From Ocean Floor to Volcano Summit

Scenes from Ro Kinzler’s geology fieldwork


Ro Kinzler emerges from the Alvin after spending the day searching for samples of lava that had erupted from the East Pacific Rise, a midocean ridge on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, in March 1988.


This photo of basalt pillow lava structures, each about a meter wide, was taken from the Alvin submersible during a dive to the active spreading center. These pillow structures form only when basalt lavas erupt underwater.


Ro Kinzler (right) and advisor Tim Grove stand on California’s Medicine Lake Volcano during an August 1991 trip to collect samples for geochemical research while Kinzler was doing her PhD. Behind them are Cinder Butte and the 1,150-year-old Callahan lava flow that Kinzler studied for her master’s thesis. Also pictured are Glenn Gaetani (left), another PhD student in Grove’s lab, and EAPS academic officer Anita Killian (background). “There’s a chance to really prove yourself as an individual in so many ways,” Kinzler says of her field expeditions. From the pressure of collecting the right rock samples to cooking or putting up a tent, there are “lots of ways you have to be effective,” she says. “I think that’s an aspect of field science in particular that doesn’t often get talked about, but it’s important, it’s part of what makes someone good—if you’re not good at that, you probably won’t continue to be a field scientist.”


In 1997, Kinzler revisited Medicine Lake Volcano to find samples for the American Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Planet Earth exhibit. She’s pictured here on the Callahan lava flow with USGS geologist Julie Donnelly-Nolan. Cinder Butte, a volcanic feature that formed when the flow erupted, is in the background.


A sample of obsidian from Glass Mountain at Medicine Lake Volcano.


Kinzler marks a large column of Columbia River flood basalt for pickup by a flatbed truck at the Columbia River Gorge in eastern Washington in 1998.


Lava trees are formed when lava engulfs a tree, burning it away to leave behind a “ghostly structure.” Here, staff from Research Casting International work together to swath such a structure in plaster on a 120-plus-year-old lava flow on the southern part of the Big Island of Hawaii. This technique would allow them to collect it in one piece for inclusion in the Hall of Planet Earth. “We went to Hawaii and worked very hard to recover this tree: we wrapped it in plaster of Paris, we supported it with planks,” Kinzler recalls. “You do whatever it takes to do it—that’s the field scientist part. And then after we had it like a big thumb, all bandaged up, then with a specialized kind of a forklift … we kind of snapped it off, then carefully lowered it and shipped it to the museum … and it was a couple of months to remove all that, but the museum is used to this kind of work because that’s what they do with fossils.”


At a rock-cutting facility in New Milford, Connecticut, in 1997, American Museum of Natural History curator Ed Mathez talks with exhibition designers about the boulder of banded iron that Ro Kinzler had found the year before in Temagami in northern Ontario.


The enormous formation of banded iron is now on exhibit in the Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth at the American Museum of Natural History.

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