Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hot times from Maumere to Larantuka

Two more stations in the bag as we are ready to leave Larantuka tomorrow morning by ferry, set to head east to Pulau Lembata for two more installs.  The past two days provided successful missions, but required some major endurance.  Each day, we had enough permitting and errand running to force us to start working at noon.  As such, we took on the hottest part of the day.  It was a good experience meeting folks from both villages - they were accepting and appreciative of what we are doing.  They have all felt gempa bumis (earthquakes) in the very recent past, and have experience significant ones prior.  We have heard some stories about a large earthquake in 1992 that generated a tsunami that leveled the area.  If we can do anything to help them better prepare for these disasters, our work here will transcend our other scientific goals.

Team photo from Bangkoor village.  Small 800m tall volcanic peak in background.

The drive from Bangkoor to Larantuka provides some of our first up close looks at volcanoes.  Lewotobi is recently active, including eruptions in the 19th and 20th centuries.  As the drive went along, we had a long look at the peak during a beautiful sunset.  Once emerging on the coast as we made our way closer to Larantuka, looks of the Savu Sea seemed romantic given the stunning scenery.  Definitely looking forward to more of this!

One of the bigger volcanoes in East Flores, Gunung Lewotobi (1800 m), peeking out in the sunset.
On the approach to Larantuka, small volcanic cones dot the landscape...some poke out of the ocean!
After a night in Larantuka, we clambered our way across some rough road to head north.  This location provided a unique opportunity to install a station in a more northerly location than most of Flores can offer.  We spent a bit of time searching around for a site with local Camat providing his recommendation.  Abundant vegetation, very rocky terrain, and stinging heat slowed down our progress with siting.  But we finally broke through and found a good location.  One of the best factors of our final destination was a big shade tree about 50 meters away to the south that provided us some much needed relief. 

Site installed in Sinamalaka village, a huge mango tree in the background. Nova snapping her own photo as some local bros look on.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Finally, some volcanic terrain

We have successfully shipped eight stations to Maumere, the biggest city in East Flores Island.  Our plan is to deploy four stations to the east and four to the west.  It is particularly exiting to be here since we now see a completely new geologic province – the active volcanic arc.  The basement of Timor and Sumba are composed entirely of older (>300-70 million years old) accreted sedimentary and metamorphic blocks whereas Flores is a young (<15 million years) and active volcanic arc.  The change in topography clearly reflects this; our flight into Maumere took us past an inactive volcanic edifice that displays a classic cone shape.  A quick look around the horizon shows many more glimpses of volcanoes.  Appropriate photos to come in future posts. 

Oblique view of Lembata Island (bottom) through Flores Island looking westward.  Sumba Island at far top left.  The small orange symbols show the location of active volcanoes, taken from the Smithsonian database, and will provide some stunning scenery as we move along.  We will take a ferry from Larantuka to Lewoleba.

While waiting for our equipment to arrive in Maumere, we made the rounds of permitting.  Each time we visit a new location, requests for different documentation and levels of formality are presented.  The most important letter we obtain is from the Kesbanpol (government affairs and permitting), providing us approval to move on to the local representatives. This particular effort proved challenging despite receiving endorsement from the Bupati (one level above Kesbanpol), the police, and the hazard mitigation agency.  ARRGH.  But, it appears we will finally be able to pick up our letter in the morning as we head off to install the first stations.  Fingers crossed…

Numerous trips to the Maumere Kes-ban-pol provided this photo op.  Please, no more visits here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rosie the Chiseler

Not all holes are created equal (or with equal effort anyway). Some soils swallow our digging tools like a soft, voracious mouth that widens with every belch of loosed earth. Others etch their names into our hands and arms as a series of callouses, blisters and cuts that reads like a brail eulogy to the rocks we had to fight our way through. Sometimes the soil is so thin and the rocks so hard that our efforts need to be supplemented with the vigor of local helpers. Such was the case in Melolo on the island of Sumba. As discussed earlier, the island itself is tiered with uplifted coral terraces like a lithified escalator. Digging through coral is no cakewalk and can take a team of two dashing American scientists and a platoon of local men well over an hour to make a hole about 1 meter deep and 2/3 meters across. The soil in Melolo was nothing more than erosional gossamer not even 5 cm thick draped over continuous horizons of cement-like coral terraces. Progress was slow as we worked with 3 local men, taking turns with the digging bar. It was decided we needed a chisel and sent word through one of the children watching that anyone nearby who had one would be compensated to let us borrow it. While we awaited a response I noticed an older woman, more than likely in her 50’s, more than likely a grandmother, hiking towards us up a gentle hill that ran down to some nearby homes. She was wearing a tan bucket hat, a pink and white striped t-shirt, Carolina blue capris and flip-flops and she was carrying an enormous chisel and a fearful hammer. My first thought was that she was bringing the tools to give to one of the local men helping us dig so I walked to intercept her so I could claim the first crack with that biblical hammer. Barely glancing up to meet my eye she brushed past me, not rudely, but without hesitation. She marched right up to the hole and ordered all the men out at once (they listened) whereupon she hopped in and started smashing the rocks to smithereens in a sequence of furious blows that instantly made her one of my heroes. Let me be absolutely clear: she wasn’t just decent at pulverizing rocks – she was amazing! Amazing for anyone of any age, let alone a grandmother. In a country where gender roles are often more entrenched than California, this caught me completely off guard in the best possible way. I thought to myself that this woman was more of an inspiration than she will ever know. After her initial onslaught she took a break and became a permanent member of the “hole rotation”, each member working him-or-herself to exhaustion before being replaced. We finished the hole some 2 hours after we broke ground and I was fortunate enough to snap a few photos of the day’s MVP – one with her bludgeon and one mid blow with the digging bar. It suffices to say that the next time I see a kindly woman bringing some hardware to a dig site I’m going to stand back.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Finished with Sumba install

Four stations installed in seven days, including round-trip travel from Kupang to Sumba.  Pretty good considering the overwhelming uncertainty in doing anything here.  We flew back from the northwest of Sumba today via Tambolaka Airport located in the city of Waitabula.  Catching the flight back to Kupang may be the most remarkable part of the journey; we finished the local installation around 2:30pm, rushed to the airport to buy our tickets to fly back at 3:30pm.  Fortunately, the flight was late and there were enough seats available.  Unfortunately (for the other passengers), we were pretty salty and ripe after coming straight out of the field in a rush to the airport. 

Map of Pulau Sumba.  Melolo in far east, Kambapari in center, Napu in north, Waitabula in NW.

Backing up in time, picking up from the previous post, we successfully installed two stations the day after the Napu site.  Early in the morning, we went back to Melolo to finish off the station.  Being the third visit to the location, it was imperative that it did not take much time to wrap it up.  This was the case, only needing an hour of time to put the baby (seismometer) to rest in its comfortable crib (our newly poured concrete slab).  We paid the land owners and caretakers some incentives, devoured some delicious coconuts, and headed back to Waingapu to set out for the second installation.  By the time we made it back, Cooper was ready to roll after battling off a throat infection.  He was prepared for this situation and didn't miss much action.  I'm surprised we are not all afflicted by some sort of respiratory problem given the constant exposure to cigarettes, burning trash, and burning leaves. 

Our next destination took us into central Sumba to the village of Kambapari.  This was a refreshing experience since the 600 meter climb in elevation provided a cool climate and the smallest dose of vital rain.  Our prior meeting with the Camat of Kambapari was encouraging as he was amenable to our work and provided us with some suggestions of where we might install.  When we arrived at the Camat office, we were able to sort out a location that was suitable.  Fast forward to the end of the install; by now we are a well-oiled machine, no problem.  We finished the install and then proceeded to pay out the local helpers and long-term site maintenance personnel in a hilariously awkward manner.  Typically, we give the "smooth handshake" to people who help us dig, build fences, etc., dishing out 20-100k rupiah for their help at the site.  Then we have a formal meeting and pay the land owner/caretaker in a ceremonial manner.  This time, it was all mashed together in an awkward and disorganized clusterfest, where we dished out the small payments amongst the whole group of local leaders, staff members, and community members.  Numerous redundant handshakes and chuckles from the onlookers cemented the fact that this was indeed a bumbling moment and we all laughed about it on the way back to Waingapu.  I was pretty tired by the time we made it back, fell asleep at 8pm and woke up just in time to call my beloved wife Maggie, thereby delivering myself a most excellent birthday present by having a quick chat with her.   I really miss you Maggie, don't worry the next time won't take us apart for so long...all the hard work is being done now!

Sign in front of "Camat office" where we installed site KPAR...also the site of hilarious awkwardness.
The compulsory team photo after install. Ol' Larry looking dirty.  Village leader in the tiedye shirt, Ule behind him in red, the Camat officer behind me was a post-pounding master, Cooper hanging on to Umbu and the guy who will be weeding the site over time.
Then it was time to leave Waingapu to get to the other side of the island.  The main road in Sumba traverses the high axis of topography that runs parallel to the north and south sides of the islands.  No problem, we just made sure to travel during the day (there are reports of pirates that rob people at night along this road) and see what happened once we arrived in Waitabula, the NW population center.  Amidst consistent talk that our preferred install site (Kodi village, 30 km west of Waitabula) was not safe - land disputes, legends of beheadings, robbery, conflict between levels of government - we opted to find a site closer to Waitabula.  We arrived at the government affairs office at 3:05pm, finding that they closed at 3.  Great.  We took a stab at trying to talk with a nearby village leader only to find him cold as ice (oh, how we would love to have some ice...) because we did not have any local documentation supporting our project.  ARRGH.  Our next attempt was to go to the local police.  This is something we do in any case so we can inform them of our presence and establish a record to support any potential future problems.  The meeting was much better than a simple meet, greet, and letter delivery - they started brainstorming about where we might be welcomed and came up with an excellent option, a local Camat office.  We passed them some cigarettes (local currency) and set out to talk with the Camat.  He was amenable on the condition that we would talk with the Bupati and government affairs the next day, and we went out to his office to verify that is would be a good location.  It was/is a good location, transforming our mental state from completely defeated to optimistic over the course of about an hour.  No problem. 

After prepping for install, we the Bupati in Waitabula and received informal permission to go ahead.  Again, the well-oiled (and sweaty) machine handled business.  Ohhhh yeah.  We named the site BULE to provide ourselves with a trivial bit of comedic relief.  Recall that bule is the Indonesian term for "white person" that does not hold negative connotation.  Hence the following logic: Waitabula is close enough to Waitabule, Watiabule sounds a lot like "white boy," Cooper and I are definitely "white boys" and bules at the same time.  You best believe that we stand out everywhere we go, probably because Cooper likes to wear his "suns out, guns out" cutoff shirt when we travel. 

Coop delivering the bule dance at station BULE.  He is sending a wicked south-to-north pulse to the sensor to demonstrate what the equipment does.  This is always a moment of intrigue for the locals to finally see how it works.
So, back to Kupang.  We made it to the airport on time, said goodbye to our awesome driver and friend Ule, and checked our tools and bags in to the flight.  Also, GO GIANTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Flying back to Kupang over central Sumba.  Station NAPU is down there close to the northern tip of the island, listening to the Earth's secrets...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sumba Island - PhD, Professional hole Diggers

Our flight to Waingapu on Sumba Island was preceded by a shipment of four sets of seismic equipment via ferry.  We scrambled to organize the shipment in Kupang, giving us a day to fly to Sumba.  We arrived in Waingapu to meet a local contact that was recommended to us while we were on Savu Island.  Umbu, and his friend and driver Ule have proven to be valuable resources.  They know all relevant details in and around the island, and have connections all over the place. 

Our first day consisted of the common procedure of going to the Bupati office, then police and government affairs/permitting offices.  We had time to travel south to the village of Melolo to scout our first site.  The drive displays remarkable evidence for our purpose of researching the region: beautiful sets of uplifted coral terraces contour along the coastline.  The story is elegantly displayed by these terraces, appearing to be a giant staircase that marches uphill from the shoreline.  As the island has been continuously uplifting in the recent geologic past, coastal coral reefs that were once alive are stranded above sea level - one after another; these reefs are perched and progressively elevated as the next cycle moves on.

Oblique Google Earth view looking SW towards the Sumba coast.  Waingapu on left, the NAPU station on right.  The drive between traverses the most spectacular coastal terraces i've ever seen.  Each dark surface was formerly the shallow coastal shelf, but uplift of the island keeps them on the move upwards like a coral escalator.

A close-up of the coral, these are easy to find when walking around in this terrain.

Enough distraction from the spectacular geology, we are here to dig holes!  The next day while we were still awaiting the arrival of our precious equipment, we traveled north to the far northern point of Sumba (also along the same coral terraces), to Napu village.  We had time to dig, as we needed something useful to do.  Less than 10 cm, there was no more soil, and the coral was hard and ever-present.  Sparks flying, sweat dripping, and hefty swings of the digging bar yielded a beautiful hole.  No problem.  We returned to Waingapu to pick up our equipment from the local BMKG office and prep for the next day. 

We set out for Melolo with hopes that we would install the station and then head back to Napu to install a second station.  It would likely be the only opportunity to install two stations in one day.  This proved to be far from reality.  We began digging and quickly encountered very hard rock.  A few hours later, we had about a half meter deep hole that was laboriously crafted by Cooper, a few local men, and most importantly, the most bad ass Ibu one can imagine.  She deserves a separate entry in this blog, for now I will just mention that when the digging became tough, she pulled out the chisel…

The hole finally was ready, and we began the rest of the install.  We had the sensor in the ground and built a beautiful stone tomb for it to silently record the Earth’s inner secrets.  BUT, we found it had been disturbed upon burial.  We dug it up, re-leveled and re-centered it, and were not satisfied with its stability.  After deciding to mix up some concrete and building a more stable platform for the sensor to rest upon, we had to accept that rather than completing two stations, we completed zero.  Good times, nothing like a good ol’ fashioned slice of humble pie – in scorching sun no less.  We will return the day after next to finish it off.

The next day, we returned to Napu with one extra crew member.  To further foster our relationship with BMKG in Kupang, we flew out one of their staff members.  Now riding with six people and a station’s worth of equipment, we were crammed into the field vehicle.  No problem, good thing I practice some yoga and Nova is petite.  It was a good thing that the hole was dug already; we needed four hours to install the equipment under hot, dry conditions.  Despite the conditions, it always feels good to finish off an install, and so we headed back to Waingapu to get ready for and early departure to go back to Melolo. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bigger picture

A quick view at the regional context. The image captures most of Indonesia, Borneo, southern Malaysia, Australia, and Papua New Guinea.  In the center of the map is of field area, the islands surrounding the Savu Sea geographically referred to as Nusa Tengarra Timor, a province of Indonesia.  Timor Island, our current location, is composed of West Timor, Indonesia and the independent country of East Timor.

Pay close attention to the ocean bathymetry, especially in the Indian Ocean (bottom left corner) and the transition to the shallow sea that is north of Australia.  This step in ocean depth directly captures a major goal of our research - it represents the presence of dense oceanic lithosphere in the west versus the relatively buoyant continental lithosphere in the east.  The entire swath of lithosphere is moving northward towards Indonesia, then subducts below all of the southern portion of the country.  
In the western part of our study area, the Indian Ocean lithosphere descends into the Earth in a normal manner, producing a fairly typical subduction zone that gives rise to famous volcanoes throughout Java and Flores Islands.  In the west, the continental lithosphere (a northern extension of Australia) is colliding into SE Indonesia, producing what amounts to a spectacular geologic bulldozing.  We seek to analyze this spectacular configuration through combining research in seismology, geochemistry, geomorphology, geodynamics, and structural geology... it will truly be a challenging effort, but rewarding in the end.  
Often, when geologists research old tectonic environments where rocks of different age and origin are juxtaposed, they refer to the complex configuration of eastern Indonesia to illustrate their interpretation.  Even the most open minded of geoscientists may find it hard to accept that this region is composed of such a entangled web of microterranes and plate boundaries.  As such, we much continue to pursue understanding of the region, and so we move onwards...

Big Fish

The Savu Sea is a fertile cradle for fish mongering and, too, fish devouring.  You cannot, in good conscience, visit Kupang and not pay a trip to one of the many fish markets to sample the local stock. The fish are displayed in a sort of fleshy rainbow that boasts everything from smaller specimens, usually sold in groups of several, to single behemoths fit for a hungry family. You'll find red snapper, white snapper, tuna, and dozens of other brightly-colored beasts I can't name. After you've picked your prize you can either take it home raw or, as we'd recommend, pay a few thousand rupiah more (about 1 USD) to have it prepared for you on-site. Ikan bakar (grilled fish) and ikan goreng (fried) are the two main fares. Either can be as pedas (spicy) as you like, depending on how many Thai chilies they use during the cooking process - more is better! When it comes to the eating, hands-on is the best approach, no utensils necessary. These fresh treats are served with all the bones, eyes and skin included (no guts, of course), so digging through them with a fork feels a lot like trying to crochet in boxing gloves.

Nova and Leland getting their hustle on haggling for some red snappers.

Ten points to whomever can name the turquoise one.