Sunday, March 8, 2009

New Zealand, Part 1: Wellington and the escape north

(Huka Falls. That gorgeous turquouise water is the result of extra natural filtering from all the volcanic rocks that the water passes through. A LOT of the water looks like this!)

Ok, I'm finally going to post about the New Zealand trip. Sorry for the delay. Going through the photos overwhelmed me just a bit......

Arrived in Wellington (southern-most city on the north island) on January 11th, for a conference on climates and biota from when the dinosaurs died (65 Ma. in case any of you are shaky on your geologic history) until we had ice on the poles (roughly the Eocene-Oligocene boundary, ~34 Ma.). So that means it was a conference devoted to studying greenhouse climates. It was great! Gave a talk, and there were only about 150 people who attended, so it was a really nice size.

(View of Wellington)

To me, the best conference tidbit was a sneak preview about a tropical temperature reconstruction made from a giant prehistoric snake. The thing is huge: they estimate it weighed around a ton, was 13 meters long and up to almost a meter in diameter! If you didn't hear this already, check out the NPR story about it from early February.

Amazing in its own right, but it also bears on climate. Snakes can only get really large when the climate is really warm (that whole cold-blooded thing). Tropical temperature reconstructions have been a problematic area for awhile - how do you heat up the poles without heating the tropics, which is what many of the paleoclimate records suggest up to this point? Do the tropics actually have some kind of intrinsic thermostat or are our proxy techniques failing us somehow? Climate models have a lot of trouble getting the poles to warm without heating the tropics..... So, this particular story suggests that the tropics were much hotter back in the day than other records suggest, simply based on the size of this snake. And yes, in the talk, they referred to this as "Giant Snake Paleothermometry." Awesome. AND, the presenter even wondered out loud whether this would help him impress J. Lo. I love my job.

(An esteemed researcher of early Paleogene climates. Perhaps he thought he was riding the giant snake?)

Enough about the conference. Wellington was a nice city, not unlike some California port cities. The conference was held in the conference center of Te Papa, which is also a natural history museum. Sadly, I missed the exhibit on the Colossal Squid.

We finished up the conference on the 16th, and I took off with some other attendees to work our way north to Auckland, to drop a couple of folks off at the airport. The first day, we drove to Hamilton, and saw a lot on the way. Drove by Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom) in Tongariro National Park, stopped along the shores of Lake Taupo (which is an old caldera) for ice cream, saw Huka Falls and stopped at the Waikite Valley Thermal pools for a soak before driving the rest of the way to Hamilton.
(the source of the heat for the thermal pools)
(Waikite Valley Thermal Pools)
(Turns out baby ferns look like monkey tails)
(This weird texture felt like rubber, but apparently is what the actual leaves grow from?)
(just an odd bird with a fantastic hair-do)

Next day, we headed from Hamilton to the west coast, to a town called Raglan. On the way we stopped at Bridal Veil falls, which is now the second Bridal Veil Falls I've seen that is also associated with columnar basalt (quick, can anyone guess where the first one is?).
(Bridal Veil Falls. It you have a good eye, you can pick out the columnar jointing of the basalt that makes up the cliff)

After that, we headed into Raglan, a cute little laid-back surf town (wait a minute......), and went kayaking and swimming.
(geologists at the beach.....)
(limestone cliff blocks that had fallen into the water)(paddling among the limestone cliff blocks)

Next day, we headed into Auckland, dropped some folks off at the airport, then rented a car and headed back south.... Stay tuned.


Trifarina said...

Whaaa? Scott Wing on a giant plaster lizard? Good catch!

Fault Rocks said...

please expand on the turquoise water filtering process ? turquoise color related to suspended zeolites>

kes said...

water is turquoise simply because it is really clear. BUT, the reason it is so clear may have something to do with zeolites??? Not sure. I remember it being said that the waters were "doubly-filtered" in part by the volcanic deposits (which, as you already know, I'm sure) are associated with a lot of zeolites.

Not sure what the second part was. Might be the forested surroundings? Looking on the old interweb turned up a lot of articles on how the natural filtration of the natural forests was diminishing due to increased agriculture. I'll let you know if I learn anything more.....

Tom said...

I don't have anything to say about the geology, but I'm mad jealous that you got to go to NZ! I have some more colorful language I would use, but this being a family blog, so I'll keep it clean. ;>