Resemblance to Western Washington State
Buchwaldt notes that western Washington state and Ecuador are similar in that they each are situated along a major subduction zone. A collective zone occurs throughout the Pacific Ocean and is called the Ring of Fire. Most of the volcanism on the planet occurs around these subduction zones. Volcanoes produced in subduction zones have different magmas than those produced in hot spot areas such as in Hawaii. In subduction zones, water is brought down into the mantle where it gets dissolved in the magma and therefore creates a gas-rich magma that produces a very explosive situation. In hot spot volcanoes, water is not involved, so the magma is more viscous and thus flows more easily. Buchwaldt is looking at the chemistry of different magma deposits to see how different volcanoes evolve and determine the evolution of different volcanoes as well as the kinds of dynamic processes involved in volcanic eruptions. He also is using Geospatial Information Systems technology to detect the dominant flow patterns in the area with the goal of classifying different regions in terms of the severity of their volcanic potential. What he finds will add to the geological record of Ecuador and the general knowledge base of volcanoes. But his findings also will help Ecuadorians plan city buildings and emergency buildings and escape routes to avoid future volcanic destruction. During Spring Break 2007, Buchwaldt took 30 members of his WashingtonUniversity geosciences class to a field trip in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands to study the differences in volcanoes. "It was an extremely interesting opportunity for students to actually see real geology, at times as it was happening," he said. "A geologist needs to be outside looking at rocks and minerals. One of the memorable things was standing on a pyroclastic flow that had come down just two months before, and that flow was atop the foundation of a house it had overrun. "It's kind of scary when you actually stand on a volcano and you feel the rumbling of the volcano mountain when the magma comes up and you see ash coming up at the top of the volcano. We were truly seeing the surface expression of this dynamic planet we're living on."