Tag Archives: volcanology

AGU 2017, Day 3

What a day! I fortuitously came across quite a few people I know from either my undergraduate institution or my PhD work, and managed to catch up with some of them. I explored about a third of the exhibits in the exhibit hall, and learned about cool new instrumentation, including the Raspberry Shake.

In the afternoon, I went to a volcanology session about flood basalts and large igneous provinces, and it was riveting. Loyc Vanderkluysen is working on a new classification scheme for the Deccan Traps, which cover an area roughly the size of Texas and may have covered three times that area when they were first erupted. These lavas, found in modern-day India, have formation boundaries defined by their chemistry, but the choice of chemistry to use for classification and differentiation seems like it could be improved by modern data analysis techniques.

But the talk that really stood out was by Courtney Sprain, talking about dating the Deccan Traps. Papers published in 2015, one using U/Pb dating (Schoene et al.) and the other using Ar/Ar dating (Renne et al.), concluded that the Deccan Traps were erupted almost entirely between 67 Ma (Mega-annum, million years ago) and 65 Ma, right across the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary. However, the middle portion of the sequence was not dated sufficiently precisely to test whether the Chixulub impact caused increased volcanism in the Deccan Traps. In this new work, many additional samples have been analyzed with high-precision Ar/Ar using many multi-grain step-heating experiments. As a result, the data are now sufficient to test whether volcanism changed or increased at the same time as the impact. The K-Pg boundary occurs right at an important formation boundary, and Nd isotopes shift there (toward less crust-like, more mantle-like ratios) as well. Feeder dikes, which lower in the sequence were generally oriented in one direction, became randomly oriented above the chronological boundary.

All of which is to say, the new data are of a quality where it would be possible to falsify the hypothesis that the impact caused increased volcanism, but they do not falsify that hypothesis. Indeed, they are quite consistent with it. Wow!

Claims of impact-triggered flood basalts are rather radical, and need some solid data to back them up. The speakers in these sessions were clear to say that this isn’t by any means sufficient yet to declare the new paradigm accepted and move on. Still, this was a pretty big test of the hypothesis, and it came through unscathed.

In the morning, I will be presenting my poster on the retreat of Stephenson Glacier, Heard Island (poster C41B-1222). This conference has been keeping me very busy, and it looks like that will continue through the time I leave. I’m very excited about what I’ve been learning, the people I’ve been talking with, and the ideas that are coming together as a result of this conference. The long conference center (it’s nearly 1 km end-to-end) is keeping me in good shape, too!


AGU 2017, Day 2

The second full day of the American Geophysical Union conference is always an interesting one, as the exhibit hall opens. Vendors, funding agencies, publishers, universities, and other organizations are present at booths, filling a huge hall. It’s a great place to go to see the latest and greatest technology, such as the 4 meter long flume table from Emriver. I took a picture, but forgot to bring my card reader so I have no way to transfer it off of my camera. It shall have to suffice for now to say that it was stunning.

In addition to some very interesting discussions with people at posters, I went to the Volcanology, Geochemistry, and Petrology award lectures. The second lecture, by Craig Manning, was a fairly clear discussion about the inadequacies of previous thinking about thermodynamics in hot (900–1100 °C), high-pressure (5–10 kbar [I think I have that pressure right]) hydrothermal systems (e.g. subduction zones) and some new experimental results and conceptual models which seem to fit better.

My mind was blown fairly early in the talk when he pointed out that under those temperature and pressure conditions, neutral pH for water is around 4. I also haven’t thought enough about ionic liquids (e.g. molten sodium chloride), or the ternary phase diagram of H2O, CO2, and NaCl, particularly not under high temperature/pressure. However, in the thermodynamic sense these systems do have some predictable behaviors when thought of this way, and the data seem to fit those predictions. The fluids have a tendency to become quickly rich in silica (SiO2), which gives rise to the quartz veins commonly found in metamorphic rocks. In these models it is not hard to then transition from silica-in-salt-solution toward partial melting of a type found in metamorphic and volcanic rocks.

The afternoon held interesting talks on isotope systems of relevance to volcanic measurements (estimating sulfur emissions and speciation), as well as good discussions with people I met in the hallways or poster sessions. Later in the afternoon I came across a former labmate, and it was good to catch up with her for a while and discuss the various challenges of being an early-career scientist. Dinner, debrief, and further discussion of early-career issues with my conference buddy capped off my day.

Tomorrow has yet more interesting talks and posters, and there are a few people on my to-talk-with list who I will need to track down.