Started From the Bottom, Now We’re Here

I am a happy person. I like to laugh, eat good food with good people, read, and travel. But there have only been a handful of moments in my existence where I have felt truly full of life. June 13th, 2016 held one of those moments. Every passing day on this paradise, I learn or try something new, which is exciting in and of itself, but June 13th was different than the other days. That was the day that I decided geology and I would be together forever.

The day started similar to most. We had a lesson at 10 am and headed off to another new place – the Akrotiri Peninsula on the southwestern tip of Thera in Santorini. Here, we would be standing on the oldest evidence of volcanic activity on Santorini. This island may only be 11 miles long, but there are so many new places to be explored. For the explorer (and possible future geologist) in me, this is really exciting because it means that every day will have new people, new stories to tell, and of course, new rocks.

The Akrotiri Peninsula has successfully made itself my favorite place to be on this island. All it took was a quick glance at the still-seeming blue waters and the brilliantly jagged cliffs and I was hooked. From the foot of the lighthouse, I could see distant islands and swaying boats. I could hear the excitement in my classmates voices as they were sharing the same appreciation for the beauty of this place. ‘This is paradise’, I thought, ‘How am I expected to leave a place like this in only 6 days?’ Figure A, below, is an attempt to try to capture the beauty of the peninsula that I was taken aback by.

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Figure A: This was my first view of the Akrotiri Peninsula. The picture doesn’t do it justice but it’s pretty impressive, huh? This photo also represents the outcrop of rock that I will focus on in upcoming paragraphs.
After my mind finally adjusted to the fact that where I was standing was real, I was able to move forward up the trail to the lighthouse to look at the rocks that constructed the place that I was so awestruck by. All I knew was that this part of the island was formed from domes. Domes are volcanoes constructed of very thick lava – I like to think of toothpaste being squeezed out of the tube. Toothpaste is thick and will round out when it is squeezed out. Similarly, the lava coming from a dome volcano is very thick and will essentially round itself as it creeps over the landscape.

Often, dome volcanoes will form on top of a pre-existing volcano or landmass. However, the dome that I was seeing had a tough upbringing. This volcano spent thousands of years under hundreds of meters of water, slowly creeping its way to the surface.

When the class had made it to the top of the outcrop, I immediately noticed a red bed of rock, just a few meters below the lighthouse. This rock so clearly stood out to me because everything around it was a creamish white color. How did this red section of rock wedged under a lighter layer? Figure B, below, shows the section of red in comparison to the light layer.

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Figure B: Here you can see the red layer of rock under the light layer. My professor, Lisa, is standing by the outcrop of rock for scale.
The red rock that I had observed was a marine conglomerate deposit. A conglomerate is a type of rock composed of other rounded rocks held together by a matrix (kind of like a natural glue for rocks). When I first learned that marine conglomerate laid above the dome, I was surprised and slightly confused. I had always just assumed that magma would either engulf whatever surrounded it because of the high temperature or destroy material through explosions.

In this particular situation, the temperature of the sea floor had to be low enough and there had to be enough pressure on the dome from the water above it in order to suppress the explosion of the volcano, making the lava have more of an effusive flow than a violent eruption. The effusive flow of lava allowed for the marine conglomerate to be preserved rather than destroyed.

So let’s fast forward a few thousand years. The dome has made its way out of the water and the marine conglomerate is preserved. But the volcano hasn’t put in its two weeks yet. Another eruption of volcanic material occurs on top of the marine conglomerate. The interaction of the marine conglomerate and the new, 900 degree lava oxidized the marine conglomerate to give it the beautiful red hue it holds today (to learn more about the process of oxidation, please visit my first blog post: https://nauingreece.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/karavolades-stairs-a-600-step-geologic-wonderland/).

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Figure C: In this image, the rusty red conglomerate is clearly defined. The color of this rock came from a weathering process referred to as oxidation.
The color of the red conglomerate was so vivid and raw. I believe that it is impossible to capture the true essence of the beauty without seeing it up close. That being said, I had to get a closer look at this magnificent creation of water versus fire. As I was examining the rock with my professor, Lisa Skinner, we noticed that the marine conglomerate was not red all the way through, meaning that the volcanic material only oxidized about half of the bed.

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Figure D: On the uppermost part of this photo, you can see the lava deposit that caused the middle layer to turn red. Right below the red layer is the other half of the marine conglomerate that did not get oxidized and thus remained tan.
When I saw that clear gradient between the lower tan conglomerate and the upper red conglomerate, my heart dropped and my eyes flashed into the past. I was imagining this eruption taking place. I could see the calm marine sediment, delicately preserved on top of a volcanic dome. I saw the lava come from a short distance away with an intent to disrupt the peaceful conglomerate. I was entirely swept away in this single moment. My mind and imagination were completely emerged in the story that these rocks were telling me.

Professor Skinner caught me in my trance. She told me more about this amazing bed of rock that we were studying while I patiently listened feeling like a kindergartener being given crayons for the first time. Then, she stopped and she said to me with a smile on her face, “You’re going to be a geologist Jenna”. I laughed, but I was beaming on the inside. I believe that on that cloudy Monday afternoon, I had a true moment of life.

June 13th was the day that I learned about the beginnings of this beautiful island. This was the day where I walked on 650-550 thousand year old rock. I sat, I observed, and I listened to its story. I was taken back in time when I mentally pictured the thick lava flow towering over the marine sediments. I was taken forward in time when I realized that this was what I wanted my life to be. My visit to the Akrotiri Domes may have been a marker for the end of my trip, but it marks the beginning of a journey…my journey with geology.

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6 thoughts on “Started From the Bottom, Now We’re Here”

  1. You already know how I feel about this post, but I’d like to put it out there for everyone to see. Not only is it excellently written, you literally brought me to tears with the last paragraph. Thanks for letting me be a good influence. I’m so proud of you and feel privileged to have you in class. You HAVE to be a geologist!

    1. Thank you Lisa, not only for your comment, but everything you’ve done for this trip to be as incredible as it was. I will never forget the impact that this experience had on me.

  2. Hi Jenna,

    Thank you for sharing this post! Moments like the one you had are valuable, and it’s also easy to hear your excitement in your writing.

    It’s clear you know what you are explaining. It’s said a good teacher understands the material well enough to explain it to anyone in a clear and concise way. You utilized text and images to your advantage and made this geology post understandable to a non-geology student. You also expertly used your voice throughout the post. For example, “But the volcano hasn’t put in its two weeks yet.” This line makes it clear what you are trying to say but also makes your readers giggle a little at the thought of a volcano quitting its boring ol’ office job.

    While I do think the diagrams you used helped immensely to explain your concept, a final picture of the location would’ve have been the icing to this post. You introduce the reader to the location in the first picture, zoomed in, and then left us picturing the zoomed in the rock.

    I wish you luck on your new found adventure!

    1. Nicole,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. I really appreciate the feedback you gave me in response to it!
      It was a fun challenge for me to try to convey my personality with the geology aspect, so I appreciate you noticing that.

      I also think that your idea of having an ending photo of the location would be beneficial in wrapping everything together, thank you for that comment!

      Again, thank you for your feedback!

      Jenna

  3. Hello Jenna,

    Informative and passionate post this week. Your personal narrative in this post does well in introducing your topic, communicating specific geological processes from your time in Santorini, as well as ending on a sentimental note that communicates who you are and that you are aptly applying yourself to your field of study. Your visuals assisted in my reading and comprehension of complex geological processes and your language helps readers from outside the field of geology really understand how telling Santorini’s current makeup is of the island’s natural history.
    As for revising, I really only have one, nitpicky suggestion. In your opening you do well referring to the past date of June 13th but in the final sentence you state, “Today would be the day when I decided geology and I would be together forever.” Be sure to reference that day in the past tense. That was the day that I decided… Other than that bit, it was a pleasure reading about your passions.

    Happy writing,
    Jose Martinez

    1. Jose,

      Thank you for reading my blog and providing me with constructive feedback. I appreciate that greatly!

      I appreciate that you acknowledged my efforts to make the geology more understandable to non-geology readers. That was certainly a challenge for me and it means a lot that you noticed it.

      As for the suggested change, thank you for pointing out that my tenses were not matching. I will be sure to make that change.

      Jenna

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