USU geologist: ‘When life gives you ash, give guest lectures’

Utah State University professor Jim Evans didn’t intend to extend his European trip by five days but, like millions of fellow travelers, he didn’t anticipate that a volcano with a 16-letter name would foil his itinerary. But the unforeseen snafu, which led the geologist to call on friends, relatives and colleagues who quickly rallied to his aid, yielded unexpected benefits on both sides of the Atlantic.”I was very lucky to have friends and relatives who stepped up both here and in Germany to help me out,” says Evans, a faculty member of USU’s Department of Geology.Evans and USU doctoral student Marlon Jean headed to a scientific drilling workshop in eastern Germany on April 10 and planned to return seven days later. The two scientists were attending the workshop in preparation for a massive geothermal drilling project supported by federal stimulus funding that’s slated to start on Idaho’s Snake River Plain this summer. A geothermal phenomena more than 3,000 miles from Idaho altered their plans.On April 14, Eyjafjallajökull, a volcano on Iceland’s southern coast, blasted a huge plume of ash and steam through its glacier ice cap. Within days, blinding and electrically conductive ash blanketed northern Europe and grounded air travel.”I was scheduled to fly out of Munich to return to Utah, so I contacted two of my wife’s cousins who live there,” Evans says. “They were very hospitable and arranged for me to stay in one of their homes.”Back in Utah, Evans’ wife, Susanne Janecke, who is also a USU geology professor, scrambled to cover teaching of three of Evans’ classes and enlisted help from USU sabbatical visitor Haakon Fossen. Fossen, a faculty member of Norway’s University of Bergen, stepped in the teach one of Evans’ labs.In Munich, Evans looked up long-time colleague Anke Friederich , a professor at Munich’s Ludwig Maximillian University, who earned geology degrees at the University of Utah. Friederich provided Evans with lab and office space to carry on his work while stranded in Europe and invited the Aggie professor to conduct a couple of seminars for her students.”It turned out to be a very fortuitous experience for me,” Evans says. “While there, I became acquainted with a postdoctoral researcher whose work is of interest to us at USU. There may be further Maximillian University-Utah State interactions.”While Evans settled in at Maximillian, Jean headed to a follow-on workshop on drilling software and data acquisition that his advisor John Shervais, Evans’ USU faculty colleague and project director on the Snake River project, now grounded in the U.S., had planned to attend. Instead, Shervais and the Geology Department welcomed Professor Peter Cobbold of France’s University of Renne, as Cobbold presented an April 22 guest lecture in one of Evans’ classes.The plot thickens… Cobbold was stranded in the U.S. after attending the annual meeting of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists April 11-14 in New Orleans. The structural geologist had planned a quick trip to Logan to visit his daughter Stephanie Cobbold, who is a doctoral student in biology at USU. He didn’t seem disappointed that his visit was longer than planned.”I’m glad to be here with my daughter and glad to be asked to lecture to USU students,” says Cobbold, who has managed to book a return flight to France on April 24. “Now I have proof that I wasn’t ‘goofing off’ during my extended American stay.”Though Evans returned just in time for Cobbold’s talk, the USU professor, jet-lagged from a hastily rearranged and crowded flight back to the states on April 21, was grateful for the visiting scholar’s assistance.”Dr. Cobbold is a leader in his field and I’m glad that my students had the opportunity to hear his presentation,” Evans says.Eyjafjallajökull, which sports a name formed from three Icelandic words meaning “island-mountain glacier,” certainly wreaked havoc yet Evans and his colleagues proved that good things can come of unpredictable twists of fate.”We made lemonade from lemons,” he says.

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