Descent into a boiling volcano crater, and puffing smoke rings

By Grant Jacobs 21/09/2010

I’m sure many scientists wish – or dream – they still lived in the Romantic era of science that Richard Holmes’ book The Age of Wonder narrates, when science still involved adventurous journeys to far away places with strange local customs and new natural wonders to record.

At this point geologists, field biologists and others probably would pipe up and say they still do, accepting that the world seems a smaller place now that you can be in any continent from pretty much any city within a day or two.

My own scientific adventures as a computational biologist involve reading, developing software and exploring data. There’s a lot in that for the mind – and seriously, there is – but every now and then you see what someone else does for a living and wonder.

As a kid I read too much Gerald Durrell, Thor Heyerdahl, Joy Adamson, James Herriot, and watched David Attenborough point excitedly at strange creatures in remote jungles. I haunted book exchanges with my pocket money and dreamt of being a wildlife photographer and an explorer.

Geoff Mackley isn’t a scientist but a cameraman who covers natural events whose footage was on New Zealand television news last night. If you missed the video clip of a team member descending into the Marum Volcano on Ambrym Island, Vanuatu, it is also on YouTube:

This isn’t the first time he has been at this. He has a book’s worth of this sort of thing: In Extreme Danger. A search on YouTube shows there is plenty more from Geoff Mackley on-line to watch.

You know all those old movies that have heavy smokers lazily blowing smoke rings? Dressed to the nines and puffing their life away in grand style?

Here some Mackley footage taken ten years ago shows Mt Etna (Sicily, Italy) puffing a smoke ring with the same lazy insolence:

Watching his adventures, a small part of me thinks (well, dreams) I chose the wrong career. I get to be stuck to a computer all day, fingers on keyboard. The other part of me reminds me that while I like to get out and about – I have travelled and tramped a little – my adventures would likely be slightly tamer. Just ever so slightly.

I prefer long-haul travel* to adrenaline junkets anyway.


My last few posts have strayed off science (again). I would apologise but it is a needed break from reading too much anti-vaccine and vitamin C nonsense, only to look around to find seemingly dozens of equally disturbing discussions elsewhere.** And, as if that weren’t enough, read of things like promotion of what amounts to using industrial bleach to ’treat’ malaria in Kenya only to later read of NewZealanders encouraging the same ’treatment’ here.

* I’m sure he has done more than his fair share of that, too, and I’ve done a little overseas travel, so I can’t complain too loudly.

** All of this isn’t new to me, but the sheer persistence of it is sometimes appalling.

Other articles on Code for life:

The best places to read (some of the grandest library you’d ever see)

Autism – looking for parent-of-origin effects

Preserving endangered species – of gut microbes

Coiling bacterial DNA

Testing common ancestry to all modern-day life

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