Physical Sciences Tutor Dr. Steve Quane, and students Amaya Cherian-Hall ’19 and Martin Lentz ’19, talk about presenting at the Geological Society of America Conference, and Steve’s discovery of a new type of volcanic ash.
October was busy for you, Steve! You took your students to the Geological Society of America Conference.
Yes! GSA is an amazing conference for students. Alongside top-notch, rigorous research, it gives students a chance to learn more about how science works. It’s also a very welcoming and supportive place for student presentations.
Tell us about Amaya’s and Martin’s presentations.
They both did a fantastic job. Amaya presented research on permafrost that she conducted at the renowned Yukon Geological Survey. She showcased her field work along with analysis of aerial photos and satellite images to investigate the effect of climate change on permafrost, and how it changes lakes in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Martin presented work that he and I did at Garibaldi Lake. He mapped part of the bottom of Garibaldi Lake, Lesser Garibaldi Lake and Barrier Lake, with sonar—from a paddleboard. The idea was to figure out the topography of the bottom of the lakes, which determines how the lakes were formed. He concluded that Lesser Garibaldi Lake and Barrier Lake were formed as a lava flow interacted with large blocks of ice left behind by the melting ice sheet.
I am continually impressed with how much Quest students learn when they get out of the classroom. At this conference, our 13 students were responsible for their own schedules, and attended the sessions they felt were most interesting. They truly soaked in the experience, far more than I could provide within the confines of a normal class.
What did you think of the GSA conference, Martin?
It was a really awesome opportunity to present a poster on my research at the GSA conference. It allowed me to engage with other students and academics in geology and hydrology, fields that I am potentially interested in going to grad school for.
What about you, Amaya?
Presenting forced me to synthesize my Keystone research into the poster format and allowed me to determine where gaps are and what work needs to be done before I take Keystone in April. It also gave me a chance to get feedback from scientists currently working in the field.
What about your talk, Steve?
My talk was on research I did during my sabbatical at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. It was about a new type of ash that we found: Bread Crust Bubbles.
That’s amazing! What was that like?
Sometimes, discoveries in science are systematic and planned. Other times, they are fortuitous. This was one of those times! I was looking through a microscope at an ash deposit from central Oregon, prepping it for experiments, when I kept seeing these little bubbles. We had disregarded the bubbles as an anomaly. But on closer inspection, we realized that they were a significant part of the deposit — and a new type of volcanic ash that had yet to be described.
We also noticed that the outside of the bubbles had a texture that is common to other types of volcanic deposit—bread crust. Just like a loaf of bread, the outside of the bubble was cooled and the inside still hot. As the inside of the bubble expanded, the outer crust cracks.
Why is this an important discovery?
Normally, volcanologists cannot “see” into the volcanic conduit—the pipe or vent at the heart of a volcano where material wells up from under the surface—because the material is exploding at supersonic velocities at temperatures above 700 C! These little ash bubbles preserved part of the story to say something meaningful about what happened during the eruption. That can be used to help predict the behaviour of future eruptions.