Monday, January 7, 2013

What's Ahead for 2013?

The year 2012 was a pretty wimpy one, volcanically speaking of course. About the biggest (and most spectacular) eruptions occurred from the 'usual suspects' (Kilauea, Etna, etc), and really only a couple of eruptions happened that were noteworthy at all. Tolbachik in Kamchatka, Russia has put on arguably one of the most stunning displays of fissure activity, while Kilauea and Etna keep on proving that you can't take your eyes off of them for any real length of time. But other than that, there were no eruptions whatsoever in Iceland (unless you count some very minor hydrothermal/Jokullhlaup activity), barely a puff from Cleveland volcano in the USA, and really nothing terribly unusual. 2012, for all the hype about volcanic disasters, was actually one of the calmest years for eruptions in recent memory.

But waht will 2013 portend? While predicting eruptions is definitely a silly thing to pretend to do, there are some volcanoes that are expected to be way 'overdue' for an eruption (as if volcanoes check out our schedules and adhere to them).

Katla, Iceland.

it has long been suspected that there is some sort of link between Katla and its smaller neighbor Eyjafjallajökull, however the theory is beginning to look like a dud, as it has now been over two years since Eyja erupted, and despite some rubling and weak deformation from Katla, it has remained mostly silent and stable. But this could change quickly, as Katla typically erupts about every 50 years - and its last eruption was over 60 years ago now. Scientists, and bloggers alike are watching this volcano closely.

A large eruption from Katla has the potential to be quite devastating for Iceland and Europe, as it is known to produce large ashfall zones, and emit many hundreds of thousands of tons of sulphur dioxide gas (SO2), which some scientists say can be larger in amount than the famed 1700's eruption of the Laki fissure system, which was quite damaging to Europe and has even been cited as one of the catalysts for the French Revolution. An eruption today would devastate Europe, and possibly Russia, and North America with noxious clouds of SO2.

Hekla, Iceland

Hekla has long been thought to be overdue for a much larger eruption than we typiclly see. Indeed, when looking at ash layers, and craters, you can see that Hekla has produced much, much larger eruptions in the past than are historically recorded. Hekla last erupted in 2000, but has since been relatively quiet. This volcano is not typically known for giving much advance warning.
Vesuvius, Italy

While most people think of Vesuvius' massive Plinian eruption that destroyed Pompeii as the last time the volcano erupted, it was actually active as recently as WWII. Since then, people seem to have forgotten about the sheer might of this monster volcano, and the lesson from Pompeii. Vesuvius towers over the city of Naples, and many geologists say that the volcano could be primed for an eruption at any time. While it is impossible to say when or if it will erupt, many scientists and geologists (especially ones in Italy who are now apparently accountable for failing to predict geological events...) are watching Vesuvius with nervous anticipation of it's next move. Will it blow in 2013? Nobody can say.

Santorini, Greece

For about two years now, the massive Sanotrini caldera, and neighboring Kolombos volcano have been showing signs of unrest. from increased underwater fumerolic activity at Kolombos, to a massive inflation of the magma chamber under Santorini, some suspect that this area is also ready for some eruptive action. But don't worry... while both volcanoes are indeed active and have a history of some major eruptions, those major eruptions are so geologically recent that it is unlikely (if not impossible) for either volcano to top their 'greatest hits'.

If an eruption at Santorini were to occur, it would probably occur on its central island/lava dome of Nea Kameni, repeating past events like the ones in the 1950's. Effusion of lava/lava domes, and small ash producing explosions. While this could upset tourism on the island, it would pose very little danger to people, and they would most likely have plenty of time to evacuate if it were deemed necessary.

Scientist are watching the area cloasely for any swift deformation, and harmonic tremor, which would likely indicate something is getting ready to happen.

Alaska (Aleutian Islands)

While Alaska's Aleutian islands are usually a hotbed for volcanic activity, containing some of the most active volcanoes in the United States, 2012 was a relatively calm year with only Cleveland Volcano producing any real activity. Two other volcanoes, Little Sitkin, and Illiamna, have rumbled away but did not produce any eruptions. Typically, there are 1-2 volcanoes erupting on the aleutian peninsula in a given year, sometimes more. The remoteness of the islands, lack of equipment, bad weather, etc all make monitoring these volcanoes a bit difficult for the USGS, but it would not surprise me in the least to have some big earthquakes (A 7.5 mag quake occurred today off the Southern coast of Alaksa) and a couple volcanoes erupt (Cleveland, probably will continue its cycle, and I am watching a couple others that seem to be rumbling a bit more than ususal).

Cascades Rangs, West Coast, USA

While the last volcano to erupt on the West Coast of the US was Mt St Helens (which completed its last eruptive cycle in 2008 with the extrusion of more lava dome material), there are several other volcanoes to really keep an eye on. Mammoth Mountain has shown some increased seismicity, and the area of suspected magma dike intrusion/tree kill still emits heavy concentrations of CO2. Mt. St. Helens is definitely always worth watching (as history shows). Lassen Volcanic Center has not had an eruption since 1913, but recent seismicity tells us not to take our eye off of that area. Shasta is always a nervous volcano to watch, and Rainier could defnitely surprise us.

I could go on forever about which volcanoes to watch (I say watch them all!) but truthfully, anyone who would claim to predict the future of eruptions in the world is not worht listening to. Instead I will quietly hope that 2013 brings some awe inspiring (and non-deadly) eruptions for our vieweing pleasure. 2012 was just not that great for blogging!

3 comments:

  1. I was wondering about the recent activity at Mt. Konocti in Clear lake Field in California. The past 2 days there has been several 1-3 magnitude quakes right at the base of the volcano. I know the area has a lot of quakes but usually they are a few miles away closer to the geysers. Would be interested in seeing what you thought.

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  2. I don't think that Mt. Konocti will be erupting nay time soon, if thats what you mean. There are several forces at work underneath the Clear Lake volcanic field. The frequent quake swarms to the SW of Konocti are due to the geothermal prospecting in the area, and it is not uncommon to have quake swarms even up to 4.5 in magnitude. The other force at work is tectonic faultines extending NW from the San Francisco area, which run parallel to Konocti and under the lake, so occasionally there are some quakes in that area.

    Clear Lake is classified by USGS as a potential high-threat, given its geothermal activity, and the presence of a large low-velocity seismic zone beneath the area, which has been interpreted to be a sort of lava 'crystal mush' similar to the magma chamber under Yellowstone (albeit much smaller).

    The potential for an eruption is certainly present, but it would take a long sustained period of harmonic tremor, large scale deformation, and increased fumerolic temperatures/increased hydrothermal temperatures before it should really concern anyone.

    The last eruption of Konocti was in the Pliestocene, so it's highly unlikely that any activity there would be centered around Konocti. More than likely would be a very minor phreatic eruption, and creation of small maars (some of which are clearly preserved in the area).

    Contrary to some popular beliefs of the area, Clear Lake is not a 'caldera' system, rather it is actually a quite minor volcanic center. Any future activity would most likely be pretty small, but then again, volcanoes can always surprise us.

    Long story short, it's nothing to worry about, and the area is very well monitored. You can always look at the status by using USGS's new California Volcano Observatory site (CALVO) for the most up to date news about volcanoes in California and Nevada.

    http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/calvo/

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  3. CALIFORNIA VOLCANO OBSERVATORY MONTHLY UPDATE
    Thursday, January 3, 2013 2:00 PM PST (Thursday, January 3, 2013 22:00 UTC)


    Monitored CALIFORNIA VOLCANOES
    Current Volcano Alert Level: all NORMAL
    Current Aviation Color Code: all GREEN

    Activity Update: All volcanoes monitored by CalVO's telemetered, real-time sensor networks exhibit normal levels of background seismicity and deformation. Real-time monitoring networks are in place at Mount Shasta, Medicine Lake Volcano, Clear Lake Volcanic Field, Lassen Volcanic Center, Long Valley Caldera and Mono-Inyo Chain.


    Observations for December 1, 2012 (0000h PT) through December 31, 2012 (2359h PST):
    Mt Shasta: No earthquakes of magnitude 1.0 or above were detected.
    Medicine Lake: One M=1.0 earthquake was detected ~ 8 km N-NW of Medicine Lake caldera.
    Lassen Volcanic Center: One M=2.2 earthquake was detected ~ 5 km SW of Lassen Peak.
    Clear Lake Volcanic Field: Six earthquakes were detected south and west of the southern arm of Clear Lake. The largest event was M=1.8. [Note: Typical high level of seismicity was observed under the Geysers steam field located at the western margin of CLVF. The largest event was a magnitude M=3.1].
    Long Valley Caldera and Mono-Inyo Chain: Fourteen earthquakes occurred in the southern half of the Long Valley Caldera (all M<2.0); No earthquakes at or above magnitude 1.0 were detected in the vicinity of Mono-Inyo craters; Two earthquakes (magnitude M=1.0 and 1.4) were detected under Mammoth Mountain. [Note: The typical high level of seismicity was observed south of the caldera in the Sierra Nevada range. The largest event was M=2.2]. The signal of modest inflation occurring within the caldera since 2011 (see previous updates) has dwindled to a level below detection by the CalVO continuous GPS network.

    The U.S. Geological Survey will continue to monitor these volcanoes closely and will issue additional updates and changes in alert level as warranted. For a definition of alert levels see http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/activity/alertsystem/icons.php.

    As part of the U.S. Geological Survey's Volcano Hazards Program, the California Volcano Observatory aims to advance scientific understanding of volcanic processes and lessen the harmful impacts of volcanic activity in the volcanically active areas of California and Nevada. For additional USGS CalVO volcano information, background, images, and other graphics visit http://volcano.wr.usgs.gov/vsc/observatories/calvo.html. For general information on the USGS Volcano Hazard Program http://volcanoes.usgs.gov. Statewide seismic information for California and Nevada can be found at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqscanv/.

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