Hi! My name is Ms. Graham. I am a teacher at the Marymount School of New York. Join me as I investigate the effects of Masaya, an active volcano in Nicaragua!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Masaya Finale... A Hike Around Nindiri!

I can't think of a more exciting way to finish off an already amazing week than the hike I took today around the Nindiri crater. It involved hiking up and down hills on loose, sand-like ground and even a bit of rock climbing to get down to the plateau just next to the crater! Along the way, we took gravity readings, and interestingly enough, it was hard to find consistent readings because of some of the aftershocks in Chile.

Once we were down on the plateau in between the Santiago and Nindiri craters, we discovered Pele's hair, which is a phenomena found on the plateau that literally looks like clumps of hair. Apparently, small bubbles of magma burst out of the volcano amidst the gasses and as they are tossed into the air, they are drawn into long, hair like strands of glass. The slightly bigger globs at the end of the hair are known as Pele's tears.

After making this discovery, I made my way over to the very edge of the plateau, and saw my closest view of the volcano vent all week (I think I was about 200 meters up). It was an incredibly windy, gassy day, so many of the pictures look rather cloudy and overcast, but it was actually a beautiful day! After we finished the Nindiri hike, we made our way back over to the bunker on the north end of the crater, and saw some very clear examples of the damage the sulphur dioxide can cause... Can you see the rust on the locks and chain? Those locks were put out 4 days ago!

I leave for the airport bright and early tomorrow morning, so this will be my last entry from Masaya, which I learned literally means "home of the deer," a name given by the indigenous people who first settled the area. It has been an unbelievable week packed with adventure, fun, and lots of learning; I can't wait to be able to share all the details when I get home. See you on Monday!!!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hydrothermal Systems?

The complexity of volcanos continues to increase and fascinate me daily! Today I embarked on a hike through some old lava flow, up, across, and down a wooded ridge, and then back again to the main road. I truly felt "off the beaten path," and was perhaps hiking in a part of the caldera rarely seen by many other visitors. Along with a graduate student working on the project, Jeff, and a park guard named Carlos, who is well versed in the less known paths, my new friend Fred and I took conductivity measurements for 700 meters on our journey. The measurements consist of taking two readings of conductivity, as well as GPS coordinates, by inserting two electrodes into the ground and running a wire between the two. The first electrode you leave where you begin, and you continue to roll the coiled wire until about 300 meters (when you run out of wire on the coil!). The wire is marked every 20 meters, so every 20 meters, we would stop, dig a hole (which was not always easy given the amount of rock and lava in the caldera... the electrodes need soil to read conductivity!) insert the 2nd electrode, take the two readings of the conductivity instrument, and record the GPS location. Sound like a lot of work? It was! The good news is it was a bit cooler today, and I was able to practice my Spanish a bit with Carlos : )

The results... it appears that there is a hydrothermal system (system of water tables) in certain parts of the caldera, which most certainly works in conjunction with the volcano. This information serves to give us more information about the sub-structure of the volcanic area and also allows us to hypothesize about the relationship between heated water tables and volcanos. Jeff thinks (this is groundbreaking work, by the way) that when the heat and magma in the volcano increase, it serves to heat the water table around the volcano, causing the water the to rise, which ultimately may cause changes in the ground structure that we can see.

Today's wildlife sighting... two beautiful butterflies! I'll also treat you to a picture of yesterday's monkey that I was able to borrow from another volunteer.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Plant Surveys and Air Quality

Today I learned a great deal about plant life in the crater. While walking along a trail to the east of the volcano (remember, the gas typically blows to the west, so this should be a low impact area) my group and I collected sulphation plates and conducted plant surveys. Sulphation plates are little petri dishes coated with lead that detect the amount of sulphur dioxide in the air based on the reaction of the lead. The results, however, cannot be determined until the plates are brought back to the lab to be analyzed in England. The plates have been strategically placed near and far from the volcano to help determine which areas are most severely affected by the gasses, and thus far, the research supports the theory that the plume of the gas blows west and affects not only the area directly in it's path, but also the places in a fan's width of the plume.

While collecting the plates, we also conducted surveys on three specific types of trees; the Plumeria alba, the Bursera simaruba (fondly called the "tourist plant"), and the Bombacopsis quinta. All three can be found in abundance around the crater, and the scientists are interested in knowing if and how they are affected not only by the sulpher dioxide, but also by the lava flow, which comprises the majority of the soil in some areas. To provide more data for this investigation, we recorded the number of each tree in a 20 by 20 meter square, and then measured the circumference of the trunk and estimated the height and width of the canopy. I saw some amazing trees both in this targeted group and otherwise. Wildlife highlight of the day: several white-face monkeys!!!!




Would anyone like to guess why the Bursera is knicknamed the tourist tree???

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


One might ask what in the world do magnetics have to do with volcanos... and what I learned today is, a lot! I spent the large majority of today walking trails in the Masaya crater and taking magnetic readings every 50 meters. In this picture, you can see me holding the magnetometer, which reads changes in the earth's magnetic composition. When you find a change in magnetics, this indicates that a fault line or fracture is likely below the surface. And why does this matter?? Interestingly enough, the scientists who have been working at the Masaya volcano (some since 1993!) have hypothesized that a system of cones (kind of like baby volcanoes, but they currently look like hills) and fault lines are actually comprised in the larger masaya crater, which could eventually lead to changes in activity and geography at some point in the future.

Another animal sighting! I still have not seen any of the wildlife I thought I might see, but yesterday from afar, I did see numerous vultures flying in the crater. Today, while checking on a station called the bunker, I got to see several vultures up close. I didn't have Mr. Moore's bird book with me, but I'm pretty sure I've accurately identified quite a find!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gravity, GPS, and Bats... Oh My!

Today I saw my first volcano... and it was amazing. As you can see, the Masaya volcano, or more accurately, the Santiago crater, or caldera, in the Masaya volcano (because there are many craters in the volcano, but Santiago is the only active one) constantly emits gas. The cloud in the picture is actually a mix of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and most significantly, sulphur dioxide. Though we did not do so today, in the next few days, we will take air quality measurements to quantify the sulphur dioxide. We will also follow the plume of gas as it travels west toward the Pacific coast. Any idea why this might be important?

The measurements we did take today include gravity readings and GPS readings. GPS readings are important so that we know where we are around the volcano and support the more important gravity measurements. Gravity measurements are taken around the volcano to surmise what might be happening under the ground in terms of magma activity. (I will explain more about this tomorrow and bonus points to the person who can accurately report back with the equation for calculating gravity!!) I think one of my favorite parts of today was listening to the magma; you can't see it, but you can clearly hear something that resembles the sounds of waves crashing on the beach.

My last adventure today was exploring a lava tube in the caldera, which is basically a cave that was created by lava flow from a prior eruption (the last eruption was in 1772!). This area is now a bat cave, so I braved the darkness and uneven terrain to steal a glimpse of a few hundred bats (they were small and cute!) both flying and hanging around in their natural habitat. To my relief, they didn't mind me, or my flashlight, at all. Thank goodness.............