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  Field Notes From

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From Author

Donovan Webster

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From Photographer

Carsten Peter

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Christa Sadler (top) and Carsten Peter

Inside the Volcano

Field Notes From Author
Donovan Webster
We heard that no one on the island of Ambrym swam because the water is full of sharks. But we were hot and sweaty, so we decided to take a swim anyway. We walked down the black volcanic-sand beach, stripped off our clothes, and hit the water. It was great! The water is black, and when you float on your back your chest and stomach get covered with grains of volcanic ash. We probably spent an hour in the water, and nobody was eaten by a shark. The first night we went on the top of the volcano was a bad one for me. I went to bed terrified, knowing that the next morning I was going in. All night long I could hear the volcano rumbling. Fortunately the unknown was much worse than the reality, but you just never know. I lay in bed that night thinking that tomorrow I could die. Sulfur and chlorine gases pour out of these vents all the time. Mixed with the rainy climate, the gases form hydrochloric acid and hydrosulfuric acid. They’re very corrosive. The first day the TV crew lost seven cameras from exposure to the air. Franck Tessier, one of the expedition members, wrapped everything metal—including his watch—in saran wrap to protect them from corrosion. The acid even ate my eyeglasses. But because this relatively strong acid is flying around in the form of rain, you get really clean. It eats the top layer off your skin.

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