"Welcome to the Department of Geosciences, may I help you sir?"
"Yes, good afternoon, I was looking for Doctor Rogers. In the Professional Geology program."
"Hayde Rogers? She doesn't have her PhD yet, but she will get it soon."
"Yes, ma'am, that's her."
"I'll message her, may I tell her your name?"
"Malcom Trenier, from Mississippi Community and Technical College. She's expecting me. And this is an assistant of mine, John Jones."
"Oh, yes, she did mention you."
The woman at the desk pushed a couple of buttons on a large telephone set and waited, there was no answer from the speaker on the phone, but Ms Rogers did answer from the door off to one side, "Well, Malc, you're early, as usual."
"I was almost late, I had to park in the commuter lot."
"Well, you're here now, let's go get some coffee."
"Excellent idea," he turned toward the receptionist, "Thank you, ma'am."
They borrowed a small table in one corner of a classroom where they had room to look at the tablet and papers that Dr. Trenier had brought with him.
"You said it was in Midnight."
"Just outside of town, on one forty nine, on the farm of a former student's family." He shuffled through the papers and produced a printed section of a topographical map. "You can just see the old ridge here. It's really flat otherwise. And then, right about here...." he switched the papers for his tablet with an aerial photograph, "it opened up and blew out last week."
"I saw it on the news, they said it was a massive CO2 release that caused the sand blow."
"That's only partially true."
She raised her eyebrows, "Which part was true?"
"How much time do we have?"
"Really? Are you serious?"
"Very, and we need to go over there."
“Wouldn't that be something the State Geologist is supposed to do?”
“For the next month or so, you're looking at him, and he is recruiting you as his assistant.”
Ms Rogers took out her phone and tapped the screen several times, "We've got an hour. Is that enough? I don't think I can get somebody to cover the next class for me, it's Earth Science 102, Freshmen."
As soon as she mentioned the class Jones laughed, he had been in their edition of that class last year.
"One way to find out," Trenier said in a moment.
An hour later Ms Rogers was arranging coverage for the Freshman class, as well as her other classes and labs for the next few days. Every question she could think to ask her former instructor at the Community College answered. And with every answer she saw how the readings from a remote sensor and the seismic network left gaps in what they knew as large as the reported hole in the former student's family cow pasture.
Finally, they were making arrangements to sign out even more equipment to load in the MissCommTech van.
The Professor and the Professor to be discussed it and Ms Rogers made a couple of phone calls and found a volunteer of her own.
"Well, Malc, JJ, this is Emily, she used to be my lab partner, but then she went over to the dark side."
Emily grinned, "I switched majors to physics."
"Ewwww," JJ wrinkled his nose.
"You might be forgiven for that, eventually," Trenier said, "I'll put in a good word for you if you help us out on this bit of field research."
Emily shook her head, "I thought I'd be putting in a good word for you all."
"Can't hurt. Let's make sure we've got everything."
They planned to drive the rest of the day west on US 82, then get a couple of motel rooms somewhere on the western side of the state, then head out to the farm at first light. As with many places in the state, there was no way to easily get from Starkville to Midnight, and the three GPS programs they had each recommended a different way to go, one took a zig-zag route that had them going further south than they needed to, then brought them back up.
"Let's go your way," Ms Rogers said after comparing the routes, "I'll find us rooms for the night. On MSU's card."
The motel just off I-55 wasn't anything you'd want to book a week's vacation in, but after several hours of packing and then more on the road, they were ready for anything that wasn't moving, and the fried catfish dinners they picked up at the gas station were excellent.
They gathered in the boys room to lay out their plans for the following morning while they had supper.
They were on the road for the last hour's drive to Midnight right at dawn the next morning. They picked up breakfast at a small place on their way through a town that none of them had ever heard of, and kept going, through the actual town, what there is of it, of Midnight to the farm on Rokeby Road.
South of Midnight, MS
"Chan-On? They're Oriental?" Ms Rogers asked as they turned at a mailbox with both English letters and Chinese characters on it and followed a driveway away from the road.
"Yes, they're one of the few Chinese farm families left in the Delta region," Mr. Trenier spotted his former student, "And there's Roberta," he nodded toward a young woman emerging from the aging farmhouse.
"Well, we've got the campus diversity thing all sewed up. They're Chinese, Hayde's Black, Malc is whatever he is..."
"My family is Alabama Creole."
"Like I said, we've got the diversity thing covered."
"One would hope."
After a round of introductions Roberta pointed to the north away from the house and told them to follow her on her ATV. "You can drive most of the way, the lane is pretty solid," she said with a smile, "if you get stuck, I'll pull you out with our horses." She looked back at the house, "My father and mother will come out in a little bit," her voice dropped to a whisper, "she wants to bring you some morning tea and sweet rice cakes after your trip, and the cakes aren't done yet."
"Wonderful, thank you."
And then they were back in the van and heading down the lane toward a selection of typical farm buildings. Then Roberta stopped and opened a gate and waved them through, then she got back on the four wheeler and, backing up, pulled the gate closed with one hand while still on the vehicle. Then she gestured for them to follow her again.
"There it is." Ms Rogers said pointing off to one side where a good pile of side surrounded what appeared to be a large rip in the ground.
They had seen the images Roberta had sent to Mr. Trenier and those from the TV helicopter taken two days ago. But there hadn't been anything around the site for a visual sense of scale.
Now, as they stopped nearby, they couldn't see all of it at one time.
They parked in the lane next to the fence and followed Roberta out into the field.
"It was still blowing when we came out here Saturday morning," Roberta said.
"There had been a couple of earthquakes not far from here. I believe they were both centered just north of here, about two, two and a half kilometers deep."
Roberta nodded, "We didn't feel those, but we heard some odd sounds. My father said it sounded like the old semi-trucks that had an engine brake. Then maybe an hour later, this started, we heard the gas coming out and rocks and sand was hitting the house." She bent down and picked up a black and gray rock, "like these."
"It hit the house?" JJ asked and looked back the way they came. "That's a long way."
Roberta pointed up, "it was throwing these rocks out to sight straight up. We couldn't get out of the truck the way they were raining down all over. My father was worried they would break the windshield of the truck so we left quickly."
"Listen," Emily said, then shooshed them with her finger over her lips.
"I hear it," somebody said softly.
"It's starting again, if it gets worse we'll have to get in the van," Roberta said.
"It's still blowing?"
"Some, not like the first one," then she pointed off to one side, "there's a smaller one that started over there, then it stopped."
In a few minutes the audible outgassing from the fissure stopped.
"Damn. We should have been sampling that," JJ said.
"You're right," Mr. Trenier said, "you should have been. That was your grade that got away."
"I'll see what's left," he replied and went to the back of the van. "I got it, I'm going, I'm testing." He was playing with a yellow machine in his right hand and waving a wand unit with his left as he walked toward the fissure. "It's warm."
"I'll get the temp gun," Emily said and went back to the van.
The others started getting their own gear out of the van. One was photographing, others were using lasers to measure various features, another was gathering samples of the sand and the rocks. Fortunately for JJ's grade, there was still some detectable gasses emerging from inside the fissure.
"Wow. Doc Trenier. I'm reading hydrogen sulfide."
"I won't get any closer. In fact, I'll put the stick out." He extended the telescopic part of the sampling wand, then he knelt down and aimed it at the closest part of the fissure.
"Oh. I'm going to reset and do that again," JJ said. He fiddled with the larger unit then slowly moved the probe back toward the fissure. "Hydrogen chloride."
Mr. Trenier and Ms Rogers exchanged glances, "You know what that means," he said to her.
After some more samples with the wand, JJ mounted the wand on a tripod and extended it as far as he could into the fissure. Then once he was satisfied that it was transmitting real data, he retreated back up to what was becoming their base of operations.
They were waiting for JJ to tell them what the continuing average percentage of CO2 and other gases were coming out of the vent when Roberta's parents arrived in the pickup truck with tea and cakes.
There were more introductions and Mr. Chan had dozens of questions, mostly centered around whether his having a new well drilled on the other side of the buildings a few months ago had anything to do with it.
"How deep was the well?" Somebody asked him.
"They went down about one fifty. Feet. One hundred and fifty feet deep."
Finally, Mr. Trenier shook his head. "I don't see how a water well even that deep could have any effect on this. The underlying volcanic structure is over three thousand feet below the surface. Well below both of the aquifers."
Mr. Chan didn't seem convinced, so Ms Rogers added something.
"Even if the drill got down to that level, it would have vented out of the well. Did they hit a gas pocket?"
"No, Miss, water. We're still getting water for the barn out of it." He paused. "Perhaps it is as my grandmother said, qiaohe. As you say, co-incidence."
"Yes. It is."
The tea was cold and the cakes were gone, they thanked the Chans for their hospitality and got back to work.
Ms Rogers took a notepad around and found where she could stand to get enough cell phone signal to order their lunch. But when she came back she found Mr. Trenier concocting a plan with JJ and Emily.
"But he's come back with poisonous gasses at lethal levels."
"But not all the time. There is a pattern to the outflows, there's over an hour between peaks. We'll get in, we'll wear the gas masks, we'll watch the time and the meter, and then get back out."
"What I was wanting to ask is if I need to make a reservation at the motel for tonight, now I'm thinking about having the rescue squad standing by."
"Oh, if you want, I can have my brother bring one of his campers over."
"Your brother has campers?"
"Yes, he restores them. He's always got a couple of them around. Sometimes he has to park a couple of them here before they sell."
The field team looked at each other, "Sure. It'd save us a lot of time driving back and forth."
Roberta took out her phone and dialed her brother just like that, Ms Rogers couldn't believe it.
"It took awhile to find the carrier with the best service out here," she whispered before he answered. Then she asked, "Do you want one for men and one for women?"
"If he can."
Then Roberta was talking to her brother in both English and a bit of Chinese. Then she smiled at Ms Rogers, "He's on his way with two, as long as he can be there for the investigation down in the hole." She saw her hesitation, "He promises that he'll stay out of the way."
"OK, sure. The more the merrier."
Within the hour an Oriental man in a New Orleans football team jersey was walking their way along the track they'd driven on.
After the introductions Roberta's brother, Oliver, asked if she's showed them the 'old sand blow' over in another field. "There was some black sand in it. She said it was pumice, but we didn't have it looked at."
JJ was dispatched with Oliver to go see the site that had erupted about a year ago and get some samples of if he could find any that hadn't been too corrupted.
The others were still working on measurements of the main fissure, and the smaller one nearby.
Then the heard a noticeable increase in the sound of escaping gasses from the fissure, and for a minute or two, the rush of gasses out of the Earth made casual conversation all but impossible.
JJ's meter got a bunch of good data, then the rush of vapors knocked the wand off the tripod and it fell into the vent. But it resumed transmitting once it stopped bouncing around.
The data was impressive.
"Lot of water vapor, carbon dioxide, monoxide. Hydrogen chloride. Sulfide...." JJ was still looking at the screen when Emily interrupted him.
"Look at the increase in temperature, it got to three hundred fifty degrees C," she said. "It's been running no higher than about forty to forty three when its inactive."
Ms. Rogers and Mr. Trenier looked at each other as they digested the data.
Then one of them whispered to the other, "That's coming off magma."
Then the other answered, "And it's close to the surface."
"Compared to the ancient magma reservoir, yes."
"Maybe the rift is becoming more active and is pushing magma back into the Jackson formation."
"Let's check the maps."
They went to the van and brought up various maps of everything from the Madrid Fault System to the Mississippi Embayment Syncline, and then projected them over the ancient Reelfoot Rift just to the north of Humphreys county and the Yazoo river system. Then they enlarged the mapped area to include everything from the even more ancient Midcontinent Rift down to the Door Point Volcano. Then marked the Jackson Dome that included the Midnight Volcano which were relative newcomers on that list.
"OK, what are we dealing with?" Mr. Trenier asked as he examined the maps. "And don't say an isolated aberration, you know I don't believe in those."
Ms Rogers was trying to make sense of the complex basement structure under the region. "We know this volcano is directly linked to Jackson. And there were others that were active at around the same time. But as far as we know, this is the only one doing this." She gestured out to the vent that was comparatively still for a change.
"As far as we know. But there has been CO2 leaking from Jackson for years. And there's been microquakes all over this area. So it could be a significant intrusion at depth, and it's been going on 'for years', and just now got to where it can do, this."
"We need to know if there is any other activity up in Arkansas all the way down to, well, wherever it ends. I've seen some research that link it to the Bermuda hotspot," Ms Rogers trailed off.
"Student interns are perfect for That kind of legwork." He answered.
"A trip to Bermuda?" Emily asked, "I think I'm prefect for that kind of legwork."
"Well. Me too, but for digging through document archives and old maps? Interns."
By the time they were done with the surface study, it was getting too late to do further measurements down in the fissure itself. They had laid out a set of sampling devices and monitors around the feature to see what it did during the night, then, assured by the family that they'd keep their domestic animals in the other pasture, they packed the rest of their gear up and headed back to the house.
Supper was provided by the Chans, and plans were made to use the gas masks to go into the fissure on a sample run whenever it was quiet the next morning.
It was nearly dark when they checked out the portable accommodations that had been delivered.
"No water," Ms. Rogers said as she checked out the inside of their camper. Then she turned a knob on the ceiling unit, "But the AC works."
"Well, I've stayed in worse," Emily answered nodding at the queen sized bed across one end of the camper, "do you want the bed or the couch or do we sleep together?"
Her friend laughed at the double entendre.
Chan-On Farm, Midnight, MS
Early in the morning, Roberta and JJ made the breakfast run to a place that supposedly made the best biscuit sandwiches in the county, and the consensus was that they were actually very good homemade biscuits, with store bought sausage patties and some of the saltiest bacon in the world on them.
It was fully daylight when they arrived at the fissure.
Their sample papers and collection dishes had been given a fresh coat of both sand and ash, as well as the occasional small rock. The motion sensor controlled camera recorded video in ten second bursts, and it caught a couple of bursts of the sand in action, and one nosy coyote who spent several minutes sniffing around, then, as another gas release began, he ran away.
The videos did confirm that after a reasonably active spurt of gasses and maybe even some ash, they had a quiet phase from just over one up to about three hours before another round began.
"As long as the fissure isn't actively venting in the concentrations we saw yesterday, these will protect us." Mr. Trenier handed JJ a mask.
JJ shook his head at the older man, "I don't think you should climb down in there. It's steep and loose, and hot. I can run all the equipment and get the samples. And recover the remote unit we lost yesterday."
Oliver was nodding briskly, "I'll go and carry the gear, and help him in and out."
"It is his farm. Well, his folk's farm," Emily nodded. "But, there's one more mask."
"No there's not, I'm going," Ms Rogers said. "Somebody has to run the video. And kick him if the levels start to go up and we have to get out."
Emily was nodding as well, "There's your crew to go down, I'll monitor everything from up here, and call the paramedics."
Mr. Trenier looked from one to the other, "Do I get anything to say on this?"
"You can say 'yes'."
They got geared up and tested everything and were ready to go as the next venting event faded into what they had determined was its baseline readings. By the more or less regular schedule it had been keeping since they'd began watching it, they had something over an hour before the pressures below reached the point where significant amounts of gas would push its way to the surface. Sometimes that was accompanied by a bit of low level seismic activity, and sometimes it wasn't, but a tremor was a certain indication that a serious round of outgassing was about to begin.
Of course the preparations included an endless variety of jokes about meeting everything from pretty women in leather beachwear to dinosaurs and underground aliens.
"If the hole is that deep, we're in trouble anyway, dinosaurs or no."
Now they had to wait for the next venting before they could go in as it subsided.
"This thing's not Old Faithful is it?" Somebody asked as the current quiet phase continued past its projected time.
In a few minutes, there was an audible hiss as the outgassing began. But this time instead of everybody working on samples and temperature readings, they checked the scientific equipment and safety gear of the expedition into the fissure.
"That's it, it's letting up. Get ready to go." Emily called to them over the two way radios built into their helmets and gas masks.
Ten minutes later the venting had dropped to what they were calling its background levels, JJ checked with his sensor right at the edge of the fissure at the top of the ladder they'd lowered down to the first ridge several meters below ground level.
Mr. Trenier nodded, "You're good."
"I'm going in."
Oliver was right behind him wearing a backpack full of canisters and plates they were going to leave below for at least one event. "Watch that there, it looks loose."
"It is, but that's solid right below it, I checked it earlier."
Ms Rogers alternated taking a step or two down, then taking a photograph or running a couple of minutes of video.
It wasn't long before they were out of sight from the base camp around the back of the van.
Mr. Trenier had found a stable vantage point where he could see well down into the fissure, except his two way radio was on his belt and he had to key it to talk. "They're almost to that first split where it Y's to the north."
"I'm getting good data on all channels," Emily answered.
JJ spoke from inside, "I see the wand, I think I can get it."
"I'll hold your scanner," Oliver said, "got it."
"I'm going to back down to it." You could hear him scrambling over the gravel and sand. Then he grunted for a second, "I got it, and it's still in one piece."
"You can test it when you get back up here, don't forget why you're down there," Emily reminded him.
"OK, OK, we're getting our samples. I want to try down that way, it's hotter down there."
"That's the gate to hell," Oliver said.
"He'll be right at home."
"You're the one named Hayde."
They spent a few minutes documenting the different openings that went further down, but it was the one to the north east that continued the furthest and had the most interesting readings, including being substantially warmer than the others.
"I can see it, it widens out just down there. Not a lot, but it is wider there than here," Ms Rogers said as she held a tape measure in the beam of a small bright flashlight JJ pointed into the crack and tried to get a photo of it.
"I'm seeing an increase in gasses, it's time to go," JJ read off his meter.
"I can feel it," she answered from her position with the camera, "they're coming up into this space, then venting out this way. One more picture, and I'll race you out."
She clicked the camera three more times, aiming it down and at an angle trying to see down into the source of the gasses, then she hung it back around her neck and was clamoring back up the way they came.
They took turns helping each other out, and handing up equipment, and then scrambling up the ladder. The whole time they were well aware that the gasses coming out of the ground around them were getting warmer and more toxic every minute.
They had just handed some of their gear to Roberta and had pulled up the ladder just as the heat from the opening was becoming unpleasant. They paused just away from the fissure to catch their breath without their masks.
"One Hundred C," Emily said through the radio, "and climbing, quickly. One Fifty. The hydrogen sulfide just spiked. Good thing you got out of there. Two thirty."
"We're out, we're out, we've been out," JJ called into the radio, then he took off his helmet as they walked toward the van.
They took an extended break, ate some lunch, and then reviewed the data and images from the expedition.
"We've pretty conclusively proven that this isn't venting from an underground pocket of carbon dioxide. These are active volcanic gasses, at temperature, and they are still going," Mr. Trenier said. "What else do we have?"
Ms Rogers concurred, "There's no significant subsidence. We haven't seen a tremor since yesterday. And it is pretty low in water vapor."
"So it is coming up from below the aquifer, and there's not a lot of seepage down into the formation from it."
"The volcanic strata in this area is down at least a thousand meters, and goes down at least another thousand, probably more. Do you think this goes all the way down to that, or is this a new intrusion from below?"
Mr. Trenier shook his head, "There's no way to tell, and I'm not sure we could ever find out. And, when you think about it, does it matter? We have an active volcanic gas vent in the middle of Mississippi."
"Something else for one of the locals to write a blues song about."
After lunch they discussed another expedition down to retrieve their sampling canisters they'd left below.
The discussion ended up focused on Emily who was still trying to decipher a schedule from the way the vent was acting. She shrugged, "It's still unpredictable, except for this, it's never less than just over two hours between out gassings."
"I'll take it," Trenier answered, "when the next one starts, get geared up, just like last time."
"The emissions are still background, temperature is holding steady on the remote. So we're not there yet. But, it's been...." she checked her watch and looked at her hand written notes, "right at ninety minutes since the last one ended."
"How long have the eruptions been lasting?" Oliver asked her.
"Anywhere from twenty minutes to that granddaddy last night that was almost three hours by the sensors. Most have been slow starting, then they spike up to a peak. They hold that for a good few minutes, then start to ease down to background. Sometimes it takes a while, but they all slow down eventually. Then the clock starts to the next surge."
JJ laughed, "Like a good beer and pizza burp."
Emily didn't laugh, "undergrads" she muttered.
The next outgassing event started about an hour later. They got their usual readings of gasses and temperature, and a bit of ash and sand as it peaked. Then, as if it had been listening to Emily, it held the peak for several minutes, then began trailing off to what she considered background venting.
"You're going to be good to go in maybe another five or ten minutes."
"We're ready, say when."
At the eight minute mark she cleared them to go, "But walk slow."
JJ paused at the edge of the fissure and took a set of readings, "Still a little high in the sulfides, and Dioxide. We'll walk real slow."
"It's still dropping. You'll be fine."
"You'll be fine, we'll be down in the bowels of the Earth."
JJ was already down the ladder and Oliver was following about halfway down when Emily began hollering for them to "GET OUT!"
There was a slight but noticeable rumble from below and they felt a rush of hot gasses.
Even though JJ started at the bottom of the ladder, he and Oliver hit the surface in a photo finish.
Then they were treated to a shower of small stones and sand and as a visible plume of gasses erupted into the sky.
"I'm getting samples!" Somebody said excitedly into the radio.
The eruption only lasted a couple of minutes, then, as suddenly as it began, it ended and the vent was almost back to the background flow of gasses.
This time when JJ measured it, it wasn't high in sulfides and carbon dioxide.
"I think we've learned something," Mr. Trenier surmised as the group quickly descended to see what was left of their sampling gear.
Because of the unexpected intense outburst they hurried through the process of collecting their gear, then they turned to get back out of the fissure as soon as possible. They barely paused to note the differences down in the fissure, particularly down where the crack widened out to the northeast.
"It's wider than it was, and still hotter than anything else," Ms Rogers noted. "I'm getting pictures with the ruler for scale."
"Look at the stuff on this one," Oliver pointed at a sampling dish that was buried in sand and ash until only one edge was visible. She took several pictures of it then they carefully put the lid on it trying to preserve as much of the material in it as possible.
Other sample dishes and sticky traps were covered as well. One to the point where they couldn't find it.
"It's not here," Oliver said as he scooped sand away from where it had been.
"OK, the wind was blowing from there, so if it caught it...." JJ mused, "it might have blown it," he followed his own idea, "over here, somewhere," he poked around in the sand and fine ash, and then he found the dish, "upside down. Get a picture of it anyway."
But then they knew it was time to go when Emily noted that she was seeing an increase in temperature from the north east deep fissure.
They were long gone when the next regular venting episode began some time later.
They discussed where to put the overnight sensors to record anything that happened that night. Then they debated about when to head back to campus. Finally, Mr Trenier agreed that they should spend one more night, collect that data and samples, then pull out and go back to Starkville to go through everything.
"You know if we say it is a volcanic vent they'll run us out of the field," Ms Rogers muttered.
"I know. But what else does the data say?"
"Doesn't matter. The Jackson Volcano and all its friends are dead and extinct and have been for seventy million years. They're not going to accept anything active in Mississippi until the lava flow reaches the river."
Mr. Trenier pursed his lips. "How about this? I'll publish it, and leave all your names until the end. That way when the screaming starts, they'll scream at me. I'm going to retire in a couple of years anyway, maybe this will give me an excuse to go out early."
Ms Rogers and Emily looked at each other, "OK."
JJ laughed, "What's it going to do to my career? I'm working on a PE degree."
Ms Rogers shot a look at Mr. Trenier, "You're assistant is going to be a gym teacher?"
"He works cheap."
Early the next morning they spent a couple of hours switching between drinking coffee and gathering up equipment and samples. Then, just when the sun was peeking down into the fissure they were loading up the van to head back to campus.
"Thanks for letting us borrow the campers," Mr. Trenier shook hands with Oliver, "and thanks for helping out."
"No problem, it was fun. Besides, we wanted it looked at before he fills it in."
"Fills it in?"
"Yes, he's worried that one of the animals or even one of us will fall into it."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea. Do you think it'll help if we talk to him?"
"You can try, but he's already called the gravel company."
They spent an hour trying to convince Mr. Chan that if the gasses escaping from the vent had enough pressure behind them to push through several thousand feet of rock, a couple of truckloads of fill weren't going to stop them.
He wanted to try it anyway.
On the drive out they passed three dump trucks on their way south.
“What do you think is going to happen?”
“Rocks and sand will end up on their roof again at some point.”
They rode in silence for another mile or so, then JJ asked what were the chances that the rubble and sand would actually plug the vent and it would erupt someplace else.
Mr. Trenier thought about it, then shook his head. “What's coming out has worked its way up from the ancient magma pool, it's already found the path of least resistance. His gravel isn't going to change that. Most likely it'll plug up the surface vent, and when pressure builds up enough, it may blow that small side vent you documented, but eventually I think they're going to end up with rocks on their roof again.”
The rest of the drive was spent on speculation as to what the Midnight vent might mean to the larger, and more dangerous Jackson formation that was buried under an urban area with a population of over three hundred thousand people.
Ms Rogers had been monitoring the various sensors and recorders that kept track of the continuing outgassing from the ancient volcano, as well as the occasional micro tremor deep underground. She checked them again, “Everything is still well within their normal range. It hasn't moved no matter what our vent back there was doing. The flow is virtually constant, just a little variation now and then, but even that is fairly consistent.”
“So if he pours a hundred tons of stuff into his vent, Jackson shouldn't care.”
“No,” she answered, “While I am certain they are connected somewhere down yonder, the branch is two thousand meters or more below, and there's nothing he's going to do to his vent will make any difference to the other one.”
There was silence for about a mile, then JJ muttered, “At least you hope it won't make any difference to Jackson.”
They were on Route 82 and making good time when somebody asked Mr. Trenier what his report at the Temporary State Geologist was going to say.
He even slowed down while he thought about it, “Well,” he finally began. “I'll tell the the truth. It is Volcanic in origin, it is related to the ancient Midnight volcano. We don't think it will result in either a pyroclastic flow or the expulsion of lava. At least for the foreseeable future. It also does not appear to be directly related to the New Madrid Fault System or the Reelfoot Rift, although there may be a connection we are unaware of. While it may be connected to the ancient vent under the city of Jackson, such a connection is most likely deep in the lithosphere and the activity in one may not influence the other for a variety of reasons. However, the Jackson formation should be monitored for any change in status.”
They thought about it for a moment, then he added slowly, “I am not going to mention the unfortunate decision by the landowner, unless, something, happens.”
They were just pulling onto the campus in Starkville when Mr. Trenier's phone rang. He reached into his pocket and pushed the button, then he handed it to Ms Rogers, she spoke into it.
Hey, it's Roberta and Oliver. Chan.”
“Oh, OK. Yes, what's up?”
“About half of the stuff they dumped into the hole is still in the air, but a lot of it is coming down all over the place,” Roberta said.
“A lot of it is about six inches deep on my car,” Oliver added.
They could hear the laughing in the van so the Chans continued. “It kind of stopped it for a few hours, then all at once it blew, and it went off for about an hour. Then it settled down, and it's back to going off like it did when you were here.”
“Father says he's not going to have them refill it. He's learned his lesson.”
“We're going to put a fence around it to keep the animals out,” her brother finished.
“Good,” Ms Rogers said into the phone.
Mr. Trenier was pulling into a spot marked 'University Vehicles Only' when Ms Rogers hung the phone up. She handed it back to him with a grin.
“What?” He asked as he took it.
“That confirmed one theory of mine.”
“That there is an underground chamber that can build up pressure before it forces itself to the surface. And it is probably a hundred meters or more below the the surface. If it was close enough that their sand and gravel could have gotten into it, the reaction would have been more immediate. As it was, the pressure just built up for a few cycles, then it released.”
Mr. Trenier nodded, “I wonder if there is a way to test that.”
She shook her head, We'd almost have to drill down, but, the way that active vent was running off at an angle, we'd never hit it.”
“No. It'd be pure luck. And I'm not that lucky.”
Mr. Trenier opened his door, “Well, let's unload.”
“I'll buy y'all a late lunch. OK?''
JJ and Emily exchanged glances, then she looked in the back of the van, “Before or after we unload all this junk?”
The two professors shrugged, “After.”
Offices of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Jackson, MS
Mr. Trenier and the others spent a good solid day passing information and ideas back and forth, then a rough draft was put together, and reread, then some editing done, and finally, two days after they were all back home, the report and the data, and assorted supporting evidence was sent off to the state office that had asked them to go take a look at what was happening in Midnight in the first place.
The video of one of the more energetic outgassings while the team was there made the rounds quickly, as did some of the more humorous still images.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trenier's report was printed several times, then a staffer glanced through it, and suggested to their supervisor that they read it.
Then it was passed on to an assistant administrator upstairs someplace, and read again.
The a phone rang almost a hundred and fifty miles from Jackson.
“This is Marg Calhoun, I am an assistant administrator for state environmental affairs.”
“Congratulations. How can I help you?”
“I read your report on the incident in Humphreys County with great interest. Are you implying that this is a volcanic event?”
“No, ma'am. We are not implying anything. Based on the gasses present in the outflow, as well as the rock ash being ejected, it is a volcanic event.”
“I see,” she said softly. “Has your data been reviewed by any other qualified individuals?”
“Yes, ma'am. My assistant's doctoral advisor went through everything. He is the chair of the department of geology at Mississippi State, he signed off on the report and advises establishing a field station over there to monitor it. In fact, they talked to the landowner earlier this morning, and we're waiting on them to get back to us.”
“Is that really necessary? It is just producing gasses right now.”
“Two weeks ago it was a horse pasture. Now there are times it steams like Yellowstone."
There was a moment of silence from the assistant administrator. She finally spoke, “Yes. Of course. You're right. I will pass your conclusions along to the department secretary.” She paused, "Let me know what the landowner says about the monitoring station. In fact, you may tell them that our office is in favor of that, and I'll see about contributing some resources for it."
"Excellent, I even have a student research assistant in mind to run it."
"That's good to know. Thank you."
Trenier hung up and then looked at his cell phone, "It's a good thing it's fully charged, I've got a lot of calls to make."
[Note: All geologic features are documented or theorized. No horse pastures were destroyed in the writing of this fictional story. All individuals are fictional. Thank You the Author. ]
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