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. 

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