The Rock Record- New Zealand Story

Dunite and cold oatmeal:  Learning a tough lesson about inclusion on South Island, New Zealand

A story by Caroline Wachtman

As I jumped down from the helicopter onto the barren, rocky ground I was feeling invincible.  I was a second year Master’s Student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and had just arrived in New Zealand to conduct a two-month long field work campaign to map and sample dunite in the Red Hills Mountains that are located in the northern part of the South Island.  I was testing a hypothesis that the olivine grains in mantle rocks kept a record of deformation events and that was preserved in the grain’s lattice preferred orientation.
The terrain was otherworldly (where Lord of the Rings was filmed).  Few plants grow on mantle rocks like dunite, pyroxenite and serpentenite because of the chemical composition of the rocks.  Almost no wildlife existed, except for wetas, 6-in long cricket-type insects.  And it was remote.  The field site was about 20 km from the nearest road, which made helicopter transport essential.  We would get one trip in and one trip out.  On that clear, sunny, windy day, I watched the helicopter fly off and looked around.  I had my field assistant, a satellite phone, my rock hammer, my backpack, and a plastic tub of food to last for about eight weeks. 

Caroline in the Red Hills of South Island, New Zealand upon realizing she did not pack fuel for the stove.

The planning for this trip had started months earlier as I formed a data collection plan, gathered maps and literature.  A friend from undergraduate school joined me as a field assistant.  He was another Master’s student and an experienced fieldworker.  We both knew that the project budget allowed for little more than oatmeal and instant soup every day.  To stretch our budget as far as possible, I had planned a detailed list of all the supplies we would need to take with us for the two-month field season.  After nearly 28 hours of travel we arrived in Nelson, New Zealand on a warm, sunny January morning. We headed to the grocery store to buy the items on my list and prepared for our helicopter transport to the field.  We were ready.

When jumped down from the helicopter and stepped out onto the barren mountain ridge.  We quickly started to make camp by setting up our tent and kitchen area.  As I unpacked our plastic tub of supplies, my heart plummeted to my stomach and feelings of embarrassment, frustration, and fear swept over me.  I had not packed any fuel for the stove!  There were no natural fuel sources to start a campfire.  We were facing the demoralizing prospect of eating cold oatmeal and cold soup for the next two months.  I double checked my detailed list and realized that stove fuel was…absent.

In the moments that followed, I realized that I had not included my field assistant or anyone else on the trip planning process.  I had planned it alone, and I had planned it poorly.  Had others reviewed my grocery list, someone would likely have noticed that fuel was missing.  I could have potentially prevented this gastronomically displeasing, and possibly life-threatening scenario had I been more inclusive. 

In the years that followed, I’ve gone on to lead multi-disciplinary teams solving world-wide subsurface technical problems.  The lesson that I learned that morning in New Zealand has directly impacted the way I approach interacting with those teams.   I try my best to be inclusive in the planning process so that the execution of the plan is more efficient and effective.  I don’t want myself or my colleagues to be stuck on the side of a mountain eating cold oatmeal ever again!  

If you are interested in reading more about mantle overprinting, you can check out these papers from the author, Caroline (Webber) Wachtman:
Webber, C.E., Newman, J., Holyoke, C., Little, T., Tikoff, B., 2010, Fabric development in cm-scale shear zones in ultramafic rocks, Red Hills, New Zealand: Tectonophysics, v. 489, p. 55-75.
Webber, C.E., Little, T., Newman, J., Tikoff, B., 2008, Fabric Superposition in Upper Mantle Peridotite, Red Hills, New Zealand: Journal of Structural Geology, v. 30, p. 1412 – 1428.

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