Student Stories: The Land of Volcanoes

Johnathan Tenny

OSU student Johnathan Tenny traveled to Universidad Austral de Chile to conduct pioneering research on volcanoes and rivers.

Chile has been called a land of extremes; an implausible country of volcanoes, desert, and vast open spaces. It is a place that emits a call to adventure, and student Johnathan Tenny was eager to answer that call.

In the fall of 2017, Tenny traveled to Universidad Austral in Valdivia to work as a research intern to study the effects of recent volcanic eruptions on nearby river systems. “There were two rivers and two volcanoes that we studied;” he explains. “One that erupted in 2015 and one that erupted in 2008. Both eruptions dumped thousands of cubic meters of debris into nearby rivers, causing massive physical changes and causing one river to cut off half of a town.”

Tenny worked with spatial data collected via drone and created 3D models of several study areas on the rivers that flow from the Calbuco and Chaiten volcanoes. He compared these models to others to quantify physical changes in the river system over time. Using drones to create DEMs (Digital Elevation Models) is a relatively new method for analyzing change over time. It allows researchers to capture a high level of detail repeatedly, therefore enabling them to closely examine changes as time goes by.

As this is a new method to the field, there were limited resources available, but Tenny saw it as an opportunity. “It was an exciting challenge to be involved in figuring out the process by reading other studies, experimenting, and interacting with world experts,” he says. “I assisted in the field to collect data, I performed the entire process for a few sample dates, and I made significant contributions to the group’s understanding of quantifying uncertainty in the difference of DEMs and creating maps of grain size distribution.”

Challenges seem to be Tenny’s expertise, as this three-month internship was also his first time traveling to a non-English speaking country. Although mentally exhausting at times, he says the experience made him stronger, more humble, and more aware of cultural differences. “I have gained a great deal of appreciation for the power of perception and the influence that language and culture has on our perceptions. I realized that much of the way that we understand the world is through shared perceptions with other people in our communities.”

While he struggled with the language, he learned a great deal and embraced the difficulties in finding a place to live, language barriers, and even grocery shopping. By the time he returned home, everything felt easier. “At home, I now care less what others think of me, I have less social anxiety, I worry less (for better or for worse), and I generally feel more confident. I am more willing to try new things, even if I will struggle and look like a fool at first.”             

 “Travelling to Chile was the culmination of many years of hard work and personal goals and the experience was everything I could have expected. There were some challenges along the way, but the research internship taught me much more than I could have ever learned in a classroom or domestic job.

This experience certainly piqued my interest for international work and I hope to go on another trip soon, perhaps to New Zealand this winter. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to work under Dr. Andres Iroume at Austral University and give my sincerest appreciation to all those who helped make it possible.”

Thinking about interning abroad?

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