Saturday, May 25, 2013

Happy Towel Day!

Wisdom from Douglas Adams:
“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
“The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.” 
“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”
"The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job."
“Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”
“You know," said Arthur, "it's at times like this, when I'm trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was young."
"Why, what did she tell you?"
"I don't know, I didn't listen.” 
“If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat.”
“Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.
The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist,'" says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing."
“This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”
“Don't you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn't developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don't expect to see."
“Don't believe anything you read on the net. Except this. Well, including this, I suppose.”
Happy Towel Day!

Geo 365: May 25, Day 145: Head of the Flow

Looking east to the head and source of the Big Obsidian Flow, on the south side of Newberry Volcano. I posted a panorama of this whole vista three weeks ago, but today I want to focus on something that never quite looked right to me, and offer a couple possible explanations. In the following annotated version of the above photo, I've highlighted the rim on the uphill side of the dome and flow. I've also marked the location of China Hat, an apparent cinder cone that nevertheless has a very distinctive look.
So what's wrong here? It's something that nagged at me for years. I had only seen pictures until seven or eight years ago when my Sister and her family visited, and I finally made the trip up the steep, twisty, and wash-boardy road up to this peak, and even first-hand, I couldn't quite put my finger on what was bugging me. Likewise visiting with Dana two years ago. It was only by looking over photos from that last visit that I spotted the feature that was making my mind itchy.

This sense of "something looks wrong" here, or at least "something doesn't look quite right," is not one to be discounted, even by people who haven't spent their lives learning about geology. All of us have spent our lives looking at the earth's surface- most of us, at its solid surface: its landscapes. We have an intuitive sense of what does and doesn't look right. And when something in our heads starts complaining that the landscape doesn't make sense, we need to pay attention.

In this case, the thing that was bugging me was the the uphill edge of the flow is, well, uphill. Liquids ain't s'posed to flow uphill. Once I figured out that was the thing which was pestering me, a couple of possible explanations occurred to me almost immediately.

First, I think it's reasonable to assume that the rubbley knob or dome is (or was) centered over the vent where the obsidian was erupted. Obsidian is very viscous as lavas go, and I suspect if we were able to get at it and handle it in its "molten" state, we wouldn't perceive it as liquid at all. So the rate at which it would squeeze out of the vent might easily overwhelm the rate at which it was flowing away from the vent. This would create an enormous mound over the vent that only slowly over weeks or even months would flow away down hill. Picture the dome above as much higher, perhaps up near the caldera rim, and suddenly the raised ramparts on the uphill edge of the flow aren't as puzzling.

Now, I did say a couple of possible explanations, but really they're variations on a theme, and could very well be operating together. How did this supposed mound of hot obsidian finally spread out and subside? If the venting was short-lived and terminated quickly, that dome may very well have migrated down slope as the flow advanced- slumping, in a sense. On the other hand, if the venting continued as the conjectured mound slowly moved toward the interior of the caldera, the dome might have remained more or less in place as the overall mound collapsed around it- and indeed in other photos, that central dome does seem to have a downhill "tail."

The important issue here, though, is not "here's the answer." It's "trust your geological intuition when it says something's wrong, because that will likely lead to new insight and understanding." I may very well be wrong in my tentative conclusions, but I finally understand why this flow has always pestered some part of my mind.

Photo unmodified. August 21, 2011. FlashEarth location.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Geo 365: May 24, Day 144: Parasitic Cones

Looking roughly southeast from the top of Paulina Peak, on the south rim of Newberry Volcano, you can see a few of the numerous parasitic cones scattered about its flanks. I'm under the impression that most of these are cinder cones, but it wouldn't surprise me if a few of them are of compositions other than basalt.

Photo run through Paint.Net's autolevel routine. August 21, 2011. FlashEarth location.

Followup: I realized after posting this that you can see Fort Rock (More on Fort Rock if you look through the Geo 365 posts of the previous day) off in the distance, which is likely the forgotten reason I actually took this particular shot. It's just above the second tree from the right bottom. Here's a crop with the contrast ramped way up, and the brightness lowered a good way, to try and peer through the haze a bit more clearly.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Geo 365: May 23, Day 143: Lava Jumble and Three Sisters

A final view out over the aa-aa lava flow at Lava Butte, with Three Sisters on the horizon. As it happens, this also gives a pretty good sense of the overall layout of the High Cascades: a long, broad, and fairly low (~5000 feet) ridge, capped sporadically with stratovolcanoes that reach to roughly double that height. The tall peaks, like Sisters, Hood, Jefferson, and so on, are the exceptions, not the rule.

Photo run through Paint.Net's autolevel routine. August 21, 2011. FlashEarth location.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Geo 365: May 22, Day 142: Surveying the Flow

Dana overlooking the lower part of the lava gutter, where it empties out onto a plain of aa-aa. The lava flowed a couple miles, reaching the Deschutes River, where it created a temporary dam. Where that dam was ultimately breached and eroded down, the stretch of whitewater that remains today is called Benham Falls. It's a spot I haven't visited... yet.

Photo unmodified. August 21, 2011. FlashEarth location.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Geo 365: May 21, Day 141: Lava's Got a Squeeze-Up...

...Daddy doesn't sleep at night. I'm not entirely clear on how squeeze-ups form, but I can generally recognize them. My understanding is that once the lava becomes confined within the exterior shell or crust- essentially, a lava tube that hasn't drained- more lava erupted at the top of the flow increases the pressure lower in the tube. If there is a fracture or joint in the area experiencing the increased pressure, the lava squeezes up and out, like toothpaste from a tube.

Photo run through Paint.Net's autolevel routine. August 21, 2011. FlashEarth location.

And for those who didn't catch today's tongue-in-cheek musical reference:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Geo 365: May 20, Day 140: All of Us Are in the Gutter

(Click the pic for full-size. You know you want to.) Most cinder cones eruptions follow roughly the same story line: they start with a volatile-rich phase, tossing out bubbly, vesicular lava, with gasses acting as the propellant. A large heap of these cinders form around the vent. Since the slope is limited by the angle of repose- the steepest that a loose material of a given nature can be piled without collapsing- cinder cones tend to all look quite similar. The material they're made of is all vesicular mafic lava (basalt to andesite), so they vary in size, but not much in overall geometry.

Later in the eruptive cycle, though, as the supply of gasses starts to sputter out, the basalt is no longer thrown from the vent by their escape. This is where some variation in the morphology of cones can arise. The basalt is still being driven to escape by pressure from deeper down, so it starts to push up the throat of the newborn cone. However, the hydrostatic pressure of that column of basalt is often enough to overcome the confining pressure of the pile of loose cinders. The newly vented basalt is denser than the now cool cinders, which often have a greater amount of void space than actual rock- this is called scoriaceous basalt, or scoria. So rather than rising to the vent of the cone, the younger lava simply plows through its bottom and side, and erupts as flows. I refer to these as breach flows, though I'm not sure that's the correct term. I do recall that when an entire side of the cinder cone is blown out and carried away by the later flows, that's called a breached cone. It only took a few moments looking around in FlashEarth to find a nearby example- tree covered, so clearly older. (just above the cross hairs, and there's another, north-facing, breached cone over to the lower right)

In the case of Lava Butte though, not enough of the cinders were excavated by the later flows to damage its symmetry. So we're standing in the middle of the area where those gouts of lava emerged from the cone's flanks. The edges of the flow cooled more quickly, and the middle more slowly. So the edges of the flow are topographic highs, while the center remained hotter and able to flow away, resulting in a low area. This is referred to as a lava gutter. And with deference to Oscar Wilde, I get a little starry-eyed every time I take this short walk. I know of no other spot that more clearly imbues the viewer with such a visceral sense of what the past looked like.

Panorama stiched with HugIn, and run through Paint.Net's autolevel routine. August 21, 2011. FlashEarth location.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Funnies: If Spock Was President Edition

I would so love to see Obama respond to these inane "scandals" in this manner. Julia Segal
The Far Left Side
Funny to Me
Tastefully Offensive
Doodle Time "The internal monologue that goes on whenever I cave to junk food."
Funny to Me
Senor Gif
See Mike Draw
Senor Gif
Tastefully Offensive
Sober in a Nightclub
Senor Gif
Funny to Me

"'Aliens' in 60 Seconds"
Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy, in case you hadn’t heard. How dare she remove those ticking time bombs from her chest, amiright? Like, hasn’t she learned by now that her body is public domain and we all get to vote on what she does with it? Sheesh, how selfish can ya get.
Funny to Me
"Well-played, Humane Society." Imgur
Funny to Me
Bits and Pieces
Fake Science
Very Demotivational
Wil Wheaton's Tumblr
"When I find a sample from two years ago, and try to remember what it is" What Should We Call Grad School?
Tastefully Offensive
Very Demotivational

Geo 365: May 19, Day 139: We Have Big Balls

Viewing the two lava balls in the left of yesterday's photo from a different angle. I'll reiterate that I'm not sure if "lava balls" is a term used broadly among volcanologists; Lava Butte is the only place I've seen it. At the same time, I want to acknowledge that the mechanism described on the interpretive sign there seems logical and the best explanation *I* can think of. The rabbit brush is typically 2-3 feet in height, so these are pretty big- maybe 10-15 feet in diameter. The thought of these incandescently hot, rolling down an active lava flow, is quite intimidating.

Photo run through Paint.Net's autolevel routine. August 21, 2011. FlashEarth location.