Monday, May 29, 2017

Meet some Kamchatka geoscientists

Left to right:  Dima Savelyev, Artyom Gerus, Olga Savelyeva, Anna Dolgaya,
Olga Samoylova, Natasha Gorbach, Tanya Pinegina, Olga Bergal-Kuvikas,
Olga Usacheva.  Hidden in back:  Ilya Ulybyshev, Vlad Loginov
While visiting the Institute of Volcanology & Seismology [English version link] via an award from the U.S. Fulbright Foundation, I organized (with help) a weekly meeting of "young scientists" -- I defined "young" as younger than me.  It was a group who wanted to practice conversing, listening, writing and presenting in English.  As I have always done with my classes, I asked them to write a short introduction to themselves, with something about their work, their life outside work, and a picture or two.  I am always surprised by the diversity that turns up. You might note that women predominate in this group; you can read more about women in Soviet/Russian geoscience here.

Volcanologists/petrologists
Olga Bergal-Kuvikas with two of
 her children and a diploma
 from Hokkaido University
Olga Bergal-Kuvikas.  I first met Olga in Sapporo, Japan, in 2011. She was studying and working with volcanologist Mitsuhiro Nakagawa, who also was part of our Kurils Biocomplexity Project. Olga and I lived near eachother at Hokkaido University and commonly walked home together; we also skied together.  That was before she was married, and now she has three children.  Olga has quite a bit of practice with English and volunteered for our first presentation, based on a manuscript she has prepared on a Kamchatka Miocene caldera. She is a petrologist studying volcanic ash and rocks.  To the query "Where are you from?" Olga answered, "It’s a difficult question for me, because my father is from Lithuania, my mother from Moldova. They met and married in Kazakhstan. We came to ... Kamchatka in 1998, living  in Vilyuchinsk city. At Olga's invitation, I went with her and her two older boys to see Puss in Boots.

Natasha Gorbach does field work on Shiveluch volcano,
the northernmost of Kamchatka's active volcanoes -- very active!
Natasha Gorbach.  I also have known Natasha for awhile since she is one of (my long-time colleague) Tanya Pinegina's best friends; they have known eachother since they went to university together at Kiev State University. Like Tanya, she came to Kamchatka as a cub geologist and was drawn to its wildness, beauty and volcanoes.  Natasha worked for 8 years on the Kamchatka geological survey and then joined the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.  Natasha is a volcanologist/petrologist who works on recent and ancient volcanic products of Shiveluch volcano. This work links us because much of my field work on Kamchatka has involved Shiveluch's volcanic ash layers.  Natasha has traveled widely to share her studies and to do analytical work in other labs. This winter I helped her polish her poster for the European Geophysical Union meeting in Vienna, on the topic of recent eruptive products of Zhupanovsky volcano.


Aleksei Ragozhin with one of his scientific posters
Aleksei Ragozhin. Aleksei was born in Moldova; his parents left Moldova and flew to Kamchatka when he was very young. Aleksei's family lives in Milkovo, one of the few towns some distance from Petropavlovsk. He graduated from Kamchatka State University and started to work at IVS. He works on ancient calderas and is co-author of the aforementioned paper with Olga Bergal-Kuvikas.

Geophysical Mathematicians
Anna Dolgaya, who just
defended her Ph.D.!
Two of the most regular attendees of our group have been Anna Dolgaya and Artyom Gerus, who both work with Alexander Vasilievich Vikulin. Anna and Artyom are both natives of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy and both studied Mathematics and Informatics at Kamchatka State University.
Artyom Gerus plays base
 guitar in a rock band.
     Anna Dolgaya's research area is mathematical and statistical modeling of regularities of seismic and volcanic processes, including earthquake migration. She works with a database of catalogued earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that have occurred all over the Earth; she also is working on a broader database of global catastrophes.  Anna gave two presentations to our group.  She also announced to us at our last meeting that she had successfully defended her Ph.D. (which she kept a secret) -- congratulations!  In Anna's spare time, she likes reading and cross-stitching; she also watches U.S. TV series and recommended (to me) House of Cards, which I subsequently watched in my flat in the evenings.  One wonders how the world sees the United States if through these TV serials.
     Artyom Gerus performs geodynamical modeling. I will use his words: " [We] consider that the crust (in particular, along ... geodynamically active zones ...) consists of blocks (usually associated with earthquake focal areas) with intrinsic angular momentum which is responsible for stress propagation [along chains of blocks] ... in the form of waves that sometimes trigger earthquakes...." As pictured above, he plays base guitar in a rock band; he is also interested in sound engineering, both recording and mixing other local musicians and doing some live sound engineering.

Magnetotelluricists
Olga Samoylova
We had three young scientists from the IVS magnetotellurics -- Olga Samoyleva, who was instrumental in organizing our group, Vlad Loginov and Ilya Ulybyshev.  Magnetotellurics (MT) is a ... "method for inferring the Earth's subsurface electrical conductivity from ... measurements of natural geomagnetic and geoelectric field variation at the Earth's surface .... Proposed in Japan in the 1940s, and France and the USSR during the early 1950s, MT is now an international academic discipline and is used in exploration surveys around the world." (Wikipedia). Magnetotelluricists collect field data along profiles and then invert those data to reconstruct subsurface character and structure.
     Olga Samoyleva is working on the deep conductivity of Kamchatka's eastern coast, including the chain of active volcanoes and the subduction zone. Coastal areas are challenging because of differences in conductivity between sea water and rocks. Her hobbies are very active physically, including running, skiing, yoga and Argentine tango.
Some of the modes of Ilya Ulybyshev.
    Ilya Ulybyshev is working working in the lab of tectonics and geophysics of island arc systems at the Institute. The subject of his research is magnetotelluric sounding of Central Kamchatka, and he gave us a presentation about collecting field data both for his project and for related work.  Ilya is a man of many interests and talents, including baking ginger snaps (in the shape of a crab) for our final meeting. He is part of an amateur singing group; here is an example performance.  He has done some pottery and lately took up painting scale miniatures from sci fi and fantasy.

Geologists

Dima (Dmitry) Savelyev is a talented
geologist and photographer
   I was very excited to learn that not only were Dima Savelyev and Olga Savelyeva field geologists, but they have worked extensively on the Kamchatsky Mys Peninsula (KMP), where I have spent quite a bit of my field time and focus.  KMP is where the Aleutian chain runs into Kamchatka, where we have worked on uplifted marine terraces and on long records of tsunami deposits.  Olga is a stratigrapher (like me); Dima works more on igneous rocks, including old, accreted seafloor.  They are a working, married team, with three children.  Dima has published a photo album online and presented me with a hard copy.
Savelyev family photos

     Dima studied mineral exploration in Moscow and spent his first decade on Kamchatka conducting field and lab studies in mineral exploration, geologic mapping, hydrogeology, and other geotechnical projects. Since 2002 he has been at IVS in the petrology lab studying paleovolcanology, petrology and geodynamics, with a focus on ancient island arcs. He presented an abstract to us on the link between ancient igneous rocks on Kamchatka and Hawaiian igneous rocks – the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain runs into Kamchatka currently at the Kronotsky Peninsula.
Olga Savelyeva with rhythmically bedded Cretaceous rocks
on the Kamchatsky Mys Peninsula.  I had to pick this photo
because I love sedimentary rocks, and I have seen related beds.
     Olga Savelyeva is a geologist after my own geology heart; she studies Cretaceous sedimentary rocks -- in particular their rhythmic patterns of deposition and its relationship to global climatic and oceanic trends and events in the Cretaceous. As did Dima, Olga graduated from the Moscow Geological Prospecting Institute, and before coming to Kamchatka, she worked on a geological survey in Eastern Pamir.   In addition to her work at IVS, she teaches Paleontology, Historical Geology, Geology of Russia and other topics at the local university. She likes walking on the beach and in the forest, knitting, and growing flowers and vegetables. She likes waterfalls, rocks (!) and pine trees.


Seismologist -- last but not least!
Seismologist Anna Skorkina
     Anna Skorkina made a brief appearance in the group in midwinter and then was based in Moscow for a couple months, rejoining us in our last month and making not one but two presentations. Anna went to Perm (not Penn) State University and now is a Ph.D. candidate at the Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth in Moscow, while also junior researcher at IVS (EMSD) in Petropavlovsk. She also has training as a professional translator. Anna has been active in the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, which has given her travel, training and networking opportunities. Her research is focused on studying spectral properties of Kamchatka earthquakes and high-frequency radiation of the source. One of her presentations was on different earthquake magnitude scales and how to calibrate local scales with the moment magnitude (Mw) scale.
     Anna spent some time working at the Kamchatka tsunami warning center, which was developed after the Sumatra 2004 earthquake and tsunami. She offered to give us a tour, after a short presentation on the center as well as the network of tsunami warning centers in the Russian Far East. Four of us went on the tour (others had been before), where Anna demonstrated the training tools for determining whether to issue a tsunami warning after earthquake signals are received. It was cool!
Here we are -- Artyom Gerus, Anna Dolgaya, Anna Skorkina and me (plus our host)
visiting the Kamchatka tsunami warning center.  Anna S. shows us how to evaluate
whether or not an earthquake will be tsunamigenic
At our final meeting, I gave a talk about (asteroid) impact-generated tsunamis, and my new friends prepared tea and cookies. I hope we all stay in touch and that I will visit Kamchatka again and catch up on what everyone is doing. And of course I welcome any of you to visit me in Seattle!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bogged down and bushwacked on Kamchatka

As the snow has melted, I find myself bogged down and bushwacked (19 May 2017).
When the explorer and journalist George Kennan (1845-1924) joined a reconnaissance expedition in the mid-1860s to survey a possible telegraph line from North America to Europe via Siberia, there was a reason they concentrated their overland travel in the winter.  This journey is chronicled in a highly readable, at times very entertaining account by Kennan, Tent Life in Siberia.  Don't let the title fool you -- their team spent most of their time on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Here is an interesting blog about the overland telegraph effort
http://greenash.net.au/thoughts/2016/03/where-there-be-no-roads/
Last Friday, 19 May, was the last day I managed to travel on the Avacha marathon ski trail via skis.  I had to take off my skis a few times to cross dirt patches, and I knew I would have to turn around once I reached a big, swamped marsh.  At the end of the day, near the main road at low elevation and with a southern exposure, I broke through snow into a muddy puddle and gave up on my skis.  Saturday it rained, Sunday was very windy, and Monday blustery.  By Tuesday, I was stir crazy... 
End of the ski trail -- it's swamped!

I took my trekking poles and decided to walk from the city to Lesnaya, the area (and beyond) where we have been skiing all winter.  I found a back street for some distance of the way; it was quite ugly in the near field with discarded debris as well as everyday litter melted out of the snow.  If I looked up, there were the snow-capped volcanoes -- Petropavlovsk is basically an ugly city in gorgeous surroundings. The second half of this 40-minute trek was along larger roads, noisy and dirty -- maybe if I knew the city's geography better, there was a more pleasant way to go, but at least I didn't get lost.

Once at Lesnaya, I wasn't sure what to do -- try to follow a melted-out ski trail (I was wearing hiking boots)?  Take the gravel road that led to some dachas?  For starters, I headed across the ski-area's open field, which was mostly low dead grass, and I only encountered a little mud.  But the ski trails from there up the hill looked too snowy, so I took a low trail over to the biathlon stadium, where I knew there was a maze of asphalt trails (which we had skied in snow in the winter), designed for summer sports such as biking and roller skating.  When I arrived at a fork where the ski trail went right and the asphalt left, up a steep hill, I saw there was a birch-forested slope I could go up instead!

All winter we had skied through birch forests as if we were a breeze.  I forgot that the snow covered various shrubs -- ryabina (mountain ash) on south-facing slopes, kedrach (shrub pine) on cooler spots, wild rose in drier spots and willow in wetter spots -- the willow thickets are usually separate from the birch.  And the floor on which these woody plants grows was a tangled mat of last year's tall grasses and flowers. So I found myself bushwacking --not as bad as many previous Kamchatka experiences, but what a shock after flying through the forest on skis.

After I thrashed up the hill, I punted and went out onto the asphalted trail, which was very serpentine, up and down, good exercise, surrounded by birch forest with some great views -- the city, its bay, and Viluchinsky volcano -- and in the other direction Koryaksky and Avachinsky volcanoes.  But this trail never gets too far away from the stadium area, and thusI could hear the incessant hum and roar of the main-road traffic.  I had a healthy walk and took the bus home.

Wednesday also dawned clear, cool and breezy.  It seemed a shame to take a bus to go for a walk, but I wanted to get out of the city, away from the dirt and noise, so take a bus I did.  At the Lesnaya stop, I had more decisions--repeat the prior day's trek?  Walk up the gravel road?  I decided I wanted the quickest route to escape the traffic noise, so I headed up the gravel road... but a few cars passed, and it was dusty, so... I veered onto the "zdorovye" (health) (ski) trail.  

What was I thinking...  I had worn teva-type hiking sandals (with socks) because my boots were pinching.  The first few hundred meters were mostly dry "road", but then of course there was lots of mud and melting snow and...  giant puddles and broad willow marshes.  I quickly gave up keeping my feet dry (the sandals are designed to get wet) and kept going, trying to stay in grassy marsh rather than muddy muck.  Some places were ok; sometimes I could veer onto a low ridge with birch and its underlying brush.  What was I thinking...   but I had navigated enough marsh and muck not to want to turn back, and I kept thinking it might get better; I sat on a stump and had a snack and thought about ... bears.  Before Tanya left last week, we talked about my taking a "bear flare" -- we use signal flares to scare bears away.  But I didn't.

I came to the spot on the trail where the gas pipeline crossed, and I thought I could take the primitive pipeline road till it crossed the gravel road I knew would take me back.  But the pipeline road devolved quickly into another quagmire.  So -- I figured my best bet at this point was to take the (ski) trail to Severo Vostok, a suburb of Petropavlovsk.  This trail also was a mess, partly because some stupid (drivers of) motorized vehicles had really mucked it up.  But I was not far from Severo Vostok, and from there I could walk on streets and find a bus.  I was mucking along when to my left I saw someone on a trail!  I veered over, and there was a footpath in birch forest, on which I soon saw bunches of people -- some headed out to collect wild garlic (cherem sha), some picnicking, some walking dogs...  it took me easily to a bus stop.

LESSONS (RE-) LEARNED:
1) This was the vez dihod that was supposed to take us to our base camp in 2005.
It turned out not to be amphibious, and we got swept into the Mutnaya River.
Called a helicopter...  photos by Bre MacInnes.  In the left picture, I am wearing
rezinovye sapogi (hip boots)
1) Skis, snowshoes, reindeer sleds and dogsleds don't work when the ground is not frozen and snow-covered.  The best overland (motorized) vehicle in this case is a wonderful Russian machine called a "vez dihod" ("goes anywhere") -- they are even amphibious except when they are not...
2) Wear rubber boots -- they are your "go anywhere" ticket.
2) [and I knew this...]  If you go hiking on Kamchatka in the summer season (with possible exception of on volcanoes), your best footwear is "rezinovye sapogi" (rubber boots), of the hip-height variety.
3) Don't travel overland -- go by air or find a water route!
3) Put your vehicle on a ferry; find a river to float down; if you can afford it, take a helicopter.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Cherem sha! Eating wild plants on Kamchatka

Mostly what I remember as a child was being afraid of the possible poisonous nature of wild plants [I do remember collecting black walnuts from the tree up behind my grandma's house].  That all changed when I started working in the field on Kamchatka.

I did not go skiing yesterday in order to pick cherem sha -- two activities that are basically mutually exclusive.  I was on my last day of lowland skiing, knowing today it would rain heavily.  After a long, wonderful day of classic cross-country on snowy trails as well as nearly snow-barren ground that had been thick with snow through April, I broke through a snow bridge into a big puddle, and that was the end of my skiing.  As I removed my skis and cleaned them up, I noticed green shoots poking out of the ground on the side of the trail -- was it? It was!  --cherem sha, aka wild garlic, or ramps.  I became so enthralled with my gathering that I almost missed the last bus back into town, leaving behind hugs patches of cherem sha.
19 May 2017 on the Lesnaya sport ski trail (snow
patch in distance).  Snow retreats, wild garlic advances!
I first learned about cherem sha on a wayward backpacking trip in June in the early 2000s.  It was to be a recreational trip to Nalichevo hot springs, with a trail along the Perevalnaya River. But we -- my friend Sasha Storcheus (RIP) and I -- started on the wrong side of the river, crossing a bridge we should not have crossed, and wandered the back country for three days.  I had packed typical American-style backpacking food, mostly dehydrated, including "soyevo myasa" (dried soy meat).  I carried a liter of water, Sasha carried none because Russians don't, especially when the hike is planned along a river valley.  Instead we spent much of the day on a dry ridge, descending into a dry valley.  That's when I learned about birch sap.  Sasha took his axe (Russians always have an axe), slashed a birch, put a piece of grass into the slash and dripped sap into a cup.  We went on to camp in a wetter spot, and as I prepared supper, I said I wished I had brought some condiments, and Sasha pulled up some cherem sha that was within reach of the campfire, and our soy meat became much tastier.  Finally, on our way back down the trail, we came across paparotnik -- fiddlehead ferns, and I collected a bunch which Sasha taught me how to prepare once back in town.

Beach pea http://arcadianabe.blogspot.ru/
2014/09/beach-pea-elusive-edible.html
Cherem sha is the first to sprout up in the spring and can be found in cool spots at least into July.  I remember a salad we made of cherem sha leaves when we were at Mutnaya Bay.  We had salt and oil, and a squeezed lemon had washed ashore from a nearby ship, and we managed to get some lemony flavor out of it for our salad.  The other "local salad" that's common in our field is morskaya kapusta, (literally sea cabbage) -- a kind of kelp, Laminaria.  I remember the first time I had it, in our 1998 field at Soldatskaya Bay, prepared by Vanya Storcheus.  A third potential salad ingredient is the beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus) -- the name for pea in Russian is "gorokh," but we always just call this "beach pea."  Mostly we just shuck the peas on the spot and eat them, but occasionally we bring some back to camp to add to soup or salad.  There has been some question about edibility of beach peas; unless they are your staple diet, they are not dangerous.

Puchka grows really tall.  This picture is from the web:
http://s.fishki.net/upload/post/201506/30/1581387/getimage.jpg
A food I haven't eaten but which has been used as a food staple by indigenous peoples is the bulb of the local lily, sarana or saranka.  Another of their commonly used plants, puchka (Heracleum dulcewe have on occasion cooked and eaten--the stems are are celery-like. Puchka is one of bears' favorite vegetables.  It is also commonly our nemesis in the field, especially on sunny days -- its leaves produce a phototoxic chemical -- a reason you have to cover your skin while bushwacking and hiking amongst tall plants, even wearing gloves.  I tend to stomp it down in front of me--take that, puchka!  Only once I got a burn on my shin when we had a "vacation day" and I wore pedal pushers around camp. I have heard others' horror stories, though.

A fire-blackened teapot with a compote mix of
rose hips (shipovnika), ryabina (mountain ash), and a
few blueberries (I think golubika but many zhimolost')
photo by Bre MacInnes, 2005 Mutnaya Bay
If I maintain a relatively seasonal narrative, I should mention that the fresh tips of kedrach (Pinus sibirica) a shrub pine, are edible and supposed to be good for you.  I've tried them, I'm not a big fan. And kedrach is terrible to bushwack, it pariticularly challenged us in south Kamchatka.  On the other hand, in the autumn, kedrach cones generate wonderful pine nuts.  Another shrub with an edible part is a wild rose whose species name I thought I knew (Rosa nootkatensisuntil I read this.  In any case, I was told early on that rose petals from this rose make a good jelly/jam, but I never have been successful making it, so instead, in the field, I commonly just pluck the leaves and eat them--especially good when spotted with dew; careful to exclude insects...  This is another plant that have an autumn bonanza, in this case, rose hips, which are collected by locals for winter tea and vitamin C.

What's left (in my incomplete knowledge) are two giant categories -- berries and mushrooms/fungus (the latter including chaga).  Each one deserves its own write-up/blog (not to mention fish, fowl and meats), especially my absolute favorite brusnika, so I will just write about that one for now, after a short introduction to other berries.  In order of appearance/ripeness, in my experience the first berries we can pick and eat are shiksha, or crowberries -- another staple of indigenous diets, not very sweet or tasty, though with ripeness they are better; make excellent ingredients in berry pancakes, when that's all you have.  Next come blueberries, I can't determine which first, but the first I picked were zhimolost', a blimp-shaped blueberry with a fabulous taste and a deep purple stain; the other is golubika, a low-growing, classic-appearing blueberry [note that my experience is mostly coastal].  In the peat bogs, relatively early, you can find maroshka, known to us as cloudberries; they are ripe when they become pale pink-yellow, from a darker red-orange, and they taste a bit like yogurt or ice cream.  A late bog berry is, of course, the bog cranberry, kliukva -- I only managed to harvest kliukva once in a September field in Soldatskaya Bay, 2003.  Another later berry is ryabina, or mountain ash -- not particularly edible but can be used in jams and compote; commonly quickly gets riddled with bugs; grows in bunches that bears just trim off the bushes, including really near my tent one year.  Most of these berries are familiar in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, especially Alaska, but I was surprised that Kamchatka does NOT have salmon berries.

These brusnika are not quite ripe...
photo by Bre MacInnes
Finally, my favorite brusnika -- best known in the western world by its Swedish name lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).  It is also called "low bush cranberry" and a bunch of other names, it grows in tundra-like conditions, including on our old beach ridges.  It ripens in the late summer, and you have to pay attention, because it can look red above and still be quite green on the underside.  A deep red is what you are looking for.  
Bre with fresh brusnika,
inset of freeze-dried version
And/but if you are lucky earlier in the summer, you can find brusnika "freeze-dried" from the previous year -- I remember at least a couple times where there were enough naturally freeze-dried brusnika that we could collect them to share or to cook with; they can be a bit fermented, which is fun, too.   Brusnika have a flavor akin to bog cranberry but more intense.  When freshly picked, they have lots of pectin, so the only decent thing to do is add a little sugar, bring to a boil (no water!) and eat by the spoonful with tea.  Second best is to do the same and put on bread or pancakes or in blini -- with smetana (sour cream, which we don't have in the field), omg.  Brusnika freeze well and are commonly available in markets here in Petropavlovsk, so I am enjoying them here this winter.