The Deep Carbon Observatory Early Career workshop – Costa Rica 2014

This month I was able to escape a cold and dreary Scotland to spend a busy week in San Jose, Costa Rica at the first DCO early career workshop. Over the course of 4 days, an international group of ~40 postdocs, research fellows, and assistant professors presented talks and posters, took part in discussions, and participated in fieldtrips. The aim was to build new collaborations and explore research ideas within fields ranging from the deep microbial biosphere, volcanic degassing, and carbon speciation in the Earth’s mantle. Participants came from all across the globe, including Japan, Germany, Finland, USA, UK, Italy, Canada, France, South Africa, and Portugal.

The workshop proved to be an intense but hugely enjoyable success, the highlights undoubtedly being the 2 days spent exploring the two active volcanoes nearby to San Jose: the very active (!) Turrialba, and “quieter” Poas volcanoes (as it turned out, not-so-quiet…).



Into the craters! Top: Turrialba volcano, which has 3 craters (extinct, quiet, and mental); Bottom: Poas volcano, with an acidic (pH <1) crater lake steaming in its centre.

At these volcanoes we had all sorts of demonstrations by the fantastic researchers and staff at the Universidad de Costa Rica, such as how to take gas measurements from active volcanoes, including steaming fumaroles around the crater and the huge plume towering up above Turrialba. Volcanologists are interested in measuring the carbon dioxide (CO2) output from volcanoes such as these in order to try and quantify how much CO2 is released from volcanic degassing into the atmosphere. This is important for understanding climate change, and also for finding out how much carbon is stored deep within the Earth itself.

Turrialba Volcano

Turrialba Volcano

Getting ready to launch the UAVs into Turrialba's plume of gas

Getting ready to launch the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles into Turrialba’s plume of gas. The UAVs are equipped with mass spectrometers and other instruments to measure the composition of the plume that these mini-planes fly directly into.

At the crater of Turrialba

Preparing for gas measurements at the summit of Turrialba’s crater. Gas masks have to be worn to filter out sulfur dioxide, which turns to sulphuric acid when it comes into contact with water (e.g. in your lungs!).

I also had the chance to help out Katie Pratt – the DCO Science Communicator – film fieldwork and participants using the tiny but mighty GoPro cameras. Filming was helped by the outstanding scenery of Costa Rica. Wherever we drove there were mountains, rainforests, and waterfalls (albeit with the impending threat of ravenous wildlife..). It couldn’t be any more different to the cold and desolate Arctic environments I typically venture out to every summer.

Costa Rican rainforest on the way to Poas Volcano.

Costa Rican rainforest on the way to Poas Volcano.

A huge thanks to the workshop organisers Jon Fellowes, Katie Pratt, Taryn Lopez, Aude Picard, Long Li, and Carlos José Ramirez Umaña for making it such a great trip!

The whole gang - participants, organisers, and Poas Volcano (image credit: DCO)

DCO workshop – participants, organisers, and Poas Volcano (image credit: DCO)