A Volcanic Adventure on “The Giver”

Figure 1. Sangay Volcano. Aerial photograph by Patricio Ramon
The Sangay Volcano (Photo by Patricio Ramon)

At 5,230 meters above sea-level, Sangay is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world and one of Ecuador’s most eruptive. However, unlike many volcanoes in Ecuador (and around the globe), which are easily approached by road, Sangay is remote and dauntingly inaccessible (getting to its base will require a three-day trek). Approaching the summit is also dangerous because of frequent and unpredictable strombolian eruptions. The goal of our expedition is to map and collect volcanic rock samples of different ages from Sangay. This will require us to circumnavigate the upper slopes of the mountain and to collect erupting lavas and bombs (“zero-age samples”) from the summit area.

Figure 2: Eruption on the summit of Sangay Volcano. Aerial photograph by Patricio Ramon
Eruptions are frequent on the summit of the Sangay Volcano (Photo by Patricio Ramon)

Sangay Volcano is located in Sangay National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that hosts unique and pristine biological communities which cross a wide range of ecosystems, from high-alpine to sub-tropical and tropical rainforest. Whilst many websites and even books indicate that “Sangay” is Quecha for “Frightener,” according to Marco Crux (see bio below) this is a misnomer for two reasons. First, the indigenous people of this area are not Quecha, but instead Shuar who are also referred to as Juaro (“The Headshrinkers”); and second, Sangay or Sangai in the language of the Shuar means “The Giver.” They have given it this name because Sangay’s volcanic activity never affected them despite their close location to the volcano.

Finally, to prepare for this expedition, I spent 10 days with my family at the Chimborazo lodge of Marco and Ximena Cruz who run Expediciones Andinas and will be providing the logistical support for this expedition. It was a wonderful 10 days that were essential for organizing everything. Also, to properly acclimate for the Sangay, I climbed Chimborazo (6,277 meters) in a day (actually, it was at night because the glacier is melting fast here and thus has significant rock falls during the day). This ascent was particularly meaningful as a geologist, since Chimborazo is the highest peak on the globe in terms of distance from the center of the Earth on account of the equatorial bulge.

Figure 3 Chimborazo in Ecuador (6277 meters). Photograph by Marco Cruz.
Chimborazo in Ecuador (6,277 meters elevation) (Photo by Marco Cruz)
Figure 4. Ken Sims and Ecuadorian mountain guide and climber Jose Gualancany on the summit of Chimborazo. Photo by Ken Sims
Ken Sims and Ecuadorian mountain guide/climber Jose Gualancany on the summit of Chimborazo (Photo by Ken Sims)

The Sangay Expedition Team:

Kenneth WW Sims is the expedition leader and a Professor of Isotope Geochemistry at the University of Wyoming as well as a former tenured Research Scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Ken’s work uses isotopic and chemical tracers to study geologic processes in the earth and other planetary bodies. Ken has over sixty peer-reviewed scientific publications focusing on the study of mantle melting, oceanic and continental crustal genesis, volcanology, hydrology, planetary core-formation, climate change and oceanography. Dr. Sims earned his BA in Geology from Colorado College, his MSc from the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico, and his Ph.D. in Geochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. Ken’s field experience ranges from ocean floor geology using submersibles and remote sensing techniques all the way to geological studies of active volcanoes at high altitudes in “technical” terrain.

In addition to his academic career, Dr. Sims is an avid climber and has been a climbing guide for over three decades with extensive experience in technical, high altitude and cold weather mountaineering in Antarctica, the Alaska Range, and the Andes of Peru and Ecuador. These technical climbing skills have enabled him to collect young lavas and gather volcanic gas data inside active, remote volcanoes across the globe, including Erebus Volcano in Antarctica, Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua and the Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo Volcanoes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Using isotopic and geochemical data measured in hard-to-get samples, Professor Sims’ ultimate goal is to better understand the genesis and evolution of Earth’s volcanoes, with an eye toward predicting future eruptions.

Marco Cruz is the director of Expediciones Andinas and will be providing local expertise and logistical and guiding support on this Sangay expedition. Marco is a world-renowned UIAGM-certified mountain guide that has climbed all over the globe. He has climbed every volcano in Ecuador, including Chimborazo by all established routes with over 1,000 ascents over 50 years. In 2005 he made 13 ascents of Chimborazo in two-weeks time (once twice in a day) carrying ice core drilling equipment to the summit for a scientific study on climate change. He is of Mestizo descent, from Spanish and native roots. His indigenous culture is Puruha, which literally means the children of the volcanoes Chimborazo (father) and Tungurahua (mother). Marco is also a naturalist of this region and has a profound knowledge of Ecuador’s history, geology, and ecology and has been a pioneer of mountain tourism in Ecuador since 1972. With his activity in tourism he tries to support and maintain the natural areas of Ecuador and native culture. He is now focused primarily on the Chimborazo area—his birth land—where he rebuilt and converted an old Tambo into the Chimborazo Lodge.

Gene M Yogodzinski is an Associate Professor of Earth & Ocean Sciences at the University of South Carolina. Gene is a petrologist, geochemist and volcanologist who uses the chemical compositions of volcanic rocks and the minerals that they contain to draw conclusions about the sources of magmas, the physical conditions of their genesis, and the processes by which they are transported from their source to the surface. Gene earned his BS from the University of Maine, his MS from Oregon State University and his Ph.D. from Cornell. Gene’s research on the genesis and evolution of magmas and related volcanic phenomena has been supported by many grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

All of Gene’s work begins with observations in the field, and he has extensive experience working in remote locations, especially in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in the Russian Far East. In 2004, He was co-Chief Scientist for a research cruise aboard the R/V Roger Revelle, where he directed scientific operations of the unmanned deep submergence vessel Jason II on dives in oceanic canyons of the Aleutian area. In 2005, he was chief scientist on a 47-day cruise to the Aleutian Islands aboard the R/V Thomas Thompson, which lead to the discovery of previously unrecognized areas of active seafloor volcanism in the western Aleutians. Gene’s work has produced several widely cited and influential publications on the western Aleutian—Kamchatka area, which he shows is a strong analogue for the early magmatic development of the Earth and more broadly for our understanding of how continents form by magmatic processes. See his website for further reading.

Jennifer M. Garrison is an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Geosciences at California State University, Los Angeles. Jennifer is an igneous petrologist and isotope geochemist who uses geochemistry and mineral ages in order to understand volcanic plumbing systems and eruption timescales in composite volcanoes and calderas. She has been working in Ecuador for 15 years, and has made significant contributions toward understanding the eruption patterns of Cotopaxi Volcano. She has also done research on the El Reventador and Sumaco volcanoes, and has recently submitted a proposal to investigate the Ecuadorian Rhyolite Province with Ken Sims, as well as Pete Hall and Patricia Mothes from the Instituto de Geofisico in Quito, Ecuador. Jennifer received a Ph.D. in geology from UCLA in 2004, and has been conducting research and teaching at CSULA since 2007. The work that she has done with minority undergraduates has been very positive, and she routinely includes undergraduates in research. In addition to her academic qualifications, she is also an avid hiker and rock climber, with experience in winter ascents of peaks in the Sierra Nevada and Colorado.

Brandon McElroy is an Assistant Professor of Geology at the University of Wyoming. He studies Earth’s sedimentary surfaces and the history of Earth’s surface environments. Through modern rivers, landscapes and seascapes, Brandon explores sedimentary processes from granular to global scales to better understand the creation of the stratigraphic record of Earth’s past and to give context to modern surface environments. He has two degrees from the University of Michigan and a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. Brandon has also worked as a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and as a research scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey. His work has been supported though private, state and federal sources and is published in leading journals through the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, and the Ecological Society of America.

Christopher Reveley is a retired physician from Estes Park, Colorado. He is an avid aerobic athlete and high-alpine, long-distance runner who has twice won the Pikes Peak Marathon. He is also an accomplished mountaineer with many important technical ascent credits, including in Alaska and the Himalayas. Chris has also worked in Africa with Doctors Without Borders, and has recently applied for fellowship training in addiction medicine.

Laurel Hesse will serve as the expedition’s Outreach Specialist. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Colorado College she moved to Jackson, WY to work as the Special Events Coordinator for the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. She began traveling to Ecuador at the age of ten on multiple trips within the jungles of Yasuni National Park and the Cuyabeno National Reserve and is excited to have the opportunity to return and explore the highlands.

Patricia A. Mothes and Minard L. Hall (Pete) work for the Instituto Geofísico–Escuela Politécnica Nacional (IGEPN) in Quito, Ecuador. Patty earned her B.A. and M.A. in Geography from the University of Texas, Austin, and has worked for the IGEPN since 1988. She has been the director of the Volcanology Section since 2009, and also works as a consultant in Ecuador and other countries. Patty specializes in volcanic hazard evaluation, monitoring and deformation studies, and is also conducting research on the extensive Ecuadorian Rhyolite Province in central Ecuador, as well as volcanic and tectonic geodynamics in the Northern Andes. She has published many papers and articles about volcanic hazards, volcanic history and monitoring in Ecuador.

Minard Hall received his B.A. and M.A. in Geology from the University of California at Berkeley, and went on to receive his Ph.D. in Geology from Case Western University in Ohio. Minard went to work in Ecuador in 1972 as a member of the Geophysical Institute, and in 1983 he cofounded the IGEPN and retains his position as the director. Minard has received several awards for his research and investigations in the fields of disaster mitigation and prevention. In addition to supplying the public and government with valuable information on the current volcanic activity near Quito, Minard and Patty also maintain a volcanic observatory near Tungurahua Volcano in southern Ecuador, and monitor the recently active El Reventador. Detailed information about current volcanic and seismic activity can be found at the IGEPN website

Viviana Valverde is a student of Patricia A. Mothes and Minard L. Hall at IGEPN. She is in the process of finishing her undergraduate thesis on the large debris flows of Sangay. She will provide an important local perspective on the geology of Sangay.


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