The End…

Saturday. The last morning of the 1st leg of my GSA lecture tour, and man, I felt as rough as a roofer’s glove. The IPA, the whisky and the late night contrived to make me feel a little ‘fragile’; there was to be no running up South Table Mountain this morning. However, there was no rest for the wicked, as I’d made plans to meet GSA Executive Director, Vicki McConnell, for breakfast. We headed onto Washington Avenue, the main street through Golden, and settled into Windy Saddle, where strong coffee, water and a breakfast burrito helped settle my wayward stomach. Vicki was very engaging and easy to talk too, and we discussed lots and lots and lots of things, including the professional and social role of professional societies such as GSA, equality and diversity in the geosciences, and the future of the GSA Distinguished Lecturer program. We had a blast; it’s nice to meet people behind an email address.

Vicki headed back north to Boulder, the headquarters of GSA, and feeling a little more stable I went back to my B&B to pack. Before the shuttle arrived, I nipped to a local pharmacy to buy sleeping tablets; I struggle to sleep on planes, and with a 5 year old’s birthday party to attend straight after arriving back in London, I was keen to get at least some rest on the flight back. In my experience, sleeping tablets, washed down with red wine, make an excellent sedative.

So, here I am on the flight back to London. I have thoroughly enjoyed the 1st leg of my tour; I’d go as far as to say it is the best professional experience of my life. I have met old friends and made some new friends, I have learned a lot of new science, and I have been to some truly stunning places. I’ll be eternally grateful for all of this, and I again thank the GSA for making this happen.

For both you and I, the best news might well be that I can now take a break from blogging until the 2nd leg of my tour in mid-April. DING-DING, bring on Round 2…


Stop 5 (v.2.0) – The Day After the Day Before, Golden, CO

The day began sharply with a run up South Table Mountain with Jesse (@neotectonics), Zane (@zanejobe) and the prize-winning, Obama-meeting Rich (@rangefront). In temperatures that, even at around 0800, were heading north of 15 degrees, the start of the run was steep and hard; with pretty much no warm-up, the road and trail climb steeply, for about 250 m, up and out of Golden town centre. En route to the plateau top, we crossed the K-T boundary, which is located in a succession of Cretaceous-to-Paleocene clastics that are capped by early Paleocene (62-64 Ma) basaltic lavas. After a few stops to, ahem, take in the view, we ‘summited’, where we were rewarded with spectacular views westwards down into Golden, pinned between the plateau and the Rockies, and eastwards onto the flat plain and the sprawling city of Denver. Breath recovered, Rich gave us a brief guide to the visible geology (NEWSFLASH: it’s amazing), in addition to an overview of the somewhat surprising, at least to me, lack of seismicity in this region. I’m not sure why, but being so close to big mountains always makes me think of earthquakes. In glorious sunshine and a restorative wind, we looped around the top of the plateau before heading back down into town.

Showered and fed, I made my way to the USGS, which is based on the southern side of CSM’s campus. Rich had invited me to visit him and his group to discuss my work on normal fault structure and growth, and to show me some of the work they are doing on seismogenic hazards associated with one of my favourite normal fault systems in the world, the Wasatch Fault, Utah; see some uber-cool videos on this giant structure here. An animated 2 hours flew buy, with me extolling the benefits of a subsurface, seismic-reflection based approach to understanding fault structure and growth (see also my related GSA talk overview here and the talk itself here) and them outlining some of the challenges associated not only with constraining the ancient slip history of the Wasatch Fault (see also here), but also predicting its future behaviour. It became apparent to us all that a key issue was the how the relatively early-stage development of small normal fault systems, which is what we typically study with subsurface data, translates to seismogenic behaviour when such faults get much larger. My brain was absolutely fizzing.


Time-structure map of a Late Jurassic-Early Cretaceous normal fault network, Horda Platform, Norwegian North Sea (see Duffy et al., 2015). Ancient fault systems like these are potentially geometrically, kinematically and seismogenically analogues to the Wasatch Fault, UT.

On a brain-workout ‘high’, I said goodbye to Rich, Chris and Ryan, and headed back to CSM for lunch with Jesse, Zane and Lauren Shumaker, a post-doc working in CoRE. Lunch, this time a monstrous burrito, was great, but not as great as the post-lunch geo-tour of some on-campus exposures of the latest Cretaceous (68 Ma), non-marine sandstones of the Laramie Formation. On this compact exposure, which forms part of the Dinosaur Ridge, palm fronds and truly enormous (i.e. several metre-long) logs are well-exposed on the bases of slightly overturned beds. The highlight, however, were the dinosaur trackways, which included ceratopsid (mainly Triceratops), theropods and hadrosaurs, with the absolute pinnacle being the so-called ‘trample’ areas, where the density of footprints made it look like some kind of dino-disco. It was ace. I have a real weakness for dinosaur trackways. Less so palm fronds and logs.

Having tackled seismogenic normal faulting, a burrito, and some dino trackways, I then spent an enjoyable few hours in CSM, talking to a number of research staff and students. I talked to Lauren about her past and ongoing work on some rather exotic, potentially volcanogeneic deep-water systems imaged in seismic reflection data from offshore New Zealand. We also discussed another weakness of mine, submarine gullies, which Lauren worked on during her PhD at Stanford. We’ll be keeping in touch. I then spoke to Oscar, a PEMEX-funded student working with Bruce Trudgill, about his work on salt tectonic controls on deep-water sediment dispersal in the Mexico sector of the Gulf of Mexico. Super-cool stuff, and it looks like I’ll be on his ‘committee’. Finally, I spent some time with Hiro, a PhD student working with Lesli Wood on some absolutely incredible seismic and borehole data from offshore NW Borneo. Seriously, this is possibly the most exciting subsurface dataset I have seen in several years; the 3D seismic data provide exquisite imaging of a predominantly thin-skinned, gravitationally driven deep-water fold-and-thrust belt, with the borehole data providing hard calibration of some of the syn-kinematic deep-water facies. As I became increasingly animated, I was dragged away by Bruce, Zane and Jesse to head into the Rockies for some bluegrass and booze…

We drove north-westwards up into partly snowed-covered mountains to a town called Nederland, spotting the continental divide in fading light, and twisting up through thick pine forests, which, I am assured, house mountain lions. We first hit a Crosscut Pizzeria and taphouse, a relatively new, local pizza and craft beer joint, which was rammed and evidently very popular. Joined by some of Jesse and Zane’s friends, we took on some tasty pizza and IPAs, the latter partly accounting for the hangover I am now living through. Food done, we drove the short distance to Caribou Room, a live music joint, where we watched a couple of bluegrass or, in Zane’s opinion, bluegrass-inspired bands. Apparently, the lack of a banjo was an issue. In my mind, something lacking a banjo is no bad thing. Bango-count aside, it was great, with the locals (and Zane and Jesse) getting into the waltz and Texas two-step, whilst I did battle with a whisky that was not that much smaller than a paddling pool. See comment above regarding a hangover…


The night over, we drove back down twisty mountain roads into Golden, where I crashed. Hard. I honestly cannot recall having had as many days as much fun and educational of yesterday! Tomorrow begins the journey back home to the UK…

Stop 5 – Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO

An early start in Hawaii was followed by rather turbulent flight back to the continental US, hitting LAX, before bouncing across Nevada, Utah, and the Rockies, eventually descending into Denver. Check out the photos below; there were some awesome topography-cloud interactions above LA, and lovely, desert-carved geomorphology further eastwards.

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A short drive west back towards the foothills of the Rockies and I arrived at my next and final GSA lecture tour stop; Colorado School of Mines (CSM), Golden, CO. Arriving rather late, I grabbed a late dinner at Woody’s Wood Fired Pizza, with its absolutely choice pizza topping menu:


I crashed at my homely B&B, the historic Dove Inn, waking early in the morning for a short, pre-breakfast, sun-soaked run along the Clear Creek riverside trail. Golden, which is a small but devastatingly pretty place, nestled right in the foothills of the eastern Rocky Mountains, has a rich history associated with the gold rush. They also seem to like statues.

After breakfast (FYI, @andydoggerbank, fresh greek yogurt, fresh fruit, cheese omelette) and a quick coffee at Café 13, I headed to the CSM campus, where I spent the morning chatting with Lesli Wood (check out her alter-ego here) and Bruce Trudgill about mass-transport complexes (MTCs), teaching approaches, and the importance of sharing data and collaborating. Chatting to Bruce is a little surreal; back in 2002, he examined my PhD. Even his causal questions about subsurface data availability felt slightly ‘probing’…

Lunch came, and I headed back out into the sun with Jessie Thompson (@neotectonics) and Zane Jobe (@zanejobe). Jessie is a post-doctoral researcher here at CSM, working on salt tectonics in everyone’s favourite salt basin, the Paradox Basin, Utah. Zane is head-honcho of the Chevron Centre for Research Excellence (CoRE), working on a range of sedimentological and stratigraphic problems, primarily in deep-water depositional systems. They were great company, putting up with my rambling about journal publishing issues, whilst we ate ridiculously sized sandwiches at D’Deli on the main street.



With the weather being so good, we somewhat reluctantly headed back to the department where I spent an enjoyable hour with Jessie and colleagues, scratching our heads about some of the complex salt tectonics in the Paradox Basin. It is seriously cool stuff, and I cannot wait to see the new results arising from their analysis of the some of the largely unstudied exposures SW of Moab and the La Sal Mountains. I love structurally and stratigraphically complex field geology. And I love salt.

Realising time was short, we dashed upstairs to get set up for my GSA-supported, ‘Van Tuyllecture. To the fullest room of my tour thus far, I gave a talk on using seismic reflection data to understand igneous geology (the talk can be downloaded here). I think it went well, with the talk followed by a rather lengthy, dynamic, Q&A. Thirsty and brain-drained, I headed out for beers and food with Lesli, Jessie, and Zane, being joined by a Twitter buddy, Rich Briggs (@rangefront). Turns out he’s not a social media killer, which was nice.

Although I had delivered the last lecture of the first leg of this tour, there is no let up; tomorrow I head to the USGS to visit Rich, before heading back to CSM to talk more science. Phew!


Pyroclastic rocks‘ or ‘pyroclastics’ are clastic rocks composed solely or primarily of volcanic materials. Where volcanic material has been transported and reworked through mechanical action, such as by wind or water, these rocks are termed ‘volcaniclastics’. Such rocks abound on the Hawaiian Islands due to these islands, stranded smack-bang in the middle of the Pacific Plate, being overwhelmingly volcanic in origin. Volcaniclastics are superbly exposed at Lanai Lookout, which lies at the base of Koko Crater (see photo above), a 368 m tall,  30,000–35,000 Ma, monogenetic tuff cone that lies east of Honolulu. Although they need a scale, these pictures do not really need words. Or, more to the point, I’m no volcaniclastics expert; I simply think these are beautiful rocks. Enjoy the show.

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Featured image at the top of the post is from shows a pyroclastic flow sweeping down the eastern flank of the Soufrière Hills volcano into the Tar River Valley, Montserrat (January 16th 1997). Image and information from:


Tuesday morning. My 3rd full day on the Hawaiian Islands. I got up early to call home; Hawai’i is nice and this tour has been great fun so far, but I do miss the folks back home. It’s funny, but by being away for only 2 weeks, I miss a little over 10% of our 4-month old daughter, Nora’s life. All was well back at the ranch, so I decided to head out for a run before the sun got too high in the sky.

The run was amazing. I took a loop route around Diamond Head, a large, ca. 200,000 year old tuff cone lying a few kilometres east of Waikiki (see photo below). Diamond Head, which is considerably younger than the ca. 2.6 Ma Koʻolau Range that forms the backbone of Oah’u, is amazing. It is a monogenetic structure, meaning it formed during a single eruptive episode that is estimated to have lasted only a few days. This is remarkable, given it is >200 m tall and a couple of kilometres in diameter. The eruption forming Diamond Head was very explosive due to interaction between rising magma, fresh groundwater, and seawater, with the main cinder cone punching up through and obliterating an overlying coral reef. Big geology that forms quickly and catastrophically is the absolute best.

Despite the sun sitting only slightly above the horizon, it was already quite hot. As I laboured up the southern flank of Diamond Head I saw a few other foolish hardy souls on foot and bike. Reaching the crest of the climb, I got a spectacular view out to sea, which was dotted with surfers catching some early-morning breaks. Surfers always look so cool (see video below). I tried surfing when I lived in Brazil. I sucked. Stupid sport. I pick up the pace, slowed, tried to run faster again, and failed, largely because my legs were still feeling rather dead from my windy cycle ride on Kilauea. Luckily, the last bit of the run was downhill back into Waikiki, so I could relax and take in the view. Just a word on Waikiki; it’s not that nice. It’s completely overrun with tourists, and has a Louis Vuitton and a Jimmy Choos. Nuff said. On the plus side, it does have a Cheesecake Factory and the Maui Brewing Company.

A breakfast coffee, served with a side order of emails, and it was time to do some more laundry. In my effort to avoid checking luggage, and to thus save a stack of time waiting for baggage at numerous airports, I brought only a roller-case for my 2-week tour. The downside being that I needed to do laundry a couple of times during my trip. This wasn’t too much of a hassle, but there’s something strange about walking around Waikiki in glorious sunshine looking for a launderette.

Post-laundry, to get my heart rate up and because the weather was so stellar, I spontaneously decided to rent a moped and explore the island. When I was younger young, I use to ride a trail bike (Yamaha DT50); I had forgotten how much fun motorcycles/mopeds are!!! For only $30 (c. £24) I got the moped for the whole day, so I set off towards the eastern point of Oah’u, looping around the base of Diamond Head, before heading out past multi-million dollar beach-front houses towards less populated terrain.

The first main stop was Lanai Lookout, which lies at the base of Koko Crater (see photo above), a 368 m tall monogenetic tuff  cone that is slightly older (30,000–35,000 Ma) than Diamond Head. Here, on a series of broad, sea-lashed platforms, an absolutely spectacular sequence of volcaniclastic deposits (see below), sourced from the Koko Crater, is beautifully exposed. The exposure quality was Un. Be. Lievable. Volcanic bombs, graded and massive beds, giant sigmoidal cross-beds, trough cross-beds, large erosional scours. This outcrop had it all, and it made me want to whip out my logging sheet. I’ll share some photos on a following blog-post. @volcanologist and @uib_rotevatn will be pissed if I don’t.

Feeling my tummy rumbling, I continued east to a Sandy Beach, where I found, somewhat randomly, a taco truck. Tacos on the beach in Hawai’i, whilst fending off an aggressive cockerel? Why the hell not (see below). Having inhaled the tacos and having suitably intimidated my glamorously feathered dining companion, I pushed on eastwards to Makapu’u Point. Here, so the very chatty moped-hiring dude said, humpback whales could be spotted in the channel between Oah’u and Moloka’i. These whales are most common around the Hawaiian Islands in November to March, as they make there way northwards to plankton-rich feeding grounds in the north Pacific. So I made the rather steep climb up towards the Makapu’u lighthouse at Makapu’u Point and sat and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And wondered why there was a cockerel on the beach. And waited. And then, BOOM! Just in front of the point a humpback breached, and then for the next 15 or so minutes, a group of around five put on quite the show, breaching and spouting a few hundred metres offshore. In the video below, keep an eye out for the spouting; it’s pretty clear. I have seen whales before in New Zealand, but they never fail to impress me with their acrobatic ability. To be honest, seeing any large animal in its natural habitat, and in a habitat so unnatural to us humans, is always awe-inspiring.

Having had my whale-fill for the next few years, it was time to head back to Waikiki and return the moped. I looped back around the north side, where I stopped at ARS Cafe, a small local coffee shop I had seen on my morning run. It was suitably hipster and, I believe, @big_ol_world would have approved. The evening passed by in a heart-racing blur of laundry, blogging, packing and emailing. Feeling brave, I decided to return to ‘Get Crackin’ to take on the snow crab, resplendent with rubber gloves and bone-cracker. It was awesome. And so ended my stay in Hawaii. It’s been awesome. I’m a very, very, very lucky boy.



Kīlauea, Hawai’i

Having spent Sunday morning foraging for lava tubes on exposed basalt sea cliffs of western Kalapana, I decided to head north to spend the afternoon and evening exploring Kilauea itself. The drive up the volcano flank was, I must say, rather unglamorous, with the steady gradient (related to the low viscosity nature of the flows constructing the Kilauea) and the heavy, rain forest vegetation hiding the fact you are on a living, (fire) breathing volcano, perched above a hot spot. Upon arrival at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and thinking largely of @andydoggerbank and @r_siddall, I headed straight to the restaurant for a late lunch. Finally, I could try one of the local specialities, ‘poke’, which here was made with ‘ahi’ (tuna). It was extremely nice; I can only really liken it to sushi, which might be doing it a disservice. Food aside, it was rather strange experience, with the Superbowl being played on every TV in the packed restaurant bar. Lady Gaga in front of me, and Kilauea behind me; it was truly something that should be on everyone’s snuff list. Well, I say Kilauea was behind me, but to be honest I wasn’t sure. Dense clouds had descended and the rain had gotten into full swing, so there was little to see out of the restaurant window, despite us sitting on the very edge of the main crater.

Ahi Poke (pronounced ‘poh-keh’)

After lunch I did a quick circuit of the crater rim road, taking in the Thurston lava tube, deposits of the at least partly fissure-fed 1969-1974 eruption sequence, and a rather spectacular crater of Pu’u Huluhulu, perched between the main, active Kilauea crater and the rather more subdued, but still grumpy, Puʻu ʻŌʻō. The walk up to Pu’u Huluhulu was  desolate and eerie, heading out across barren lava fields, before twisting steeply up through the rainforest. On the 1.5 hour walk I was alone; I guess the main tourist pack don’t like to stray to far from the road.

Entrance to the Thurston lava tube.


As sun fell and the clouds and rain closed in, I headed to the Jagger Museum; this rather dated but still charming museum, which documents the mythical, historical and geological history of Kilauea, provides one of the main vantage points into the active part of the Kilauea crater. To cut a long story short, the weather wasn’t playing ball. Dense fog and driving rain contrived to piss-off the masses of tourists who had made the their way to the crater rim. Occasionally, the fog cleared enough to allow a tantalising glimpse of the bubble lava lake; for the rest of the time is was pitch black and very wet. Despite the lack of sustained lava action, I thought it was stunning, with the lava lake looking spectacular when it deigned to show itself, and the sky glowing an eerie red. Soaking wet, I headed down to ‘Volcano’ (seriously, that’s it’s name…) for some food and to find my accommodation. Some email checking, and it was time for bed.

My absolute best shot of the Kilauea lava lake. Seriously. This was the best one. Hordes of tourists for scale.

My flight back to O’ahu was at 0900; not so early, but I wanted to go for a run on a volcano. Who wouldn’t? I managed a quick 2.5 miles before packing and racing back to the airport in Hilo. The flight was awesome, affording great views of Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. What was particularly striking were the relatively young, fresh, largely unvegetated lava flows mantling Mauna Loa’s eastern flank, and the deep gorges carved into the older flows.

Landing back in a rain-lashed Honolulu, it was time to prepare for my talk at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. It’s amazing how, given some time, I can fiddle with a talk; swapping slides to make the order more logical, increasing font sizes to make diagram labelling a little clearer, and tweaking animations to make the talk more ‘lively’. Satisfied if not pleased, I headed up to the university to meet my host Steve Martel. Steve is a structural geologist/rock mechanisist. He knows equations and coding, and is terrifyingly smart. I am most familiar with his research on normal fault growth and forced folding, with the field components of his work being conducted on the Kilauea, where collapse of its southern flank has led to the development of a quite spectacular array of normal fault, forced folds and relay ramps. Steve was great fun, and we shared an excitable couple of hours talking about faulting, landslide triggering, and the geological setting of Hawaii. Rather appropriately, my talk, which can be downloaded here and which I discussed here, was on normal fault growth. Steve provided a rather lengthy introduction; I personally couldn’t wait for the person he described to turn up to give the talk…Seriously, the problem with an upbeat, positive, almost glowing introduction is that you then can only let everyone down by giving a shitty talk. In any case, a very small but keen audience were extremely patient with me whilst I got increasingly excited about the way in which normal faults grow and why it matters. The talk went well, of at least well enough that I was presented with some local basalt as a gift!


With the weather clearing, I decided to walk the three miles back from the campus to Waikiki. After some email checking, blog prepping and Japanese food(ing), followed by sampling of several local beers by the absolutely awesome Maui Brewing Company, it was time for bed.

N.B. the featured imaged at the top of this post was a sticker I saw whilst out running. It somehow captures geological and personal feelings, don’t ya think?