A Volcanic Experience: Interning For DEVORA

[Editor’s Note: Today we hear from one of our most experienced DEVORA interns, Maneesha Sakamuri. We occasionally take on students as unpaid interns at DEVORA in exchange for providing research experience and mentorship. Thus far, the training and experience received has led to paid work opportunities and postgraduate projects and support. If you are a geology student at the University of Auckland interested in getting some practical experience, please inquire at env-devora at auckland dot ac dot nz. Even if an internship position is not available, there is always room for more excited volunteers in our DEVORA Outreach Group. Check out some of our previous events around Auckland.

P2 maneesha

This is Maneesha, DEVORA intern extraordinaire. She is a 3rd year undergraduate student at the School of Environment at the University of Auckland. When she isn’t interning, getting an award for her Girl Guiding, comfortingly offering to get me mugs of tea, or acing her exams, you can find her perfecting her Taylor Swift dance moves.

Take it away, Maneesha!]

I’d like to tell you the story about how I came to work with DEVORA and what I do as a DEVORA intern.

One day last year while hanging out with a friend, she told me about how she volunteered as an intern for the DEVORA (Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland) project. Auckland is a geologically active place and is situated on top of an active volcanic field. This puts its 1.5 million residents at risk if an eruption was to occur. DEVORA allows researchers of multiple disciplines to come together with their findings and effectively find solutions to mitigate the volcanic risk. My friend Moira (Fig 1) told me that the work she did with DEVORA had given her a deeper knowledge and skills in the geological field.

P1 moira

Figure 1 Former DEVORA intern and my friend Moira Poje

Since Moira was heading back to America after her study abroad was over, and because I was interested in the work DEVORA was doing, she arranged for me to meet her supervisor, Elaine Smid, to see if I could also volunteer. As soon as I met Elaine she was so kind, welcoming, and knowledgeable. [Editor’s note: I do not in any way pay or encourage her to say these things, though of course they are 100% accurate and now I think I may owe her some chocolate.] She gave me a general outline of what DEVORA does and asked me to write up the reasons why I was interested in volunteering. From there I went and researched the project. Over the next couple of days I applied to volunteer and obtain new skills as a geologist as well as a researcher. After a couple of weeks Elaine got back to me to confirm my position. This was the most joyous moment of my semester 1 exams season in 2014.

I officially started at DEVORA on the 2nd of July. After Elaine gave me an overview presentation, I truly began to understand what DEVORA does. The presentation described DEVORA’s three research themes: geological, hazard, and risk and social. These are combined to figure out what the volcanic risk is to Auckland. Research findings are used by DEVORA partners to make policies and emergency plans if an eruption was to occur–which is extremely important to save lives and because keeping Auckland running is vital for the NZ economy.

My first few tasks were to help improve and edit the DEVORA website, making Field Note templates, and to help compile the year-end quarterly report. I was invited to shadow senior researchers, who go to schools to teach children about the Auckland volcanoes. Researchers talk about how volcanoes erupt and run experiments with them and teach them about the geological processes at work.

Over 60 researchers from different organisations are involved in DEVORA. In order to help them keep up to date with the literature, I add newly published research on topics related to monogenetic volcanism into our EndNote database.

Every month to six weeks or so the DEVORA team collects seismic data from the Rangitoto seismometer to see if there were any earthquakes (Fig 2). This is done regularly because earthquakes are precursors of volcanic activity and can be used to image and learn more about Auckland’s subsurface. I have participated in collecting data as many times as I can over the past last year.

P2 maneesha

Figure 2 Maneesha at the Rangitoto seismic station.

Last September I was given the opportunity to contribute a poster for a public outreach event focused on volcanoes in Spain (Fig 3). This meant learning how to use Adobe Illustrator to update a poster to show what the project recently achieved. Understanding how information is presented is a very important skill for my future career.

2014.09.11 DEVORA Noche Poster-01

Figure 3 2014 Poster for La Noche De Los Volcanes, 2014.

I also helped organise the annual DEVORA research forum. The DEVORA forum is a time the scientists show the research that has been completed over the past year in the geology, hazards, and risk themes of the project. The research projects vary from geophysics, structural geology, geochemistry to modelling these aspects and impact on humans and infrastructure, all of which help inform stakeholders like Auckland Civil Defence, insurance companies, and Auckland Airport. Various partners of DEVORA attend and learn, ask questions, help set priorities for future areas of study, and identify the gaps in the research.

Pupuke and Mt Eden Volcano field trip

A visiting Watson Fellow, Eloise Andry, plus Elaine, another DEVORA intern, David, and I took a field trip to collect small pieces of volcanic rock called scoria for a PhD student in Canterbury at an old quarry at Pupuke Volcano. The Canterbury student is making ash out of this scoria to test visibility during an eruption, and to test road traction of car tires for input to evacuation models and simulations. [Editor’s note: these experiments, using Pupuke ash, are described in the previous post about VATlab.]

We estimated it would be a long, hard afternoon to collect all the samples we’d need. Thanks to the large group of hard workers involved, it ended up only taking 30 mins! Hence we had enough time to play tour guide to Eloise and explore to learn a bit more about Auckland’s volcanoes. The first stop was the fossil forest at Takapuna. Pupuke lava flowed down through a forest, cooling around tree trunks, which then burned away, leaving a hole. It is also interesting as its deposits contain large olivine grains. These could be from the crust underneath Auckland, brought up after being mined by the magma, or picked up from the mantle and carried to the surface (Fig 4). We also visited Mt Eden and saw the large crater at the top, all of the nearby volcanic hills in Auckland, and its volcanic features such as lava flows.


Figure 4 Olivines from Lake Pupuke.

I’ve done a ton more tasks, too: I have gotten experience preparing rock samples for various geochemical analyses like XRF. I have also helped sampled volcanic deposits and picked olivines out of those deposits for a PhD project. Every day is a little bit different.

My involvement with DEVORA even directly led to paid work for another lecturer at Auckland Uni. DEVORA has given me so much in the past year and I am so grateful to have this opportunity. I learn more and more geological skills that will aid in real life with every task!

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