Parícutin: “Save Me From the Dangers in Which I am About to Die”

Dionisio Pulido suddenly found himself having a very bad day.

A few moments before, he had been living an ordinary life, clearing brush from his land while his helper plowed and his wife and son watched the sheep graze. Aside from the earthquakes that had driven the presidente of San Juan Parangaricutiro to send a delegation to a larger town in search of answers, and the fact that a pit on his land had just split open, life was fine.

Now, he was feeling thunder. That’s the word he used, “felt.” We usually think of thunder as a thing you hear: when you feel it, when it’s that loud and insistent, the sensation travels right through you, setting your organs dancing and your teeth on edge. We can extrapolate from what Sr. Pulido said that his teeth and organs were very likely the same. The trees seemed to feel it, too: he and his wife saw them trembling and swaying.

The new volcano broke forth in the valley of Quitzocho-Cuiyusuru, which lay between Cerro de Jaratiro (left), Cerro de Cainiro (far center), and Cerro de Canicjuata (right). Paricutin village lies near the foot of Cerro de Canicjuata. The fields of San Juan Parangaricutiro are in the foreground. Taken from Ticuiro, near San Juan Parangaricutiro, at 5:30 P.M. Paricutin Volcano. Michoacan, Mexico. February 20, 1943. Published as plate 16-B in U. S. Geological Survey. Bulletin 965-D. 1956.

The new volcano broke forth in the valley of Quitzocho-Cuiyusuru, which lay between Cerro de Jaratiro (left), Cerro de Cainiro (far center), and Cerro de Canicjuata (right). Paricutin village lies near the foot of Cerro de Canicjuata. The fields of San Juan Parangaricutiro are in the foreground. Taken from Ticuiro, near San Juan Parangaricutiro, at 5:30 P.M. Paricutin Volcano. Michoacan, Mexico. February 20, 1943. Published as plate 16-B in U. S. Geological Survey. Bulletin 965-D. 1956. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Sr. Pulido was going to speak to his wife about this remarkable turn of events, but when he turned toward her, he saw the ground in the fractured pit, swollen two meters or more (over 6 feet). A fine gray smoke rose from a crack in the pit. It increased in intensity, with a loud whistling, hissing sound that wouldn’t stop, and the field began to stink of sulfur. Across the pit, about 100 meters (328 feet) away, Paula Pulido saw the smoke, smelled the sulfur, heard what she described as a “whistle like water falling on live coals or hot embers.” She watched pine trees 30 meters (98 feet) from the pit catch fire. She called out to her husband as the ground rose like “confused cake” above the fracture, then disappeared, seeming to swallow itself.

It’s about this time that Sr. Pulido’s nerve broke, for which one can’t blame him. He couldn’t get to his wife, but he did try to save his oxen, terrified fingers fumbling at their yoke. He cried out to the local saint. “Save me from the dangers in which I am about to die,” he pleaded, and found a measure of calm. He ran to save his family, his workers, but couldn’t find them: turned back to save his oxen, but they were gone. So was the water from the spring near the fissure, gone suddenly away in the noise and the sulfur-scented smoke as the ground consumed itself.

Paricutin volcano at the time of its initial outbreak, showing the positions of the various features and eyewitnesses as seen by Sra. Aurora Cuara.

Paricutin volcano at the time of its initial outbreak, showing the positions of the various features and eyewitnesses as seen by Sra. Aurora Cuara. 1. Direction of Toral’s plowed furrow. 2. Position of Dionisio Pulido. 3. Position of Demetrio Toral. 4. Vent of the volcano. 5. Depression along the fissure. 6. The original fissure. 7. Piedra del Sol. 8. Path taken by Aurora Cuara. 9. A secondary crack of fissure. 10. Position of Paula Rangel de Pulido. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

 

From the path to San Nicolás, Aurora Cuara watched a fissure split the earth, and a wall of earth rise a meter (just over three feet) high. She watched the fine gray dust rise like smoke, and it frightened her, but she climbed the boundary rock for a better view anyway. She was only fifty meters (164 feet) from the fissue, and saw it throwing sparks and dust. She also saw Sr. Pulido, fresh out of family, companions and oxen, mount his horse and flee. She followed suit.

This is the thing about the birth of a cinder cone: it’s somewhat violent and definitely terrifying, but eminently survivable. Sr. Pulido found family, companions and oxen all safe and well in the village of Parícutin when he arrived. And when he told his remarkable story to the chief of the Parícutin subdivision and the presidente of San Juan Parangaricutiro, a delegation formed, full of people willing to investigate this new and interesting (never mind explosive) thing. They headed off to Sr. Pulido’s field, arriving around six in the evening, a mere hour and a half after the earth had begun its pyroclastic display. Luis Ortíz Solorio observed the fissure, and saw it had developed a hole about a half-meter (almost 2 feet) in diameter, from which “smoke” rose and rocks were tossed to modest heights.

Paricutin volcano at 6 p. m., February 20, 1943, showing the appearance of the vent and its surroundings as seen by Juan Anguiano E.

Paricutin volcano at 6 p. m., February 20, 1943, showing the appearance of the vent and its surroundings as seen by Juan Anguiano E. 1. Small mounds of gray ash. 2. The fissure that opened. 3. The pit from which vapors issued. 4. The fractnre that opened while Anguiano and Martinez watched the vent. 5. Anguiano and Martinez. 6. Other members of the Parangaricutiro party. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

He decided he’d gone quite close enough.

Juan Anguiano Espinosa and Jesús Martínez made a closer approach, as close as they could manage. The ground, they said, was “jumping up and down” rather than swaying like one would expect with an earthquake. The scent of sulfur choked them. Dust and sparks flew; small stones hurtled five meters (16 feet) into the air, while in the vent, sand “boiled,” looking, they thought, much like sand churned by the water of a rising spring. And the sounds they heard reminded them of water, too: water boiling in a large jug, like floodwater dragging boulders in a stream. The fissure formed a trench, and the ground had slumped around the hole in a strip twenty meters (almost 66 feet) long and twelve meters (39 feet) wide. Along that slump, the ground had cracked, and along that crack, half-meter (around 3 feet) piles of the fine gray dust had accumulated. Anguiano, a man with the instincts of a geologist, scooped up a sample with his handkerchief. He found it warm, and the two small stones he also collected were hot. To him goes the honor of the first samples taken from Parícutin.

He almost didn’t make it back to town with them. From his safe distance, Solorio saw the earth fracture about six meters (almost 20 feet) from the vent. He shouted for Anguiano and Martínez, who jumped back just in time. The ground fell in, the vent widened to two meters (6.5 feet) and the column of smoke grew as the vent spat little stones “like incandescent marbles and oranges.”

Paricutin, Mexico This slide taken in 1943 shows a spectacular view of an eruption of Paricutin at night. Glowing projectiles and pyroclastic fragments outline the conical shape of the volcano. The eruption consisted mostly of spheroidal bombs, lapilli, glassy cinder, and glassy ash formed by disintegration of the cinder.

Paricutin, Mexico This slide taken in 1943 shows a spectacular view of an eruption of Paricutin at night. Glowing projectiles and pyroclastic fragments outline the conical shape of the volcano. The eruption consisted mostly of spheroidal bombs, lapilli, glassy cinder, and glassy ash formed by disintegration of the cinder. Image and caption courtesy R.E. Wilcox, U.S. Geological Survey via Wikimedia Commons.

They hurried back to San Juan Parangaricutiro to report. After hearing their description, the priest consulted the church’s book on Vesuvius. After reading up on that volcano, they were all pretty certain they’d just seen one. And they could still see it, even from there: the column of smoke was now visible, and at ten that night, Aurora Cuara stood and watched while the baby volcano hurled incandescent bombs, which she could see through the screen of trees between town and fissure. A little over an hour later, Parícutin began roaring. It hurled its stones vigorously; lightning began dancing through its eruption cloud. This was a sight the townfolk would grow quite used to in the coming years, before Parícutin forced them to leisurely flee.

When Aurora Cuara passed near the newborn volcano on her way back from checking on her husband in San Nicolás the next day, she found a little round hill of stones and sand where the hole had been. Rocks hurtled up from its center, some quite large, and some exploding in mid-air. And she saw a fire slowly flowing from its base. Later, she would learn this fire was lava, the beginning of the flows that would destroy Sr. Pulido’s field and the surrounding towns, and change all of their lives forever.

Paricutin, 1943, not long after its birthday. The nine-year life of this little cinder cone was closely studied by geologists, and has allowed us to study the life span of a cinder cone from birth to extinction. Image credit K. Segerstrom, U.S. Geological Survey

Paricutin, 1943, not long after its birthday. The nine-year life of this little cinder cone was closely studied by geologists, and has allowed us to study the life span of a cinder cone from birth to extinction. Image credit K. Segerstrom, U.S. Geological Survey

 

Previous: Parícutin: “Here Is Something New and Strange”

References:

Foshag, William F. and Gonzalez, Jenaro R. (1956): Birth and Development of Paricutin Volcano Mexico. US Geological Survey Bulletin 965-D.

Luhr, James F. and Simkin, Tom, Editors (1993): Paricutín: The Volcano Born in a Mexican Cornfield. Phoenix, Arizona: Geoscience Press.

Fundamentals of Fungi: Blue-Gray Beauties

Remember way back to those first heady days of freedom after giving ye olde daye jobe the old heave-ho, when B and I celebrated by taking a last-minute trip down the Washington-Oregon coast? Good times, good times! Especially when I stumbled across this beauty at Cape Disappointment which is sure to delight all lovers of fine fungi – and may inspire the next blockbuster horror movie flick.

Image shows some crinkly-edged flat blue-gray fungi poking through stringy green moss.

Fungi I

So there it was, poking through the green moss on the bank of the trail. And it may not look like much in the above photo, but believe me – it’s loving the camera.

Fungi II

Fungi II

Pacific Northwest coastal forests are pretty shady places, and this was an overcast day, but you can still see a gorgeous interplay of filtered light and dark shadow on these beauties.

Fungi III

Fungi III

Of course the little curled-up bits at the end that look like screaming, toothy mouths is a bit disturbing, but still. That fine wavy-frilly shape at their ends, the way they swing out like a flamenco dancer’s skirts, put me more in mind of Spanish dancing than imminent horror movie.

Fungi IV

Fungi IV

Makes me want to go design a dress, actually. Maybe if I fail at this writing gig, I’ll remake myself into a costume designer. Wouldn’t be a bad old life. I would just have to find rich clients who like looking like a fungus. That shouldn’t be at all hard, right?

Eh, maybe I’ll stick to writing. But don’t be surprised if you see me doing some fungus-inspired scarves on the side!

Kudos in advance to the first person who can tell us what this fantastic fungi is.

New Photos of Mount Rainier! Plus Super-Cute Critters

It’s been a long but fruitful day, my darlings. B and I took a little trip to Mount Rainier for you. We hadn’t yet hit the Sunrise VC, you see, so we decided it was about damned time we went. Can you believe I’ve been going to Rainier for years and have never been to top of that road? Scandalous! Now remedied.

Here’s the mountain peeking at some lovely andesite columns you will get to know very well later on:

Image shows gray andesite columns poking toward the road on the right, with a shoulder of Mount Rainier and the jagged crags of Little Tahoma in the distance.

Mount Rainier, Road, and Columns.

Now. I’m going to set the non-geologists in the audience a question: what are the columns telling you about the valley at the time of this lava flow? No cheating by looking up stuff on Mount Rainier, kiddos. But you can go look at Callan’s handy guide to columns wot he made just for us. You can totally get this from just this photo:

Images shows a bunch of gray andesite columns pointed at us.

Here we’re standing direct across the road, with the valley behind us, looking the columns dead in the tops of their darling little heads. Nose of an indeterminate blue sedan for scale.

Right, now you’ve had a challenge, you shall get your cute! This poor little dude was so conflicted.

Image shows a little striped rodent sitting on a somewhat flat rock in an I'm-Very-Tempted manner.

Conflicted ground squirrel or possibly chipmunk, I am terrible at identifying these cute fuzzy things BECAUSE THEY ARE BIOLOGY NOT ROCKS AND I DO ROCKS OKAY?

On the one hand, there was this humungous clump of grass with delicious ripe seeds and it really really wanted them so bad, only there were these people standing there, and it was a little afraid, but it wanted those seeds soooo bad. It spent a moment thinking about it, and dashed up and down a bit, and rushed the seeds and rushed away, and then decided “Sod this for a game of larks” and went and hid, so we left it to get its lunch in peace.

Now, we were up there specifically to look at Emmons Glacier, because I’ve been up the White River Valley it is responsible for, and would have gotten to one of its old moraines if Cujo and I hadn’t been stopped by the small but significant fact that the trail bridge over the river had washed out. So we went down to the Emmons Glacier Vista overlook thingy and had a nice look, and it was really gorgeous.

Image shows Mount Rainier's summit, Little Tahoma, Emmon's Glacier, and a gorgeous glacial valley with a glacier-fed river and lake. Also, much green, because PNW.

A view of Emmons Glacier, and the valley, and river, and a wee little turquoise-colored lake that I could probably identify if I wasn’t too tired at the moment.

Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy, and hot as hell, or we might have gotten better photos. Still. We got some good ones, and yes, someday, you will get more. But if you embiggen this one, you’ll be able to see some snazzy glacial features. Tell me all you can find, if you feel like digging!

We attempted the trail up Sourdough Ridge, but that’s all in bright sunshine, and did I mention is was at least 80 bloody degrees? And I’m not used to high altitudes and heat anymore. So we decided to tackle that in cooler times, and possibly when the air is clearer. We went down to Sunrise Point, where there’s a short-ish side trail to Sunrise Lake.

Image shows Sunrise Lake, a beautiful round pool surrounded by tall trees and mountains. The water is so still you can see the pines clearly reflected in it, even from hundreds of feet above.

Sunrise Lake is a lovely blue-green gem set at the bottom of a glacial valley surrounded by majestic, glacier-carved peaks. Alas, it is down in a valley…

This trail is mostly in shade with a wonderbar cool breeze. Trouble is, it is also a long way down to the lake. Down, of course, translates to up on the way back. But it was worth it. We got to see lots of pretty nature, and the lake, and there was this bird you will squee over when I show you it later this week, and, on a scree slope, this wee little rabbit-like thing running across the rocks with a big sprig of leafy something in its mouth. See if you can spot it in the shot of the slope I took.

Images shows a slope of platy gray rocks surrounded by the usual alpine greenery. There's a little critter on it. Very hard to see.

Wee beastie is somewhere on this scree, I promise you.

Really hard to spot, innit? Alas, I had the camera turned off to conserve battery when the little bugger first darted out, and by the time I had it on, our wee beastie had dashed further downslope. Take it from me, it was cute as the dickens, especially with its bit of greenery clutched in its mouth. Here’s a crop of the above image, and if you can identify they wee beastie from just this blurry pic, I will be very surprised. Also, I will suggest you become a cryptozoologist, because why not?

If you look at the gray rock at the very bottom center, then at the green bush right in front of it, then in front of that bush, you will see a timorous little brown fellow holding very still on the scree and clutching its little sprig.

If you look at the gray rock at the very bottom center, then at the green bush right in front of it, then in front of that bush, you will see a timorous little brown fellow holding very still on the scree and clutching its little sprig.

After the beastie and the birdie, we hauled our sorry butts back up that slope, and I can tell you my lungs haven’t ached like that for ages. Like a bellows, they were. I need to spend less time lounging with the cat and Christianist textbooks, and more time on mountains. So it’s a good thing B has decided we should go back to Mount Rainier before our current pass runs out. Weather permitting, we’ll be up there again at the end of the week. Then, depending on what the weather looks like, we’re off to either the Olympics or over the mountains to Ross Lake. Well, weather and our own energy levels permitting, I should say.

And I can definitely recommend sunset as seen from Highway 410 from outside of Sumner, looking over the Puget lowland toward the Olympics. Oh, my, yes. Alas, we were unable to stop and obtain photos, so I shall just have to ask you to imagine jagged black peaks against a salmon-orange sky, with the dark night blue above and the deep pools of shadow in the valley below, with city lights sparkling merrily, and a huge orange full moon rising over the hills behind. So, so wonderful.

Parícutin: “Here Is Something New and Strange”

Imagine a pastoral scene, seventy years ago in Mexico. On a sunny February day, a woman and her son watch over their flock of sheep from the shade of oaks; her husband strides across his fields toward a pile of branches that need burning, while his helper completes a furrow. The oxen begin to turn; a brand-new volcano begins to erupt.

Paricutín. Image courtesy Karla Yannín Alcázar Quintero via Wikimedia Commons.

Paricutín. Image courtesy Karla Yannín Alcázar Quintero via Wikimedia Commons.

Later, some would say that Demetrio Toral “plowed up the volcano.” That used to mean something different, pre-Parícutin. The Itzícuaro Valley nestles among many volcanoes. Cinder cones abound. Some are breached and eroded; some are conical with flat-floored craters. Within those last, farmers of the region grew maize. In a land filled with old lava flows, some of them malpais – badlands where no hoofed animals could drag a plow even if there had been adequate soil to drag it through. The Tarascan (Purépecha) natives crossed the rough vesicular basalt to the doughty trees growing there, harvesting their timber and backpacking it out to pack animals beyond the flows. Older flows that had developed soils were cultivated. Benches and cliffs: that’s the terrain those flows formed, and if anyone there knew a bit about volcanoes, they could read the stories of previous eruptions in them.

Five villages that would later be destroyed occupied flat bits of the valley near springs and seeps. Villagers tilled their soil and worked their forests, selling any excess products in the regional market towns farther on. They had a church in San Juan Parangaricutiro, a tall and stately stone structure, which housed the image of a saint, and a library with a book that would help them comprehend what was about to break their peace.

Outside, a world war raged: inside the valley, aside from some occasional interpersonal conflict, life went on much as it had for hundreds of years. No one knew that way of life would end rather abruptly in February of 1943. Sure, there had been a lot of earthquakes, but no one thought much of them: they lived in a seismically lively region, and those quakes didn’t shake them psychologically (at least, not until mid-February, when their frequency and intensity escalated rather dramatically).

And there was that pit on Dionisio Pulido’s farm.

It had been there a long time. Señora Severina Murillo had played around it as a girl, fifty years before. It was maybe five meters (16 feet) in diameter, and maybe a meter and a half (5 feet) deep. It made strange noises, underground noises, sounds like rocks falling. The kids found it warm, and their sticks never reached the bottom. Storm waters drained through it in the winter, and sometimes there would be a mist, but it was never hot, not so Sr. Pulido noticed. He’d stash his yoke and plow there, sometimes, when he didn’t feel like hauling them all the way back to Parícutin village. He and his brother would sometimes try to fill in the hole, but no matter how much material they threw in to it, they could never fill it. A depression had formed around it the previous August. But no one thought much of it.

***

Quitzocho-Cuiyusuru valley and surrounding area before the outbreak of Parícutin volcano as reconstructed from observations of early volcanism. 1, Quitzocho; 2, Cuiyusuru; 3, Pastoriu; 4, Uricua Llostiro; 5, Tancítaro; 6, Cebo; 7, Camiro; 8, Piedra del Sol; 9, Sherecuaro; 10, Parícutin Arroyo; 11, Parangaricutiro-Parícutin boundary-passes in front of foreground and follows ridge along Cebo and Tancftaro. Road from Camiro hill, San Nicolas, and Teruto follows left boundary of sketch, Uruapan-Parícutin road follows front boundary.

Quitzocho-Cuiyusuru valley and surrounding area before the outbreak of Parícutin volcano as reconstructed from observations of early volcanism. 1, Quitzocho; 2, Cuiyusuru; 3, Pastoriu; 4, Uricua Llostiro; 5, Tancítaro; 6, Cebo; 7, Camiro; 8, Piedra del Sol; 9, Sherecuaro; 10, Parícutin Arroyo; 11, Parangaricutiro-Parícutin boundary-passes in front of foreground and follows ridge along Cebo and Tancftaro. Road from Camiro hill, San Nicolas, and Teruto follows left boundary of sketch, Uruapan-Parícutin road follows front boundary. Fig. 109 from USGS Bulletin 965-D. Image courtesy USGS.

At the beginning of 1943, the earth began to shake, and the local folk heard noises deep in the ground. Residents of the largest town, San Juan Parangaricutiro, didn’t feel much until February 5th. The earthquakes, some larger than a 3 on the Mercalli scale, were accompanied by subterranean sounds, and townfolk quickly recognized a pattern: the louder the sound, the stronger the tremor. Celedonio Gutiérrez, who would later become an observer for the geologists who flocked to the area, noted, “They followed each other almost every minute. If they were delayed, the noise or the tremor was stronger.” And by February 20th, they’d become so strong and frequent that everyone was worried the church would collapse. They sent a messenger to Uruapan, one of the larger market towns, that morning, asking its presidente for advice. No one knew quite what to do.

The presidente of San Juan Parangaricutiro wasn’t sure how to confront all the shaking, but he told a newspaper he thought he knew what might be causing it: he thought there would be a “new volcanic outbreak.” Spot on, that man.

***

While officials worried, Sr. Pulido went about his work. Presidente Cuara-Amezcua hadn’t predicted the volcanic outbreak’s precise location, and he had no reason to think anything of the pit, which was being its usual self: slightly depressed, definitely unfillable, but otherwise ordinary. It would soon be time for the spring sowing, and seismic shenanigans or no, the field needed preparing. His helper, Sr. Toral, tended to the plowing while Sr. Pulido, his brother, and another helper cleared branches.

Oxen plowing near Lima. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Oxen plowing near Lima. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In the afternoon, Sr. Pulido headed over to the trees where his wife, Paula, and his son were tending their grazing sheep. He asked her if anything new had occurred, considering the seismic show they’d been subjected to for the past two weeks.

She’d noticed “noise and thunder underground,” she said, and as she said it, Sr. Pulido heard it, too: “like thunder during a rainstorm,” he’d tell geologists later. “But I could not explain it, for the sky above was clear and the day was so peaceful…”

He left Paula at four that afternoon and headed off to burn the branches he and his brother had cleared from the field. He noticed that a fissure had opened in the old pit. It began at his feet, passed through the hole, and went on toward the Cerro de Canicjuata, one of the old local volcanoes. Here is something new and strange, he thought. He poked about a bit, trying to figure out when it had opened, and noting its depth (around half a meter, or about 1.5 feet), before losing interest and returning to his branches.

From the trail to San Nicolás, Aurora Cuara saw him dropping the last branches and weeds onto the pile. She watched Sr. Toral complete a furrow with the plow, passing right over the place where the earth would momentarily split apart. Toral began turning the team; Paula Pulida heard a whistle; Sr. Pulido felt a thunder.

Parícutin was born.

To be continued…

Paricutin, Mexico This slide taken in 1943 shows a spectacular view of an eruption of Paricutin at night. Glowing projectiles and pyroclastic fragments outline the conical shape of the volcano. The eruption consisted mostly of spheroidal bombs, lapilli, glassy cinder, and glassy ash formed by disintegration of the cinder. Image and caption courtesy USGS via Wikimedia Commons.

Paricutin, Mexico This slide taken in 1943 shows a spectacular view of an eruption of Paricutin at night. Glowing projectiles and pyroclastic fragments outline the conical shape of the volcano. The eruption consisted mostly of spheroidal bombs, lapilli, glassy cinder, and glassy ash formed by disintegration of the cinder. Image and caption courtesy USGS via Wikimedia Commons.

Next: Parícutin: “Save Me From the Dangers in Which I am About to Die”

 

References:

Luhr, James F. and Simkin, Tom, Editors (1993): Paricutín: The Volcano Born in a Mexican Cornfield. Phoenix, Arizona: Geoscience Press.

 

Previously published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.

Ohai! I’ve Added a Spiffy New Mount St. Helens Page!

Remember the Prelude to a Catastrophe/The Cataclysm series? Yes? No? Never heard of it? Well, no matter your answer, I’ve got just the page for you! I’ve stuck all the links to date up on their very own page. The last few links aren’t yet live because I haven’t brought those posts over from Rosetta Stones quite yet, but they’ll be appearing here over the next few weeks. Or you could get enterprising and just search the title.

Image shows a cat winking with its mouth open. Caption says *wink*

But wait! Der’s moar! I’ll have new posts in the series coming up sometime this fall. There’s so much more to explore about this eruption and its aftermath. And then, when that’s finished, there’s a whole lot more we’ve learned over the past few decades – we won’t be done with this volcano for a long while yet.

So I really do hope you enjoy reading about it…

Mount St. Helens in May of 2014.

Mount St. Helens in May of 2014.

I R Scholarly Cat. This Iz Srs Criticisms.

Damn cat. When she isn’t stealing my lounge chair, she’s stealing my work:

Image shows Misha lying down on the Bob Jones University Earth Science 4th edition textbook, her paws around my pen.

All ur debunking creationist drivel r belong to me.

This is because I went to get cushions for the chair she’s making me use, I’m pretty sure.

There’s a glimpse of how things are coming along, though – that notebook you see stuck within the pages of that shit-pile of a textbook represent the beginning of my debunkapalooza for the chapters on geology. Which I’m doing out-of-sequence, because I’m trying to get all this stuff read before I babble at you about it during FtBConscience. I’ve done A Beka’s Science of the Physical Creation geology chapter already. Yeah, it’s pretty bad. Yes, I’m expecting ES4 to be worse – especially since it goes on for nearly the entire length of the entire A Beka book. And on Tuesday, I should get the more recent edition of A Beka’s drivel, granting the delivery dude doesn’t deliver to the wrong apartment again. Ima try to keep up a decent posting schedule, too, but this shit takes forever to get through, and so I may have to skimp a bit here and there. Also, too, it’s summer field season, and we have some places to go and geology to see before the endless gray returns. But at least you know I’m stocking up plenty o’ posts for the winter, eh?

We’ll also be finishing up with Mount St. Helens – lots to go, believe it or not! It’ll be a bit, but if you want to brush up on the series, the link to the spiffy new page is here. I’ll be bringing over the last few posts about the trees soon, too. That should whet your appetite, eh?

All right, one more o’ the wee beastie interrupting my work, and I’ve gotta get back to it.

Misha's shifted to behind the pen, looking as if she expects me to pick it up and get busy, with her still atop the book.

Why aren’t you werking, mummy?

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Squeaky Black Shore Birds Parte the Seconde

Great guesses, one and all! I’ve got a snazzy new list of birds to watch for, thanks to you. And this wasn’t really a fair challenge, but you rose to it, and I’m proud o’ ye!

Trebuchet got it – black oystercatcher. How he found that standing bird, I’ll never know – I couldn’t until he said to look for it, and I knew there were a bunch of birds on that beach! The bird landing should also be one. They were hard to see, especially through a camera screen, but I do belive the one that landed is the one in the first photo I shall show you next. I was trying to keep it within my sights. They were all the same – no mixed company for these wee ones. Not at that moment.

I’ll do up the geology properly with explanatory photos soon, but Moarscienceplz wins the punstakes. “I dunite know.” LOLgroan. And also a win with freeze-thaw cycles. I’m certain those rocks are weathering out, not being dragged there by waves. You’ll see some more lines of evidence soon.
All right, here are your further photos, as promised!

Here’s one showing off its neon red-orange beak in a shy but standout manner.

Image shows a black bird with a very long orange beak and a bright orange eye, standing on the cobbles.

Black Oystercatcher I

They sound rather like seagulls, only not as obnoxious. They seem like the much more well-behaved cousins of seagulls. And they’re all over those cobbles like a boss.

Same bird, walking across the cobbles.

Black Oystercatcher II

This one was off to join its mates, who were picking around by the water’s edge.

Black Oystercatcher III

Black Oystercatcher III

There were several of them, but it was hard to get good shots from where we were, and we weren’t about to go down and harsh their mellow. At least we got good enough pics for an ident, right? You, my darlings, are the absolute best.

 

Unidenified Flying Dinosaur: Squeaky Black Shore Birds

So up at Fidalgo Island, I was just taking some pictures of rocks, y’know, the geology sorta thing. Here’s a beach filled with rough cobbles of serpentinite, peridotite, and dunite, along with other things. It’s also got a bird in it.

Image shows a beach full of rough cobbles. There is a black bird coming in for a landing. It's very hard to see.

There’s a bird on this beach. Honestly.

Here, I’ll show you it.

Image shows a black bird with its wings thrust forward, landing amongst the cobbles.

See the bird landing?

Okay. Here’s where I’m going to tell you to stop and try to identify that bird, because otherwise, it won’t be any challenge at all. You’ll have the ident within two seconds if I show you the after-it-landed pics. Ima leave this here, and see if any of you can get it. Most of the clues you need are in the title. I’ll post the other photos later today, so you can see these lovely little things running about and being adorable.

(Also, what can you tell me geologically about that beach, just by the sizes and shapes of those rocks?)

Good luck!

Don’t Believe Everything You See on YouTube: Parícutin Edition

I’d like to conduct an experiment someday. I’d like to gather together a group of experts in a particular field and show them a few popular science video clips relevant to their areas of expertise. Would they groan, howl and laugh as much as I did during these three short clips?

The sad fact is, even august purveyors of information can get things hysterically wrong. And I use the word “hysterically” advisedly – I mean they seem to be pining for disaster. They’re like the poor Angahuan tourist guide who, gazing upon the serene, extinct edifice of Parícutin, said wistfully, “It would be nice if the volcano would erupt again – just a little bit.”

I feel you, amigo. I’ve said the same thing gazing into Mount St. Helens’s crater.

Britannica and Discovery seem to have the same yearning. Watch these two clips, and you’ll see. You should watch them because they are of a cinder cone being born, and they are awesome, despite the bit o’ wrong.

“Now it is dormant. Its activity seems to have come to an end. But we know that some volcanoes have remained inactive for hundreds, even thousands, of years, and then, unexpectedly, erupted again.”

Yeah, you just go on telling yourself that if it makes you feel better, buddy.

This next video comes with a trigger warning for those who become upset at egregious mispronunciation of Spanish words.

“It has not erupted since, but it’s not dead, either. At any moment, Parícutin could erupt again.”

Translation: “Doo-doo-DOOM. You’re all gonna diiiiieeeee!!!!!!!!!!! Ah-hahahahaha! It could happen any second! Mwa-ha-ha!”

These two videos combined inspired me to write a geopoem in the style of Buffalo Bill’s by ee cummings.

Paricutin's by Dana Hunter. Thank you, ee cummings.

Paricutin’s by Dana Hunter. A screenshot with the proper formatting, which WordPress hates and will not reproduce without more pleading and cajoling than I wish to engage in. Thank you, ee cummings.

Parícutin’s
defunct
which used to
erupt rubblyrough-black
lava
and shoot onetwothreefourfive bombsjustlikethat
Jesus
it was a feisty one
and what i want to know is
how do you like your brandnew cinder cone
Señor Pulido

The key term here is “defunct.” Parícutin is defunct. It is definitely deceased. It is an ex-active volcano. It’s a monogenetic volcano – it shot its charge and is now resting in peace. So all of those announcers warning of possible future mayhem in dolorous tones – they’re wrong. I hope the poem helps them remember this fact.

But I have good news for them – the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt Parícutin is located in is definitely not defunct. We may not see it in our lifetimes, but a new cinder cone could pop up there at any moment. And it has plenty of volcanoes that go boom. There are several just around Mexico City alone, plus there’s the possibility that a cinder cone could rise up in a Mexico City suburb somewhere, bursting through someone’s living room floor in a fissure of fire, spewing molten rock all over the sofa and teevee, making life quite exciting for the residents and causing the neighborhood to undergo a rather drastic rezoning from residential to volcano. Is that not enough potential mayhem, pop sci program writers? Must you invent entirely fictitious possible future eruptions of Parícutin in order to frighten viewers into watching?

Sadly, I suspect the answer is yes. We’ll probably never convince them otherwise – fear sells, and well they know it. This is why I try to keep a large block of salt handy when watching science programming on the teevee – or, in this case, on YouTube. But those errors, while egregious to those of us who know what a cinder cone actually does, were but minor quibbles compared to the howler in this next video. Seriously, I laughed so hard in the dead of night I thought my neighbor may come up to see what was wrong with me. Watch this, and see if you can spot what had tears of mirth streaming from my eyes.

Have you got it? If so, have you recovered yet? You were probably lulled by the fact it started out so beautifully factual – I’d been sort of serenely enjoying the animations, nodding my head along to the story, thinking, “Oh, yes, tremors must be very common along that belt,” and then bam. It’s like the narrator’s fact finder made a wrong turn at Albuquerque. And this happens:

“What had once been a peaceful cornfield was now a major volcano 3188 meters high. Parícutin is the seventh largest volcano in the world.”

This will come as a nasty shock to volcanoes like Parinacota, which by elevation above sea level, is the 7th tallest according to the Global Volcanism Project. The number quoted is Parícutin’s elevation above sea level, and the narrator fails even by that measure. 6348m is greater than 3188m by, like, a lot.

Parícutin is awesome because it was a volcano we got to watch grow up from crack-in-the-ground to strapping young cinder cone, but it’s not even the highest volcanic summit on its own continent – Pico de Orizaba is. Our poor Parí is dwarfed by literally every stratovolcano in the country. It’s only 424 meters (1391 feet) tall. Like all cinder cones, it’s short, and not terribly explosive. It only reached a VEI of 4 – respectable, yeah, but ten times smaller than the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, and it took nine years to achieve a tiny fraction of what St. Helens did in an afternoon. It’s not the seventh largest volcanic anything that I’m able to determine – although I’d argue it’s in the top ten in coolness. I mean, it suddenly appeared in poor Señor Pulido’s field and grew into a robust young volcano within a week, watched by people start-to-finish, and caught on film in the 1940s – if that’s not cool, no volcano is cool, and we might as well just shut up shop right now and start talking about other geological things.

At the risk of making Rosetta Stones all volcanoes all the time, I’ll write up the true story of Parícutin someday fairly soon – and I hope that I can prove that a volcano doesn’t have to be among the biggest or most dangerous or liable to awaken at any time in order for its eruption to be one of the coolest geological events in history.

This spectacular nighttime time-exposure of México's Parícutin volcano in 1948 shows strombolian ejection of incandescent blocks and their trails as they roll down the slopes of the cone. Parícutin is renowned as the volcano that was born in a cornfield in 1943. It grew to a height of more than 150 m within the first week of its appearance, and remained active until 1952.  Photo by Carl Fries, 1948 (U.S. Geological Survey). Image and caption courtesy the Smithsonian/The Dynamic Earth.

This spectacular nighttime time-exposure of México’s Parícutin volcano in 1948 shows strombolian ejection of incandescent blocks and their trails as they roll down the slopes of the cone. Parícutin is renowned as the volcano that was born in a cornfield in 1943. It grew to a height of more than 150 m within the first week of its appearance, and remained active until 1952. Photo by Carl Fries, 1948 (U.S. Geological Survey). Image and caption courtesy the Smithsonian/The Dynamic Earth.

I think we’ve also proved that respected names as well as unknown folk can be hilariously wrong about science. If you run across an error in any video clips you’re watching, send me a link – you never know what adventures error correction may launch us on.

References

Fries, C.F. et al (1993): Movie footage of the activity of Paricutin Volcano, Michoacan, Mexico, 1945-1952. USGS Open-File Report 93-197-A.

Luhr, J.F. and Delgado-Granados, H. (1997): Aerial Examination of Volcanoes Along the Front of the Western Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt and a Visit to Parícutin. International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior.

 

Previously published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.

Fun, Fidalgo, an Ophiolite, and a Very Rude Buck

We made it to Fidalgo Island. Yay! We got lotsa pictures of bonza peridotite and serpentinite. Double yay! I’ll have a proper write-up one o’ these days, but for today, we’ll do some outtakes.

This time, we visited Washington Park. I’ve been there once before, many years ago, and had no idea that Cujo and I had been hanging about on serpentinized peridotite. Yum! Now I knew, and B and I were determined to see all of it we could see. We got a sorta late start, got hung up in Everett traffic, and lingered over lunch, so it was late in the afternoon when we arrived. Let me tell you something about Washington Park: when you’re in the parking lot, you’ll freeze. There’s a sort of saddle between the bay and the Sound, and the wind blows vigorously through, and it’s like standing in a refrigerator. Do not let this deceive you. If it’s a warm day, you’re gonna end up sweating to death. That’s because of this:

Image shows fingers of brown rock jutting into the blue Sound. Framed by a fir tree.

Peridotite benches at Washington Park, Fidalgo Island.

Peridotite is dark, dense, iron-rich rock that seems to love absorbing lotsa rays and reflecting the heat right back atcha. If you get a chance to go here on a warm summer day, bring plenty of water, wear sunglasses, and remember that a bit of seawater judiciously applied to the back of the neck will help cool things right down.

The loop road, which is also a lovely paved trail, is nice and shady, and you can pop through the trees and bushes and get lovely views of the Sound and the San Juans.

Image shows a dead tree jutting horizontally from the cliff. Through its branches is the Sound and a mountain-shaped island.

A lovely horizontal snag pointing toward the San Juan Islands. I think that’s Orcas Island, but I’m horrible at recognizing these things.

The glacially-planed and polished serpentinite/peridotite makes lovely benches from which to stand majestically looking out over the Sound.

Image shows B standing atop a dark black/brown bench of peridotite with a glitter trail on the Sound from the low-lying sun.

B and the Sea.

Here’s a rare action shot of me crossing a crack through the peridotite.

Image shows me landing on the other side of a crevice on a flat brown peridotite bench.

That’s me doing geology! Sorta.

Lotsa glacial action in this photo – see if you can spot it! You’ve been hanging round me long enough you should be able to see at least one or two things.

You definitely should do the loop road, either hiking or driving. There’s another stopoff on the other side that is neato and I’ll show you it in some detail soon, and then you get to the bottom, and there may be a buck and a doe grazing. However, the deer here are rude.

Image is a profile of a little black-tailed brown buck with wee antlers. He's sticking his tongue out. Looks like he's blowing a raspberry.

Rude buck.

We laughed and laughed, of course. There were deer all over, including in people’s yards. Washington Park is huge, and seems to be a happy home for them.

At the end of the day, driving home, Mount Baker was beautifully illuminated, so I pulled the car to the side of the highway and grabbed you a shot.

Image shows Mount Baker. The sun is low, and has pinkened the snow on its slopes.

Mount Baker from Highway 20, just outside of Anacortes.

Wonderful stuff, and much fun. I’ve got to get my talk done, work on the next post in the Seattle Seahawks Superbowl Ring series (which next post is a pain, because just when I thought I had the research finished, bam – came across a series of papers that call all our existing knowledge into question. Darn it all to heck!). But B asked some great questions about peridotite, so I’ll try to sneak some answers in about that in the near-future, and eventually, after a few more visits to the Island, I’ll be whipping up a series on the ophiolite there. And that’s in addition to the ten tons of other great geology we’ve got going on! And summer field season isn’t even over! It’s going to be a super science winter, lemme tell ya.