When Rice volcanologist Patrick Phelps went to Chile last spring to spend two weeks atop one of the world’s most dangerously active volcanoes, he threw a small GoPro camera into his bag to document the adventure on video.
Phelps, a Ph.D. student from the Department of Earth, Environment and Planetary Sciences participated in a field study in the smoldering caldera above the Cordon Caulle in southern Chile. The volcano’s 2011 eruption is the largest in the 21st century, and Phelps and other researchers measured temperatures, ash layers, gas emissions and more to compile “snapshots” of the volcano’s current state.
“This specific type of eruption hasn’t happened in recent human memory, where we can actually go back, walk the volcano and see how this specific type of system has evolved over 10 years,” Phelps said. ” “We really wanted to go back, look at it, take some samples and finally just assess like, ‘Where’s this volcano going to be in the next 10 years?
Phelps and his companions were taken to a huge lava field near the top of the 7,300-foot-high mountain. They pitched tents and lived in extraterrestrial environments, where some rocks were hot enough to cook their food.
Phelps said he is grateful for the Lowenstern Expanding Horizon fellowship from Rice that allowed him to participate in the “experience of a lifetime.” He has started a blog called Hot Science at Cordon Caulle, detailing what he and his teammates learned on the trip and what it was like to live in one of the strangest places on Earth.