Our friend and colleague Rosaly Lopes invited us along on a trip with a Brazilian film crew on a shoot at the amazing volcanoes in Vanuatu, sort-of as scientific 'extras'. It sounded fun, so we took some vacation and blew some airmiles to come along. Io veterans Bob Howell and Jani Radebaugh brought the scientist party to five. Sorry about the clunky web page - code-rot seems to have got at the script I use to make nice grids. Most images are 1500 pix across - It might be that changing the zoom on your browser to 50 or 75% will make this look better.

My main science experiment was trying out a camera with a near-IR filter on the hot lavas. Click Here for near-infrared movie (quicktime, 3MB) of Yasur eruptions. I really like the way the glowing bombs roll down the slope.

Another experiment was using a handheld audio recorder to study the acoustic emissions of the vents at Yasur. A 45-minute (500MB) mp3 audio file is the result.

Possibly the best video I've shot (in the near-IR at least!) is this of the 40m(?)-wide lava lake at Marum. The scale is evident from the speed of the fountaining and splash of lava onto the walls. Click Here (quicktime, 7MB). (Note to media/scientific users - the movies are copyright, contact me for rights/useage. I have higher-resolution versions of these, and other movies)

5 hrs to SFO, then 14 hours to Sydney (flying more or less over Vanuatu!) for a couple of days. Naturally we did all the tourist stuff like walk the bridge, take the ferry to Manly, see the Opera House, etc.

At Manly, we visited the aquarium which has neat sharks, rays etc. Especially cool was the cuttlefish tank - they were actually mating, doing the whole color-changing thing. Amazing animals.

It is a 3 hour flight on a 737 to Port Vila (Vanuatu's capital). Then an hour by Twin Otter (great fun planes!) to the bustling metropolis of Craig Cove on Ambrym island. The airport is a short strip in the jungle, with a windsock and a rough building with a luggage scale. (The local guy who runs the airport comes over with his cellphone when a plane is due; he runs the nearby bungalow accommodation, which has piglets and chickens running around..)

Then after an hour truck ride (there are, we are told, 5 pickup trucks on the island; we may have seen them all) it was a 4-5 hour rough hike up through jungle and waterfalls (mostly dry) up to the ash plain.

On the ash plain (about 700m elevation) the going is much easier. There are two main volcanos, Benbow and Marum. We just went to Marum. It was pleasantly warm, not too oppressive, but rainshowers were frequent. Benbow is the saddle-shaped mountain behind me.

After a night in camp, it was another couple of hours to hike across the ash plain and past lava flows up onto the crater. There was a 5 minute stretch where the SO2 vog was bad enough for us to need to use our gas masks.

From the crater there is a precipitous drop, as seen in this kite camera shot (in fact the kite was subsequently lost due to the violent downdraft at the rim - I think a secondary flow driven by the volcano). You can see the tents of a Japanese film crew on the rim, and the rest of the island in the distance

About 300-400m down, there is a churning lava lake. It has very little crust on it (unlike Erta Ale). Remarkable. Sometimes steam/vog made it difficult to see optically. There was an uncomfortably strong wind blowing towards the crater edge.

My Near-IR camera cut through the haze nicely - this image was in full daylight, but shows that the thermal emission from the lava lake dominates

A near-IR closeup of the lava lake showing a partial crust. Video of this (amazing) is in the link at the top of the page

The film crew got some of their equipment taken up by the hardy local porters, and some as a load slung under a helicopter. Cool to watch.

After another night in camp and running the jungle/gorge gauntlet, it was back to Craig Cove. Zibi rather enjoyed the ride in the back of the pickup.

This trip had a frustrating amount of packing and unpacking, but at least our brief stay at the hotel in Port Vila had a nice view.

Another Twin Otter flight to the more popular tourist destination island of Tanna. Here is the volcano Mt. Yasur, which has more or less continuous Strombolian activity. Wind has sculpted the ash into a sharp edge here, behind the 'Io gals' Jani,Zibi and Rosaly. There are nice aeolian ripples at their feet.

We were treated to a traditional dance by the locals, whose village looks out onto the volcano. One of the neat gestures of friendship is the transfer of facepaint to visitors by sort of rolling faces. Zibi got painted this way. Another neat display was of igniting a fire by rubbing bits of wood together (I guess slightly more convenient than going to the volcano..)

Yasur's vents in action. They'd go off every minute or two.

Vents in the near-IR (see link at top for video)

On the ash plain there were little patches of Pele's hair (basically glass fiber blown from lava bubbles in wind)

After the volcano, we stayed in a treehouse which was a lot of fun, then had a couple of hours to go to the beach before the flight home. When the rain stops, Vanuatu really has the unspoilt tropical paradise thing going for it.

The fairer members of the crew were able to persuade the Twin Otter pilots to make a 10-minute detour from the flight back to Vila to overfly Yasur. It was a bit smoky, but the near-IR camera cut through it , showing nicely that there are 3 active vents. Note that the near-IR reflectance of cholorphyll is such that the vegetation towards the top of the image is quite bright.

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