Kilauea visit

I recently got surprised by my mother with a surprise trip to Hawaii. Aside from this being an utterly stellar gift, I can now say I personally witnessed  two erupting volcanoes and visited 3 hot spots. I definitely have a mother who knows me, and does more than she needs to support my passions and interests. She showed endless patience watching me scramble around the volcanic park on the Big Island

I’m not sure where my love of geology came from. My mother says when I was little, shiny little rocks used to utterly fascinate me. I remember finding a block of pumice in the forest behind my house, dusty and full of holes. I took it home and placed it on the window sill in the kitchen. It was my rock, and I liked to look at it and handle it, feeling the strange texture. I also remember getting panicked, because people always told you about erosion and weathering, but I don’t remember hearing about lithification. I thought we were going to run out of rocks. I was so terrified of running out of rocks, I wondered where would we all stand?

What a weird fear for a child to have.

In my teenage years, I collected rocks. Particularly the shiny ones. I still do that, if I’m honest. It wasn’t until I went on my first field trip, in Antrim, that geology really caught me though. A part of me keeps waiting for that interest to run out. I keep wondering how much passion for rocks can a person really have? I’ve made my entire life about geology. It’s my career path and one of my favourite hobbies. When I go on holidays, I always look up the geology of the area in advance. That initial joy has never died down or been diluted. In geology I learnt a whole new way of seeing the world. When you can read a landscape, you can learn the story of a region. Not everyone in life gets to find their passion. I often pinch myself, hoping that I never lose it. Like I had to do recently in Hawaii.

To Kilauea:

I went on the lavaone boat tour. On the one hand I actually try to avoid going on geological guided tours. I usually know more than the tour guides, because I’ll read up on the area before I go ( I have the research bug). I generally don’t have much patience to stand around and listen to stuff that has become quite basic to me, after years of study. On the other hand, on an active volcano I would choose a guide with a park ranger just for safety reasons. They have up to date information on where is safe to go, and that sort of information is really important.

I didn’t choose the hiking option. Since I was surprised with the trip, I had a winter wardrobe and no hiking gear to handle the hike. Forcing me into either buying hiking gear or the boat option. That and we were somewhat pressed for time. The entire experience was surreal. My mother dropped me off at the meeting spot. After listening to the safety talk I got on the boat and sat on my own a few rows from the front. You could see the cloud of steam from quite far away.


At this point I was pretty excited. I had previously seen the Copahue eruption in 2014, but I didn’t see any lava in that eruption. I vaguely listened in to the explanation the tour guides were giving, and aside from calling the lava pouring out ‘magma’ (which I guess can be forgiven, since correct terminology isn’t as important to them as it is to scientists), their information was correct.

Coming up close to the lava, it got quite warm. Seeing steam rise up off the heated water was beautiful. Overall there was only a very light sulphur smell. But maybe I compare everything to Fogo in Cape Verde, where my lips prickled with all of the Sulphur Dioxide in the air, and it’s all mild after that. I got my first sighting of lava when I viewed the crater from the Jaggar Museum (best seen at night for taking photographs). It doesn’t photograph all that well (with my lack of talent as a photographer, and the fact that I was using an iPhone to take the pictures) but I could see some of the lava bubbling when I went during the day.

I may have teared up a little. I can’t help it. I love geology. I spent a full year of my life working just on research in igneous petrology and geochemistry. I got attached.

Since I had already seen the little fountains of lava from the lava lake in the crater, I felt a little bit more prepared to see the lava tunnel pouring out of the cliff side. A little.

It was such a surreal experience. I did not take a photo that does it justice. It was so much more dramatic in person. I’ll attach two youtube links to videos I took for anyone interested. What was particularly cool was the fact that the steam cloud coming off the ocean was twisting in a helix shape (look at the second link I attach to see that). It was so beautiful.

If you want to look at some of the geology behind it all, or more scientific background, I definitely can’t do it better justice than the USGS:

On a final note, I can’t recommend visiting the volcano park enough. Just make sure you do it with a park ranger if you’re doing any hikes close to hot lava. They know what’s safe to do or not! I highly recommend the lava tour, I am so glad I did it. Though as a geologist I would have preferred to do the hike.

There’s always next time…

Close up of lava coming out. These videos were taken on a much fancier camera than my phone, so they are quite good quality aside from my not so steady hands. The black flecks are cooled lava. You could see quite a few large chunks of the stuff floating for a while:

This video shows the twisting cloud. Really awesome to look up at that:



Western Jihad: Islam for Dummies

A dear friend of mine wrote this blog post. Every time these insane fundamentalists carry out these heinous acts, she in turn experiences hatred. She gets it in the street and on social media. The same thing happened to Jewish friends of mine when the Gaza strip was the hot topic. So if you haven’t heard the perspective of a Muslim, here’s one to read.

Maybe one day ignorance will become just a little less rampant, through honest, open and heartfelt communications like this one.

Cape Verde

I meant to write this ages ago, but life got away from me. Better late than never. In may we went on a 10 day island hopping field trip in the Cape Verde Islands, which were created by hot spot volcanism. There is still a mantle plume down there, and it sits under the islands of Fogo & Brava.

Though Island hopping sounds exciting and very holiday-esque, it was a really exhausting trip. We would spent on average 2 days on one Island, travelling to another island every second day, before or after a full day of hiking. Though a beautiful and fascinating field trip, I was so exhausted by the time I got to Lisbon I spent most of my weekend there reading in the botanical gardens.

I became the designated translator on the trip. Since I speak French and some Spanish and the locals spoke a mixture of French, Portuguese and Creole, we managed to communicate in some shape or form on each Island. Which was important when it comes to telling the drivers not to drive off and leave us stranded in the middle of nowhere.

The hiking itself was rarely all that bad but the heat was intense on some days. Hiking, working & thinking in plus 30 degrees with a heavy bag on your back gets exhausting. So, lots of snacks and sneaky lunch naps.

The islands consist of beaches and Volcanos. My kinda place. Those two pimples there are Volcanos. If you had any doubts.


High lights of the trip involved a half day at the beach, where we went swimming in the Atlantic for a few hours, followed by unintentionally hiking a volcano in flip flops. Our professor kept saying ‘we’re just going over there, you don’t need to put your hiking boots on’.


Managed to get to the top, spot a couple of hauyne (enjoy trying to pronounce that) crystals and then back down without breaking anything. I don’t advise hiking a volcano in flip flops. It’s a really stupid idea.

On Santa Antao we saw some really exciting dykes. To those not familiar with certain geological terms, the dykes I am referring to are igneous intrusions. In the first photo you can see how the dykes that feed volcanos from a magma chamber behave. Almost like fingers, that are reaching out along the planes of weakness. When things go well, one (or more) of the feeder channels can reach the surface, resulting in a volcano erupting on the surface.

The edges of these ‘channels’ are solid, and they behave as a conduit for the magma to travel. Like liquid through a straw. You can really see that in the second photo.

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Now that dyke is pretty freaking exciting to me. You can see the walls of the dyke in contact with the country rock (surrounding stuff). From what we could see, the magma eventually stopped feeding the dyke, so there was just a cavity. Later pyroclastic eruptions then filled up the cavity in successive layers.

As dykes go. Yowza.

We got to see the famous ‘Darwins Profile’. I forgive you if you haven’t heard of it. I can’t say that I found the profile itself excessively exciting, however I got to see a side of pillow basalts that I had not seen before. The beaches were nice too. DSC03312DSC03302DSC03321DSC03324

Pillow basalts don’t look like pillows, as the name implies. rather they are tubes. At Darwins profile we got to see the pillows in 3D. Pretty perfect rocks right there.

However, the best part of the whole trip was definitely when we visited the Pico do Fogo on Fogo Island. This was our first view of the Pico.


All that broken up land you see if lava. At this point we were standing within a Caldera which had formed about 10,000 years ago. Then over the last 250 years that pico formed in the middle. Within the Caldera, there was a town called Portello. It was entirely covered in lava over a period of 2 days, during a recent eruption on December 5th & 6th, 2014. The eruption continued from November 2014 until February 2015.

Our driver used to live in Portello. Since I was one of the only ones who understood him, he kept on saying to me how terrible and horrible it was. Repeatedly. Every once in a while he would call my professor over to show him something. He spent most of the time looking at the town with his hand over his mouth, shaking his head. Eventually he pointed down into a valley and said ‘that is my house’.

We couldn’t actually see anything more than the roofs of the houses. The lava covered everything but the tops of the taller buildings.

Over the years I have had people tell me so many times how my degree is boring, merely an ‘arts’ degree, not a science. How on earth could rocks be interesting? Well, in this case, geologists saved lives. A group of geologists had been monitoring the volcano for some years, and before the eruption occurred they managed to warn the entire village and evacuate so that no one was hurt. There are volcanic observatories around the world monitoring volcanos in case they might erupt.

The more we understand about natural hazards, the more deaths caused by them can be prevented. Right now, what we know is a drop in the ocean. There is just so much work to do.

When I heard about the eruption initially I was so excited. I hoped that it was  still erupting when I got out there. I had read that a village had been destroyed, but all I could think about was seeing my subject in action. I found it difficult to reconcile my excitement of the eruption with what I saw in that village. I love what I do, and when I see my subject in action I get so excited. It’s a puzzle I need to figure out. In the face of that destroyed village, my excitement felt almost crass. At the same time, when I got into the field work for the day I cannot say that my excitement was in any way diminished. So, I hope that the work I will do in the future might contribute to our understanding of igneous activity. The more we understand, the more deaths can be prevented.

The 2014/15 eruption occurred on the flank of the volcano, as a parasitic vent. My partner and I hiked the volcano trying to access a fissure that formed in the 1995 eruption. In the lower photo, you can see a small scar on  the far left. That was the furthest we got. It was too dangerous to go any further towards the craters.


If you look closely you can see two craters, both with yellow colouring the rims. That yellow is native sulphur. We found some bombs covered in native sulphur around th 1995 vent and now I have a bunch of rocks covered in sulphur stored away at home. The dark brown/black stuff on the bottom of the vents is fresh lava flow, which covered an older lava flow from 1995 (the brown colour).

What I found unbearably awesome was the fact that the lava was still hot. it was deposited a few months before we got there, but it was too hot to sit on at times. the heat itself moved in waves. When eating our lunch, we were happily sitting on the lava when all of a sudden it got so hot I yelped and jumped up.


Not only was their a lot of heat, the craters themselves were still degassing. That was why we couldn’t approach any closer. Those gases were toxic, and we would have suffocated had we gone too close to the craters.

I learnt a lot on this trip. Getting to see such young lava alongside older eruptions taught me a lot. I’m pretty excited about it still. I think it made me better at what I do.


I eat very well when I am bored

My field trip to Cape Verde got postponed, so I have had a lot of free time this week, since I was supposed to be in a different country. What to do I thought?

The answer: cooking.

The first thing I made was a mushroom risotto. It was my first risotto. It went VERY well. I even garnished it for the photo.


The recipe was very easy to follow, and it turns out the trick is to just keep stirring, and not over cook. I didn’t have any dried porcini mushrooms, so for a little extra flavour I used both chicken and pork stock.

Then I made panna cotta with a raspberry coulis. I was so excited when I put the raspberries in the pan for the coulis. They look tasty already.The panna cotta in the pan doesn’t look quite as exciting, but the final product looks delicious. Tastes delicious too.


I used a recipe with gelatin leaves. I put in 3. The recipe I used called for milk and cream. I used skimmed milk, and I noticed that the milk and cream seemed to separate during cooling. So maybe next time i will go for full fat milk, or just use cream only, for that heavier more decadent flavour.

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I even had everything at home to make the recipe! it was so easy. Takes about ten minutes to make, and an hour to cool. If I had known it was this easy I would have started making this years ago.

I also made a tea cosy for my Mormor.


Then there was a chocolate mousse, but it’s not set yet. It tasted pretty good when I licked the bowl clean….

Whoever I end up spending my life with, be it a spouse or several cats, they are going to get fat. I accept that now.

I went to Ireland. It was not rock related, but is full of memories that I want to remember!

Two of my closest friends threw a mini party for me. See Below. As you can tell, it was a resounding success, and we were not able to move after for all the food. I will note for future reference, that Olwyn cooked. This will be possibly become an important fact one day.

I wish I could see the expressions of the people who made that banner though. Darren said they repeatedly asked ‘are you sure?’.

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I got to meet the newest member of my family, a beautiful little girl called Harriet.


She was quite tiny, and so adorable. We had a lovely cuddle. I’m excited to get to know her as she grows up. For now, I enjoyed cuddling her while she couldn’t tell me to stop talking. It was all very exciting for me.

It was so very exciting to see everyone, and see how Dublin hasn’t really changed, even though I no longer live there. The Liffey still looks gorgeous at night, and though the Molly Malone statue has moved, I felt right at home again.