Mexico Week 2 – Flash Floods and Fieldwork

I can’t believe I have already been in Mexico for two weeks. I feel like I have settled into a daily routine, jumping on the bus to the lab in the morning. Setting up the lab for the day and popping across to the paper shop for elevenses. Most days we eat lunch at the garage – a little canteen amongst a row of house that’s run by some friendly people serving some delicious food!

The one thing I’m not getting used to is the number of thunderstorms! It’s nearing the end of the rainy season in Colima and there are storms almost every night. They provide short relief, temporarily lowering humidity and cooling the air. Some of the storms are huge, with continuous flashes of sheet light and huge electric cracks of fork lightning. One of these storms in particular was absolutely gigantic. The thunder shook the house and the rain came pouring down hard. Within 15 minutes our street had become a river. It was fascinating to watch. People were running through the water across roads and trying to drive cars down the submerged roads. The water pushed over a couple of motorbikes – it was a little scary to watch I find storms mesmerising, and I’ve spent too much time staring out of the window over the past week!

On Wednesday I headed towards the Volcano in the back of a truck with the CIIV team to take on my first day of fieldwork. We drove up to Montegrande to look at the 2015 PDC. For all of you non-geologists – PDCs or pyroclastic density currents are commonly know as pyroclastic flows. Pyroclastic flows are super heated clouds of gas, ash and rocks that speed down the flanks of a volcano at average speeds of around 100km/h (62mph), although they are capable of reaching around 700km/h (430mph). They are one of the most deadly volcanic hazards. You can learn more about them in this video! Our goal was to sieve samples from different layers to look at the grain size of the material deposited by the PDC. Some of the team were also looking at damage to trees. We spent the day in a deep barranca, sieving and collecting our samples. Floods through the barranca have eroded and deepened the  ravine, revealing a cross section of the layers deposited by many different flows. The variations between the deposits is clear to see, and layers of vegetation indicate where past surfaces sat. I was overjoyed to get my first close up glimpses of the volcano, although these were cut short by the clouds, which spent the day threatening rain. We spotted some cat prints in the muddy bottom of the barranca, possibly from an ocelot! At the end of the day we packed up the truck and raced a thunderstorm back to the city.

With another week of work complete we headed to a pizza restaurant for some well deserved pizza and beer. The restaurant was celebrating the anniversary of their opening, and had quite a party going on. The live Jazz band was fantastic. As the restaurant began closing up, the heavens opened. We sheltered under the canopy while planning out route home. The owner offered us free round of beer and thanked us for attending. He was incredibly welcoming and invited us for drinks with his friends to celebrate the end of a successful night. After many pints and several conversations on volcanoes, life in the UK and Mexican culture, the owner offered us a lift home. My head must have hit my pillow no earlier than 4.30am!

I’m ready for week 3, we’ve got more data processing and a bit of equipment maintenance to do, and I’m hoping the weather will allow another trip to the field soon!

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