I'm sure that the Samoan Islands are a great place to visit for a vacation, but they are not a great place to work. That tidbit of information would have came in really handy sometime before November 2005 when I went to both the United States territory of American Samoa and the country of Samoa on a "small" project that ended up taking more than four weeks to get set up and running.
American Samoa and the country of independent Samoa (it used to be Western Samoa) are a line of six major islands that are about 230 miles end-to-end located in the real, live South Pacific about 2700 miles southwest of Hawai'i.
This experiment, titled the Samoan Lithospheric Integrated Seismic Experiment (SLISE) stretched from the western end of the island of Savai'i to the eastern end of the island of Ta'u. Below is a map of the island chain showing the locations of the four temporary stations that we installed as well as the permanent seismic station, AFI, which is part of the Global Seismic Network (GSN) which is another branch of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) like PASSCAL where I work. The stations were scheduled to be in place and recording data for about 18 months.
The Samoan Islands were formed over the last few million years in the same manner as the Hawai'ian Island chain. A hot spot in the earth's mantle poked up through the earth's thin crust, and formed a volcano that kept building up from the sea floor until it got tall enough to break the surface of the ocean and form an island -- in a nutshell. Over the hundreds of thousands of years that this was going on the floor of the ocean was slowly moving because of plate tectonics ("continental drift"). The hot spot basically stayed in the same place. In the case of the Samoan Islands as the sea floor moved the volcanoes on the westernmost islands stopped flowing and eventually the hot spot poked through the crust in a new place and a new volcano showed up on the sea floor to the east of a previous island to begin forming the next island, and so on.
The earth's crust has moved over the last several million years so that the hot spot that formed the island of Savai'i is now about 25 miles east of the island of Ta'u and it is busy forming a new island, Vailulu'u, which might show up at the surface in a couple of thousand years. Right now the top of the 16,500 foot tall volcano is about 2000 feet below the surface of the ocean. While no one has to worry about getting burnt any time soon there is a danger of a large eruption or underwater collapse causing a tsunami. It's always something.
As partial proof that the Samoan Islands were a lousy place to work I've included the next four pictures.
When this is the view you are faced with when you wake up in the morning is it likely to inspire you to jump out of bed and get to work? No.
Feast after feast. Below was one of the Principal Investigators (PIs) of the experiment, John Collins, from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) surrounded by the aftermath of an umu supper. Did he want to hop up the next morning and get to work? Nope.
Does this look like the kind of place where working with goofy technical equipment would be a good idea? I don't think so.
The water really was that color in the picture below. Does this look like a place that could ever be a good place to work? Never.
Below is Matt Jackson. He was the geochemist graduate student from WHOI who was the driving force behind this experiment (i.e. he was the one who's future would be screwed up if things didn't work out). He spent quite a bit of time studying the geochemistry of the islands on a couple of trips before this one. He also made a lot of contacts and scouted out some potential installation sites for the equipment. That helped a lot. The idea of this experiment was to compare what the geochemistry said should be below the islands with what the seismological data would say was below the islands. No seismological study had ever been done of the Samoan Islands before this one. Matt had a girlfriend...I guess he just hadn't seen her for a while. I don't know if the African snail had a boyfriend or not, but she sure looked interested.
This report will be written a bit differently from my other ones, and given the number of web pages I've come up with it will probably never be done this way again. It will be in roughly chronological order. The installation of each site will be shown in about as many parts as it actually took in days to install. Some installation days will even be missing since I wasn't always at each site when things were going on there. There will be pictures and narrative of what was happening at each site, which won't look like much in some cases, but what they usually won't show or tell will be all of the packing and unpacking of the vehicles, driving to and from the sites, driving to and from the stores, driving back and forth between the stores trying to find enough parts to accomplish something, and all of the sweating that went on behind the scenes. Trips like these are considered vacations by some. I wish. They are fun, but they are also a lot of work, but they are also a lot of fun.