Monday, March 26, 2007

Field Trip!

Today when I went to the lab my TA greeted me by asking what cool places I'd been to this weekend. Up until now he's always said a general "how was your weekend?" question, but after hearing interesting narratives every Monday I have garnered a track record. It happens.

Anyway, this weekend was actually quite lovely and geeky at the same time- I signed up for a geophysics paper this semester mainly because it sounded cool and partly because there was a field trip. I think everyone has been conditioned to like field trips thanks to grammar school excursions to Interesting and Educational Places, which really weren't all that cool in hindsight often except for the missing class part. Oh, and Kennywood Day if you were cool enough to grow up in Pittsburgh, but I digress.


The geophysics field trip was an overnight to Leigh, which is around two hours north of Auckland where the University of Auckland has a facility in Goat Island Marine Reserve. I've been here before a little over a month ago during orientation so it was nice to be back. I also knew more about the lay of the land compared to some of my Kiwi classmates for once, so there was admittedly a bit of relish in being able to tell people where the good snorkelling was and such instead of it being the other way around as it usually is.

On our way to Leigh we stopped at, you guessed it, a few Interesting and Educational Places so we could look at clouds and talk about how cool the rocks were. The first one of these places was Mount Eden, the name of a dormant volcano in the middle of the Auckland peninsula. This really isn't that big a deal by the way: Auckland is intelligently constructed on top of an active volcanic field currently home to 50-odd volcanoes. Rangitoto, the most recent one of these, suddenly showed up in the harbor around 600 years ago to the suprise of the local Maori population, but despite this Aucklanders don't seem to care much about their inevitable impending doom. Sort of like California and the San Andreas fault, I guess.

Anyway, Mount Eden is an interesting spot because it's the tallest one of these volcanoes and you can drive to the summit, meaning if you can see through the throngs of tour busses it really is a neat spot. For starters there's the crater itself: it's a large grassy bowl around 50m deep, and looks well-formed enough that you inevitably make a quip about the volcano erupting while you're staring at it. (Then the Kiwi next to you will point out how this is highly unlikely, as the next volcano will just push up under your house while you're sleeping instead. Or something.) Secondly, the mountain is the tallest natural point in Auckland so you get very nice views in every direction, which are perfect for gazing at the city, the clouds, the harbor, and the other volcanoes.

The next Interesting and Educational Place on our itinerary was Orewa Beach, about 35km north of Auckland, which was a lovely long and sandy beach occupied by a few souls enjoying the surf. We spent a little bit of time making measurements of the waves and then observing them from the lookout where this picture was taken, and then trundled along our merry way. A brief stop for lunch later, we were at our final destination at the marine reserve.
The technical point of going on a geophysics field trip, I feel obliged to mention at some point, is to hone your field skills. It falls into three categories for our class, marine, solid earth, and atmospheric, so we did three activities for specific activities in each (one the first afternoon, and two the next morning). I did the marine part the first day which was quite plesant- we snuggled into the tall grass on top of a cliff overlooking the sea, and wrote down absolutely everything we could think of regarding the waves (estimated amplitude, period, patterns to breaking, direction, etc). Then we went tramping a little along the cliff, found another vantage point, and repeated the process. During the entire thing, for some reason I was reminded of the time in 5th grade where our teacher made us behave like Thoreau and reflect from our "quiet spot" in nature. I felt a slight urge to record how the waves made me feel, but thankfully the urge went away once I remembered how much I've never been a fan of such psychological adventures in the first place.

The rest of the afternoon was spent snorkeling and such, but unfortunately the water (which wasn't really warm last month) was a little cold, even with my wetsuit top, and the waves were a little detrimental as well so I didn't stay in long. Saw a few nice fish though whose names I unfortunately don't know, so I will omit that part.

Besides which I made another discovery: the marine lab has a cat! Hooray! The tabby's name is Erro, Latin for "stray," and she was a very friendly cat who looked very similar to the family kitty back home, except brown where our cat is grey. Erro picked up on this bout of homesickness on my part very quickly and insisted she be petted right away, so I was quite happy to oblige her. For the next day or so we had a lovely relationship whereby she would come to the same call I use to get my cat's attention back home (rather odd, since we speak to our cat in Hungarian), and purr in my lap. As the day progressed I also learned that she never fancied being petted much by the rest of the students, so I felt lucky. After all, to the best of my knowledge no one else was pining for a cat ten thousand miles away.

But anyway, afternoon progressed to evening, and evening progressed to night, and we had the sort of fun you have when 30-odd people who didn't know each other very well beforehand suddenly become best friends. To say the least there were more than a few shots by students and professors alike, quite a few card games, a homemade chess set, and a lot of people engrossed in the challenge of going accross the top and bottom of a table without touching the floor. I was also given some free advice/encouragement on considering New Zealand for graduate school by one of our professors, and had to clarify points on American lifestyle/politics on more than one occasion, so there was no shortage of simulating conversation.


On Sunday my two geophysics activities were solid earth and atmospheric in the morning, which involved waking up at an hour I wouldn't have known existed under my own schedule but that's the price we pay for science. The atmospheric one was sort of what you'd expect- we measured the temperature and pressure and wind speed and such at the beach, then did the same on top of a hill. Whenever I get around to doing the field trip writeup, said data will be used to calculate the height of the hill and such things.

The solid Earth portion was an interesting mix- it involved a lot of readings of the Earth's magnetic field over the course of a few hours, whacking a sledge hammer on a metal plate to simulate seismic waves so you could see signals from the layers in the ground below you, and use a compass to find the distance from the beach to Goat Island. The latter was straight out of my days with the Scouts by the way, thus proving that even the most not connected to the real world activities will come back to haunt you eventually. You just have to be really patient and try your best to not forget things.

Anyway, after lunch we packed everything together and headed back to Auckland as best we could through the Sunday afternoon traffic. And I spent most of last night putting a few final touches on my E&M homework that was due today, and refrained from posting here until now because, well, I prefer some physics student rimes to remain fiction.

As a final picture, I will show you guys the nice sheep who had the great waterfront property right next to the marine lab. In a country with 45 million of these guys, I still find them novel-

In an agricultural sense though, one of the oddest things I encountered on this trip was noticing a corn field on the way back and being slightly stunned about the fact that the corn was in tassel. I know it's fall here and going to get colder soon but it's hard to remember sometimes when you remember that "fall" is not nessecarily synonymous with "first frost" and the like. Plus how can it be fall when Halloween and Thanksgiving are half a year away and they don't even have Halloween and Thanksgiving here anyway? It does explain the sudden appearence of pumpkin in the dining hall menu, though.

So that's about all I can say about my geophysics trip, but by the looks of it I've said more than enough about it anyway! Unfortunately I think my TA will be a little disappointed next Monday because it's the week before Easter Break next week, so the only "cool place" I have penciled in right now is the library. Contrary to popular belief, I do crack open a few books on occasion!


Anonymous said...

Mount Eden was the first place we went to after landing in Auckland... at five in the morning! The best part was that there were quite a few bikers and joggers out enjoying the cool morning with us.

Also, you get to have fall again! Not fair at all.