Saturday, November 16, 2013

Geo-spotlight: Observations of first ever advancing rhyolitic obsidian flow at Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano in Chile

A team of geologists from Lancaster University in United Kingdom, University of Mainz in Germany and Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand have reported for the first time a slow advancing lava flow of rhyolitic (more sticky and viscous lava than the usual red hot flowing basaltic lava) obsidian down the slopes of Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano in Chile, in their recent research article in Nature Communications. The most fascinating observation of this flow is that after almost a year from its last eruption in April 2012, when the lava from the vent had ceased to extrude; the flow is still progressing when visited by the team in January 2013.

Moving Rock at Puyehue-Cordón Caulle
Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano and its obsidian lava flow, still going nearly a year after the volcano stopped erupting. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.
The reason for the slow flow is attributed to the thick carapace of solidified rubble strewn slabs, which has kept the lava core insulated from losing heat to the surrounding. Dr. Hugh Tuffen, a researcher from Lancaster University adds, “The effectiveness of the insulation provided by the ~10 m-thick upper crust is staggering - these things may keep moving for years to come. Viscous heating and latent heat of crystallisation in the interior can also help to keep them warm.”

Their results demonstrate how efficient thermal insulation by the shell of solidified lava crust allows prolonged advance of compound rhyolitic flow fields, and reveals unexpected resemblance with processes at basaltic lava flow fields elsewhere. This very unique flow is under the 'Geo-spotlight' and further similar studies of active lava fields will shed lights on the strange motion and emplacement of lava flows in general.

Photo images of the flow in concert with satellite images were used in constructing a 3D animation of the thick flow front. The animation created by a team member Dr. James Mike can be viewed on the BBC news website.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Earthquake pangs and the rise of new born mud volcano off the coast of Pakistan

Earthquake relief is yet to reach certain remote places of Pakistan's Sindh and Balochistan province due to 7.7 magnitude earthquake (on the Richter scale) that struck the region leaving 500 people dead followed by saturday's massive aftershock measuring 6.8. The earthquake owes its birth to grinding of the two plates Indian and the Eurasian plates along the Chaman fault zone, triggering the destructive temblors. The official death count stands at 515, unofficial figures are as high as 700, with more than 800 injured (and counting). The earthquake has left more than 50,000 people homeless in these areas. I hope they receive the required help and attention.

But what has caught the eyes of many people is the rise of a new island off the port of Gwadar after the Fridays quake. The island is about 60 to 70 feet (18 to 21 meters) high, up to 300 feet (91 meters) wide, and up to 120 feet (37 meters) long. 

The new island that emerged from the sea following Fridays earthquake, off Pakistan's Gwadar coastline in the Arabian sea. (Source: Reuters)
The reason for the rise of the mud volcano is attributed to the seismic waves causing fluid material under the seafloor to expand under the crust giving way to pressurized fluid and gases to rise, spitting out buried mud with rocks and other seafloor creatures. Evidence of rocks and stones suggest that the mud might have been thrown out of the sea at great speed. The island will soon disappear under the sea as the waves will erode away the island rocks.

Further reading on the causes of the rise of mud volcano - and also images from NASA Earth Observatory (before and after the rise of the new island).

And similar articles of rise of similar new mud volcano islands off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago in the recent century.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Biodiversity at its best: My Neighbours

Living at the edge of a forest that has taken approx. 30 yrs to regrow by itself from a barren land to a forest thriving with life and providing a unique habitat for a diverse kinds of living organisms. By the way the forest I am talking about lies just at the foothills of the famous Panchgani tableland. 

It has been one year and four months of an amazing experience living at the edge of a living forest with creatures that are so incredible and beautiful to watch. Though not a wildlife expert at documenting the rich biodiversity that this small patch of forest holds, I have made a humble attempt to note down things that I have been seeing every day since my stay at Panchgani. Experiencing the entire weather of the year out here and noticing certain organisms being found only in a particular month or season and then not to see the same insects or birds in the rest of the months is so intriguing and leaves me with big questions like - WHY & HOW? With the help field guides like Birds of the Indian Subcontinent (Richard Grimmett et al), the book of Indian animals (Prater), Snakes of India: The field Guide (Romulus Whitaker & Ashok Captain) and many online resources; like this one was really helpful - a good tool for identification of birds.

Below is the list of diverse fauna from insects, mammals, amphibians, reptiles to birds; documented from October 2011 until the date of this post and the list is growing even though I post this exhaustive list now. I  hope this list is helpful to appreciate and accept that we are not alone and we share our surrounding with some of the most beautiful creatures that are so essential for the functioning of the ecosystem. Our approach so far in management of our environment or its resources like forest or water have always been anthropocentric forgetting we also need this creatures to complete what we call our Earth - a Home for all. This list will remind us to share our resources with creatures that too have important role in the environment just like we think 'we do'.

Avifauna: (104 Birds)
Red-whiskered Bulbul (emeria)
Red-vented Bulbul (humayuni)
Square-tailed Bulbul (Hypsipetes (leucocephalus) ganeesa)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Indian Yellow Tit (Parus (xanthogenys) aplonotus)
Brown-headed Barbet (caniceps)
Coppersmith Barbet
Jungle Bush Quail
Common Quail
Red Spurfowl
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Small Minivet (malabaricus, cinnamomeus)
Orange Minivet (Pericrocotus flammeus)
Black Drongo
White-bellied Drongo (leucopygialis?)
Indian Peafowl
Asian Paradise-flycatcher
Red-breasted Flycatcher/ Red-throated Flycatcher
White-spotted Fantail
White-browed Fantail
Indian Nightjar
Indian Scimitar Babbler (horsfieldii)
Tawny-bellied Babbler (hyperythra)
Jungle Babbler
Malabar Lark
Pied Bushchat
Oriental White-eye
Common tailor bird
Pale bellied flowerpecker
Purple-rumped Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Vigor’s Sunbird
Loten’s Sunbird
Black-winged Kite/ Black-shouldered Kite
Black Kite
Crested Serpent Eagle
Laggar Falcon
Oriental Magpie Robin
Indian Robin (fulicatus)
Common Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)
Laughing Dove
Asian Koel
Southern Coucal
Indian Scops Owl
Red Rumped Swallow
Wire-tailed Swallow
Dusky Crag Martin
Jungle Myna (fuscus)
Common Myna
Greenish Warbler
Blyth’s Reed Warbler
Indian Jungle Crow
House Crow
Grey-breasted Prinia (hodgsonii)
Indian Grey hornbill
White-throated Kingfisher
Malabar Whistling Thrush
Rufous Treepie
Green Bee-eater
Long-tailed Shrike
White-browed wagtail
Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Common Woodshrike
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola bacchus)
Cattle Egret (Bubulus ibis)
Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus)
Indian Blackbird (Tardus nigropileus)
Black hooded Oriole (Oriolus xanthornus)
Crested Bunting
Red-wattled Lapwing
Green Warbler [Phylloscopus( trochiloides) nitidus]
Indian Bushlark
Yellow crowned Woodpecker
Indian Golden Oriole
Orange-headed Thrush (cyanotus)
Indian Blackbird (Tardus merula nigropileus)
Yellow Wagtail
Yellow-eyed Babbler (Chrysomma sinense)
Tytler’s Leaf Warbler
Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis)
Grey Wagtail
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus)
Western Crowned Warbler (Phylloscopus occipitalis)
Ultramarine Flycatcher
Verditer Flycatcher
Black-headed Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus)
Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax)
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)
Greater Short-toed Lark
Shaheen Falcon
Yellow-footed Green Pigeon
Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)
Crested Hawk Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus)
Common Hawk Cuckoo (Hierococcyx varius)
White-cheeked Barbet (Megalaima viridis)
Common Iora
Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus)
Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis)
Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula)

Phipsons Shield Tail
Spotted yellow Wolf Snake
Common Krait
Indian Cobra
Travancore Wolf Snake
Rat Snake
Montane Trinket Snake
Large-scaled Sheildtail
Beddome’s Cat Snake
Mahabaleshwar Shield tail
Indian Rock Python (This one I should mention, that I saw this swallowing a Red-vented Bulbul whole. Though caught it on my mobile camera but didn't come out so clear)
Green Keelback
Elliot’s Sheildtail

Geckos (Deccan Banded Gecko)
Monitor Lizard
Garden Lizard

Indian Chevrotain/ Mouse-Deer
Bonnet Macaque
Common Langur (Presbytis entellus)
Common Mongoose
Wild Pigs
Indian Porcupine (Hystrix indica)
Indian Field Mouse
Indian mole rat
Three striped Palm Squirrel (Funambulus palmarum)
Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata)

Glow worms
Dragon fly
Garden Spider
Wolf Spider
Dung beetle
Rhinoceros Beetle
Shovel-headed Beetle
Diving Beetle

The photos below will give you a small view into the list I am talking about. Had I had my own camera, I would have posted more photos. Well, special thanks to my workplace and others for providing me with the photos. 

I will be glad if anyone can identify this snake. Looks to me a cobra with the spectacle-mark on its back but this one was quite different then the other snakes that i have seen so far (some say it is a Rat snake). It lie dead on one of the road sides inside the campus in the night (Photo credit: Aparna Shrivastava)
The Rhinoceros Beetle
The Shovel Beetle (P.S This and the picture above belong to the same family but have different tools on their head)
The shiny insect (anyone to name it differently or give me its scientific name, please feel free)
Butterfly caterpillar (Photo Credit: Rachel Jacobson)
This hairy worm is seen only in winter from Dec to Jan (Slugs in the monsoon, this hairy worm in winter and now what I see around is a worms with black hair, quite amazing different timings for these worms to make their short lived dominion known)
Giant centipede (out hunting in the night)
Bee's nest (honeycomb) on an Eucalyptus tree
Phipson's Shieldtail (this guy didn't like that I took it on a stick)
Phipson's Shieldtail (Uropeltis phipsonii) -  the moment I left it on the ground it started digging to move down the ground 
Travancore Wolf Snake
Orange Minivet Female (Pericrocotus flammeus). (Photo Credit: Anandi Gandhi)
Orange Minivet - Male (Pericrocotus flammeus). These birds are seen in groups of 4 to 5 in the morning and esp in the evening (Photo Credit: Anandi Gandhi)
Garden lizard giving the right pose in front of the camera
Red-breasted Flycatcher

The majestic Asian Paradise Flycatcher and my favorite bird.
Red Whiskered Bulbul
Scary spider (I must mention here that there are so many different spiders out here and  new spiders seen every week.  I would suggest someone comes out here and does a proper research on spiders -  a good place to identify new one and document them)
White-cheeked Barbet (This guy crashed on to my window,  tried to put on water to revive his strength but ended up hitting another window when it tried to fly and then finally took off).  
I call it a Showel worm (It is interesting to note out here is that worms and insects that i have noticed have interesting tools on their head to dig through the ground. If some one knows a better name please let me know)
Anyone to give name to this  interesting creature. Found laid under soil rich with moisture and other small insects (Coin is for scale)
Black Moth 1
Moth 2 (Night time is the time of the moths)
Deccan Banded Gecko seen on one of my night treks
Praying mantis
Cat-legged spider (two of its leg not in place)
Was almost 2 meters long with its head into the cement bags, didn't want to disturb it so was not able to see its head. But it is a Rat snake
Common Krait on the table land on one of my night treks
Black-shouldered Kite
Indian roller (Photo Credit: Aparna Shrivastava)
Green Bee-eater (Photo Credit: Rachel Jacobson)
Pretty looking Butterfly
Two Common Langur (Presbytis entellusstaring at  me when taking their photo.
Two cricket's sitting on a tree branch, was not that easy to spot them especially their body completely blending with the colour of the branch. I was able to spot them by fine tuning my ear to their sound.
White-throated Kingfisher (Photo Credit: Rachel Jacobson)
Quite common to see them early mornings and in the evening with their melodious sound - Pied Bushchat (Photo Credit: Rachel Jacobson)

Special thanks to Dr. Girish Jathar (Orinthologist) for going through the list and correcting some of my errors.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Warli art: A window to the ancient cave paintings of India

The name Warli art comes from the Warli tribe of Maharashtra, India. An indigenous tribe or adivasi community living in the mountainous and coastal regions of Maharashtra and Gujarat border. The reason for me to post this time about this tribe is because I painted a Warli mural on the training walls at my work place. I was drawn into the realm of ancient people who depicted what they saw around them in the form of cave paintings. Paintings that portray a window into the minds of our ancestors. An indirect glimpse into the daily life and culture of ancient people that still exist in minority in India, where it is still portrayed on the mud walls  of these tribal people. The Warli paintings have close resemblance to those done between 500 and 10,000 BCE in the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, in Madhya Pradesh an archaeological World Heritage site.

For those who don't know what is a Warli painting or who are Warli tribe, here is quick intro (following excerpt below is taken from the Warli website)  - Warli art is a beautiful folk art of Maharashtra, traditionally created by the tribal women. Tribals are the Warli, Malkhar koli, Kathodi, Kokana, Dhodi tribes found on the northern outskirts of Mumbai, in Western India. This art was first explored in the early seventies & from then it was named as “Warli art”.  Tribal people express themselves in vivid styles through paintings which they execute on the walls of their house. This was the only means of transmitting folklore to a populace not acquainted with the written word. Warli paintings were mainly done by the women folk. The most important aspect of the painting is that it does not depicts mythological characters or images of deities, but depict social life. Pictures of human beings and animals, along with scenes from daily life are created in a loose rhythmic pattern. Warli paintings are painted white on mud walls. The paintings are beautifully executed and resembles pre-historic cave paintings in execution and usually depict scenes of human figures engaged in activities like hunting, dancing, sowing and harvesting. A useful further reading on the Warli tribe, its history and place can be found here. 

Warli painting that I made was on a rough textured surface wall (ideally should be made on smooth surface), so was not an easy one in making clear circles, triangles or lines but was somehow possible. I used red oil paint to give the background and white oil paint to paint the Warli figures. In the first four Warli murals I have tried to depict the four areas the organisation that I am associated with (Grampari) are focused on - WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), Livelihood, Watershed, Governance and leadership respectively. The very bottom two Warli murals, I have tried to depict the village daily life that I am exposed to. It is interesting to note out here is that the traditional Warli painting is made by plastering the mud wall with cow dung, colouring the wall with red ochre colour and drawing the Warli figures with white pigment made of rice paste mixed with water and gelatin as a binding material. They use bamboo stick chewed at one end to make a simple paint brush. Isn't that really a natural drawing!!

I am novice and a tyro in this art form, but got all the inspiration from the people who have kept this art form alive and tons of material that already exist on the internet. Below are the Warli mural that I did, stretching for almost 9 and half days.... finally it is over!!! But I really enjoyed doing it and maybe in some ten thousand years from now will be an evidence of what was happening out here. :D 

Warli mural depicting tippytap program. (WASH) © R. Thomas
Warli mural depicting livelihood program. © R. Thomas
Warli mural depicting watershed program. © R. Thomas
Warli mural depicting leadership and governance program. © R. Thomas
Warli mural depicting village life and the wildlife surrounding the community.  © R. Thomas
Warli mural depicting Agrarian village life. © R. Thomas