State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Recovering from Jet Lag in a Dormant Volcano

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Approximate plate boundary shown in red; ongoing subduction shown by filled in teeth, collision shown by open teeth; important regions labeled in black.

It is a brutal flight from New York City to Roma. I am a sucker for in-flight movies: things I would never watch in the real world, I am completely enthralled with during an overseas flight. The problem on this flight is that we arrive at 7:30am. We have a whole day ahead of us and I didn’t sleep because Percy Jackson and the Olympians was just too captivating.

Luckily, this year, we are not headed straight to Roma Tre University to talk science with our collaborators. Instead, we take the train south to the nearby town of Lanuvio, which sits in a caldera of an inactive volcano. A caldera forms when the magma chamber of a volcano is completely emptied during an eruption. The land above the chamber is no longer stable and it collapses, leaving behind a bowl-shaped depression in the land. Nearby are three volcano lakes (water-filled calderas), also remnants of past eruptions that transformed this landscape.

Lanuvio is where my adviser, Nano Seeber, grew up. We are staying with his brother and sister-in-law, Bardo and Lina. The house that Nano helped to build as a child is now the main house on the property; the fields he planted and harvested are still producing grapes, lemons, apricots and much more. It is a wonderful place to nap and prepare for field work in the hot, dry, Calabrian summers.

Nano and I have been going to Calabria for the last three summers (since I became a graduate student at Columbia University). Geologically, the toe of Italy’s boot is the upper plate of a convergent plate boundary, where the Ionian Sea Plate is subducting beneath Calabria. We have been working in a place called the Crotone Basin, which is part of the forearc basin in the subduction system. Overall, Africa and Europe are colliding at a really slow rate, just 5-10 millimeters per year. But the Mediterranean is comprised of numerous microplates that have very complex and interesting interactions that seem to have little to do with the larger plate motions.

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A generalized cross section across the subduction zone.

By studying faults, folds, and other forms of deformation in the rocks of the Crotone Basin, we are trying to piece together a history of the interactions that occur along this microplate boundary, located between Apulia, the Ionian Sea, the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the African Plate (Sicily). I’m a visual person, so I will provide as many pictures and maps as I can to help explain my work.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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