Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nice Quake Swarm At Salton Buttes Volcano

Well it looks like a little bit of action is happening just East of my hometown of San Diego, as a vigorous quake swarm is occurring at the Salton Buttes volcanic field at California's Salton Sea. The largest quake is a magnitude 4.1 quake, with two others registering 3.3. The shallow depth of about 3.5km suggests this is probably tectonic, but it is too early to know, and USGS does not issue frequent updates on CALVO's website.

Google Earth snapshot with USGS Real-Time Quake overlay.

The quakes in general range from about 6km depth to 3km depth. While it is unlikely that this is a magma intrusion, due to the location of the faults, its not impossible. The area is highly geothermal, and much of the areas electricity is generated from geothermal energy plants. Boiling mud volcanoes also exist and have been active for some time.

Image of Salton Sea Mud Volcanoes (date and photographer unknown)

According to the Smithsonian GVP, "A recent partial survey conducted by David K. Lynch and Paul M. Adams of Red Island, previously known as Red Hill, in Southern California, USA, has resulted in the discovery of five steaming hot vents on the SW flank of the northern Salton Buttes volcanic field...
...Until recent work by Lynch and others (2011) and Schmidt and others (2013), the Salton Buttes were thought to have been formed by extruded magma during the late Pleistocene, ~16,000 BP. Age dates for some lavas are now dated to closer to 2,000 BP, much younger than originally understood, bringing closer scrutiny of the Buttes by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) California Volcano Observatory and other agencies concerned with geological threats in California (Lynch and Adams, unpublished draft).."

This is important to note, the Salton Buttes are much younger than previously thought, and indeed, are quite young for a California volcanic system. So quake swarms such as this warrant a bit of vigilance.

No eruption is imminent, and the area is well monitored. But this is certainly an exciting little swarm, and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Second Massive Quake Strikes Nepal

Only a little over a week since the mega-quake in Nepal, a second 7.4 quake has now struck the beleaguered region. After a confirmed death toll of over 8,000 people, misery has been piled on top of misery as another massive quake struck the region just moments ago. This is likely to doom those who were awaiting miraculous rescue, and exacerbate the situation in the already traumatized and crumbled nation.

This quake is another large quake for the subduction zone where the Indian plate collides with the Asian plate. The fault will likely distribute this energy to other parts of the subduction zone, resulting in yet more large quakes and aftershocks.

Google Earth screenshot with USGS Real-time quake overlay.

This fault zone does not lie on the so-called "Ring of Fire" which is responsible for the majority of Earth's seismicity. Rather, this fault is the result of the slow but steady collision of the Indian continent with the Asian continent. Unlike the Ring of Fire, this is the highest fault line on the planet, and therefore capable of some very large quakes.

The last quake caused nearly 30 aftershocks, some over mag 6.0. It is likely the region will experience heavy seismic turbulence and uncertainty in the coming weeks, with the potential for equal or larger quakes.

Anyone who lives near this area should be advised to evacuate, or at the least be ready for more disasters, if they have not been affected already.

If you would like to donate to relief efforts, there are multiple agencies and campaigns. This country will likely need a lot of help in terms of food, clothing, shelter and medical supplies.

Again, it is likely that severe quake activity in this region will continue for some time.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Long Series Of Quakes At Mono Lake

Mono Lakes Eastern shore has been shaking lately. A lot. This has been going on for around a week now, as I have kept my eyes on it. Nobody is writing anything particularly useful about the goings-on there, so I thought it would be good to mention it.

Screenshot of Mono Lake quake swarm from Google Earth with USGS Real-time quake overlay.
The Eastern shore of Mono Lake is experiencing a couple of small shallow quake swarms, although some quakes have reached magnitude three or higher. This is likely hydrothermal or tectonic in nature, and not volcanic. The area does have cold springs, and an active magma chamber below, so it is likely that this is what is referred to as a spasmodic swarm. Plainly, the shifting of fluids within the upper crust due to hydrothermal changes.

What this means isn't certain for Mono Lake, which had it's last spate of activity some 100-200 years ago, when a rhyolitic cryptodome uplifted lake sediments to form the large central island. So the volcano absolutely does have a fairly recent history of activity. Tufa towers from hot and cold springs line the lake, attesting to its continued heat below.

Quake swarms like this are very common in the area however, as it is also a very tectonically active zone with many criss-crossing faults. It is as likely a scenario as a spasmodic swarm, and this could simply be crustal adjustments due to fault stress.

In any case the swarm is interesting and of note, so I'm keeping my eye on it. It's probable that nothing will happen at Mono Lake as a result of this and life will go on. But you never know with volcanoes, and this is a fairly large one. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Hakoneyama Volcano In Japan Put On Alert [UPDATED 5-8-2015]

According to an article on The Asahi Shimbun, Hakoneyama (Hakone) Volcano in Japan has been put on alert, and visitors restricted from visiting the summit. Hakoneyama is the close neighbor to Mt. Fuji, which has according to experts been in a state of high pressure for some time now.

Hakoneyama has not erupted for some 2900 years, although the numerous hot springs, geysers, and fumeroles within the caldera point to an active magma system. Recent seismicity has given reason for the high alert status. According to the article, many shallow quakes have been recorded in the last month, with 16 quakes recorded on April 26th, and 72 from May 2-4.

Image from JMA detailing locations of quakes.

According to the article, inflation is being recorded at the volcano. While this does not point to an imminent eruption, this volcano was on the same large subduction zone that was affected by the infamous 9.0 quake of 2011, which caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a massive tsunami, and associated disasters. Quakes of that magnitude in active volcanic zones can produce some surprises.

Japan is likely more wary of volcanic unrest after Mount Ontake erupted with little warning, killing hikers and tourists, and stranding many in mountainside lodges. It was the worst volcanic disaster for Japan in recent times. The caution can and will save lives should the volcano erupt.

The Smithsonian GVP Characterizes the volcano as such:

"Hakoneyama volcano is truncated by two overlapping calderas, the largest of which is 10 x 11 km wide. The calderas were formed as a result of two major explosive eruptions about 180,000 and 49,000-60,000 years ago. Scenic Lake Ashi lies between the SW caldera wall and a half dozen post-caldera lava domes that were constructed along a SW-NE trend cutting through the center of the calderas. Dome growth occurred progressively to the south, and the largest and youngest of these, Kamiyama, forms the high point of Hakoneyama. The calderas are breached to the east by the Hayakawa canyon. A phreatic explosion about 3000 years ago was followed by collapse of the NW side of Kamiyama, damming the Hayakawa valley and creating Lake Ashi. The latest magmatic eruptive activity about 2900 years ago produced a pyroclastic flow and a lava dome in the explosion crater, although phreatic eruptions took place as recently as the 12-13th centuries CE. Seismic swarms have occurred during the 20th century. Lake Ashi, along with major thermal areas in the caldera, forms a popular resort area SW of Tokyo"

Since this is a breaking news story, and from Japan, it will be difficult to monitor the situation by normal means, but I'll keep an eye out, and should anything develop, I will update this post.

*****UPDATE 5/8/2015*****

Japan's Meteorologial Agency (JMA) raised the alert level of Hakoneyama to alert level RED. This is more than likely out of an abundance of caution, but after the eruption of Ontake, this is a prudent step. Volcanic tremor remains elevated, and steam vents are becoming more vigorous. If Hakoneyama were to erupt, it would be the first eruption in historical time. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Kilauea Lava Lake Overflows

The lava lake at Kilauea's Hale'ma'uma'u crater/caldera has overflowed, for the first time since it's 2008 debut. This follows a rockfall event on the lake rim, which resulted in some minor explosive activity.

Seismicity at Kilauea has been high of late, which may indicate a fresh injection of magma into the chamber. Kilauea's neighbor, Mauna Loa, is also undergoing a period of inflation and higher than normal seimicity.

It is likely that the mantle plume which feeds the Hawaiian volcanic chain is undergoing a period of higher pressure or activity. The plume is responsible for all of the islands that exist in the chain, as are most 'hotspot' type volcanic systems.

The activity so far has not been threatening or dangerous to any population. The lava lake is situated within a much larger caldera, which sits inside an even larger caldera. There is no possibility from the lava in the lake to escape the caldera rim at the current time.

The activity has drawn far more visitors than normal for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Inevitably, someone has attempted to fly a drone over the lava lake. This resulted in a scuffle with park rangers, and the eventual use of a taser.

It should be mentioned, that in any US National Park, flying personal drones is illegal. This is due to damage that can be caused to park features, as occurred recently in Yellowstone, where a hobbyist flew, and crashed his drone into the Grand Prismatic Pool, one of Yellowstone's star features. This drone cannot be retrieved due to the temperatures of the pool. The chemical properties of the drone can alter the chemistry of the lake, damage the bacterial mats that give color to the pool, thus altering the appearance.

National Parks worldwide are under similar threats, even if sometimes they are a bit silly. Sometimes, they're downright despicable.

It is important when visiting any US National Park to know the rules, maintain safety, and avoid damaging any feature of a park. The PopSci article above doesn't actually seem to touch on the fact that there has been a rash of defacing national parks, and careless drone usage.

I came across that article on Facebook, which was accompanied by the quote "What was the drone going to do? Hurt the lava?"

Well, no. However... there exists plenty of video that shows what happens when foreign objects (not rocks or lava) are tossed into lava lakes, like Kilauea's. I have no clue how large this drone was, but I know a fair amount about electronics, as I am a computer engineer by trade. Silicon, heavy/rare earth metals, polycarbonates (plastics), carbon and more are present in any electronic system. The linked video shows a bag of mere garbage being tossed into a lava lake. The result is an explosive reaction, occasionally violent.

Now, imagine there were people around the area where the drone was being flown. Currently, the HVO has closed off the observation area of the lake, the reasoning for which was demonstrated by the rockfall into the lake and subsequent minor explosion. Lava is a mix of dissolved gases, molten rock, and more. Adding chemicals, such as those included in drones, to lava lakes upsets that chemistry, in many cases explosively. This could cause injury or death if done carelessly... which is what I expect was the reasoning behind tasering the hobbyist.

Regardless of the opinion of myself or others, our National Parks are under constant threat of careless tourists. If you choose to visit a US volcanic national park, please take care not to provoke the law, and respect the environment which has been preserved for you, and others to enjoy. It is unacceptable to take ignorant actions, or resort to flat out vandalism when you visit these places. Tasering a hobbyist may seem extreme, but keep in mind, one careless hobbyist can wreck a national treasure or UNESCO World Heritage Site with little to no effort, ruining the experience for millions, if not billions, of people.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chile's Calbuco Volcano Erupts, Forcing Evacuations

A long-dormant stratovolcano in Southern Chile, Calbuco Volcano erupted yesterday and last night with a small eruption at first, followed by a massive explosion. Several thousand people were forced to evacuate nearby towns as pyroclastic flows, ash fall and created hazardous conditions for those living near the volcano.

The volcano last erupted some 40 years ago, with several eruptions smaller than the current one. According To the Smithsonian GVP, the largest historical eruptions of the volcano occurred from 1893 to 1894, and subsequent eruptions merely added to the growing complex lava dome at the summit . It is likely that during this explosive eruption, much of the lava dome was probably destroyed , but it is too early to know if that is certain. Judging by the amount of pyroclasts, and ash, it seems that this is the likeliest scenario.

The military has-been called in to evacuate the area around the volcano, and to help preserve order.

The eruption has caused jams at nearby airports as people flood in to evacuate, which is exacerbated by the ash fall which can prevent aircraft from taking off. When volcanic ash enters most jet engines, it gets super-heated and can stick to the engine housings, causing the engine to stall. In some cases it has caused plans to crash, while in others the aircraft was reliable to recover.

It is unknown how much advanced warning this volcano gave. Chaiten's famous eruption in 2008 had given very little warning when it erupted, destroying it's rhyolite dome, and the nearby town of the same name. Chile's volcanoes are occasionally monitored, but since there are so many potentially active volcanoes, monitoring them all is a bit problematic so far. Many of them are extremely tall, and inhospitable to humans, so that task is daunting. 

I will update this blog post as the story develops.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mauna Loa Quake Activity Increases

During the past couple weeks, Mauna Loa, Hawaii's largest and historically most active volcano, has been exhibiting more quake activity at its summit, and SW rift zone. HVO is monitoring the situation. Inflation restarted in the volcano in 2010, and a slow but gradual inflation is taking place. This is a bit unusual, as Kilauea is still pumping plenty of lava out and consistently creating new land. Typically, Mauna Loa only inflates when Kilauea is not active. It would be highly unusual, however not unprecedented, for both volcanoes to be erupting at the same time.

Many shallow quakes exceeding magnitude 2.0-3.5 have occurred near the summit. Fumerole temperatures remain slightly elevated.

The latest report from HVO states:

"MAUNA LOA VOLCANO (VNUM #332020) 19°28'30" N 155°36'29" W, Summit Elevation 13681 ft (4170 m) Current Volcano Alert Level: NORMAL Current Aviation Color Code: GREEN

Monitoring data through the month of March 2015:

Seismicity: Seismicity at Mauna Loa remains elevated in several parts of the volcano. Earthquake rates on the Upper Southwest Rift Zone (Sulfur Cone) and Mokuʻāweoweo Crater remain elevated, with over 100 earthquakes occurring in March. Though there were no swarms on the west flank of Mauna Loa, earthquake rates remained above background with approximately 25 earthquakes occurring in March. All earthquakes in the past month have been small relative to earthquake sequences observed before eruptions in 1975 and 1984.

Deformation: The pattern of motion of continuously recording GPS stations in March indicate that inflation continues. Average velocities since the start of the current inflationary period in mid-2014 are not quite as fast, but very similar to those observed in 2005 which, along with a short period in 2002, had been the time of highest observed velocities since GPS monitoring started in the mid-1990's.

Background: Re-inflation of Mauna Loa's shallow magma storage reservoirs started immediately following the most recent eruption in 1984, then turned to deflation for almost a decade. In mid-2002, inflation started again, just after a brief swarm of deep long-period (LP) earthquakes. A more intense swarm of several thousand deep Long Period (LP) earthquakes occurred in late 2004, immediately preceding a dramatic increase in inflation rate. Inflation slowed again in 2006, ceased altogether in late 2009, and resumed slowly in late 2010."

It is unclear how April's upcoming report will look, however there have been much larger quakes at the summit compared to March. They are still below the magnitudes preceding the earthquakes in the above report.

It is likely Mauna Loa is entering into a heightened phase of activity, but it is impossible to know when it will erupt, however HVO will certainly have more advanced notice since it's last time, as monitoring techniques and technology are by far more advanced than they were in the 1970's and 80's.

For now, I am keeping my eye on this volcano.