vegas then drove out to Amargosa Valley, which is a strange place. It’s the kind of strange that only Nevada can put together: vast flat desert surrounded by beautiful and desolate mountain ranges, and long, straight roads with a few quirky buildings. The only thing for miles around our study site was the Longstreet Casino Hotel – which feels like walking inside an eccentric aunt’s living room from┬áthe 1980’s, the Area 51 Truck stop/cafe/strip club, and a few derlict buildings from tourist eras gone by.

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The Area 51 truck stop. Your one-stop shop for gasoline, alien sovenirs, hamburgers, and strippers.

The very rerto interior of our hotel, the Longstreet Casino.

The very retro interior of our hotel, the Longstreet Casino. The decor was an odd mix of 1980s casino and an antiques store.

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The sign outside our hotel. If this is an alien’s first stop on Earth, they will have a pretty strange idea of what Earth is like!

The strange decor of Longstreet Casino. This was actually the same room that had the slot machines and bar.

The strange decor of Longstreet Casino. This was actually the same room that had the slot machines and bar.

The weather was actually pretty nice, the spring brought mild temps and breezy days. We had to wait out a rainstorm one morning, which turned out to be a great thing because a few days later when we explored Death Valley, the rain made the wildflowers bloom all over the desert! I’ll share some Death Valley photos in a later post.

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Getting ready to start the survey.

Walking, walking and more walking with the magnetometer.

Walking, walking and more walking with the magnetometer.

The mountains were strikingly beautiful, especially when the rainstorm came through. I could not resist snapping a few landscape pictures while we were out working.

The beautiful mountains surrounding the Amargosa Valley

The beautiful mountains surrounding the Amargosa Valley

The desert was a great place to practice astro-photography. I didn't have the ideal lens for it, but still got some decent results.

The desert was a great place to practice astro-photography. I didn’t have the ideal lens for it, but still got some decent results.

Our data turned out to be fascinating, and a little creepy. When we compiled the map of our survey after the first two days of work, the magnetic anomaly looked like a clown or jester smiling at us from under the sand. We thought it was a fluke of how we had walked the survey lines, so we intentionally walked some more lines over the “face” to add some resolution. Nope. Only made it worse. This anomaly was called Anomaly B on aeriel surveys of the region, so we started calling it the Bozo Anomaly.

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Our magnetic anomaly in the Amorgosa desert looked like Bozo the clown!

All the walking in the deserts sand was very hard on feet, ankles and knees, and by mid-week, the effects were starting to show in blisters and bruises.

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The few, the proud, the Geologists! Evenings and lunch breaks were often used to tape, bandage and medicate. Must keep going!

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Nicaragua! Part 2 – Lake Nicaragua and Mombacho, the volcano that can’t seem to keep itself together

Beautiful view of Mombacho from a small island in Lake Nicaragua.

Beautiful view of Mombacho from a small island in Lake Nicaragua. This volcano is prone to very large mass wasting events.

After a few days of field work at Masaya (see Part 1), we changed things up with a trip to the area surrounding Mombacho volcano and a boat ride on Lake Nicaragua.  Mombacho is prone to very large and deadly mass wasting events (landslides) due to its steep slopes and abundant triggers available, such as heavy rainfall and earthquakes. Hydrothermal activity high on the flanks is also thought to add to the instability. All these landslides give the volcano a very distinctive profile; long and jagged and steep. Truly another example of ugly processes creating beautiful landscapes. The size of the debris and just how far it travels from the volcano is truly surprising. Some of the islands in Lake Nicaragua are actually made of avalanche debris.

The landslides on Mombacho spread debris many kilometers from the flanks of the volcano. Left: Look at the size of this boulder! It currently sits in someone's front yard, where they built the driveway around it. Right: there are many small islands in this part of Lake Nicaragua that are made of debris from Mombacho.

The landslides on Mombacho spread debris many kilometers from the flanks of the volcano. Left: Look at the size of this boulder! It currently sits in someone’s front yard, well away from the volcano, where they built the driveway around it. Right: there are many islands in this part of Lake Nicaragua that are made of debris from Mombacho. Many are tiny, with room for one home and a small “yard”.

After a bit of exploring around the shore, we got on a boat that took us to an amazing cafe on an island way out in the lake. They served “Pescado de Nicaragua” – fish from the lake – with a spectacular view of Mombacho and a few other volcanic peaks. One of the highlights of the trip for me for sure! Apparently Lake Nicaragua is home to freshwater sharks, but they are pretty elusive creatures these days. I kept my eyes peeled for fins, but no luck.

An amazing afternoon on Lake Nicaragua. Top left: Sylvain and Auralie take in the view from the boat. Bottom left: the only one of the famous freshwater sharks we spotted. Center: Great view of Mombacho from the boat. Top right: the wonderful cafe that was our lunch stop. It was the only thing on a small island on the lake. Bottom Right: A fantastic lunch in an exotic locale. Great company, great view!

An amazing afternoon on Lake Nicaragua. Top left: Sylvain and Aurelie take in the view from the boat. Bottom left: the only one of the famous freshwater sharks we spotted. Center: Great view of Mombacho from the boat. Top right: the wonderful cafe that was our lunch stop. It was the only thing on a small island on the lake. Bottom Right: A fantastic lunch in an exotic locale. Great company, great view!

 

On our way back from lunch, an afternoon storm rolled through. It was amazing! The low clouds, the surreal lighting, and volcanoes in the distance. Very cool.

On our way back from lunch, an afternoon storm rolled through. It was amazing! The low clouds, the surreal lighting, and volcanoes in the distance (the big peak is Conception). Very cool.

Once we got back on land, the rain kept up, but we continued our tour. We visited a quarry where a thick ignimbrite (ash deposit from very large volcanic eruptions) exposure has been carved into for building materials. It’s really scary to think what is must have been like the day these deposits were made! The village right across the street from the quarry was a strong reminder of the lives at stake when these volcanoes erupt, and how important our studies are as future volcanologists.

Right: a thick deposit of ash from the volcanic eruptions in the area. This strangely shaped outcrop is a result of quarrying - this pillar was harder than the surrounding rock, so it was left behind. You can see a possible unconformity about halfway up. Left: the children from the village across the street from the quarry were very curious about all the forgien people staring at rocks in the rain (I would be too - crazy people!). While some were very shy, the group playing soccer in the open area of the quarry were more than happy to smile for the camera when Judy asked. Then they begged her to get in the photo with them. If I get to return to Nicaragua, I am bringing prints of these photos with me for  these kids.

Right: a thick deposit of ash from the volcanic eruptions in the area. This strangely shaped outcrop is a result of quarrying – this pillar was harder than the surrounding rock, so it was left behind. You can see a possible unconformity about halfway up. Left: the children from the village across the street from the quarry were very curious about all the strangers┬ástaring at rocks in the rain (I would be too – crazy people!). While some were very shy, a group playing soccer in the quarry were more than happy to smile for the camera when Judy asked, and then asked her to get in the photo with them. If I get to return to Nicaragua, I am bringing prints of these photos with me for these kids.

 

This image is in no way related to geology. I got very distracted with how beautiful the light was with the clouds overhead, and this bush was screaming out to be photographed :)

This image is in no way related to geology. I got very distracted with how beautiful the light was with the clouds overhead, and this bush with its cute little bug friend was screaming out to be photographed ­čÖé

Up to this point in the trip we stayed at Hotel Masaya. It has a Harley motorcycle theme, and a nice outdoor kitchen and dining area where they served a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast: eggs, beans and cheese. After one more night with these friendly people, its was time to pack up and move on to Ometepe Island.

During this leg of the trip we stayed at Hotel Masaya in Managua. It has a Harley motorcycle theme, and a nice outdoor kitchen and dining area where they served us a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast: eggs, beans and cheese. After one more night, its was time to pack up and move on to Ometepe Island.

During this leg of the trip we stayed at Hotel Masaya in Managua.

Next post: Part 3 – Amazing┬áOmetepe Island!

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Nicaragua! Part 1 – Masaya volcano, Apoyo caldera, jungle hikes and lots of ash.

Masaya Volcano Nicaragua.

Steam and smoke rises from the crater of Masaya Volcano. The pit is several hundred meters deep with molten material in the bottom. Apparently you can see lava sometimes, but there was way too much smoke when we were there.

Some of my professors decided mid-semester to organize a trip to Nicaragua to see some real volcanoes. The trip was optional, but not in my mind – I love to see new places and have not been on an active volcano since I lived in Hawaii as a┬átoddler (which I don’t really remember). I always agonize over how much camera gear to bring on these kind of trips. These are working trips which require a good deal of hiking and putting down the camera to do geology. On the one hand, I don’t want to haul a bunch of gear I’m not gonna use (and that might get damaged). On the other hand, I always seem to regret some of the lenses I choose to leave behind. Nicaragua was amazing, and I’m glad I took my good camera gear, even when it started feeling reeeeealy heavy on long treks!

Now for the hardest part – deciding which of the 2,000+ pictures I took to post to the blog!

Our first stop was the Masaya volcano complex near Managua. There is a lava lake at the bottom of the pit crater, but it’s a long way down (about 300 meters) from the rim. It was also obscured by smoke and steam, which was a cool thing to see in and of itself. We did some mapping and grain size analysis in a section closed to regular tourists. The views were amazing, although the smoke got pretty old after awhile working downwind. Only one person brought a mask – you would think a group of volcanologists going to a volcano would pack a little better!

The view from the flanks of Masaya looking over the caldera. The peak in the background is Momotombo volcano.

The view from the flanks of Masaya looking over the caldera. The peak in the background is Momotombo volcano.

It's OK, we're volcanologists ;)

It’s OK, we’re volcanologists ­čśë

We did some volcano stratigraphy and grain size analysis, plus packed up some samples to take back to the lab.

We did some volcano stratigraphy and grain size analysis, plus packed up some samples to take back to the lab.

Later in the day, the wind direction changed long enough to get a view down into the inactive crater. You can see the active crater in the background. What a view! My first look into a pit crater – cool!

Volcanology students at Masaya Volcano

We worked in two groups, and when the wind shifted, we could see the other team on the other side of the crater. I love the sense of scale in this image.

Momotombo volcano Nicaragua

From the flanks of Masaya, we saw a really beautiful volcano called Momotombo. The “mist” in the foreground is actually the smoke coming from Masaya. The effect was really stunning.

The next few days we collected tephra samples from a variety of places near Managua. We hiked through jungles, and stood on city streets. Tephra everywhere! This trip was a biggest challenge I have undertaken since becoming handicapped. I worked hard to get in the best shape I could, but with my gimped up leg (and the fact that I am short some arteries), there is a limit to what I can do. After a certain amount of activity, my knee swells and my foot stops working and I can’t keep going even if I wanted to. The worst was when we would get way up a trail, realize it was the wrong one, and the group would turn around to go back just as I catch up. Arrrrggghhh! Now I’m too tired to get up the right trail when we find it ­čśŽ . The problem was noticed, and we developed a system where the group would shout or whistle for me to stop if it wasn’t the right path. That way I could save my energy, and all was well ­čÖé

Nicaragua geology hiking

Always being in the back is not such a bad thing, I end up getting some nice shots of everyone, and they keep an eye out for cool things for me to photograph.

 

I have some cool friends. They came up on this scene, knew it would make a great photo, and waited till I caught up so I could get the shot without people in it. This is not actually volcanic smoke like in the earlier images, this is just people burning stuff in their yards.

Getting the tephra samples was an adventure at every outcrop. Some were outcrops were full of aggressive biting insects that would swarm when you came near. Some were deep in the jungle and had to be cleared of vines and who-knows-what (the soil covering one outcrop actually caused a bad burning sensation on the skin, no idea why). We never knew what was going to greet us at the next stop!

You can tell a lot about an eruption by what kind of deposits are left behind, and some of these were huge! I had never really see ash deposits like this before in real life, but it really puts the eruptions into perspective! P.S. - sorry for the "butt shots" - space is really tight at some of these outcrops, and its kind of unavoidable.

You can tell a lot about an eruption by what kind of deposits are left behind, and some of these were huge! I had never really see ash deposits like this before in real life, but it really puts the eruptions into perspective! P.S. – sorry for the “butt shots” – space is really tight at some of these outcrops, and its kind of unavoidable.

Apoyo Caldera was quite a sight – a huge lake fills the crater blasted out during a huge eruption about 23,000 years ago. Hot springs still bubble below the surface in places. Together with the incredible thickness of the ash deposits, it painted a really scary picture of the scale of the eruption. As one of my professors said “It would have been a really bad day to be here!”.

Apoyo Caldera, the site of a huge eruption 23,000 years ago, is now a 7 km wide, 200 meter deep lake fed by rainwater and hot springs. Although it was made by a really ugly eruption, its a really pretty place now.

 

Mist coming in over the rim of Apoyo Caldera. Nicaragua is an amazing place to photograph!

Iv’e decided there is way too much cool stuff for one post. Stay tuned for part 2 (Lake Nicaragua and Mombacho) and 3 (Ometepe Island) coming soon!

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Year 1 done, year 2 – here I come!

The first year at USF has really flown by. I have learned so much, but feel like I have so much more to learn. Good thing I have a few more years here to get that accomplished! I have taken classes in geophysics, advanced hydrology, volcanology, and math for professional geologists. There have been lots of side projects as well, which have given me a chance to learn about grant writing, modeling gravity and magnetic data, and plenty of attempts to learn some programming languages (lucky for me, there will be lots more programming time this semester so I can get the hang of it!).

This is a shot of me hanging on to a giant mining machine several stories up during a field trip to a local phosphate mine. Just one of the cool things I have had the chance to do in my first year.

This is a shot of me hanging on to a giant mining machine several stories up during a field trip to a local phosphate mine. Just one of the cool things I have had the chance to do in my first year.

I was given the opportunity to teach a section of Physical Geology in the spring semester, which of course I loved! There is definitely a difference between teaching at a community college and a university. Being the TA for Geology for Engineers was very helpful in providing insight as to how to format a class for a university setting. Looking forward to fine-tuning the class this semester!

Field trip to the Grand Canyon during our research trip to Arizona in October.

Field trip to the Grand Canyon during our research trip to Arizona in October. I have made some great friends here in Florida ­čÖé

One of my goals for this semester (besides getting my comps scheduled) is to really work on ways to deal with my math anxiety issues. I should have plenty of opportunity during my Potential Fields Geophysics course this fall. Not sure where to start on that, but I am hopeful to make some progress on it if I really put my mind to it.

Here’s to another great year!

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Mission to “Maars” – a geophysics field trip to Rattlesnake Crater, Arizona

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This is the much-delayed post about my field trip to the San Francisco volcanic field. After many years away from school, this was my first real field work in a long time! It was great! I learned so much and we collected some very cool data about a structure that has been studied very little.

Where did we go?

We did our field work at Rattlesnake Maar – a volcanic crater with an overlapping scoria cone near flagstaff, Arizona. A maar is a crater formed when magma interacts explosively with groundwater. (Coincidentally, one of the international students on the trip told us that “Maar” means snake in Persian – just a little random trivia fact for your mental files)

The view of Rattlesnake Crater looking across the crater towards the scoria cone.

The view across Rattlesnake Crater and its overlapping cinder cone, looking southeast.

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View of the tuff ring around Rattlesnake Crater with the scoria cone in the background as seen from the highway.

What did we do there?

Besides trying not to get blown away by the relentless October wind, and our futile attempts to keep the dust out of our equipment and ourselves, we also collected gravity and magnetic data, ground penetrating radar images, and did some old-fashioned geologic field mapping along with some land surveying to tie it all together. We have SO much interesting data – we are STILL working on sifting through it!

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This is me trying not to get blow to Oz during one the more ferocious wind storms. The weather was dry as a bone, but sooo windy!

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Setting up the gravimeter. The scoria cone volcano is the large feature in the background.

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There are several different types of pottery shards scattered all over the crater and volcano. There is even a lookout post built into one side of the volcano.

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Getting the Ground Penetrating radar set up can be quite a task! We got to use several different frequencies to see how the results varied, and how certain frequencies are best for certain jobs.

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Modeling the latest in wearable Geophysical fashion. It may not be elegant, but it gets the job done.

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The evenings were spent looking over data and planning for the next day.

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The case for the gravimeter was huge compared to the item itself, which was about the size of a car battery. It was cool that we got to do a gravity survey – they really haven’t been done much on the volcanoes in this area.

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The whole awesome group of intrepid geologists ­čÖé

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I love this panoramic taken from the side of the tuff ring looking northeast. You can see the mesas of the painted desert in the distance!

I will post some pics later from our “reward day” at the Grand Canyon. Yes, after a week looking at and climbing around on rocks, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to look at and climb around on rocks. That’s just how geologist roll – we just can’t help ourselves!

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Geology Night with the Boy Scouts

At the request of troop leaders, we have been able to host several school groups in our “magma lab” at USF. It is a big space that allows us to set up stations which works well with groups. A small group of volunteer graduate students puts on the event, with the help of GGSO, our Geology Graduate Student Organization. We tailor the activities to the particular section or badge that a group is working on. We hosted a troop of Boy Scouts a while back, and here are a few pics of the fun we had:

 

Christine give a tour of the lab, and explains how Ground Penetrating Radar works.

Christine give a tour of the lab, and explains how Ground Penetrating Radar works.

Jacob uses playdough to show how rock layers are deformed during the mountain building process.

Jacob uses play dough to show how rock layers are deformed during the mountain building process.

Ophelia demonstrates the basics of mineral identification.

Ophelia demonstrates the basics of mineral identification.

No event with our volcano group would be complete without setting off the trash can volcano. The boys had a special request to photoshop the picture to make it look like it was blasting one of them out of the trash can. I was happy to oblige :)

No event with our volcano group would be complete without setting off the trash can volcano. The boys had a special request to Photoshop the picture to make it look like it was blasting one of them out of the trash can. I was happy to oblige ­čÖé

A good time was had by all!

A good time was had by all!

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Midterms, field trips and stress – oh my!

Can you believe its already mid-terms? This semester is passing like a blur! I had two midterms this week and helped some students from Geo for Engineers study for their midterm too. I am glad I wasn’t assigned a teaching position like I wanted – it has been good to take this semester to get back into the swing of being a student again.

Next week will be my first field trip since starting back to school. Geology is a subject that tends to involve lots of travel, which is one of the things that first atracted me to it. We will be traveling to Flagstaff, Arizona to study volcanic features in the region around Sunset Crater. Specifically, we will be looking for “maars” – craters formed when shallow magma and groundwater mix and cause and explosion. We will be using ground penetrating radar, magnetic and gravity surveys. I am looking forward to learning how to use these techniques in the field instead of just reading about them in class. One drawback – I can’t use some of the devices, because the proximity of the metal rod in my leg will mess up the results – bummer. But I’m sure there will be plenty of cool things I can do to help.

I have many awesome memories of all the travel I did with the gang from the University of Arkansas. One of my favorite teachers used to say “the best Geologist is the one who’s seen the most, because geology is learned through the soles of your feet, not the seat of your pants!”.

The only drawback to travelling for class is that the expense is all on the student, the trips are required, and the cost is often not declared before enrolling in a course. I see this as an issue that needs to be addressed in some way by USF. First, I believe a rough cost estimate should be reported in the class catalog so students can decided weather they can afford the true cost of the course. The result of this is that students will have to choose courses based on which field trips they can afford, instead of the classes that best fit their needs and interests. Will we lose some promising young geologists because they can’t afford to go on the required trips? Unfortunately, I think so. For example, my field trip required the purchase of a plane ticket, plus about $500 in expenses. Since we are also reqiured to pay our student fees this time of year, I have had to come up with about $1,600 this semester on a grad student salary. Only with the help of family members have I been able to do that. There are many students who wouldn’t have people that could help them. To my knowledge there is not a fund for aiding students with course-related travel (I asked). ┬áIronic how expensive school is even with a full-ride. Kinda reminds me of the “free puppy” conundrum: after vet bills, food, bedding, toys, etc – that free puppy isn’t cheap!

Anyway, I will get off my soap-box long enough to say that I am planning on taking lots of pictures and video on the field trip next week. We are planning a stop at the Grand Canyon, which I am very excited about! I will post photos and video online as soon as I can. Hopefully this will give people a “behind the scenes” look at what folks actually do on a field research trip. Most people only see the end result, the published paper, or the blurb on the news about what “scientists have discovered”. Finding an engaging way to show the public what scientists do on these kind of trips could help get students interested in becoming scientists. I’m certainly not promising award-winning cinematography, but I will do what I can with the resources I have. Stay tuned for the results!

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Near miss by TS Isaac, and Teaching Withdrawals

Today was supposed to be my first day at the University of South Florida, but today was a “storm day” thanks to Tropical Storm Isaac. After waiting all summer to get started, it’s really hard to stay home and wait till tomorrow for school to start! Oh, well, better take it easy while I can, I’m sure soon enough I will be wishing for a “do nothing” day!

The storm kind of fizzled here in Tampa, but it was cool to watch the rain clouds roll through. My hubby says the clouds in the bottom right picture looks like a big face (kinda does).

Teaching Withdrawals

This will be the first semester in seven years where I will not be teaching geology. To some grad students, the following statement will see truly bizarre, but I LOVE TEACHING! Yep, while most grad students go out of their way to avoid teaching a class, nothing would make me happier.

Teaching at NWACC has given me so much joy over the past few years. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a few days (and one particular semester) where I wanted to throw my hands up and walk out in frustration. But there are so many awesome parts of teaching an intro level geology class. It is so cool to watch students go from either apathetic or downright scared of geology to not just interested, but fascinated with the subject. Then there are the handful of students who discover a new passion that will result in a new degree path. I just about burst with pride when one of my “converts” graduates with a Geology degree!

I think what I will miss the most is the interactions with the students. Sometimes I feel like they keep me young, at other times the age gap seems a mile wide. The lab work at NWACC was done in small groups, and I would form the groups mostly at random depending on where the students were sitting. The most interesting groups to watch were the ones with people that would have never given each other a second look in the hallway: true freshman just out of high school paired with grandmas going back to school, international students paired with folks who have never left Arkansas. Although there were a few cases where the group dynamic broke down and caused problems, for the most part the students got along well. It was fascinating to watch very eclectic groups of students start to form friendships with each other, many of which last long after the course ended. Some of the conversations I would overhear before and after lab made me laugh so hard!

On the other hand, it will be good to take a backseat for a bit and see how someone else structures a class. I am assigned as a TA (teaching assistant) for Geology for Engineers, a class I have never taught (or taken) myself. A semester to get back into the swing of grad school without having to run a class is probably a good idea, but I hope to get back to teaching very soon. In the meantime, I have been thinking about what makes the difference between an ok teacher and a great teacher. Stay tuned for a future post with my two cents on the topic, and feel free to leave a comment with any thoughts you might have on the subject!

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After Tropical Storm Debbie

Tropical Storm Debbie came crawling over Florida in late June. Because it basically parked itself just off the Gulf Coast of Florida, rainfall totals measured in feet instead of inches! We moved to Tampa about a week after the storms came through. There are many places you can see damage from flooding, and its interesting to talk to the folks that were here about how high the water came in some neighborhoods. The most visual damage remaining seems to be along the beaches, causeways and other coastal areas.  It will be very pricey to repair all the damage.

Last week we met a group from the Florida Center for Creative Photography around Pier 60 in Clearwater. We did a photo-walk around the docks and then set up for some night photography on the balcony at Jimmy’s Crows Nest Bar. It’s on the 10th floor and has a great view of the whole area including the beach. As the sun set, I couldn’t help but notice the bright reflections on the beach face where storm run-off had carved channels in the beach.

Clearwater beach and Pier 60 at sunset from the balcony of Jimmy’s Crows Nest bar. The bright spots on the beach are low spots that are holding water. The were carved into the beach by the receding storm water after Tropical Storm Debbie.

There are plans to repair the beach back to its original flat splendor. I can understand the need for that, since it is such a tourist-dependant area. But the geologist side of me loves to watch beaches shift and change as time and storms do their work. When we were down on the beach, we saw several small children playing in the shallow little pools on the beach, and seemed to enjoy them very much.

We went for a walk along Courtney Campbell Causeway the other day and saw lots of storm damage there as well. Probably the most messed-up area we have seen yet, but boy do the birds love it! We are planning to go back with the camera gear and try some bird photography. It’s hard to say how bad the damage was because we weren’t here to see what it looked like before the storm. But its pretty obvious the infrastructure is pretty messed up.

Some of the damage to the Beach along Courtney Campbell Causeway. The odd lumps in the image to the left are palm-tree stumps.

School will be starting soon, but in the meantime we are having lots of fun exploring the area. Here is one of the city shots from our meetup with the photography group:

View of the Pier 60 area of Clearwater, Florida from the balcony of Jimmy’s Crow’s Nest. For the photography buffs out there, yes, this is an HDR image. HDR seems to be a popular style here, so I thought I would give it a go ­čÖé

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The interrogation – the ruthless honesty of 5 year old strangers

5 year olds are nothing, if not honest!

I am very shy about showing my scars in public. I always wear a lightweight brace over the main injury area around my left knee anyway, but since you could still see the deformed shape of my leg, I never wore anything where you could even see the brace! Recently this restriction on my wardrobe was really bugging me, and with lots of encouragement from family, I got brave and bought a pair of shorts this summer. Then I got really brave and wore them in public!

Most folks have been very friendly about the brace. Since the deformity makes it look like I have an extremely swollen knee underneath, people just say nice things like “oh, that looks painful – hope it heals quick”. Usually I just say “thanks” since going into the story of how it’s actually a 9-year-old injury, and not likely to improve at this point, usually takes too long and makes people feel bad for bringing it up.

Today Ed and I went out to Treasure Island beach in St. Petersburg (which we really liked). But in my packing for the day, I forgot to bring the neoprene brace I wear for swimming or any of my capri-length cover ups I wear on the beach. In the past, that would mean a trip back home (40 min away). But, heck, I’ve been running around town in shorts that expose the brace, why not just go crazy and walk out on the beach bearing all my scars to the world, right!? Right.

While in line for a changing stall at the bath house (wearing shorts, so brace exposed), an adorable little girl looked at my leg, up at me, and this was the conversation that followed:

her: did you hurt yourself?

me: yep.

her: oh. Is it bad?

me: kind of.

her: What happened?

Me: I got hit by a car.

her: oh. That’s bad.

me: uh-huh.

She was then called away by her mom and I changed into my swimsuit. Spent a moment mentally gearing myself up for the first time showing my bare legs since the wreck (about 9 years ago). Got outside, and the same little girl was there. She sees me come out and immediately walks over and starts in again:

her: you took your leg-thingy off.

me: yeah, I wanna go swimming, and the water will mess it up.

her: Well it looks even worse now! You should put it back on. (pointing to the bulging part around my knee and the big skin graft underneath) Why does it look like that?

me: That’s where the doctor put my leg back on.

her: It came off!?!? Ewwwww! (Rapid-fire question mode) And they stuck it back on? How did they do that? Did it hurt? It looks bad – why didn’t they do a better job? You can’t put a leg back on. (questions continue as mom pulls her back towards the mini-van) How did it come off? Was it hard to put back? etc…etc… I am sure her poor mother was riddled with questions the whole ride home!

It’s very ironic to me that the one thing I feared the most, excessive attention from strangers, happened within seconds of being out in public with my scars showing. But it actually helped me. Coming from a very cute little girl who meant no malice, it really helped break the ice for me. What was I expecting, anyway? Outright ridicule and laughter? That is plain silly. I realized that the only person ridiculing me was myself. So I just walked with confidence like nothing was wrong out onto the beach and into the water. Of course I got stared at, but who cares? Most girls want that when they go to the beach anyway, right? ­čśë

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