By Julia Werth, Student Participant
After a few days of playing the tourist in Taipei or over a dozen hours of travel all 18 members of the geoscience and geohazards in Taiwan class were finally united as 2014 came to a close. But this wouldn’t be a new year’s eve like any of us had experienced before.
The afternoon started off with the gift of fresh fruit – including wax apples, a fruit cultivated specifically in and for Taiwan – and a baseball cap from the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Relief (NCDR).
It continued, after a talk by the chair of the NCDR, when we were all led into the control room. It felt exactly like the movies; the chairs, the screens, the microphones, the reporters’ balcony (possibly the most important feature to be aware of, especially if one decides a nap is in order). It was easy to picture the room filled with tension as government officials and scientists alike attempt to deal with an impending disaster.
Whether an earthquake, tsunami or typhoon comes to Taiwan the NCDR and government of Taiwan are prepared and currently researching how they can better prevent deaths and destruction in their cities and villages. Despite the assurances and our interest in geology, the last thing any of us wanted was for their system to be tested as we left the NCDR and headed for the fireworks at Taipei 101 along with nearly a million others.
And we were lucky.
We not only avoided a natural disaster, but also, with some help from Tim’s friend and colleague, enjoyed a direct view of the world renowned light show that ushered in 2015.
Although the fireworks were loud and impressive, the streets were surprisingly calm and quiet. Unlike New York City’s famous Time Square festivities, there was no loud screaming and cheering as the New Year began. People seemed happy – many more than one selfie was taken with the aid of the novel selfie-stick – but New Year’s didn’t seem to have the same craziness associated with it as we are all used to back home.
While our friends and family were partaking in such festivities back home (13 hours later) the first real day of field geology work had begun for us at the Yehliu Geopark on the north coast of Taiwan.
Measuring strike and dip was the activity for the day.
The views of crashing ocean waves and incredible rock formations – including the famed Queen’s head – inspired even those of us who didn’t know the first thing about identifying bedding (aka me) to get down into the rocks with our new best friend – the compass.
After more than a few funny failed attempts and compass confusion on the rocky shore, we loaded back onto the bus and started up the winding road toward the volcanoes.
With small farming villages and the ocean waves unfolding beneath us as the bus climbed ever higher up the side of the mountain the steam from fumaroles began to fill our photographs. The wind blew the steam and strong smell of sulfur all about as we unloaded from the bus into the unexpected cold of the Yangmingshan National Park Siaoyoukeng Recreation Area.
Although the last volcanic activity occurred about 300,000 years ago, the grassy cliffs crowned with thick steam and puddles of boiling water didn’t seem calm. And it is possible that they are not. As we learned it is up for debate whether or not the normal faults north of Taipei city and the volcanoes of Yangmingshan could be active. Is it possible that they could cause an earthquake, tsunami or lava flow? Only time can tell for sure – so 2015…here we come. Happy New Year!