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Maitri’s VatulBlog

This is the blog of Maitri Erwin. I am a geoscientist, first vice president of the Geophysical Society of Houston, Society of Exploration Geophysicists Women’s Network leader, publisher of MaitriLAB and Back Of Town, and Project Gutenberg board member. More in About. Here is where you can find me. Blog posts follow below.



Featured Image Brain coral on a dying reef | Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands | 2017

Hey, VatulBloggers, do you remember how to say HURRICANE? Now a Houston resident hunkering down for Hurricane Harvey, the blog has reawakened for some old school hurricane liveblogging. You can also find me @Maitri on Twitter and Instagram for quick updates in the case that power, wireless network, will to update blog, etc. get knocked out here at VatulBlog World HQ.

Was it really 2005 when a Category 3 last made landfall on these United States? The number of and accessibility to media outlets sure have grown since then, when this medium was really the only way to reach and inform a mass audience. A dozen years in which to increase the signal, but with it grew the noise and walled gardens, so here we are. Back at the old personal, archived liveblog again, where I control the timeline and feed.

Updates From The Front:

September 4th, 2017 14:27 CDT My office building ostensibly reopens tomorrow, but questions remain about mobility and safety in the greater Energy Corridor area, given the ongoing release of water from the large west Houston dams into Buffalo Bayou. Further, wastewater plants in the area have flooded and are still being repaired, raising concerns over the normal use of office buildings. I warned folks that re-entry is not going to be straightforward.

September 3rd, 2017 22:45 CDT Flooding in Kingwood, where we evacuated to right before Katrina made landfall and where we slept through Rita. That smell of decay takes months, sometimes years, to dissipate completely, and haunts my olfactory memory still.

September 3rd, 2017 0:12 CDT Dear Houston, here’s what you can expect next

There of course were some differences. Our flooding came thanks to failed levees designed to protect us, while your flooding came from rains of biblical proportions thanks to a stubborn storm that refused to leave. How you came to suffer, though, is not as important as the fact that you are suffering and for many the toughest part is yet to come. You’ll be challenged emotionally again and again and again.

September 2nd, 2017 17:19 CDT Advice I received from Karen Gadbois, friend, OG NOLA blogger and co-founder of the New Orleans Lens. “Take care of you and yours. Scream at people and agencies that deserve it and write or record every conversation with insurance agents. And breathe breathe breathe.”

September 2nd, 2017 13:46 CDT Lt. General Russel Honoré, former commander of Joint Task Force Katrina and ultimate badass, says, “Stop congratulating each other.” This goes double for humblebragging by some members of the mainstream and citizen media (and Houston chef-lebrities). The disaster has just begun.

September 2nd, 2017 08:30 CDT Buffalo Bayou Harvey timelapse

September 1st, 2017 10:48 CDT Overhearing casual talk of insurance fraud and how to profit from the upcoming FEMA recovery business opportunities. But, by all means, let’s condemn, arrest and prosecute those who steal small amounts of necessities so that they can stay ALIVE DURING A DISASTER. If the moneyed thieve, they’re canny and strategic. The desperate poor looking out for themselves? Throw them in the dungeons!

September 1st, 2017 CDT Houston resources if you can help, or you need help, compiled by photographer, awesome person and fellow nerd Chuck Cook:

August 30th, 2017 21:20 CDT  ArsTechnica | This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same by Eric Berger of Space City Weather. It’s always the tragedy after the tragedy. We never fail at making things worse. Read the paragraph below and commit it to memory.

If Houston is to remain the prosperous, vibrant, great city that it was before Harvey, we are going to have to take a hard look at our unfettered development and willingness to let almost anyone build almost anywhere, including in floodplains. Our state officials are going to have to recognize that these events will be possible again, especially in a warmer world. I’m not holding my breath for all that to happen. And as dark as these last five days have been, that may be the biggest tragedy of all.

August 29th, 2017 13:20 CDT Map of Houston area flooded streets.

August 29th, 2017 11:00 CDT Still high and dry, but we probably have one or two more big whips of rain to get through before this system moves to the east. Not like I want it to move east over New Orleans on the 12th anniversary of Katrina or any day, for that matter. Each rescue chopper that flies southward over the house tears my heart open a little more, and once again, I feel so useless just sitting here as I did a dozen years ago. Domingo and I will head down to the George R Brown convention center to drop off clothing and supplies, and volunteer if required, and I am helping raise money for Houston Food Bank. Even a dollar you can spare will go a long way to help exhausted and hungry people in need. Houstonians, if you need anything, my home is open to you.

August 28th, 2017 15:45 CDT Pictures from today’s survey. We managed to leave Oak Forest after checking out White Oak Bayou, made it all the way down to Sawyer Heights and Rice Military in the Buffalo Bayou watershed and then drove back home through Timbergrove and Shady Acres. The water has gone down quite a bit across the northern Inner Loop as of this morning, but expect flood levels to fluctuate over the next few days.

Still flooded at the corner of Studemont and Washington

August 27th, 2017 13:00 CDT Pictures from our mid-morning survey of Oak Forest. All major roadways out of Oak Forest are Difficult Navigation to Impassable, so stay put! White Oak Bayou has crested and has overflown TC Jester Blvd, Rosslyn and Watonga, making its way into the neighborhood. Our area within Oak Forest is an island with a wide moat forming around us.

White Oak Bayou at TC Jester and Latexo

August 26th, 2017 19:53 CDT The skies were quiet all day with rain and damaging winds going around Houston’s inner loop. Well, we’ve gone from 0 to Tornado Warning, with the power flickering, winds picking up, and us preparing to take shelter in an inner room. Stay tuned.

August 26th, 2017 08:00 CDT Power still on. Cable and internet out. Local rain gauge measures roughly 4″ in the last 24 hours. Harvey is now a tropical storm that is expected to sit and swirl over Houston until Wednesday morning. Great, I always wanted a large moat around my property.

August 25th, 2017 22:45 CDT Neighborhood hurricane party! Harvey is making landfall right now as a Category 4 between Port O’Connor and Port Aransas. This is me at this time. Seriously, I hope everyone on the coast evacuated and we don’t hear of deaths and stranded residents in the coming days.

August 25th, 2017 18:36 CDT Harvey is now a Category 4 storm ~60 miles offshore. Swell. And swell.

August 25th, 2017 17:39 CDT The second band of rains is here. Bayou levels in the Greater Heights and Near Northwest – “Water just out of the channel, but well below the grass at W 34th and TC Jester”

August 25th, 2017 15:54 CDT

Via KHOU.com Hurricane Central

Useful Links:


On Writing (Anywhere)

in categories: blogging & bloggers, social media

Today I received a note from a Twitter egg that read, “what papers have u published in this area. very interested to find out more” Putting aside the lack of punctuation and that it was a response to a pithy two-year-old observation on the questionable usefulness of “groundbreaking” academic studies, it’s a very good question. What papers have I published in my current area of oil and gas exploration? None. Depressingly none. Not that I haven’t begged and pleaded with management, only to be rejected by the lawyers citing proprietorship, confidentiality, etc.  Welcome to the world of frontier exploration, upstream of the upstream business, where concepts aren’t even embryos but their constituent molecules floating in space seeking purpose. We’re the ones who painstakingly forage for and wade through data and hypotheses, winnow them, pick the good stuff (we think) and synthesize all into a geological play model to test with a well. It is sad that we give nothing back to the terabytes of published literature gathered and analyzed, but never let it be said we don’t write. We’re always writing – summaries, studies, reports, white papers, proposals, authorizations, you name it – and 75% of it doesn’t see daylight inside our organization. What an exciting place to be, I just can’t talk about it. There’s your answer, eggdude.

Speaking of “can’t,” there are also the physiological roadblocks. Pity our modern hand joints, for they are overused and poorly upkept things. Keyboarding, mousing, smartphoning, driving, cooking, lifting, hauling, bicycling, strumming, holding, how do our bodies adapt to rapidly-changing requirements? Or they don’t, and we’re prescribed painkillers and steroids, which explains our latest drug problem. Now that the base of my left thumb has been relocated to its rightful position and is also bionic following a bicycle accident at the end of 2015 (it took a year and three doctors to figure out what was wrong, yay American healthcare), it’s important that I resume writing here.

While I am very vocal on some social media, it just doesn’t feel right. All of it. I don’t want to speak solely into a purposeful mishmash of walled garden and popularity pageant with little user control. When you have the Twitter A-list and Promoted Posts, and the real conversations happen in secret Facebook groups, something is fundamentally wrong. For instance, South Asian Americans have never needed Sepia Mutiny as a well-moderated but open and searchable blog more than since January 20th 2017, but it is an extinct resource. A former mutineer countered that “Sepia was then. There’s a profusion of new desi media now. To me, the hardest thing is figuring out how to cut through the noise of too much desi media.” It’s wonderful that there are so many more outlets now and, as for “cutting through the noise,” that’s a failing of currently-available search engines, not an abundance of media. There’s a lot of everything out there, including meaningful conversations. That is a good thing but something doesn’t click: We no longer have easy access to archived information, moderated conversations and the communities that form and thrive on them. If we want to openly converse and organize around the concepts of science, reason and progress instead of whatever your uncle read on crazyunclebait.com and threw up on FB, I submit one way is to get back to long-form writing. The kind that forces us to work through our thoughts, share our work and tell our stories so that others may benefit and give back. Or write and who cares who reads it.

This year, I’m running a new experiment: keeping a diary. Nothing fancy, one 6″x8″ page a day. On some days I maunder into the next day’s space and on others I can barely muster “Tired, must sleep.”  The point is I have to write at least one word a day. I also write in my mind as I walk, and wish there were a brain-wave transcription device. The journey between brain and tongue, pen and keyboard is often too long. Hence the diary, and the notebooks in office, purse, living room. Write now. Rearrange later.

In the seventeen years I’ve kept this blog, the highest activity followed disasters (9/11, Bush II, the second Gulf War, Katrina, the BP oil spill). And here we are at President T. rump. Or Fear and Low-Grade Depression in America, as I refer to the whole heartbreaking debacle.  There’s something to be said about open writing at a time when hate incidents against people who look like me are on the rise. It’s either “You’re stupid” or “We need it,” and both answers are terrifying. Without science and women’s rights, I am quite literally nothing. So, how can I stay quiet?

I write because I can; it’s a privilege considering those who cannot or aren’t allowed to. I encourage you to do so, too, I’d love to read it. Write what you would want to read in the papers and magazines, anywhere. No one ever died from too much information and perspective, but they did from not having access to a lot of it. Hi, blog, my old friend, it’s nice to be back.


Only 11 days until the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Annual Meeting in Dallas! The Women’s Network Committee has worked very hard and is currently putting the final touches on a number of high-quality events pertinent to women in the field of applied geophysics. Please plan on attending at least one, if not all, of these events to grow your network, identify areas for personal and group action and help build a better geophysical society.

  1. Networking event [PDF]: Monday 5:00 – 6: 30 PM at the Omni Hotel. A brief welcome and introduction to the SEG Women’s Network on my part will immediately precede the featured Pioneers in Geophysics posters that highlight five pioneering women in geophysics. Networking will begin immediately thereafter. Tickets for this event are $20 each. Students are eligible for half-price tickets if they bring a friend.
  2. Women’s Network Breakfast [PDF]: Wednesday 8:30 – 11:00 AM at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. The breakfast features keynote speaker Patty Walker, ExxonMobil Chief Geoscientist (pictured at top right above), and a working breakout session. The theme for the breakfast is Brand Me for Change and the breakout session is on the topic of What can the Women’s Network Committee (WNC) do for SEG members during trying times? Tickets are once again $20 each with students eligible for half-price entry with a +1.
  3. Post conference workshopWorkplace Navigating: How to Recognize and Avoid Bias and Bullying in the Workplace [PDF]: Thursday 1:30 – 5:00 PM at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. This workshop will focus on discussing and providing tips for navigating the workplace when there is bias and bullying. It will offer strategies for dealing with the offender without triggering backlash. This workshop is timely because in the last couple of years, the industries and institutions that focus on oil and gas exploration/production have suffered significant down-sizing due to the ongoing oil burst. This inevitably increases anxiety and job security concerns in the workforce, leading to unhealthy competition which can trigger increased hostility in the work place for everyone, particularly junior staff members, under-represented minorities and female professionals. This workshop which will be led by expert sociologist, Professor Sheryl Skaggs of the University of Texas at Dallas (at bottom left in the picture above).

I really look forward to seeing you all again in Dallas! If you plan to follow along at home, I will be live-tweeting via @maitri and @SEG_WNC with the hashtag #SEGAM2016.


August 29th, 2016. It’s 2016 and this country still hasn’t figured out that the disaster is never the event itself, but everything that happens or doesn’t in the aftermath.

Losing their homes will be the least of the worries of East Baton Rouge residents.  New Orleans Advocate | Insurance concerns: Half the flooded East Baton Rouge homes not in ‘high-risk’ areas

If you’re a homeowner in any of these fifty United States and haven’t purchased flood insurance in the last week, you’re not paying attention.

Humans are remarkably forgetful creatures. This amnesia is great for protection from continued trauma, but, boy, do we ever repeat history and in bad ways.

Once it “fell apart over Cuba,” I let go of worrying that TD9 was heading right for us. I let go more often now, but can never forget.

Brett Anderson | Louisiana loses its boot

Our fate is your fate.


Women in geoscience. What are we all about? What are some of our barriers to progress? How do these issues affect those working in academia vs. industry or office vs. field? What can we solve now and what may take time? If you want to know more, especially about the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Women’s Network, listen to the first-ever episode of the Seismic Soundoff podcast. Women In Geophysics is hosted by SEG’s Andrew Geary and me, and features a conversation with Klaas Koster, former SEG president who helped launch the SEG women’s network and all-around cool dude, a Q&A with Sally Zinke, the first female president of the SEG and fellow Wisconsin graduate, and inspiring stories from geophysicists all over the world.

There’s a whole host of women’s events coming up at the various applied geophysical society meetings this year. These events are open to all interested from any facet of the applied geophysics profession. I invite you to attend and help me spread the word among your colleagues, especially students. In fact, my challenge to you is to invite at least 10 geoscientists in your network to the following events.

Women in Geosciences Forum at ICE 2016: How To Divesify and Take Control of Your Career In The Industry Downturn A special forum featuring a diverse, interactive panel, will be offered by the AAPG Professional Women in Geosciences (PROWESS) Committee and the SEG Women’s Network Committee (WNC) at ICE Cancun 2016. I will be a part of this panel with Sylvia Anjos, Victor Ramirez, Elena Centeno, Robbie Gries and Susan Morrice.



Women’s Network events at the SEG Annual Meeting in Dallas

SEG’s Women’s Network Committee will offer four events at this year’s SEG annual meeting!

  1. Evening networking event A brief welcome and introduction to the SEG Women’s Network by WNC Chair (me) will immediately precede the featured Pioneers in Geophysics posters that highlight a few pioneering women in geophysics.
  2. Women’s Network Committee business meeting Join us to discuss strategy and make plans for the coming year that include development of short, mid-term, and long term plans and goals. The WNC is actively soliciting new members to represent South America, Europe/Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific.
  3. Sixth Annual Women’s Network Breakfast The breakfast features keynote speaker Patricia E. Walker, Chief Geoscientist of ExxonMobil followed by a breakout session on what the Women’s Network Committee can do for SEG members during trying times?
  4. WNC’s Inaugural Post-Conference Workshop Workplace Navigating: How to Recognize and Avoid Bias and Bullying facilitated by Dr. Sheryl Skaggs, professor of sociology at University of Texas – Dallas, will focus on discussing and providing tips for navigating the workplace when there is bias and bullying.

Both the evening networking event and breakfast are only $20 a ticket and half-price for students if they bring a friend. No excuses, folks!


If you’re in Houston on November 10th, please plan on attending a Diversity and Women’s Network happy hour, brought to you by Geophysical Society of Houston and SEG Women’s Network. More information coming soon.


What are some of the women in geoscience events you are attending?