Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Temples at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon, Cambodia

After landing in Cambodia we entered the bustling town of Siem Reap, which serves as the gateway city to the temples of Angkor Wat.

View from the western gate at sunrise. Angkor Wat (City of Temples) is a Khmer empire monument that was built over a 30 year period in the 12th century.

It is famous for its sheer size and its bas-relief carvings on sandstone, which was quarried from the Kulen Mountains 30 miles away. The sandstone blocks were rafted down man-made canals to the site. The sandstone is part of the Terrane Rouge Formation, a Lower to Middle Jurassic (200 to 150 Ma) lacustrine and fluvial unit.

The many hallways inside the mile-long complex are astounding in their complexity and design.

Buddhist worshipers still use the monument for prayers and festivals.

Detail of a wall carving showing the artistic nature of the site, which began as a Hindu temple but was converted to a Buddhist shrine in the latter part of the 12th century.

Many war scenes are depicted and shown here is a line of soldiers marching into battle.

View of the south wall of Angkor Wat.

We spent three nights in Siem Reap Cambodia and were able to visit many other temple sites within the complex. There are literally hundreds of sites, some still covered with jungle vegetation.

This one is known as Angkor Thom (Great City) and was the capital of the Khmer empire from which all of the great buildings were conceived and executed. It too was built in the 12th century and is located about one mile from Angkor Wat.

It is famous today for the way archaeologists have left large trees that cling to the temple walls, giving an impression of remoteness and mystery to the site.

Trees that damage walls are removed but those that merely cover or drape over the walls are left standing.

Everything is covered in green moss and algae - even the crumbled blocks at the base of the walls.

Weathered sandstone bas-relief panel of goddesses. There is a concern about the salt-weathering that is eating away on some of the sandstone reliefs. This process involves the growth of salt crystals that physically grow and break down the sandstone cement. The salts are derived from the bat guano that is deposited on the walls,

Angkor Thom.
Detail in a sandstone wall.

Fantastic strangler fig roots at Angkor Tom.

They are huge in some cases.

The last site I will show is called Bayon which has 216 images of Buddha on 54 towers.

Here at least five Buddha faces are seen. Can you find them?

Next stop is the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Flying Across the Equator from Australia to Southeast Asia

One of the reasons I love doing this kind of trip is that I get to partake in a life-long passion of flying. When I was a kid I wanted to be an airline pilot and as I got older I aimed for the stars and wanted to be an astronaut. (I had to settle being a geologic lecturer on a private jet but it still gets into the air).   I love to fly and always have and so far, I show no signs of tiring of it, even though the airlines do everything they can to make it a miserable experience. I like seeing the earth from above. This flight segment went from northeast Australia to Cambodia.

A part of the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. I gave a lecture on the jet as soon as we climbed out of Cairns Australia and so I missed photographing the York Peninsula, the Gulf of Carpenteria, and Darwin.

A large distributary river system on the eastern side of the island of Borneo, just south of Tarakan.

A huge river in the jungles of eastern Borneo. The largest island in Asia and third largest in the world, Borneo is antipodal of the Amazon basin.

A huge thunderhead over Borneo. We had to divert slightly off our course to miss some of the big vapor towers. The photograph does no justice to its immense size.

I suspect this is runoff from some sort of mining project ,although who knows. It looks like a pipeline is leading toward the coast from some sort of industrial center next to the river.

This is Brunei, the tiny nation on the northeast coast of Borneo. The island is divided among three countries Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

After crossing the South China Sea, we entered the airspace of Vietnam and the is Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon. The Mekong River bisects the city.

The Mekong River, the planet's 12th longest river, shown north of Ho Chi Minh City.


Landing at Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Cambodia is not so much a country as it is a body of water! At least in the rainy season. There had been very heavy rains and we visited at the end of the long rainy season. Watch for my post from Angkor Wat next.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Australia's Great Barrier Reef

We left Easter Island and had a six-hour flight to obtain fuel in Papaette, Tahiti. Nice to finally see this tropical paradise that I have heard so much about (although I do not not count this as a country visited unless I spend the night). We then had another three-hour flight arriving in Apia, Western Samoa. This was to be our only one night stay on the whole trip. After one night here, then another six-hour flight to Cairns Australia, where we were to visit the Great Barrier Reef. I don't know the names of any of  the fishes or corals - so just enjoy this photo gallery of my snorkel day at the Reef.

Flying into Australia we passed over the southern end of the island of New Caledonia. This is a continental sliver of crust that was once part of the Gondwana supercontinent. Note there fringing reef and lagoon along the shore.

Flying over the Great Barrier Reef as we come into Cairns. It is between 1200 and 1600 miles in length containing over 900 islands.

Our jumping off spot to tour the reef was a from the title town of Port Douglas on Australia's northeast coast.

Entrance to the harbor at Port Douglas.

Our catamaran boat that took us 25 miles out to the reef. The next pictures have little descriptive text.



There was a huge coral bleaching event in the northern 1/3 of the reef in 2016. I estimate that 75% of the corals at this site were dead from that bleaching event. I gave a lecture on the jet coming into Australia about the reef and the threats to it from climate change. Here is branching coral that is 100% dead.




A giant clam and its amazing colors.





Some folks went scuba diving.


Next we fly back to the northern hemisphere and the ruins known as Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Geology and Archaeology of Easter Island

Easter Island is one of my favorite destinations and I always enjoy coming here. It never gets old to me. The geology is well displayed and itself is worth a visit. But it is the volcanic rock statues of course and the history they embody that is the main attraction.

As is typical on these private jet trips, we were able to fly around the island for some sightseeing before landing! Imagine using a Boeing 757 for flight-seeing. Here are the statues at Tongariki from 1600 feet on our fly-around. Close-ups of this site will be featured at the end of the post.

The Ranu Raraku tuff cone is where 95% of the statues were quarried (located at the base of the cliff on the far right side). Stratification in the cone remnant suggests that most of it has ben eroded away and that the visible portion is merely the left hand one-fourth of the former cone, which would have extended farther to the right. A second tuff cone formed later and is now filled with water and can be partially seen behind the cliff.

Three shield volcanoes are present on the island and this is Teravaka, the highest shield at about 1600 feet. The eruptions began about 2.5 Ma and emerged above sea level by about 780,000 years ago. The three shields are thought to have been separate islands before their distal flows merged to create the island we know today.

The airstrip was constructed in the mid-1960's and was lengthened in the 1980's to two miles in order to accommodate an emergency landing for the space shuttle (it was never needed). Modern tourism to the island began with the construction of this airstrip. Now there are flights every day from Santiago - note the jet on the tarmac). When I first came here in 1995 there were only two flights per week.

On the north side of the island are three trachyte domes. Trachyte is a feldspar-rich type of volcanic rock containing about 65% silica. Note the dike leading to the dissected dome and exposed in the sea cliff. This concludes the air tour of the island - what a treat!

Our first stop on the ground was at Akivi Ahu on the flanks of the Teravaka shield volcano. It contains many celestial attributes regarding a solar calendar used by the islanders (see the link above). Most statues are about this size although they become bigger with time on the island.

Next stop was Tahai on the west coast and close to the only town on the island, Hanga Roa. This site was dug and restored in 1974 by the famous Easter Island archaeologist, Dr. William Mulloy of the University of Wyoming.

This moai was found with the remains of its eyes near the base and so were restored by Dr, Mulloy.

We always have entertainment at the end of our tours and these musicians performed right on the beach where a large tent was set up with fresh fruit sticks, fruit juice and champagne.

Huge waves crashed nearby on the shore and were from a recent storm.

Ranu Kao is another shield volcano that contains a large caldera on its crest. The diameter of the caldera is one mile across.

The famous island of Motu Nui where the Bird Man competition was held from about 1680 until 1867. See the link for details on this interesting aspect of the islands history.

We finally made our way to the eastern side of the island and the quarry site at Ranu Raraku. By the 1800's all of the statues had been toppled and their heads became severed in the fall. This statue has not been restored.

Ranu Raraku is where most of the well-known photos of Easter Island are taken since this was the statue "factory" and over 30 of them are nearby (over 900 statues are known on the island). These two are complete statues but have been buried in eroded material from the cliff above. The Easter Islanders stopped making statues sometime in the late 17th century and this is how much infill has occurred since that time.

They are truly amazing to see!

Close-up of a moai at Ranu Raraku.

This volcano is a tuff cone and the geologic conditions were just right to create the perfect carving stone. Lapilli (small volcanic fragments) were erupted in water (likely sea water) to create a palagonite rock. The papilla are not welded to any great extent so it might have taken 8 men only about a year to sculpt of a statue between 20 and 30 feet high.

Here are two statues that were near completion before work on them stopped in the late 17th century.

The hillside is pock-marked with places where statues were quarried. In the old days we walked everywhere over the site. Today much of it is roped off, which is probably a good thing with the numbers of people who come here now. But I am glad I got to have those other experiences as well.

A good view of the Ranu Raraku tuff cone with a moai guardian near the site called Tongariki.

This is the site shown in the very first photograph of this post. 15 statues line the ahu (altar).

Of course, the statues were lying prone where discovered. In May 1960. a tsunami from the great Valdivia Chile earthquake sent the statues further inland. A Japanese benefactor who had visited the site shortly thereafter donated $2,000,000 and huge crane to help Cladio Cristino restore them to this position.

The detail of preservation is outstanding and the sunlight cooperated well for the photographers in our group.

This was the main ceremonial center for the eastern confederation during pre-historic times.

I feel so lucky to be able to see these fantastic sites! Now it's on to the Great Barrier Reef in northern Australia.