Saturday, October 27, 2012

Very Large 7.7 Mag Quake Reported Off Of Canada

A magnitude 7.7 Earthquake has struck off of Canada's West Coast near Graham Island Queen Charlotte Island. The depth was a shallow 9km deep, along the Pacific subduction zone. It is unclear if there was any damage or if a tsunami has been generated. The quake occurred at 8PM which is only a few minutes after I am writing this. Below is a screenshot of the epicenter location.



Google Earth/USGS snapshot of location of 7.7 mag quake.

Aside from the linked article above, this quake is so fresh that nobody yet knows the implications. I will update this article as more info becomes available.
.

Image from USGS.gov detailing the shake strength of the quake.

UPDATE: According to WFAA a tsunami alert was issued from Vancouver Island, British Columbia to Cape Decision, Alaska. Residents are urged to move to higher ground. This is likely a precaution but if you are in the area please do not hesitate to seek higher ground.

A mag 5.8 afterschock occurred a few miles SW of the epicenter.

The island is lightly populated by what appear to be logging towns. Looking at Google Earth reveals several towns in the area nearest the epicenter. Those towns are:

Sewell Inlet
Skedans Village
New Clew
Sandspit
Skidegate
Queen Charlotte
Tlell
Port Clements

It is likely that these towns sustained some damage, but reports will likely be slow to come from the region.

Here is an update from the Tsunami Center:

From: tsunami-information-ioc@lists.unesco.org
Date: October 27, 2012, 11:14:14 PM EDT
To: IOC_Public_Lists@ptwc.noaa.gov
Subject: [Tsunami Message - IOC] Tsunami Information Bulletin
Reply-To: tsunami-information-ioc@lists.unesco.org

TSUNAMI BULLETIN NUMBER 001

PACIFIC TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER/NOAA/NWS ISSUED AT 0313Z 28 OCT 2012 THIS BULLETIN APPLIES TO AREAS WITHIN AND BORDERING THE PACIFIC OCEAN AND ADJACENT SEAS...EXCEPT ALASKA...BRITISH COLUMBIA... WASHINGTON...OREGON AND CALIFORNIA. ... TSUNAMI INFORMATION BULLETIN ... THIS BULLETIN IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. THIS BULLETIN IS ISSUED AS ADVICE TO GOVERNMENT AGENCIES. ONLY NATIONAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO MAKE DECISIONS REGARDING THE OFFICIAL STATE OF ALERT IN THEIR AREA AND ANY ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN IN RESPONSE.

AN EARTHQUAKE HAS OCCURRED WITH THESE PRELIMINARY PARAMETERS ORIGIN TIME - 0304Z 28 OCT 2012 COORDINATES - 52.9 NORTH 131.9 WEST DEPTH - 10 KM LOCATION - QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISLANDS REGION MAGNITUDE - 7.1 EVALUATION A WIDESPREAD DESTRUCTIVE TSUNAMI THREAT DOES NOT EXIST BASED ON HISTORICAL EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI DATA. THE WEST COAST AND ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER WILL ISSUE INFORMATION REGARDING ANY LOCAL TSUNAMI THREAT TO COASTS NEAR THE EARTHQUAKE EPICENTER.

THIS WILL BE THE ONLY BULLETIN ISSUED FOR THIS EVENT UNLESS ADDITIONAL INFORMATION BECOMES AVAILABLE. THE WEST COAST/ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER WILL ISSUE PRODUCTS FOR ALASKA...BRITISH COLUMBIA...WASHINGTON...OREGON...CALIFORNIA.

The information provided on this email service does not originate with UNESCO. UNESCO is transmitting this information on an unofficial basis. The official warning messages are sent by governmental authorities through the Tsunami Warning Focal Points (TWFP) and the designated national authorities. UNESCO does not warrant, guarantee, or make any representations regarding the timeliness, currency, correctness, accuracy, reliability, or other aspect of the characteristics or use of the information available through this email service.


UPDATE:

CNN is now covering the story and has a live blog of all developments at http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/27/quake-with-a-magnitude-of-7-7-strikes-off-canada-coast/?hpt=hp_t1

UPDATE

so far 13 aftershocks ranging from 4.0-58 have occurred. Likely aftershocks will continue for up to a week or longer, with diminishing magnitudes.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lava Lake At Kilauea Rises To Record Levels

One of the lava lakes at Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has risen to record levels, spilling onto the crater floor, and giving scientists a really epic show. Video posted on NBC.com shows some nice shots of the action. According to NBCnews.com and HVO, the lava lake at Halema'uma'u crater, the larger of the two main craters of Kilauea as well as the summit crater, the lava lake inset in the rim of the Halema'uma'u crater has overflowed to the crater floor. This is the first time since Halema'uma'u crater exploded in 2008 that the lava lake has overflowed the rim.

The lava lake is inset in the rim of the crater, and was formed in a large ash producing eruption in 2008. This event was preceded by harmonic tremor and uplift of the area, and was witnessed by Hawaiian volcano Observatory volcanologists.

The current theory is that the magma system at Kilauea is re-pressurizing, following a large deflation event that occurred when a fissure opened up West of Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater, which drained the magma lake at the summit, and caused the collapse of the crater floor at Puʻu ʻŌʻō which lowered the crater floor significantly, and quickly. This event was also caught on camera. Since then, the magma pressure, and inflation has been occurring at Kilauea.

While NBC's Brian Williams incorrectly (or rather, stated out of context) in the video that Kilauea has "Been active since 2008", the eruption has actually been going on at Kilauea since December of 1983, when eruptions resumed after a decade or so of dormancy. Neighboring Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes were erupting simultaneously from March 24-April 15, 1984, which destroyed neighborhoods in the Kalapana area, and neared the town of Hilo.

Kilauea is one of the world's most active volcanoes, and the current eruption is one of the longest running historical eruptions of our time. Indeed, the activity on Kilauea is rivaled by only a few volcanoes, such as Mt. Etna in Sicily, and perhaps Piton de la Fournaise on Reunion Island, a French territory. It's neighbor, Mauna Loa is the largest volcano by volume on the planet earth, rising from sea floor to summit, it is larger than Mt Everest, and also a very active volcano. While it has not erupted since the early 1980's, slow inflation, and motion of the SE flank is an early indication that it will erupt in the future.

All of the Hawaiian islands have a volcanic past, due to a mantle plume hotspot that travels slowly under the crust, occasionally popping through. While Mauna Loa and Kilauea are the newest volcanoes in the Hawaiian chain that are above sea level, to the S of the Big Island, another, younger volcano, Loihi, is expected to break the surface of the ocean and either add on to the Big Island's landmass, or create a brand new Hawaiian island in the next 10,000 years. While not as active as Kilauea or Mauna Loa, the motion of the hotspot will one day retire the volcanic activity on the Big Island, and Loihi will assume the role of the most active Hawaiian volcano. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Italian Geologists Convicted Of Manslaughter

Now usually I don't get into the politics of science, but this article today on NBCNEWS.com and other sources really sent me for a loop. In 2009, a deadly quake occurred in Italy that resulted in destruction of many historical sites, residential homes, and other buildings. While the quake's magnitude was not extremely large, the structures in Italy were ill-prepared for a somewhat strong, and shallow quake.

Let's set the scene. Prior to this quake, there were a few smaller tremors, and this prompted the Italian government to ask during a press conference of their geologists, whether or not those quakes were a precursor to a larger quake. This is a very fine line for scientists to cross. First of all, it is nearly impossible (nay, it IS impossible) to 'predict' earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Does the scientist say "Yes, there is that possibility", and cause panic? Where would people go? Where would the epicenter be? What sort of damage? How strong a quake? These are questions which scientists would never be able to answer with certainty. The safe answer in this case is usually "There is no proof that smaller quakes will cause bigger ones". Of course, that is the scientific method. Going out of those bounds is called 'conjecture'.

The Italian government accused the geologists of 'failing to predict the earthquake', which has resulted in their conviction. "Failing to predict an earthquake", just let that sink in for a second. Failing to predict an earthquake is like failing to predict the winning lottery numbers. Yeah, there's about a 1:1,000,000,000,000 chance, but I guess the Italian government must see this as a significant figure of some sort.

Clearly, (and this is happening throughout the world in most countries) the Government does not have any sort of grasp on what science is or what it is capable of doing. And now, scientists who were honestly doing their best to keep people safe are being strung up like sacrifices to the earthquake gods. It is plainly pathetic, shocking, and insanely ignorant to convict geologists of failing to predict a large earthquake. Where was their funding for such a project? Were they supposed to magically fabricate instrumentation from the future that would send them an email warning? Come on now!

This problem can easily occur anywhere in the world (the problem of a scientifically ignorant government hellbent on placing blame on someone). It could easily happen here in the USA, where 99.8% of our elected officials are either religious, have no scientific background, and are mostly legal professionals (good at arguing esoterics and rhetoric, not so much with scientific fact). Indeed, in the USA, most politicians  especially on the right, believe in creationism, the second coming, and deny most things scientific like environmental studies, and other data in the name of their religion, or capitalism.

There is very little your average citizen can do about this unfortunately. People seem to love the things that science produces (TV's, cars, the Internet), but HATE it when scientific findings challenge long-held beliefs or superstitions, (like gods, prophecies, faith), and will absolutely turn on scientists at a whim. In my opinion this is absolutely abhorrent, and the only way this is going to stop is if we start telling our governments that we want SCIENTISTS on Science Committees (not all pastors, preachers, and ideologues). I can wish, I can hope, but the only way this is going to change is for people to become aware of the implications having a scientifically ignorant government produces.

In the meantime, my thoughts and hopes go out that these poor Italian scientists will be exonerated by an appeal, or that international pressure is hot enough to earn them a full pardon, because frankly, the Italian government at this time should be absolutely ashamed with this witch hunt.

And that's my piece.

*****UPDATE10/24/12*****

Two top Italian scientists have quit in protest of the ruling according to CNN. Physicist Luciano Maiani Is quoted as saying "The situation created by the sentencing yesterday on the facts from L'Aquila is incompatible with a clear and effective performance of the functions of the commission and its role as a consulting bodies for the state."

In addition to his departure, the Italian Director of their volcanic and earthquake monitoring program also quit, saying (which absolutely concurs with my point in my article) "To predict a large quake on the basis of a relatively commonplace sequence of small earthquakes and to advise the local population to flee" would constitute "both bad science and bad public policy."

It is unfortunate but highly understandable that scientists would not want to work for a government that feels like it can simply throw them under a bus at the first sign of trouble. This could be the beginning of a trend that could see many government employed scientists leaving their employ to other countries, or private industry.

It is appalling to me that governments could be so ignorant as to basically say "I thought you scientists knew everything, well, we had an earthquake and you didn't warn us". A high-school educated science student has more sense than this, and for government officials to take a position of extreme ignorance in order to point a finger at someone is frankly, insane.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Quake Swarm In SW Yellowstone Caldera

A minor earthquake swarm of upwards of 30 events has occurred in Yellowstone National park, just SW of the rim of the caldera, and just inside the Island Park caldera. The events were at depths ranging from 20km-9km. This could indicate a small injection of magma into Yellowstone's upper magma chamber, but could also be nothing more than crustal adjustments.

Yellowstone's magmatic system is considered to be in two distinct parts. The first, deeper part is the actual mantle plume, which stretches to the NW into Montana (or rather far under it), with the second, shallower (3-5km deep) magma chamber that is actually responsible for the hydrothermal system being much shallower. Volcanogolgists consider the shallower magma chamber to be made of a 'crystal mush', or slightly cooler magma that is only partially molten. This chamber gives off plenty of heat, and is the cause of the geysers in the national park.

An injection of fresh magma into this chamber from the mantle plume would give some cause for concern, and would heighten the chance of an eruption, however probably not an eruption of massive proportion that most people fear from Yellowstone. Indeed, while Yellowstone is responsible for some of the world's largest eruptions in prehistoric times (the last 'super-eruption' being somewhere around 600,000 years bp), it can and does produce much smaller eruptions such as phreatic explosions.

It is likely that this is normal behavior for Yellowstone, as yearly, it produces plenty of volcanic earthquake swarms. If this was a magmatic intrusion of any kind, it will likely not manifest on the surface, as the magma chamber is literally humongous, and such a small amount of magma, if any, that is injected would be like a drop of water into a lake.

The quake swarm appears to only have lasted one day, and so far has not produced many aftershocks, which is what leads me to believe that this is probably at least a small dike intrusion, or some mantle plume activity (possibly an underground collapse at great depth). In any case, I'm always looking for a good excuse to write about Yellowstone, as it is a fascinating, beautiful, and potentially terrifying volcano. If anything further develops, you can be assured I will cover it!

Below is a picture of the current swarm from Google Earth/USGS.

                           

Monday, October 15, 2012

Australia's Heard Island Awakens

According to reports by John Seach, Australia's Antarctic island, Heard, is showing signs of activity. John is quoted as saying "Activity continues at Heard Island volcano, Australian territory. Satellite images showed hotspots at the volcano on 10th October 2012. Renewed activity began at Heard Island in September 2012. Heard Island is Australia's only currently erupting volcano."

This is an extremely remote volcano, and does not pose a threat to any human populations. While hotspots were detected in late September, this volcano is so remote that typically it is not visually monitored. And eruption from Heard does not pose any threat to any human population. It is possible that ash could be erupted, but that would most likely be of little consequence to aviation.

The Smithsonian GVP characterizes Heard Volcano here:

"Heard Island on the Kerguelen Plateau in the southern Indian Ocean consists primarily of the emergent portion of two volcanic structures. The large glacier-covered composite basaltic-to-trachytic cone of Big Ben comprises most of the island, and the smaller Mt. Dixon volcano lies at the NW tip of the island across a narrow isthmus. Little is known about the structure of Big Ben volcano because of its extensive ice cover. The historically active Mawson Peak forms the island's 2745-m high point and lies within a 5-6 km wide caldera breached to the SW side of Big Ben. Small satellitic scoria cones are mostly located on the northern coast. Several subglacial eruptions have been reported in historical time at this isolated volcano, but observations are infrequent and additional activity may have occurred."

Heard Island Volcano last erupted in 2008.

While it is quite possible that the eruption could intensify, it is unlikely that anyone would be around to see it unless some well-funded volcanologists make it out there (wishful thinking on my part). If anything, as far as current imagery, comes to light, I will post it here!