Brewing a Cup of Volcanic Tea

Many families along Iceland’s fertile southern coast can spin a good yarn about a close escape from an exploding volcano. Take Kristín Vogförð’s  grandfather, who was tending sheep on the eastern slopes of Katla when it erupted in 1918, melting glacial ice and violently flooding the rivers and fields below. According to an account by the geophysicist from the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), he and the other shepherds rode their tough Icelandic horses through icy waters to safety. Unfortunately, his sheep were not so lucky.

In April, I joined a group of Icelandic volcano experts on a field trip to study rocks, gases and river runoff from Eyjafjallajökull. I witnessed modern escapes and came away impressed by how much Iceland’s scientists are doing to learn all they can from the latest eruptions, which have already begun to take a large toll on the small country’s tourism and agriculture industries.

Read the rest of my essay for Global Talent, a Catalan science service, in English [html] [pdf], Spanish [html] [pdf], or Catalan [html] [pdf].

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Iceland Eruptions Fuel Interest in Volcanic Gas Monitoring

REYKJAVIK–As a brown cloud of ash drifts down from the slopes of Eyjafjallajökull toward their truck, Hanna Kaasalainen warns a colleague that their gas masks won’t be much good against carbon dioxide. The masks filter out poisonous gases released by magma such as sulfur dioxide, but carbon dioxide can simply displace oxygen in the air, asphyxiating the researchers as they take ash samples alongside a haze-enshrouded, deserted road. “We shouldn’t stay very long,” the University of Iceland geochemistry graduate student advises, before strapping on a bright yellow mask and opening the door. Continue reading

Transitioning from Researcher to Outreacher

Shelley Bolderson was scraping mud from a trowel one day in an Anglo-Saxon midden in St. Neots, United Kingdom, when she realized she didn’t want to be an archaeologist any longer. “It was winter, and I’d spent ages on that particular site,” she recalls. “It was really kind of soul-destroying work.”

Until that point, Bolderson had worked as a freelance archaeologist around England, mostly in urban environments, where she assessed building sites before development. She had a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Southampton in the U.K. and wasn’t interested in doing a master’s or Ph.D. She sought temporary work while deciding what to do next.

One of her temporary jobs was at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. in the office that coordinates the Cambridge Science Festival, an annual, weeklong event that shares Cambridge-area science research with the public. “I saw a new career I had no idea existed beforehand and thought it looked really exciting,” she says. When a position coordinating the science festival opened up in the office, Bolderson applied for it.

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