TT: Explosive Landscape

If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just page back to read about unexpected camels…  Then come back here to find out why volcanoes make me think of Alan.

JANE: Hey, Alan!   I bet you didn’t know that volcanoes make me think of you.

Volcanic Basalt

ALAN: It must be my explosive personality, or perhaps the sulphurous smell of my feet?

JANE: Well, you do have an ebullient personality (and Robin is the only person I know who can answer the question about your feet).

Actually, my association has more to do with my visit to New Zealand all those years ago.  The other day, Jim and I were driving west in Albuquerque.  We’d had snow and scattered whiteness was outlining the volcanic cones on the mesa further west.   You wouldn’t know this, but what is typically called the West Mesa here isn’t actually a mesa at all, but the debris from  a volcanic flow.  My dad had a Masters degree in geology.  First time he came to visit me here, he commented.  “You do realized the lava stopped right there.”

Dad indicated a point about two tenths of a mile from my house.  I’d never really thought about where all that black basalt came from.  It doesn’t look particularly liquid, like the popular depiction of a volcanic flow, but that’s what it is: stopped lava.

So, you and I both live in geologically active land.  Yours is just a lot more – uh – volatile.  I remember being told that one of the islands was so new that it wasn’t there when the first European settlers arrived.

ALAN: New Zealand sits on the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates. All plate boundaries are hazardous places to be and New Zealand is very geologically active as the recent tragic earthquakes in Christchurch have made clear. Further north we have volcanic areas and the Taupo area in the middle of the North Island is particularly active. Mount Ruapehu has had several minor eruptions in my lifetime. The mountain itself is a film star –  it played the part of  Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s “Lord Of The Rings” movies. Typical typecasting in my opinion.

The largest recorded event in historic times happened on June 10th 1886 when Mount Tarawera erupted. Earthquakes were felt throughout the North Island and the mountain exploded spectacularly. A plume of ash rose 10km into the sky and molten lava streamed down its sides. Several villages were buried in ash and mud. The world-famous Pink and White Terraces, large expanses of delicately tinted silica, were completely destroyed.

And Lake Taupo itself is the product of a prehistoric volcanic eruption. The evidence suggests that the eruption must have been significantly larger than Krakatoa. Probably it was the largest eruption ever to have taken place anywhere on Earth. I’m very glad I wasn’t around when it happened…

JANE: Another thing I remember about New Zealand was the hot springs.  We have them here in New Mexico, too, but none of the people who go to wallow in them seem to realize that this indicates volcanic activity leaking up toward the surface.

Weren’t the hot springs important to the Maori way of life?  I seem to recall they cooked in them.

ALAN: Yes, that’s right. The Maori traditionally cook their food by wrapping it in leaves and burying it in the hot ground. It’s known as a hangi.

Here in New Zealand, the geothermal areas are so active that they are used to generate about 13% of our electricity. And they are huge tourist attractions of course with their hot pools, bubbling mud and the overwhelming smell of hydrogen sulphide everywhere. The tourists all love the smell – nobody can tell when they fart.

JANE: And it disguises the smell of their feet? <grin> More seriously, how does this make you feel about living in New Zealand.  Have you and Robin considered leaving?

ALAN: Yes, we have. In a few years time I will be able to retire with a pension and once I do that it seems likely that we’ll move to Western Australia where most of Robin’s family live. Western Australia is very tectonically stable. Nothing geological happens there.

JANE: But I’m sure other things do…  I’ve got something else I want to ask you, but I’m going to save it for next time!  By the way, officially, Happy New Year!

ALAN: And Happy New Year to you as well.


One Response to “TT: Explosive Landscape”

  1. heteromeles Says:

    Going to trade in rare volcanoes and earthquakes for more frequent wildfires, Alan? Oh well, I’ve got to get down there sometime (either New Zealand or western Australia). Where I live in California, I get the best of both: wildfires and earthquakes. Keeps life interesting it does.

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