Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Finishing off Flores

With Dr. Larry in Timor Timur, the next step of my training process began. I was to lead the installation of the final 3 stations: One in western Flores and two in Western Timor (Timor Barat). All along I’ve been going through the process of transforming from a helper caterpillar to a true field monarch butterfly and these final installs are kind of like the de facto final exam in Dr. Larry’s school of hard knocks. I’ve been groomed for success and that is precisely what I intend to reap but I'm coming to learn that the captain’s seat can certainly be a stressful one at times. Nevertheless, I’m excited and I know I’m prepared. There is no classroom in which I could have learned what I have here and no textbook capable of forming me the way this experience has. True field-seismology savvy is hewn from the terrain it aims to probe. I know Leland (and Meghan) will laugh when reading this, but being in the position I’m in now means a lot to me. Now to the action part!

A snapshot of western Flores with a pin dropped on the station we installed. Note the giant basin to the south-southeast of the pin - something we purposefully avoided.

Nova and I flew to Labuan Bajo to install a final station in western Flores to compliment the station we built in Pagal and the Indonesian station in Labuan Bajo itself, which is conveniently located about a stone’s throw from the local airport... We brought a BMKG (department of meteorology, climatology and geophysics) staff member with us to give him a taste of our trade and he wound up being one of the most helpful and promising scientists and friends we’ve met this whole trip. His name is Ricky Man and I’ll brag about him shortly.

The city of Labuan Bajo is pretty touristy (not a surprise given that it’s gorgeous, near Komodo Island and is a popular dive spot) which means it's expensive and even more people offer at the top of their lungs to carry your bags for money, but we found a silver lining in a what may be NTT’s only frozen yoghurt shop.

We set off to the southeast towards some rugged topography that is presumably the result of both volcanic and back thrusting activity in the region. We met with the regional leader (the camat [pronounced “cha-mat”]) and he was so excited about our project that he gifted me a sweet hat and unofficially inducted me into his sweet hat club! I think I’m the tallest member of this chapter. 

Camat 2 to my left, his wife beside him and Ricky 2 to my right. The camat's name is France Selatan, which means South France. Indonesian naming conventions are totally different from ours and this man absolutely deserves his power name.

With the help of local directions and some a priori research on Google Earth, we found the village of Rengkas, which was just about where we had hoped to put a station based on our array. With the village leader, a few good local men and 5,000 cigarettes, we began rooting around some mountainous farmland. Pretty soon the sky opened up and an impressive downpour soaked us all to the bone. Visibility went from being able to see clear across a massive valley to that same valley looking like an impressionist painting of an off-white wall. With how hot this whole field excursion has been, I thought the rain was actually really refreshing. The villagers, however, seemed less enthused and huddled under some trees, undoubtedly making fun of me and whooping with laugher every time I almost slipped, while I romped around and eventually found the site that was to host our beloved sensor. We marked the site, cleared it with the landowner, lined up a labor team for the next day and set off for Labuan Bajo for the night.

On the way back west, something happened that was so frustrating and unstoppable it was almost hilarious and definitely put lesser traffic problems in perspective. The roads are mediocre, at best, when dry. When wet, they tend to be a little softer, one might say. About 15 km from the city, we arrived at a very long line of stopped cars. We hopped out to see what the holdup was and saw this: a massive, probably overloaded, truck had turned a tight corner and half sunk into the ground adjacent the asphalt. He had done so in such a way that his truck was blocking the road from both directions. On either side of this “beached whale” was a one-lane road (two lanes when dry but the rain had really done a number on it and the road had been reduced to a thin strip of asphalt dissecting a swamp). Trucks were lined up downhill for a solid kilometer and even if you could get around the sunken giant you were pretty much stuck there because you couldn’t get around the aggravated truckers behind him. After a period of time that wound up being mercifully much shorter than my increasingly pessimistic estimates, the trucks downhill found a way to pull over so cars could pass on the shoulder and we were in a sturdy pickup (the Hilux!) so we didn’t have any issues skirting around them. We got home and we passed out.


The next day we successfully put in the station and finished about 5 minutes before an identical thunderstorm rolled in and shooed us away from the completed site. We were all pleased with the final result and I’m confident Leland would have been too. Ricky (aka Slick Rick) was tremendously helpful! He jumped at the chance to carry heavy things up steep paths, chipped in good old-fashioned physical labor, made sure to carefully observe all of my work with the technical equipment while asking genuinely good questions, and, was instrumental in winning over the locals. Ricky is from Flores and is fluent in the local dialect, which obviously helped establish some extra trust with the villagers. While I was leveling the sensor, Ricky took the time to draw time series in the dirt and explained how the sensor records waves that travel from afar, that it has three components and why it’s important for it to be precisely oriented. He’s the type of guy we want to continue to work with on this project and on future projects too. His English is good enough to read scientific papers so I’ll be sending him a number of them to discuss when I return. Here he is with the first station he’s ever helped install – it won’t be his last:

Get 'em, Rick! Also, note the scenic valley in the background. Definitely a perk.

Tomorrow: Lelogama in western Timor. 

The balance between good and evil, part 2

There is something mysterious about the mountain city in central Timor Leste, Same (pronounced 'saw-may').  In a previous post, I detailed the duel nature of installing a station in this city – the treacherous passage to get to Same balanced by the beauty of city’s setting.  This duality is still very much present, but this trip offered another round of contrasting factors.  To travel to Same, we set out from Dili to the east. 

We visited stations in Baucau, Los Palos, then Viqueque.  The collection of data in Baucau and Los Palos was fairly routine: change out data cards, improve the station conditions, make a few updates to the recording parameters.  The visit to Viqueque was not so good.  Back in August, I learned from IPG that there was some flooding that put the station in jeopardy.  Their notes suggested that it may still be ok, but I was very nervous and anxious to visit the station.  At first glance, the power system was in good order despite a little water being present inside the equipment box.  However, a critical issue with the seismometer required that the station be decommissioned and taken back to Dili.  Major bummer.  There was no point in leaving the other equipment behind, so we packed everything up and headed to Same.  The road did not disappoint, proving to be as treacherous as ever.  If the sensor was not broken before we pulled it, it most certainly is now.  We arrived after dark in Same and were lucky to take the last two rooms available in the hotel. 

The station in Viqueque, before and after the visit.  We plan
to get it back in order on the next visit.
The next morning, we planned for a quick data collection and station service to give enough time for the rough drive back to Dili.  Not so fast Larry!  When we cracked open the equipment box, it appeared that this sensor was also non-functional.  The data stream was similar to a problem that occurred after the sensors were returned from their previous deployment in Morocco.  In that case, the sensors needed to be repaired at the factory in Canada.  I worried that we now had two sensors that required repair.  But, with great patience and careful assessment of the situation, we managed to determine that the cable connecting the sensor to the data logger was at fault.  This was only possible because we had pulled the equipment from Viqueque.  It turns out that (in an oddly curious way) we were lucky to have an extra set of equipment on hand.  We moved ahead with the servicing and data collection, and set out on the bone-crunching ride back to Same.  The main road was out of service, so we had to take an alternative route.  It is hard to find worse passage than the road from Same to Dili, but it is possible.  The road quality was about the same, but takes another hour to make the journey.  Fun times, but tempered by the fact that we made a full recovery of the Same station rather than pulling it and taking it back to Dili. 

A distant slope on the road back to Dili.  A clear change in rock type
can be seen across the lower topography and the grey steep slope above,
my inner geologist is happy to see evidence of active faulting.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Capitol hopping

The crew has finally split into two teams.  I have traveled to Timor Leste while Coop and Nova finish the installation and wrap up our presence in Kupang.  My flight from Kupang to Atambua provided great views of Timor Island, revealing rugged topography and an abundant network of river channels.  I have made it to Timor Leste’s capitol Dili with six more stations to collect data from, in addition to increased diplomatic efforts and public outreach.


Looking south over the confluence of three big
rivers.  Taken from somewhere above Soe.

Some nice topography while approaching Atambua.

To cross the land border from Indonesia to Timor Leste, foreign citizens much first secure a visa approval form from the Timor Leste consulate in Kupang (thank you Lonely Planet travel book – if one doesn’t have this approval, they must return to Kupang!).  It takes three working days to process, no fee to acquire.  The English speaking staff at the consulate requie a 3x4 cm photo from the applicant, a copy of their passport, and evidence of a return ticket leaving Timor Leste.  
My entrance letter to return from Oecussi into mainland Timor
Leste.  Without this, life would not be so nice.
I reunited with the Institut of Petroleum and Geology (IPG) from Dili, remembering good times this past march with the driver Mr. Alex.  IPG has hired an earthquake specialist within their hazards division to be assigned to this project, Mr. Luis Teofilo.  I look forward to proving him as much training and knowledge over the next week to prepare for future collaboration.  In general, the IPG (est. 2012) has greatly expanded their capacity – they doubled their staff and moved into a bigger facility in Dili.  Our project is helping them expand into an area of analysis that they can most certainly benefit from. 

The first station was serviced during this stay.  Eight months of data were collected, nearly meeting the capacity of our system – looks like I showed up just in time to harvest the fruits of our labor.  Sweet, sweet data, ripe for the picking.  We threw some shovels of dirt on top of the sensor, layers some more plastic on top of the equipment to shelter from the sun and rain, took a lot of notes on site conditions and equipment performance, and moved on.  I am encouraged that the power system is in good condition – there are many stories of equipment failure in tropical environments.  Keeping my fingers crossed for the remaining stations.