What we do
Alison Graettinger ’05
stuff up in
the name
of science
eology department chair
Jeff Tepper passed along a
link to an interesting blog
post written by Alison
Graettinger ’05 about her
work at the State Univer-
sity of New York at Buf-
falo’s Geohazards Field
Station using dynamite to
simulate the formation of
maars. Maars are a type of volcanic crater that is
made when hot, rising magma encounters cold
groundwater and explodes. Blowing stuff up in
the name of science! Cool!We asked Alison if she’d
tell us more about her work; here’s what she said,
complete with visual aids:
Blowing things up in the name of science may seem
like something that only happens on television, but in
volcanology we can use explosions under controlled cir-
cumstances to investigate volcanic eruptions. This image
is a video capture of a subsurface blast experiment at the
field station in May 2013.
Courtesy of the Center for GeoHazards Studies, University of Buffalo
Here’s an example of a 1.5-meter-wide
blast crater produced in these experiments.
The experiments are designed to mimic volca-
nic explosions that happen below the surface.
This type of volcanic explosion occurs when
magma interacts with groundwater. The water
turns to steam and rapidly expands, creating
a hazardous explosion. These reactions are
so quick that we can use chemical explosives
TNT) to replicate them.
Before we took any instruments out for
the experiments we first had to build the exper-
imental “pads.” These were made up of regular
layers of differently colored materials. While we
had some help from a backhoe, this involved
a lot of manual labor. The prep work was re-
ally important, as we only had two days for 12
explosions, with 13 scientists from the U.S. and
around the world scurrying around.
My job was to organize and coordinate the
teams and all of their equipment. My reward,
besides the scientific insight, was to get to push
the button that detonated the blasts. It was
quite the rush!