Monday, April 30, 2012

New Info On Yellowstone Suggests "Super Eruption" Was Two Smaller Eruptions

Yellowstone volcano has long thought to have had a large super eruption over 2 million years ago, but new evidence is suggesting that while 2 million years ago Yellowstone DID erupt with a VEI 7 or 8 eruption, it was not as big as once thought, and was followed 6,000 years later by a smaller eruption. The result was an ash layer that appeared to be one layer but was actually two. This suggests that Yellowstone is NOT as powerful as once thought, but is more active.

The study revealed that the Island Park Caldera is actually much more active than previously thought, and the new information might assist scientists in better predicting an eruption from Yellowstone, given that the timeline has now changed. The last magmatic eruption in the Yellowstone caldera was some 70,000 years ago, and an episode of phreatic eruptions that created a 5km wide crater (now Yellowstone Lake). 

Scientists were using a new "Rock Clock" method to determine the ages of ash and rock layers within the Huckleberry Ridge, and were surprised at the data they found. The data suggests that Yellowstone's explosive eruptions were around 12 percent weaker than previously thought, but smaller eruptions are actually more numerous. The last eruptive activity of any kind in Yellowstone occurred somewhere around 1350BC (give or take around 200 years), and was limited to hydrothermal eruptions.

Knowing when, or how, Yellowstone might erupt in the future is one of volcanology's biggest challenges, given the impact an eruption from Yellowstone might have. But the new data seems to shrink the idea that Yellowstone is capable of a world-ending eruption (one thing I highly disagree with most scientists about is that any event on earth is capable of wiping out 'all life'... life did not simply get wiped out and reappear on the planet, there are always survivors). Indeed, the new data seems to suggest that Yellowstone is not capable of "blotting out the sun worldwide", but is still a very dangerous volcano to anyone within about 100KM.

This is good news for anyone who was worried that Yellowstone could be a 'world ender', and probably bad news for anyone who wants to scare people into doomsday nonsense for the tabloids. An eruption from Yellowstone today would likely be much weaker than previous eruptions, given that as far as anyone knows, no new magma has been introduced into the Yellowstone system for a very long time. Scientists theorize that the current magma chamber consists of partially cooled magma known as 'crystal mush', and any eruption would likely result from water flashing into steam when it seeps into hot rock (a phreatic eruption). These types of eruptions are short lived, and very rarely pose a threat outside of 1km, but anything is possible.

In any case, this new info will definitely be helpful to understanding further the history and potential of the Yellowstone caldera.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Alaska's Mt. Iliamna Volcano Rumbles Away

The heightened seismicity at Alaska's mt. Iliamna continues, and today the seismicity is stronger than it has been. At around 6am UTC seismicity increased and is ongoing at this time. This probably indicates further intrusion as the seismicity does appear to be harmonic tremor. Mt. Iliamna has not erupted in historical time, but the mountain displays vigorous fumeroles at the summit and flank. A previous visit by AVO scientists revealed heightened temperatures and gas emissions from the fumeroles, but they were quick to point out that the current unrest is similar to events in the 1990's when magma dike intrusion occurred, but did not lead to an eruption.


Live webicorder of Iliamna seismicity from AVO.


However the current unrest at the volcano is strong compared to previous events, and has now been underway for well over a month or so. It is my guess that intrusion is definitely taking place. Whether or not this actually leads to an eruption remains to be seen, but all the indicators are there.


Live image via AVO webcam of Mt. Iliamna

An eruption at Iliamna would most likely start off explosive, most likely phreatic eruptions. Phreatic eruptions occur when melt water comes into contact with a subterranean heat source like a magma chamber or very hot rock. This results in water flashing into steam and creating a steam driven explosion. Once this occurs, it can release pressure holding back the magma, and would likely enter a dome building phase. Of course, this is speculation because we've never seen the volcano erupt in historical time, and the structure of the volcano is highly eroded by glaciation.

Currently the visual indicators from Iliamna (via webcam) show nothing unusual, but as is the case for volcanoes that haven't recently erupted, this can change suddenly at any time. Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland experienced a couple hundred years of dormancy until seismicity increased, and began with a small fissure eruption, and then a main event that caused a widespread ash cloud to strand passengers in Europe for weeks on end, causing economic hardship in the Eurozone, not to mention a lot of frustration.

Due to Iliamna's location on a heavily trafficked air route, an eruption would cause some travel disruptions if an ash cloud was produced. However, there is no threat to any human population due to its remoteness but ashfall would likely occur in some towns near the area (including the area where the webcam is placed!). Alaskans are no stranger to ash covered homes and cars, as two volcanoes, Cleveland and Augustine frequently erupt and produce fine ash.

As it stands right now, there is no imminent risk of eruption, just heightened temperature and seismicity. You would likely see a much more dramatic rise in harmonic tremor and larger, more frequent, and shallower quakes if the eruption was about to start or was underway. But the best indicator of all, of course, is the webcam and visual observations. Until then, Iliamna rumbles away, keeping us all guessing.



Monday, April 23, 2012

My Beef With a Wired.com Article [Opinion piece]

Recently I happened upon an interesting article (or rant) on Wired.com's Eruptions blog, where the author, Erik Clemetti had challenged readers to describe or otherwise link the technology that would be required to successfully predict an imminent volcanic eruption. You can find my comments in the comments section of the article, but I was immediately like one of those kids who KNOWS the answer to the question in any school class raising his hand "Pick me! Pick me!".

Recently I started looking into what it would take to predict a volcanic eruption. I had seen several National Geographic specials about volcanic eruption prediction, and the pains to which some scientists have gone to make this sort of method or technology a reality. Erik seems to believe that A) No progress has been made and B) that it never will be... Allow me to retort!

First of all, there are some VERY interesting technologies out there to which he might be unaware. One such technology involves using muons (or more specifically, muon detectors). In a recent project undertaken by Japanese scientists, it was shown that placing muon detectors in a 360 degree pattern around a volcano, you can construct a complete 3D image of the volcanoes magma chamber. This technology works by calculating the number of muons flowing through a point in this 3D space to reach its destination. Muons thankfully are formed by the cosmos, so you need no machine, no projector, no generator to produce muons. They fly from all vectors and angles, and continue on uninterrupted until they collide with something (usually something VERY dense like lead, rock, etc). The absence of resistance from the muons travels (ie, the more muons that hit a certain detector at a certain angle) indicates a weak resistance force. This in turn indicates a magma chamber, or void space. This data is then used to create an actual 3D image of the magma chamber... and let me say, I would be skeptical too if I didn't see the tech work on TV. It is now being used to map the chambers of both Mt Shasta in California, and Mt Vesuvius in Sicily.

There are also other very good tell-tale signs that an eruption could be about to occur. Harmonic tremor and long-period events (one in the same really) indicate rising magma underneath the surface. While a recent article about Santorini on MSNBC pointed out that scientists say "90% of the time, magma intrusion does not lead to an eruption", persistent harmonic tremor has preceeded a great many powerful eruptions, most notably (and why harmonic tremor is now considered to be a precursor to an eruption) with a Columbian volcano (Galeras) that erupted, killing many including the volcanologists at the summit), even after the volcanologists had warned that an eruption was imminent. This eruption WAS predicted, and the prediction was ignored.

However, all volcanoes are different. What worked at Galeras does not say, work at Mt Shasta, nor could the same exact method be applied to a great number of volcanoes int he world. Plainly speaking, volcanic eruptions could only be predicted by using specific methods for specific volcanoes, until the day that we have such technology that can predict magma currents in the mantle to the lithosphere with as much accuracy that we do with weather.

Currently, we can tell a volcano is getting ready to erupt by many factors, such as increased harmonic tremor (undetectable without instrumentation most of the time), increased fumerolic or hydrothermal emission, increased SO2 and CO2 emission (indicative of de-gassing magma), deformation (measured via GPS) of the volcano, or frequent volcanic tremors. Couple this with a muon scanner that can tell you if magma is in fact in the chamber... well you have yourself a volcano eruption predicting machine, at least giving you a few days notice before an eruption (speculation, yes, but I imagine quite clearly that this would be one hell of a comprehensive system!).

But do NOT count out human innovation. Using muons to map internal geological structures is not a new idea., and the technologies required to make such a method to predict eruptions might already be available, but simply have not been tied together into the proper medley of technologies so that they are useful to us. If I had to take a wild swing as to when these technologies might be available and in use, I would guess probably 10-20 years from now. It is simply only a matter of time, and innovators are only limited by their imaginations and the materials available. I don't see that being a particular challenge this day and age when open-source collaboration is on an upswing. Just look at the private space travel industry!

In any case, it is my onion that not only can we, as humans, eventually predict eruptions, but the technology is already well underway to do so. So, to the author of Wired, I do appreciate scientific skepticism, but you might want to catch up on the stuff that is already being invented. You might say that scientists are keeping secrets, but I had no trouble in finding information BY SCIENTISTS to the contrary.

What do you think? Post your links to neat geological tech below and let the debate begin! You can see the links to the muon scanners (by the scientists who invented and tested them on volcanoes) below!

http://indico.cern.ch/getFile.py/access?contribId=19&resId=1&materialId=paper&confId=51276 (link to CERN labs explanation of MUONS)

http://www.eri.u-tokyo.ac.jp/yaoki/2010JGR.pdf link to scientific paper by the tech's developers.

El Hierro Activity Still Apparent, Government Pretending It's Not There

The Spanish government at El Hierro is quickly trying to sweep the eruption under the rug. Even while Earthquake-report.com's Joke Volta continues to photograph clear evidence of underwater activity, underwater video showing degassing and small amounts of erupting lava, and even while seismographs continually record weak volcanic tremor, the government has insisted that the eruption is over. And to prove just how serious they are, they are lowing ALL alert levels, including near the eruption zone itself to "green".

This has a lot of people, especially the folks over there at Earthquake-report.com, scratching their heads as to why a government could actually be so careless. This whole eruption at El Hierro has been incredibly mismanaged by their tourism industry, and the government. Indeed the government has even stood in the way of actual scientific data on the eruption even being made public! Their stance has been one of fear, and thus far has crippled the economy of the small town of La Restinga, rather than helped it. From over cautious evacuations to cover ups, to the downright irresponsible LIFTING of the alert level, it seems the only people who know the truth were those that watched the web cams and hovered over the seismic data. And now the webcam is gone.

This has been a very odd volcano to report on, not because of its submarine eruption near a bustling tourist town, but because of the politicization of a volcanic eruption. It is a story that belongs in a bad volcano movie (Sorry Tommy Lee Jones!), not the real world.

Volcanic eruptions, when benign, and non-threatening as El Hierro is, typically should be a boon for communities and countries. Hawaii volcanoes national park in the US regularly draws tens to hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, all who want to see molten lava hit the ocean in giant explosions and witness the birth of new land. Iceland had an incredible surge in tourism when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010. Italy's Etna volcano is famous worldwide for its frequent and spectacular paroxysms. And there are multiple volcanoes in South America such as Arenal, Poas, Tungurahua, and more that are regular draws for tourists and scientists alike...

So why did the El Hierro situation go the exact opposite way? First, the government tried to sweep it under the rug. Then it admitted something was going on, and it overreacted and evacuated large portions of the island, and also TOLD tourists not to show up. After that, they regularly butted heads with scientists, telling them what they could and could not make public about a geological event, sewing distrust. And if you are a regular reader of Earthquake-report.com and Joke Volta's adventures there, you'd know that she is now under pressure to "shut up" by the locals who are starting to blame her and Earthquake-report.com for the lack of tourists (or scaring them away) because of her efforts to document every day of the eruption (which is what GOOD volcanologists DO!).

This is kind of spooky. Why on earth would the Spanish government want to cover up an eruption that is CLEARLY ongoing? Its quite strange and disturbing to think that a government can be so incompetent in regards to a natural geological event. It could have gone so differently for the island of El Hierro and the town of la Restinga. They could have had thousands of sight seers, and busy cafe's, but the government instead scared everyone, and tried to un-do their mistake. Now it's simply a mess, and nobody is very happy about it. 

Island of Fogo Is Having Volcanic Tremor

The island of Fogo looks like something out of a sci fi fantasy movie. A massive island inlayed by a large caldera, with a spire-like volcanic cone in the center that looms high over the tropical landscape. Below the peak of Fogo (Pico do Fogo) lies a paved over, barren landscape, surprisingly home to houses and facilities built atop fresh lava flows. Fogo was one of the first volcanoes that fascinated me, given its striking appearance and remote location. To visit this volcano, for me, would be quite a sight.

Fogo is not a very well-known volcano, but it is capable of some serious eruptions. Indeed the original caldera forming event likely created tsunamis and landslides that would have hit the neighboring islands, and maybe even the African West Coast. The island itself is dotted with cinder cones young and old on its flanks, suggesting a very active life cycle as a volcano. Now, the volcano is getting seismic equipment installed on it, and already, results are coming in pointing to volcanic tremor, and small volcanic earthquakes. Fogo is waking up.  (or was it ever truly asleep?).

Fogo's last eruption occurred in 1995, when a small cinder cone was erupted on the WSW flank of the Fogo peak. This eruption started off as a fissure, and gradually built a cone, and produced slow moving pahoehoe lava flows that pooled at the base of the mountain.


Picture of the 1995 eruption of Fogo, from Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program website. Photo by Dick Moore, 1995 (U.S. Geological Survey)

The Smithsonian GVP Characterizes Fogo here:

"The massive 9-km-wide, horseshoe-shaped Cha caldera truncates the summit of Fogo stratovolcano, the most prominent in the Cape Verde islands. An ash plume (center) rises from the western flank of a steep-sided central cone, Pico, that rises more than 1 km above the caldera floor to form the 2829 m high point of the island. Pico, which is capped by a 500-m-wide, 150-m-deep summit crater, was apparently in almost continuous activity from the time of Portuguese settlement in 1500 AD until about 1760."

An eruption of Fogo today would likely be characterized by another small cinder cone building event, or possibly a larger more explosive event from the summit cone (which has not recently erupted historically speaking), which could be capable of strombolian type, or Hawaiian type eruptions. Flank eruptions on the West side of Fogo were considered to be Holocene, but most eruptions have occurred on the East side of the caldera rim recently. The West side of the island is heavily vegetated and is probably not at risk.

The Portuguese islands of the Cape Verde chain are all volcanoes, or have been volcanoes at one point in time or another (some are very old). Installation of more monitoring equipment is exciting news for some of us who long for a global volcanic monitoring network, and certainly for the scientists who will be poring over reams of seismic data. Every year, volcano monitoring gets better and better, and disasters and deaths are able to be more easily averted due to good early warning systems. It is my thought that within 10-20 years of today, we will actually be able to routinely scan a volcanoes magma reserves to determine whether an eruption is imminent, and when it might occur. The new muon-based mapping technology developed in Japan is a major step forward, and is currently being tested on volcanoes such as Vesuvius, and Fuji. 

If anything new develops on Fogo, you'll read about it here!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Is Geothermal Drilling A Potential Hazard?

News has recently surfaced that a 5.2 earthquake in the heart of Oklahoma was caused by drilling of waste water disposal wells that went some 1.5 miles underground. This apparently resulted in underwater channels opening up, cracks in the rock, and eventually slippage of an old fault line that had some tension but was rather stable before the water lubed up the fractures and produced a large earthquake. This and other stories have been made apparent lately, and with the USGS real-time plugin for Google Earth, you can easily tell that some areas doing deep drilling, hydrofracking, and geothermal prospecting do in fact affect seismicity in the areas that they are produced.

One such area that has a long history of this is Clear Lake/Geysers geothermal field in Northern California. This is one of the worlds largest producing geothermal operations, with more than 20 separate drill holes and facilities dotting the SW rim of the active volcano (it has not erupted in thousands of years, however hot springs, fumeroles, and seismicity indicate the presence of a large silicic magma chamber probably consisting of 'crystal mush'), the area is regularly host to about 20 small tremors in any given week, sometimes up to magnitude 4.0.

Other geothermal areas like Hengill in Iceland experience regular quake swarms as a result of geothermal prospecting.

The evidence for human meddling with fault lines goes back even as far as WWII, when a secret base in Hawaii called "Red Hill" was being constructed, engineers determined that dump trucks and other waste management vehicles would defeat the purpose of a hidden, underground base. So they did what they thought at the time was logical. Drill a gigantic, 1.4mi hole into the earth to dispose of waste products and be done with it. This ended up interacting with hot rock, and lubricating rock fractures, and before they knew it, they were getting many tremors per day, and were (disgustingly) forced to pump out thousands and thousands of gallons of polluted water to stop the quakes. Pretty nasty.

Today, with drilling 'en vogue' in the United States thanks to energy requirements, hydrofracking, waste water drilling, and geothermal prospecting are common nation wide. While industries would love to deny the facts, the facts can speak for themselves. Drilling massive holes in the earth, and pumping liquids into them, will affect the stability of the crust. Plain and simple. While most drilling produces seismicity that nobody notices (1.0 mag-3.0 mag quakes are barely able to be felt), sometimes, such as the 5.2 quake in Oklahoma, the quakes can be damaging and dangerous.

This will not stop industry from drilling these holes. The money is too good, and some of the resources are rare. But understanding the process might make one reconsider living around such a project, or at least, take the mystery and fear away as to "why are earthquakes happening in Oklahoma??". Human activity does affect our planet. It alters our forests, flora, fauna, and our geology. We can level mountains with reckless abandon, and mine our earth for precious and useful minerals... but we are only now realizing how much this can affect the earth's crust. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mexico Raises Popocatepetl Alert Level

One of Mexico's most active volcanoes, Popocatepetl (Smoking Mountain) is showing signs of increased unrest, prompting the local government to raise the alert level to 3 (out of a max of 4), and instituting an exclusion zone of up to 7 miles from the summit. After 40 minutes of volcanic tremor, and some minor exhalations of ash and steam, the volcanoes activity has been steadily increasing over the past couple of days. Popocatepetl's last major eruption in 2000 caused widespread ashfall, but no fatalities.

The volcano, easily seen from Mexico City, is one of Mexico's tallest volcanoes, reaching heights of 17,802 feet at the summit (this does vary as lava domes are made, collapse, and the volcano swells or subsides). It has a long history of explosive eruptions, some of which were plinian in nature (shooting high volumes of ash, lava, and gas high into the atmosphere). The last plinian eruption occurred somewhere around 800AD. The volcano lately has only had short bursts of ash and steam.

The reason for raising the alert level is the amount of time the tremor was sustained. A 40 minute long intense volcanic tremor that was heard and felt by locals means a swift injection of magma into the chamber has probably occurred. This could indicate that "Popo" is gearing up for a large eruption, probably on the scale of its 2000 show. It is still too early to tell if Popo will put on a major eruptive display, or if it will sit and seethe. Incandescence was observed at the summit crater overnight, indicating either a building lava dome, or lava effusion at the summit. This is actually typical of the volcano, which doesn't go long between eruptive episodes, minor or major.

Mexico has suffered several large quakes in the last month, which leads to speculation about the effects of earthquakes on volcanic systems. While the quakes were large, they were actually hundreds of miles away from the actual volcano, so earthquakes affecting this volcanic system from that distance is pretty unlikely.... not impossible, but very unlikely.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cascades Volcanoes, Sleeping Giants

The entire West Coast of the United States, and Canada are strewn with large stratovolcanoes. From Mt. Shasta, to Mt. St Helens, to Rainier, to Glacier Peak, the West Coast is literally pockmarked with large, explosive, and potentially dangerous volcanoes. The Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO), and the newly minted California Volcano Observatory (CalVO), are tasked with monitoring these massive volcanoes that are near heavily populated centers. With so many volcanoes on the West Coast, it is a wonder that not a lot of people out here actually realize how volcanically active California, Oregon, and Washington actually are.

The last eruption of a Cascades range volcano was in May 1980 (actually I need to correct this... Mt St Helens erupted from 2006-2009 with a lava dome building event!), when Mt St Helens ended a very long period of dormancy explosively and with little warning (although with today's technology, we may have seen that eruption coming, but we did not have advanced GPS satellite data to measure deformation, nor did we have the types of seismic knowledge that we do today). Mt. St Helens was a beautiful, conical volcano, which until 1980 was a favorite hiking trail and nature preserve. The eruption, many thousands of times more powerful than a nuclear bomb, wiped out and flattened the landscape for tens of miles around the volcano. The only death was a man ironically named Harry Truman, who refused to leave his mountain home. As many as 57 people were killed in the blast, mostly hikers, and a mountain resident named Harry Truman. One persons ordeal was captured on his camcorder as he attempted to escape the ash cloud, but unfortunately he was unsuccessful. Several others survived lahars and thick ashfall, and lived to tell their stories. This eruption could have been much worse if it occurred in nearly any other Cascades range volcano.... and this is the only eruption that is still fresh in the minds of the US.

There were however eruptions of other Cascades volcanoes within the last century. The eruption of Mt Lassen in 1914-1917 was extremely large, and one of the first eruptions to actually be photographed as it exploded. Huge boulders many tons in mass were flung miles from the summit, pyroclastic flows raged down the sides of the mountain, and ash fall was recorded very far from the volcano. There are very few people alive today who would have witnessed this eruption, and the eruption has all but faded from memory.

Before the Lassen eruption, there was the reported eruption of Shasta in the late 18th century. "Shasta's only historical eruption was observed from the ship of the explorer La Perouse off the California coast in 1786." according to the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Project. While this seems like a long time ago, consider how long St. Helens was dormant for. Shasta, like most other volcanoes in the Cascades still experiences periods of heightened seismicity, and weak geothermal action. Shasta will erupt again, but like St. Helens, it is in a lightly populated area (a town called Weed, CA).

But then there are the more dangerous Cascades volcanoes. Like Vesuvius in Italy, Mt Rainier is considered by many scientists to be the most dangerous volcano in the world in regards to the population surrounding it. Not far (40 miles SW) from Tacoma and Seattle Washington, Mt Rainier looms over the landscape and dominates the skyline. This 4,392 meter tall giant of a stratovolcano last erupted some time in the 19th century, according to tree-ring data and analyzed tephra layers.

The threat from this volcano is three-fold. An eruption would melt the glaciers capping the volcano, causing mudslides and lahars. Even if the volcano doesn't erupt, it can collapse due to hydrothermal action 'rotting' the rocks it is made of. This is currently the biggest worry of geologists, and they have a reason to. Flank collapses have reached all the way to the Puget Sound, and that didn't even require an eruption from the massive hulk. Currently, the volcano steams away at the summit, creating a series of steam carved ice caves, a reminder that it is still very much an active volcano. The worst case scenario for this volcano would be a collapse resulting in an eruption, mudflows, pyroclastic flows, and lahars. Much like St Helens, but far larger.

All of these volcanoes have erupted before, and all of them will erupt again. And thankfully, we will probably known at least a few days before that will happen, but there is no predicting structural collapse of these volcanoes, as there are little to no precursor signals that we could be aware of except for GPS measurements, and they would have to be rather frequent. In any case, if you, like me, live on the US West Coast, it's always good to have a disaster plan. We have frequent earthquakes, and will have volcanic eruptions in the future. It's a matter of when, not if. We even have our own supervolcano, the Long Valley caldera, which has erupted after Yellowstone and still shows deformation, seismicity, and hydrothermal action. Its a good thing any new eruption at Long Valley would likely be a small dome building event, or I might just get worried.

The best course of action, especially if you worry about silly things like 2012, etc, is to have a volcano preparedness kit. Breathing masks, batteries, flashlights, LOTS of bottled water, non-perishable food... if you worry about these things, you should have a supply ready to be used in an emergency. The same goes for earthquakes, wildfires, or any other natural disaster our coast has and will experience again. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Askja Volcano in Iceland Showing Signs of Warming

Several articles and local bloggers have started to chatter about changes at Askja volcano in Iceland, a volcano with a powerful and violent past. In 1875, Askja erupted in one of Iceland's largest historical eruptions, producing a small caldera now filled by Öskjuvatn lake. Askja has erupted during the 20th century (1900's) producing fissures and lava flows outside of the Öskjuvatn lake, but has remained mostly dormant in recent decades.

The volcano is showing signs of increased thermal activity in the caldera, as well as heightened temperatures from fumeroles and springs. It is unclear at this point as to when exactly the warming started, but it appears to have started somewhere between May of 2010, or earlier. There have been some quake swarms and magma intrusion into the volcanic system since the late 1990's, but none of this activity has resulted in an eruption.

Iceland is still in the middle of the cold season, where the Öskjuvatn lake should be frozen over, however it appears that the lake is now liquid, despite the frigid temperatures and snowfall. This suggests a powerful heat source is indeed keeping the lake from freezing. Some speculate that when the ice melts in Iceland, that the volcanoes can erupt more easily, however that is still only a theory and is difficult to prove or demonstrate. Askja warming up in the middle of Winter would seem to suggest that something is happening deep below, as apparently this is not typical for the volcano in the middle of the cold season.


A NASA Image shows an ice free Askja Lake, and an apparent ash layer covering the snow, which could mean a small eruption from a fumerole or vent has already occurred. This picture is from March 23rd.


Blogger Jon Frimann in Iceland has been posting about this for a week or so, as well as some other news outlets that have taken notice.

An eruption at Askja would likely follow the pattern of its 19th-century activity, with fissure swarms and pahoehoe lava flows (it is a shield volcano, much like Mauna Loa or Kilauea in Hawaii). This would not likely produce another caldera forming event, however that is always a possibility, and given that we have no accurate images of the magma chamber below, it is anyone's guess as to what will really occur (but that's the exciting part about volcanoes with long periods of dormancy, you just never know how a new eruption would manifest).

The Smithsonian GVP characterizes Askja as follows:

"Askja is a large basaltic central volcano that forms the Dyngjufjöll massif. It is truncated by three overlapping calderas, the largest of which is 8 km wide and may have been produced primarily from subglacial ring-fracture eruptions rather than by subsidence. A major rhyolitic explosive eruption from Dyngjufjöll about 10,000 years ago was in part associated with the formation of Askja caldera. Many postglacial eruptions also occurred along the ring-fracture. A major explosive eruption on the SE caldera margin in 1875 was one of Iceland's largest during historical time. It resulted in the formation of a smaller 4.5-km-wide caldera, now filled by Öskjuvatn lake, that truncates the rim of the larger central caldera. The 100-km-long Askja fissure swarm, which includes the Sveinagja graben, is also related to the Askja volcanic system, as are several small shield volcanoes such as Kollatadyngja. Twentieth-century eruptions at Askja have produced lava flows from vents located mostly near Öskjuvatn lake."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Shallow Quake Swarm at Joshua Tree East Of Palm Springs

There is absolutely nothing, and no information on this on the web, so I thought I might bring it into the light for scrutiny. There is a continuing quake swarm occurring in Joshua Tree National Park, about 35 miles East of Palm Springs, CA that is beginning to look quite intriguing. The range of depth is from 8km to less than 1km, and about 2 quakes are occurring every hour. The strongest quakes were two mag 3.5 tremblors that were lightly felt in Palm Springs and surrounding towns.

The area is definitely part of the Rio Grande rift, a series of spreading faults that resemble "stretch marks" on the Western USA's topography. This rift, much like the African Rift Valley (although nowhere near as active volcanically) is home to a great many volcanic features. This particular area is parallel to the San Andreas fault line, the most active fault line in the USA.

The swarm is concentrated below an ancient volcanic mountain, and has been very consistent in its locations. All quakes are occurring within a mile of each other. This does look a bit like a deep magma dike intrusion, but it is definitely still way to soon to tell what is going on. Dike intrusions into the crust happen all the time, and most times they never result in any surface volcanic activity.


A Google Earth Snapshot with USGS real-time quake overlay showing the location and number of quakes in the swarm. The largest quake occurred yesterday and was a mag. 3.5, with a matching 3.5 quake occurring today (4/4/2012).

While this probably is a magma intrusion into the crust, there are other possibilities such as these being a precursor (foreshock) to a larger quake in the future, or a very small tectonic slippage. In any case, this swarm is intriguing not just because of its location, but because of the number of quakes occurring within the area. As this is occurring along the San Andreas fault however, it is very hard to tell whether or not this is purely tectonic, or if there is an intrusion taking place.

As this is, to my knowledge, the only article about these quakes so far, I will withhold further speculation about what is going on here until (or if) the USGS comments on the quakes, or if they become newsworthy. It is simply impossible to tell from available data whether or not these events will be significant, or insignificant, but as always I will keep an eye on these interesting occurrences, and post updates if anything changes. For now, keep your eyes peeled East of Palm Springs (and I would avoid going spelunking out there any time soon!).

*****UPDATE 4/9/12*****

The quake swarm is continuing with now more than 50 quakes striking the region. The swarm is very much beginning to look like a dike intrusion, at least on the Google Earth USGS plugin. It is quite similar to the precursors at El Hierro, deep quakes, numerous, and rising in depth. Still, nobody is reporting on this, so I am at the mercy of my own assumptions, which I will keep quiet for now, but this is definitely an area to keep an eye on for a while, at least until USGS takes notice. If anything further develops, I will update this post again.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Video from El Hierro's Underwater Volcano Released


Video of the actual volcano underwater off the coast of La Restinga, El Hierro in the Canary Islands (Spain) shows a degassing and slowly erupting cone. The video, published by IGN (Institutio Geografico National) shows in very clear water, the surface of the vent degassing. It is the first video published by scientists that clearly shows what is actually happening under water, giving us our fist actual observation of the cone itself.


The eruption at El Hierro was declared over by the government, much to the chagrin of scientists and volcanologists who insist the eruption is not over, merely slow. The government is apparently quite eager to declare the eruption over as tourism has actually suffered, not prospered, during this eruption. Sensationalist news media, and negative press caused the usually booming tourist industry to slow to a crawl, and residents and businesses were forced out of the small fishing town of La Restinga, putting a large dent in their economy.

However this is a dangerous presumption for the government to make. First of all, the eruption is NOT over, and second, giving residents and tourists a false sense of security in regards to the volcano is ill advised. It is still quite possible that other vents can open up, or that activity at the main vent can resume. It is impossible to say, but in most scientists views, the eruption at El Hierro would be over as soon as there are little to no earthquakes and NO harmonic tremor.

The interesting thing about the volcano and the government is the clear attempt to cover up what is actually going on. The webcams have been shut off completely. The webcams were shut off due to "cost concerns" as the provider claimed that they were too expensive. I highly doubt that they are. This apparent "blackout" of information coincides completely with the Spanish government's declaration that El Hierro is now a "green" zone, ie: safe for tourists, boats etc. There is still a very small exclusion zone for commercial boats around the vent, but the port and town are now open.

And even as government officials claim the eruption is at an end, there was a 2.7 magnitude earthquake directly under the erupting vent, and more earthquakes in the El Golfo region (the El Golfo basin is an area that has been highly seismically active, with some scientists wondering whether or not there is another open vent at the bottom, out of reach of our instruments). So with an active and hot cone, earthquakes every day in and around the erupting vent, and now visual confirmation of the vent itself with an underwater camera... one has to ask themselves, who is the Spanish government kidding? 

Alaska's Cleveland Volcano Back To Alert Level "Orange"

AVO has again raised the alert level at Cleveland volcano due to the resurgence of yet another lava dome at the summit. Two have been emplaced slowly, and each time the dome has either exploded or collapsed in two very minor eruptions. The slowly erupting volcano has been going back and forth between "Yellow" and "Orange" aviation codes during the recent months. Typically after the dome collapses, AVO has lowered the alert level thinking that the volcano may have stopped erupting, but this has turned out not to be the case.

Cleveland volcano has been erupting for around a year, with an initial lava dome emplaced at the summit crater that reached a diameter of approximately 160M. This dome was destroyed when the volcano had an ash producing eruption. A smaller dome was extruded into the crater, and also subsequently destroyed. The current situation is another lava dome is now being built, however the current dome has not been measured.

This slowly erupting volcano can escalate the eruptive activity with little to no warning, and Cleveland was actually responsible for the only death ever from an Aleutian volcano. The "Orange" alert does not reflect the slow eruption, but its potential to enter into explosive phases at a moment's notice. The Aleutian arc is a very popular sky route for many airlines going to and from Asia to North America, and given an incident with Redoubt volcano in which a plane nearly crashed due to ash being sucked into its engines, AVO takes no chances with the safety of travelers.

For now the volcano continues to slowly seethe and push out the viscous lava into the crater, repeatedly making and destroying its lava dome. It is possible that new magma is pushing up older, cooler magma to the surface, and this is just the "cork in the bottle" so-to-speak. As AVO states, it is certainly possible for this volcano to change eruption characteristics at any moment. Good thing that this volcano is in an area of the world that is nearly uninhabited!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Earthquake Swarm and Possible Dike Intrusion at Krísuvík Volcano in Iceland

There is not a whole lot going on in the world in respect to new eruptions or volcanoes at this moment, however Iceland is always fascinating to watch. Today there was a swarm of quakes just SW of the Kleifarvatn lake, just south of the epicenter of Krísuvík volcano. The quakes were shallow, weak, and numerous, but the area is highly active, much like most of Iceland. Most of the quakes registered below a 1.0 magnitude, but were clearly seen on the many Icelandic seismic sensors. The are is home to many thermal vents, as well as hot springs, fumeroles, and fissures.

The last known eruption of Krísuvík volcano was in the 14th century (the 1500's). A few eruptions have taken place at this location after Iceland was settled, but nothing in recent times. It is probable that this swarm will not lead to an eruption any time soon, but Iceland sits on a spreading fault, so it is not a matter of if, but when this volcano will erupt again.

There are several volcanoes in Iceland that are expected to erupt at least within the next 10 years. Those are Katla, Askja, Grimsvötn (or Grimsfjall, Grimsnes), Hekla, and the Reykjanes Ridge, all of which show heightened seismic and thermal activity. However for most of these volcanoes, it is normal to display some kind of activity, and no eruption for any of these, save probably Katla and Hekla, are certain.

Icelands last major eruptions were from Eyjafjallajökull, and Grimsvötn. The Grimsvötn eruption, while spectacular to watch, was nowhere near as big a deal as the Eyjafjallajökull eruption which caused widespread economic damage due to flights to and from Europe being grounded for weeks because of the ash cloud it produced. The ash from Grimsvötn is much more coarse and larger grained than the very fine and powdery ash produced by the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, and thus fell to the earth quickly and did not get picked up by the jet stream.

The activity at Krísuvík can be attributed to a few causes. For one, Iceland is one of the worlds largest users of hydrothermal/geothermal energy, and regularly injects water into hot rocks to produce steam. This does sometimes cause swarms of quakes to occur, and it is rather hard to tell whether or not this could be related, but as the quakes happened on an active spreading fault, I suspect this is not the case, rather a small magma dike intrusion probably occurred.

Around the world most dormant volcanoes are sleeping or slowly rumbling away. Mt Etna did display some nice activity this weekend, but other than Etna's fireworks show, most active volcanoes showed relatively little activity during the month. Not good for us volcano bloggers out there to tell a story, but hey, the Earth does what it wants on its own time with little concern for my Google money! Hopefully this post is at least a good diversion! I'll post more as it occurs!

Another 6.3 Quake Hits Mexico

A magnitude 6.3 quake struck the Oaxaca region of Mexico today, near the area where the large mag 7.6 quake hit a couple weeks ago. This is the largest aftershock thus far from the 7.6 tremblor. Housing and property were damaged by the large quake, however injuries and fatalities were thankfully very low due to citizens being well prepared for evacuating. Mexico, like the West Coast of the US, is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of subduction faults and volcanoes spanning the rim of the Pacific plate.

The quake was centered in the Western corner of the state of Oaxaca, approximately 2 miles away from the epicenter of the 7.6 quake. The quake was felt as far away as Mexico City due to the composition of the earths crust (a mix of clay sediments, and volcanic ash), which is a good conductor for seismic waves.

No volcanic unrest has been associated with these quakes. Several rumors were circulated that Popocatepetl might have been 'disturbed' by the shaking, however the volcano continues to act normally, only occasionally puffing our steam, or small amounts of ash.

Mexico is very familiar with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Central Mexico is home to thousands of cinder cones, vents, stratovolcanoes, and calderas. Popocatepetl is Mexico's most active volcano, having erupted fairly regularly in historical time.

The current seismicity is associated with the collision and subduction of the Pacific Plate and the North American plate, and is not volcanically related. Some quakes can and do disturb volcanoes, and can destabilize magma chambers, but most volcanoes in Mexico are long dormant, or too far from the quake epicenter to be affected in any serious way, so there is probably no risk of heightened volcanic activity as a result of the recent quakes.

*****UPDATE*****
The quake was downgraded to a 6.0 later by USGS. No reports of damage or injuries have been made apparent.