Mission & Objectives
Scientists & Crew
Interviews: Geochemist Karen Harpp
After the end of a watch, Karen, Denny Geist and Alberto Saal discuss
Galápagos geology and reminisce about adventures in the field.
How did you become interested in geology?
I had an awesome high school teacher who taught beyond what he had to teach for the provincial curriculum. In Montreal, where I grew up, it is really flat except for a few obvious mountains. Well, we called them mountains. Other people might call them hills. But they were really old volcanic necks. Our teacher explained that the volcanic neck is more resistant than the surrounding sediment that made up the river valley, so it erodes slower - like a rock buried in sand. Wind will continuously change the sculpture of the sand around the rock, but the rock stays the same for a long time. Then I could look at Mount Royal and say, I know why that's there.
I went to college at Dartmouth to be a geologist, but I took a chemistry class at my fathers request, hes an organic chemist. I had such a fabulous teacher I changed my major. Now I use chemistry as a tool to figure out geologic puzzles.
It sounds like youve had a number of
great teachers, did that influence your decision to teach?
I think thats key, having great teachers.
It also runs in my family. Both my parents are fabulous teachers.
My father is a great innovator of ways to teach science. My mom uses
her teaching ability in community welfare in Canada. For instance,
she helps people become self-supporting by starting their own business.
My sister, Emily, is two years younger than me and teaches English
and Drama outside of Los Angeles. Shes the one with all the
imagination. When we were growing up, she would think of the stories
we would act out and I would be the logistics coordinator.
|Karen operates the A-frame controls while bringing up one of the rock dredges.
What has been some of your most challenging experiences?
No doubt, fieldwork with Denny Geist. The first time we worked together was in 1997, on Volcán Ecuador. I was a professor at Lawrence University. I had never done fieldwork in the Galápagos before. It was challenging in many ways. Here we were on the equator, hanging off the sides of cliffs, in the middle of nowhere in a place that looks like the moon. It was different from anything I had ever done before. Ive done it since, and I love it. Denny has also been getting me in trouble ever since.
In 1998, we organized a conference in the Galápagos with 65 geologists. Herding geologists on volcanoes is almost impossible, because they always want to go off the path and look at stuff. The meeting was a huge hit.
Last summer Denny and I went on a field trip to Indonesia to look at Krakatoa volcano. The organizers oversubscribed the trip and we had about 50 people in a boat that was supposed to hold 20. At night we had no space to sleep on board, so they set up a tent on an island facing Krakatoa. Denny and I and a few other people thought we would sleep on the beach. It was beautiful, the stars were out and we could see Krakatoa rumbling in the distance. The volcano would erupt with steam and ash about every hour. Then it started to rain, but only a light shower and in 10 minutes it stopped. Then just as we were falling asleep the rain came ripping down in buckets. At 2 a.m. we were soaked to our skin, walking along the beach with monitor lizards and picking off tiny crabs that had crawled into our hair while we were on the sand. It was so absurd we were doing this, all I could do was laugh. And theres no way Id have done that if I hadnt gotten to know Denny on Volcán Ecuador, in the Galápagos.
|Karen discussing her research on Genovesa Island at one of the science meetings.
What do you enjoy doing when youre not working?
My partner, David Baird, and I have two dogs we take hiking, biking,
cross-country skiing and running. Ones a Husky named Skeena and the
other is an Australian shepherd mutt named Hudson. Theyre both named
after rivers in Canada. Hudson is a Velcro dog; he sticks with you
everywhere you go. But Skeena has a turning radius of two miles. Sometimes
she doesnt come back and we have to go find out what new trouble
shes gotten into.
What about Galápagos volcanoes do you find most interesting?
The little islands to the north - Genovesa, Marchena, Pinta, Wolf
and Darwin - are the oddballs in the archipelago. Im working on a
project to try and figure out how these little volcanoes are related
to the hot spot or if in fact they are related to the mid-ocean ridge
north of here. Im wondering if the combination of the hot spot and
the Galápagos Spreading Center creates extra volcanism you wouldnt
get with only the hot spot or the ridge. These volcanoes are all sitting
between two mantle fires.