Thursday, November 13, 2014

The allure of Alor

To travel to Alor Island in the far NE corner of our array, we had to embark on our first trip via plane that required we check our equipment.  This major test of faith and patience was nerve wracking.  We piled into the BMKG truck in Kupang and arrived at the airport well ahead of time to make sure our bulky cargo would make it on to the sold out flight.  With the help of some porters at the airport, an official letter from BMKG, and a 3 million Rupiah (~$270) we managed to get the go-ahead to load all our stuff on the plane.  When we arrived in Alor at the Kalabahi airport, Cooper quickly rushed to the back of the airplane to monitor the offloading procedure.  It was no surprise that they were tumbling around one of the sensors, despite abundant labeling and warning notes on the box.  A few swats of his massive bule arm allowed him to penetrate the feeble offloading crew and secure the sensor.  Fortunately, the USC-owned Nanometrics sensor came out unscathed (don’t worry PASSCAL!).

Nova had only made a few preliminary contacts in Alor during previous travels; so much uncertainty lingered over our planning.  The first contact was waiting with a taxi when we arrived, and we hired a second taxi to cart us off to the hotel.  Nova smoothed her way into another connection during the flight and established a secondary option.  The second option ended up being more affordable, and capable of producing a cargo truck that could safely haul our equipment to the worksites.  Negotiations started about price and promised work, thereby marking the start of frustration in trying to hit a moving target.  It was not very enjoyable to work within the local business culture, enough said. 

Map of Alor and Pantar Islands.  The eastern limit of the volcanic are is marked by
Sinung volcano, a 500 km wide volcanic gap spans westward to Damar Island.  Our
two installations are shown on map.  Station MTNG is shown below, along with a
few pictures of the drive.  The stations lies at the eastern end of a large river system.

Day one of field-work started with a few hours of waiting for letters to be written, then off to the closer of the two sites.  The coastal drive was beautiful – looking out over shallow diver-friendly waters.  The topography rapidly rises out of the emerald and aquamarine water, shaped by recently extinguished volcanism.  This region encapsulates part of our motivation to work here: volcanism ceased 3 million years ago and the local region began to uplift at a rapid rate.  We will investigate the seismic character of the region to search for clues as to why this is happening.

We visited the first target location, finding a cassava field that met our location criteria.  Halfway through digging the hole and prepping the electronics, a couple of local women arrived and indicated that this land did not belong to the self-proclaimed owner.  Fortunately (or not), we had the village leader on hand.  They bumbled their way through and argument and attempt at resolution, but by then we were packed up and ready to move on.  It turns out that land dispute is common on Alor, mostly owing to the informal passage of land across generations of large families.  Problem.  The village leader offered a nearby location that had no uncertainty in ownership, but we were weary of the recently discovered dispute and concerned about hard feelings from abandoning the previous location.

“No problem” said the village leader.
“Problem” asserted USC. 

“You have my word, tidak masala (no problem)” the village leader rebutted.

“Yeah, but these other guys are salty, what about hard feelings and attempt to seek revenge for not using their land?” the USC team cautiously presented.

“By the way, sorry for breaking our verbal contract to use the land you didn’t own, and for not being able to pay you security money that you desperately need.  We would love to have you help us build the site on this new land” added the USC team, addressing the previous land owner.

“That is ok, I am happy and honored to have your study hosted in our village, no hard feelings and thank you for letting me help with the install” replied previous sketchy ‘owner.’ 

So, it was settled.  The three of us produced about 90% of the work to install the station while everybody else sat in the shade and drank all our water and smoked all of our ‘cig money.’  No problem, at least the station is installed, in a good location, and cranking out quality broadband seismic data.

Road along the north coast of Alor.

The same road, traversing the interior of Alor on the return to Kalabahi. 
The second installation required driving the length of Alor to arrive in the far eastern coast.  It is a beautiful drive along the northern coast and then into the interior.  Evidence of uplifting topography is revealed in the form of exposed colluvial wedges and deeply incised river valleys.  The road condition was surprisingly good - the estimated four-hour trip only lasted 150 minutes, putting us in Maritaeng village by 10:30am.  It was clear from scouring over Google Earth images that the SE portion of Alor hosts a major structural feature: the long, linear river basin parallels bounding mountain ranges to the north and south (see map).  The eastern terminus of this river valley demonstrates the dynamic nature of the island – a massive quantity of river conglomerates dominates the landscape, rising hundreds of meters overhead.  One can appreciate the significance of these deposits by noting the size of all the river sediments (very large = high energy water transport) and the sheer volume of sediment (much has been eroded out of the island interior).  There is clear evidence that the island is undergoing rapid change.

After some prodding around, Nova pressing people to see if they REALLY owned the land we were scouting after, and lugging equipment up a short but steep slope, we began our work around noon.  This is one of the only consistent patterns that have emerged: doddle in the morning, work in the hottest part of the day, then chunder back to the hotel to recover.  The station went in smoothly, including a non-conventional mounting of our solar panels.  Because one of our mounting brackets was stolen in Morocco, we were one short on this installation and had to improvise. So now only three install remain.  Ol' Larry is going to Timor Leste to collect eight months of data on the previously installed stations while Cooper and Nova finish off the remaining installs.  Time for Coop to take over. 

Seriously, time to WRAP IT UP.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.