Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Hot Zone

Today's post starts with a short lesson on VOLCANISM (not the Star Trek kind), so put your thinking caps on, kids. This morning's quake down south in Christchurch ties in neatly with our class. New Zealand, with its highly active volcanic zones, is an enthusiastic participant in the Pacific Ring of Fire, home to 90% of the world's earthquakes each year. There are around 14,000 quakes a year in NZ, but only 150 or so can be felt. 

Of course the reason for all of the trembling, steaming, bubbling, and erupting is that the country is right on top of a couple different tectonic plates which are always bumping into each other and causing trouble. The direct evidence of all of this geothermal activity can be seen plainly in various parts of the North Island, but especially in a city in the central North Island called Rotorua, part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone and about 3 hours from Auckland. We spent last weekend there, surrounded by steam and geysers at every turn, and with the ever-present aroma of sulfur (rotten eggs) hanging in the air. 

Just the fact that your every breath reminds you of something strange afoot makes this area seem otherworldly. Nearly every hotel and little roadside motor lodge has its own thermal pools where you can lounge in hot mineral water drawn from beneath the earth's surface. Many also have their own geysers. It's all just really weird. One of Dennis's co-workers told me that her brother lives there and said that it's a fairly common problem for Rotorua homeowners to discover steamy fissures and geysers trying to make their way up through their foundations. I'm going to stop complaining about ants in the springtime. 

Enough of this learning crap. Let's see some photos. I've never been to Yellowstone Park, and I hear it's got some cool stuff like this too, but it was truly one of the most unique areas I've ever laid eyes on. Craters, boiling pools of mud, fumaroles (openings emitting steam and gasses -- sorry, no more school!!), crazy unnatural colors...just seven kinds of bizarre in every direction. 

Really, I'm trying not to continue with the lecture, but you should know what all the colors are from. Green: colloidal sulphur/ferrous salts; orange: antimony; purple: manganese oxide; white: silica; yellow: sulphur; red-brown: iron oxide; black: sulphur and carbon. If you look at this water in the photo above, it really was this creepy shark's eye milky blue. 

And at the risk of becoming totally redundant, I have to mention that the foliage was also really, really crazy! Covered with vibrantly colored growths. It all looked like it came from Mars.

Did I mention the bubbling mud pools??? 

And the Devil's Bath?? Seriously, the water was this color. Laurel was affected by it. 

You could hear the bubbling at all of these little fumarole things (I am both fascinated and disgusted by that word), so the kids were taking video of them. 

And the Champagne Pool. Holy cow, was that neat. 

It just kept going on and on, with something else at every turn. We loved it! 

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