Monday, 29 September 2014

Day 1: Starting with a bang (but not the sort we wanted) - post by Vic Dobos

Mt Otake erupting. Photo credit: AFP Photo / Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Chubu Regional Development Bureau Jiji Press via http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2014/09/japan-volcano-ontake-an-extremely-rare-eruption

The day before we were due to depart for Tokyo on the 2014 ASTA Science Teachers Exchange - Japan, I received word that Japan was under possible threat from a tropical storm. This seemed eerily familiar, as we faced the same issues last year. Dangerous and damaging storms are not uncommon in Japan, and the people regularly demonstrate extreme resilience in the face of them.

Then, at approximately 1.30pm on Saturday 27th September, just hours before we were supposed to depart, nature surprised everyone with a curve ball.  Mt Ontake in Central Japan erupted, releasing a plume of fine ash and gas. Whilst this event in itself is not on the scale of some recent volcanic eruptions, its suddenness made it the first eruption since 1991 to claim Japanese lives. 

Leah, Robyn and I had just arrived at Sydney Airport when news of the eruption broke. Communication from Qantas was unclear, but we eventually learned our flight had been delayed until 11am the next day. When Gary, Sarah and Danielle arrived we collected our checked in luggage and headed to a nearby hotel to regroup.

As excited as we still were about our trip, the seriousness of this event and the heartache of the families affected was recognised, and our deepest sympathies go out to them.

The phenomenon of an eruption without warning is extremely unusual. The science behind it is very interesting, particularly for geoscience enthusiasts. You can learn a bit about it here.

We woke on Sunday to a glorious spring morning. Our group also regained our spring and headed off to the international airport for departure: take two. At precisely 11am, the 4 Rolls Royce engines of our 747-400 were to opened to full throttle and we gently lifted off tracking north over the city and heading for Narita.

The excitement level was starting to build once more and our conversation returned to our planned adventure in Japan. Unfortunately, our delay meant we had nissed our visit to  Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. This had been a highlight of last year's trip, particularly the chance to see the marvel of modern robotics, ASHIMO. The delegates were philosophical about the loss; we were all safe and well, with an exciting week of experiences ahead of us. ASHIMO will still be there next time.

After a good flight and the chance to watch a movie or three, we touched down in Tokyo, pumped for what was ahead of us.

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