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Imaggeo on Mondays: Volcanic rope

7 Apr

On Hawaii, lava fields fall into two camps – pahoehoe and a’a. This week’s Imageo on Mondays puts the two into perspective…

Pahoehoe fields are created when the lava is well insulated at the surface. The cooled rock on top prevents a lot of heat escaping and lets the lava flow beneath a tough skin of basalt. This skin is pulled and distorted by the moving lava, creating ripples and wrinkles that resemble rope.

Pahoehoe lava. (Credit: Martin Mergili via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Here’s a close up! (Credit: Martin Mergili via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Pahoehoe flow. (Credit: Tari Noelani Mattox, USGS)

And here’s the bigger picture! (Credit: Tari Noelani Mattox, USGS)

The other type, a’a, sounds a lot like it feels. Cooled a’a fields are notoriously difficult to walk over and the jagged rocks can quite happily shred your walking boots to pieces. A’a lava is much more viscous than pahoehoe and flows uninsulated over the surface. They form tall fronts of rough basalt blocks that are pushed forward and swallowed by the lava as it moves downslope.

A’a lava (and a little pahoehoe in the foreground). (Credit: USGS)

A’a lava – and a little pahoehoe in the foreground fro good measure. (Credit: USGS)

Want to see some lava flow on the go? The BBC has a collection of excellent clips.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. Photos uploaded to Imaggeo can be used by scientists, the press and the public provided the original author is credited. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can submit your photos here.

Imaggeo on Mondays: A rolling stone gathers no moss

31 Mar

Philippe Leloup brings us this week’s Imaggeo on Mondays, with tales from a mountain trail that show a geologist can never resist a good rock!

In reality, this shiny slab of rock is about 20 centimetres across. Polished to perfection, the layers of marble and amphibole are beautiful to behold. (Credit: Philippe Leloup via imaggeo.egu.eu)

In reality, this shiny slab of rock is about 20 centimetres across. Polished to perfection, the layers of marble and amphibole are beautiful to behold. (Credit: Philippe Leloup via imaggeo.egu.eu)

This image is that of a polished slab of a rock composed of interlayered marbles and amphibolites. The sample was once part of a small dry-stone wall bordering an outdoor kitchen along a trail along the Ailao Mountain Range in China (or Ailao Shan in Chinese).

As I passed by, a small black eye looked at me, and I couldn’t resist asking the owner to give me that stone – one that could easily be replaced by any other rock nearby, and he kindly agreed. The rock was special for me because I felt that its structure would be spectacular.

The Ailao Range is part of the Ailao Shan – Red River shear zone, a region that stretches for more than 1000 kilometres – from southeast Tibet to the Tonkin Gulf. During the Oligo-Miocene, the Indochina bock (encompassing Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand) was pushed away from the collision between the Indian and Asian continents and moved several hundreds of kilometres towards the southeast along that ~10 kilometre-wide shear zone. Today, evidence that intense ductile deformation occurred are found in gneiss and marbles showing steep foliation, horizontal lineation, and numerous left-lateral shear features – a type of deformation that leaves rocks looking like this:

 A thin section microphotograph (total width ~0.5 mm) showing several feldspar crystals with bended tails. These tails show that they have slowly rotated counter-clockwise. These rolling structures are characteristic of left-lateral ductile deformation. (Credit: Philippe Leloup via imaggeo.egu.eu).

A thin section microphotograph (the total width is about 0.5 mm) showing several feldspar crystals with bended tails. These tails show that they have slowly rotated counter-clockwise. These rolling structures are characteristic of left-lateral ductile deformation. (Credit: Philippe Leloup via imaggeo.egu.eu).

When I cut the rock it turned out that the amphibole layer had a very special shape, like a Swiss roll, resulting from simple shear – something that revealed spectacular colours and a stunning shape when seen in section.

By Philippe Leloup, University of Lyon

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. Photos uploaded to Imaggeo can be used by scientists, the press and the public provided the original author is credited. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can submit your photos here.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Rockscape

24 Mar

A geologist out in the field is often the one doing the mapping, but sometimes you might just find a map while you’re out there. Martin Reiser shares how he stumbled one such stunning feature…

Oxidised and eroded limestone layers, resembling patterns of a geological map. (Credit: Martin Reiser, distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Oxidised and eroded limestone layers, resembling patterns of a geological map. (Credit: Martin Reiser, distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The picture shows colourful marly layers in a Triassic limestone of northwest Albania (Lezhe region). The marly layers have developed intense reddish and greenish colours due to exposure to reduction and oxidation processes (redox-conditions). Subsequent partial erosion has then exposed different levels of these coloured layers and created a pattern resembling a geological map with horizontal layering. Although it might look artificial or even painted, the colours of the rock were really that intense!

The map-like pattern caught my eye when we visited that outcrop during a fieldtrip to Albania in 2011. The fieldtrip was organised by the University of Berlin to study the geology of Albania and specifically focused on the regional tectonic evolution from the Jurassic until the present.

By Martin Reiser, University of Innsbruck

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. Photos uploaded to Imaggeo can be used by scientists, the press and the public provided the original author is credited. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can submit your photos here.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Exploring the East African Rift

10 Mar

This week’s Imaggeo on Mondays is brought to you by Alexis Merlaud, an atmospheric scientist from the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy. While the wonders of the African atmosphere feature in his photography, the East African Rift has a much bigger tale to tell. Drawing from all aspects of geoscience Alexis shares its story…

Kilimanjaro from Mount Meru. (Credit: Alexis Merlaud, distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Kilimanjaro from Mount Meru. (Credit: Alexis Merlaud, distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

This picture shows Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, at sunrise. It was taken from Socialist Peak, which marks the top of Mount Meru, some 70 km to the southwest. Both mountains are located in Tanzania and are among the largest stratovolcanoes of the East African Rift Zone. Unlike Kilimanjaro, Meru is active and its most recent eruption occurred in 1910.

Stratovolcanoes, also called composite cones, are built-up by alternating layers of lava flows, pyroclastic rocks, and volcanic ash. During a large eruption, huge quantities of ash and sulphur dioxide can reach the stratosphere, where they can affect the climate for several years, as did the eruptions of Krakatau in 1883 and Pinatubo in 1991. Sulphur dioxide is converted to sulphuric acid droplets, which spread with the ashes throughout the stratosphere. These aerosols screen some of the sunlight, decreasing the average surface temperature by about one degree. The temperature in the stratosphere simultaneously rises by a few degrees, due to the enhanced absorption of sunlight by aerosols.

There is a difference in the tectonic processes associated with these South East Asian volcanoes and the East African Rift: the former are located above a subduction zone while the rift is a divergent boundary.  An example of large volcanic eruption in a divergent zone is the Laki (Iceland) eruption in 1783, which yielded severe meteorological conditions and reduced harvests for several years in Europe. This eruption may have also helped trigger the French Revolution in 1789.

Plate tectonics in East Africa created Kilimajaro and have also played a role in early human evolution, by shaping the local landscape and the long-term climate, thus modifying the environment of our ancestors. East Africa is the area in the world where most of the hominid fossils have been discovered, including Homo sapiens – the oldest fossil record is 200,000 years old and started to move out from Africa 100,000 years ago!

A final thanks: thanks Cristina Brailescu for help climbing Meru and Emmanuel Dekemper for support on editing the picture. 

By Alexis Merlaud, Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy

Imaggeo is the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository. Photos uploaded to Imaggeo can be used by scientists, the press and the public provided the original author is credited. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. You can submit your photos here.

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