Jun 13 2013

I Dream of Geology

No, really, I do. In the past, I’ve gone on geotrips with Lockwood and led people on geology tours. More recently, there’s been a Mount Rainier series. In the first one, the mountain erupted, and I was scrambling for a good vantage point to get you guys awesome photos – see, I dream of you, too! – while cursing the fact the geologists hadn’t predicted it. Even in the dream, I was flummoxed by that – we monitor Mount Rainier, and we know the signs that a volcano might be about to wake up, so there was no reason for us to be taken by surprise. Maybe Bobby Jindal became governor of Washington and decided we don’t need no stinkin’ volcano monitoring. Also, we’re expecting Mount Rainier to fall down, not blow up. So that was weird. In the second Mount Rainier dream, we’d predicted its eruption to a T, but I’d left evacuation too late and was scrambling to get important shit out while it went kaboom in the background, again cursing it for blowing up rather than falling down. Also, cursing all the buggers who hadn’t left me enough boxes to pack with. You bastards.

But the strangest dream was one where I was giving some sort of presentation, and someone had thrown an unexpected last-minute request at me, thinking they’d stump me – but I was able to create a slide and get samples and everything. Had that shit covered. I even remember the shit I was covering: hemipelagic sediments and the rocks formed from them.

Moi gazing upon the Galice Formation.

Moi gazing upon the Galice Formation.

(Fun fact: parts of the Galice Formation are hemipelagic. Get back to me in a bit and I can even tell you which bits. I think the bit above is a bit, but not entirely sure yet.)

So I wake up from this dream in which I, apparently, am an expert in hemipelagic stuffage, and think, “Wait, is hemipelagic even a thing?” Because I knew pelagic is, but hemipelagic? So I Googled it. Yeah, my dream was right: it is, indeed, a thing, and just like in my dream, it’s a thing you get before you get to pelagic sediments.

I even spent an inordinate amount of time modifying this diagram from the Extended Continental Shelf Project to show where, as best I can figure, hemipelagic sediments are formed:

The diagram showing the hemipelagic zone as best as I can tell. I know, it's rough. A Photoshop genius I am not. I haven't even got Photoshop...

The diagram showing the hemipelagic zone as best as I can tell. I know, it’s rough. A Photoshop genius I am not. I haven’t even got Photoshop… Original diagram courtesy the Extended Continental Shelf Project.

Now I’m excited to get back to the Josephine after Franklin Falls et al. An ophiolite and hemipelagic sequences! Woot! Maybe after all that, I’ll know hemipelagic stuff well enough that if my dream comes true and some bugger wants me to do a talk with hemipelagic in it at the last minute, I can oblige.

I just hope my dreams about Mount Rainier don’t come true. Not being able to detect it waking up or roughly predict its eruption* wouldn’t just be embarrassing, it would be tragic. Contra Bobby “Why Watch Volcanoes?” Jindal, monitoring volcanoes and determining when they might go kablooey is one of those ways science helps keep vulnerable people from getting caught in the middle of a catastrophe.

*Keeping in mind that volcanoes are notoriously fickle, and can still take us by surprise, whether by making some noise and then going back to sleep, or waking up faster than expected.



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  1. 1

    … Or blowing up rather than collapsing.
    Sneaky little buggers, those volcanoes. Sometimes not so little.
    Hey, dreams are awesome and strange things. I composed a song in one of mine and I’ve been singing it for three days now, even though it makes no sense (it did while I was still dreaming). I’m not much of a composer in real life.
    But I used to dream about analyzing DNA profiles, it was terrible: the results were usually pretty horrible (due to sample quality) or just plain strange (too many alleles or alleles of wrong sizes), but the worst ones were where I had to get a stack printed out for the archive, and the printer wouldn’t work, and I was locked in alone in the lab late at night without any keys and the phone lines were down so I couldn’t tell anyone I’d be running a few hours late.
    Your dreams sound a lot more awesome.

  2. 2

    Mt. Rainier dreams for you are pretty much a nightmare for folks in Orting, where even a minor eruption will cover the whole town in feet of steaming mud. There’s a reason that valley floor is so conveniently flat.

  3. 3

    I think if Mount Rainier were to erupt, there would be advanced warning, just like at St. Helens. But the biggest risk from Mount Rainier is the kind of mudflow that occurs with no warning, like the Electron mudflow that helped produce the flood plain where Orting sits. There is no indication that there was any eruption accompanying the Electron mudflow approximately 500 years ago. Major lahars like that from Mount Rainier occur approximately every 500 years, but of couse, it could happen tomorrow. The residents of Orting would have about 45 minutes of warning to get out of the way.

    Cool dreams, Dana! But, it sounds like in your dreams that you are resonsible to keep people safe – what a nightmare!! Maybe you should stick to dreaming about kitties.

    Here’s an interesting article about this sort of thing:http://www.geotimes.org/apr04/feature_MountRainier.html

  4. 4

    @jane: You’re right, of course,an eruption will probably have some warning. And there are warning systems installed upstream to warn of impending lahars.

    The problem is that a few years ago, one of those systems malfunctioned, setting off the sirens in town. The schools immediately implemented their evacuation plans, marching the kids to high ground. In a real event, many of those kids would have been orphans because virtually no one else moved a muscle.

  5. 5

    @Trebuchet – Wow, that’s great that they have warning systems in place for lahars. I had no idea.

    Why do you suppose the people in town ignored the sirens a couple years ago? I’ve heard the town has drills, you’d think they’d take it seriously. I hope they did some additional teaching to the residents of Orting.

  6. 6

    I suspect the weekly siren tests are part of the problem — people get used to hearing them and don’t respond.

    They’ve also had a problem with people vandalizing the warning sensors.

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