Edina native Eli Witkin recently returned from Tanzania, although he wasn’t there to vacation and safari.
Witkin, a senior at the University of Rochester in New York, spent Jan. 7-25 setting up a network of seismographs in the country with a team of international professors.
Their main goal was to figure out why the rift between the plates in the earth under Tanzania is further coming apart, said Witkin, a St. Louis Park High School graduate. Magma and volcanoes in the region may be causing it.
The first rumblings of his trip started when Witkin was discussing his future with his advisor. She mentioned applying for a research experiences for undergraduates grant from the National Science Foundation to pay for the seismographs they installed. Grants also paid for Witkin to spend last summer in New York mapping the data from the seismographs already in Tanzania. He also did preparatory research for the January trip.
Thirty-six seismographs were installed in Tanzania. Each has to be a certain distance apart from others, Witkin explained. The group wanted to put a seismograph station in a local school to provide an educational opportunity for the local students. The teachers and students knew what seismographs were, but had never seen one before..
“We were installing them with 40 kids around us,” Witkin said.
The group installed the seismographs at two sites per day, driving between two-and-a-half to three hours between the sites, allowing Witkin to see some antelopes, ostriches and zebras along the way.
“I was pretty much on safari,” he said.
He also stayed an extra two days after their work was done to do a safari in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park.
The seismographs will remain for the next two years. The data each collects will be stored on a memory card. The cards are replaced every six months and researchers sift through the data.
The project also has added benefits for the communities in Tanzania. Tanzania has an active volcano and the installed seismographs can pick up magma movements under the Earth. Seismographs, can also find magma chambers underground, which can help predict eruptions and help the people living around the volcano know when to leave, Witkin said.
Finding the magma underground can also help Tanzania begin to alleviate its energy shortage. Witkin said that if they know what the subsurface looks like, they’ll know where to dig wells for hot steam, which can be used for geothermal energy.
Now that he’s back in the United States, the job search is on. He’s hoping to get a job in geologic consulting or mapping with his double major in economics and geology.
Contact Lisa Kaczke at [email protected]