Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Holidays!

As it turns out... Christmas in the Comarca is not so bad.

I admit that it's hard to send "best wishes" to everyone, especially to those I miss the most, but to all the friends, family, jefes, mentors, and yes "Group 60" -

Merry Christmas and Happy 2009.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Project: Volcan Baru

This is just a quick update - quicker than normal.

The research I plan on doing based on Volcan Baru is progressing, just as it has been since I arrived, but NOW it's time to actually blog about it.

After a year spent in-country and focusing on Peace Corps activities, the hardcore geology work is now ready to take center stage. That is to say, when I'm not juggling aqueduct and latrine construction, I am hiking (or bicycling as it may be) out to my field area to map a volcanic deposit.

The fieldwork has already begun and I'm not joking about taking a bike, my research area is huge and there is a lot of ground to cover. Where am I working? Here:

(The USGS map shows 3 shaded areas: blue is Volcan Baru's edifice, brown is the lahar flow field, and in green is where I am working: the debris avalanche deposit, DAD. The original paper where you can see this map and the full explanation is here:

How do you map a VDAD? The primary features I'm focusing on are the hummocks, already deeply buried by thousands of years of lahar flows, but with a little help of aerial photos and lots of time spent "hoofing it" - I'll be able to map out the extent of the region and hopefully gather enough information to explain how such a large-scale event occurred and when.

More fieldwork should have happened in November, but renewed construction in-site and VERY bad weather changed my plans. During the week of the 16th a major storm system approached Panama's northern coast. A huge cell of rain (is that correct to say? maybe it's better to say "cells") moved in from the Caribbean and sat over the shoreline dumping rain and rising winds. Rivers were flooding, small streams graduated to rushing highways of mud, landslides covered major roads, bridges were damaged, houses were washed away, fincas were drowned, and unfortunately, some rescue efforts failed.
(Photo by Angel Rodriguez; road to Cerro Punta; Rio Chiriqui Viejo)

(Photo by SINAPROC staff; aerial view of flooding in Bocas del Toro, Nov. 16-30, 2008;

Formal report here: United Nations report

PC Volunteers were evacuated where possible, in some cases it was better to ride out the storm than cross the bay of Bocas del Toro, but it's going to be difficult for many of them to return to their sites.

Good luck you guys!

Project: Aqueduct Design

We're ready to go! The Water Committee of Quebrada Mina has finished the final phase of planning and surveying, so we're ready to write proposals and look for some funds.

Over the last 13 months, the committee has been meeting with me and poco-a-poco gearing up to construct a water system that will provide for 23 families. Qda. Mina isn't far from my Calabazalian's, so it has been easy to visit them and plan out how we can bring water to this little Ngabe village.

The final surveying of the area has just taken place: several days were needed to measure everything. For instance, a full day was needed to measure the path of the water lines from the springs to the potential tank area; another day was needed for the primary main line while another was needed for the second main line branch; even more time was needed to figure out how we can get PVC tubes to run up and down and around a sizeable hill... hmmm, by now it's already December... I'm glad the survey is finally done!
(Here's the view after crossing over the hill, the "Problem Hill" that is causing us to talk about shared "plumas" for three of the nearby families. In this view, you can see a clearing in the middle ground, that's where the final house lies: down, around, and up the rise.)

There were several volunteers that stopped by to help the surveying go smoothly. Jess Mehl COS 2008 and Steve Russo G60 helped out early on and got things going (and debated with me the merits of an Abney level vs. Water level - no winner yet!). Later, Kaitlin Green joined me for a day walking with Miguel Mora and a small team, yes, still using the Water level.

Eventually I did use the Abney level to re-measure the primary main line. This was important to get an idea of how much error we are really dealing with in elevation. The large hill toward the end of one of the lines is just too high for comfort, so I was careful about the numbers.

Ultimately, I decided not to cross directly over the summit. We can reroute around the lower flank and reach the final cluster of houses but this means 3 families will need to walk 2 minutes down to a shared pluma. It will be interesting to see how they work this into their lifestyles - currently they hike 5 minutes to a "pozo" that dribbles water below a sharp, slippery drop below the homes. I hope they will see the new design as an improvement!

Thanks for providing the photographic evidence KK! These photos were taken in September '08 while the "aspirante" visited for a week. For sure, I wasn't the only one thrilled to have some one new to talk to :)