Thursday, September 21, 2006

Science is COOL

My sister has the coolest job. When she graduated from college, she had the opportunity to go into a master's program to study volcanoes at either Hawaii or Alaska. My sister, being my sister, decided that Alaska was the best program, and despite having to leave behind all of her family to live at the ends of the civilized world, off she went. (OK, calling Fairbanks "civilized" is pushing it. Not really--it's a really decent size town with all the amenities. It's a really cool place.) My sister studies geophysics. Now first of all, how cool does that sound? I love telling people what she does. She actually studies the relationship between earthquakes and volcanoes. One year since she's been there one of their offices got a call from NASA, who connected them to the International-freaking-Space-Station, who could see an ash plume from one of the volcanoes AVO studies. (Cleveland, pictured above, photo courtesy of AVO, Image Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center) How cool is that, I ask you?

She did a lot of monitoring of Augustine this year. When things got busy with it's activity, they were monitoring it around the clock. Sometimes she would be the one to notice different patterns that would indicate changes or allow them to predict new patterns, raise warning levels, etc. So cool! She has even gotten to go to a couple of the monitoring sites, which as you can see in these pictures isn't just amazing in the scientific sense. She gets a unique view of Alaska's rare beauty. (This view of Augustine taken by Mariah Tilman, courtesy of the Alaska Volcano Observatory.) I often joke with her about the volcano/earthquake movies out there, and how she's totally living those out!

Last night the movie plot thickened. My sister told me about a volcano that they expected no activity from in any of their lifetimes. People on the mainland took pictures of plumes coming from the Fourpeaked mountain region where they don't even have monitoring equipment because of the complete unlikelihood of activity there. (Photos courtesy of Alaska Volcano Observatory, taken by Lanny Simpson, Alaska High Mountain Images.) They confirmed ash in two places this week but they haven't pin-pointed the source yet. The only thing they can do is go look at the volcano. When they went out yesterday afternoon in a plane, the observers saw a steam plume coming down from above the clouds, but couldn't see the source. On this heavily glaciated mountain, there were two gushing waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside. It's so mysterious! So interesting! What could be causing this unexpected eruption? Does it correlate in any way with the other volcanic activity in the area? I personally find it absolutely fascinating. I feel cool just having the inside scoop. I'm very proud of my little sister, volcanologist extrordinaire.

4 comments:

e4 said...

Wow, that's awesome. Keep us posted. How long before she turns up on "Nova" or "Nature" on PBS?

My step-brother is an engineer who works on all kinds of really fancy satellite stuff, but since it's government contract stuff, he can't really tell us about cool stuff.

Mia said...

E, I (may or may not) have a cousin who is a CIA agent. We know virtually nothing about anything he does. His immediate family doesn't have a clue either. He once gave Beo his card (very minimal info) and told him to call him if he was every interested in joining up. Apparently he thought Beo might have what it takes. That would be a bit *too* cool for me. Beo thinks so too, but he does still keep the card in his wallet. That's the extent of the coolness there. :)

~Lori said...

Geeks schmeeks! Scientists have some of the coolest jobs imaginable. It was exciting just reading about it. And those photos are gorgeous - thanks for sharing.

Secret Agent Beo sounds intriguing, eh? Eco-Agent! Maybe you should write a novel!

Beo said...

I can see it now-flying along in a black helicopter (not that they really exist mind you) yanking Oil Co. executives into black vans, and then taking them to undisclosed locations in Central Asia to subject them to quasi legal (ok just plain illegal)techniques until they tell me "Who Killed the Electric Car!