Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Adventures in Boulder: UNAVCO visit

Yeah, I'm cool.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled race report to bring you some SCIENCE!

Though it may not always seem like it from this blog, triathlon is far from my day job.  Life as a grad student can certainly get hectic and stressful, and athletics have always been my release, my escape, my means of maintaining my sanity.  But many times there are fun opportunities as a student as well, and I recently took advantage of one of them: a trip out to Boulder, CO for a short course in Finite Element Modeling of Deformation at Volcanoes.

A science short course is an intensive class that is condensed into a short time frame, usually a few hours to a few days long.  In this case, the course took place over the Tuesday-Thursday of the week after Triple-T.  Our car arrived back in  Madison from Ohio very early Monday morning, and I flew out later in the morning.  So partly by accident and partly by design, I did absolutely zero swimming, biking, or running that Monday-Thursday.  Side note: don't expect to remember everything if you're packing while dead tired.  I think this turned out to be a very good thing, though.  The days in Colorado were full, with class from 9am to about 6pm and evening socializing and networking with the other participants.  It did make me a little bit jealous to see all the cyclists buzzing around the area during those few days, though.

Schematic of how InSAR works.  Blue: positions at
 time 1, pink: positions at time 2. Offset for ease of
viewing.  Range change is represented by rho.
The course took place at UNAVCO, which is a non-profit university-governed consortium that facilitates earth science education and research using geodesy: the study of the earth's shape, gravitational field, and rotation.  Some tools used in geodesy include GPS, gravimeters, tiltmeters, borehole strain measurements, and satellite radar measurements.  I was at the course because my dissertation is using data from technique called InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar) to measure surface deformation at a volcano in Alaska, and I am learning to model this deformation using the finite element method.  For SAR, a satellite sends signals of a particular wavelength to the ground, and those signals bounce back to the satellite with an amplitude and phase that depend on the characteristics of the surface and the distance traveled by the signal.  Interferometric SAR involves using the difference in phase returned by a signal sent to a particular area on the ground at two different times to calculate the change in distance between the ground and the satellite, and therefore the uplift or subsidence of the ground, during that time period.  It's pretty amazing that this works when you consider all of the factors that go into making the measurements, and it's only possible because we know and can account for information such as satellite orbits so precisely.  InSAR is useful for volcano monitoring because volcanoes uplift when new magma moves into the system beneath them, so the amount of uplift of a volcano and the rate at which it occurs can be used to try to predict eruptions.

The course went really well- I feel like I learned a lot, and am much more competent with the modeling program I will be using!  Hurray.  I love the Boulder area, too... I could definitely see myself ending up out there one day.

With that, I'll leave you with some pictures snapped by the UNAVCO staff.

morning background lecture
loading our data sets
working through a demo model as a group
getting a tour of the UNAVCO warehouse- really fun stuff in there!
group shot in front of the office

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