Friday, October 25, 2013

7.3 Magnitude Quake Strikes Off Honshu Japan

A 7.3 quake just occurred off of Honshu, Japan, very near the epicenter of the deadly 2011 quake that caused a massive tsunami, and prompted a nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima Daiichi. The quake was registered at approximately 17:10:16 UTC. A tsunami alert has been issued, however the predicted size is only about 1 meter (around 3 feet), nowhere near as powerful as the devastating tsunami of the 2011 disaster.

No damage or injuries have yet been reported, however this quake comes on the heels of a years long nuclear disaster at the crippled power plant, where hundreds of thousands (perhaps more) gallons of contaminated radioactive water has been spilling into the Pacific Ocean. So far, there are no reports of how this quake has or has not affected the power plant.

Shaking was likely very lightly felt on the main Japanese island, and due to the shallow depth of the quake, this is unlikely to affect any volcanoes in the region, although time will tell. There are growing concerns by geologists in recent years that an eruption from the famed Mt. Fuji (Fuji-yama) could be close, or imminent in the coming years, and any large quake in the vicinity could be a catalyst for such activity. This particular quake however does not seem to be close enough to Fuji to affect it in this manner.

The aftermath of this quake will likely consist of still more aftershocks. Aftershocks from the massive 2011 quake are still occurring in the area, and it is possible that this 7.3 quake is a result of that previous event, however geologists are likely to classify this as an independent event.

The subduction zone bordering Japan is one of the earth's most active and dangerous. It lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and produces Japan's volcanoes, and is very much responsible for the existence of Japan itself. Quakes in this area are large, and common.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Smithsonian GVP Reports Not Updated In A Month

The recent US government shutdown has ended, but some effects are still trickling through the various agencies that were affected by it. The Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program (for which I partially rely on for objective volcano reporting) has not updated its weekly volcanic activity activity reports since Sept. 24th, nearly exactly one month ago.

The new Smithsonian GVP website has not been without its share of issues. From database errors, to infrequent reporting of late, it is anyone's guess as to what's going on over there. The USGS volcanic monitoring stations seem to be OK, including AVO, CVO, CALVO, and HVO, also the earthquake monitoring was seemingly unaffected. The federal shutdown lasted for two weeks.

This could be due to many things, all of which would be speculation on my part, and I do try and avoid that on this blog. My guess would be however that there are protocols that had to be followed, and certain reporting could not be done while the government was on hiatus, as they tend to collect data throughout the week.

There are of course other volcanic monitoring sites to visit on the web, like Volcanodiscovery.com, or Earthquake-report.com, both of which are quite comprehensive (you can see the global volcanic activity widget to the right of this blog in the sidebar, a really neat little tool from Volcanodiscovery.com). So if you, like me reletnelssly are searching for more news on volcanoes, those are some pretty great non-governmental and privately run sites. Both have great reporting and do an excellent job of gathering information.

In the meantime, I'll wait patiently for the Smithsonian GVP to get back into the swing of things, as there is likely quite a bit of post-shutdown chaos going on in Washington still. It is my hope that this never occurs again, as vital services can be, and were, affected in a very negative way by this. In any case, I'll do my best to go without their reports for a while. Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

7.1 Magnitude Quake Strikes Near Papua New Guinea and Bougainville

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck near the autonomous region of Bougainville, East of Papua New Guinea, and is begin followed by multiple aftershocks. The quake's epicenter is about 30 miles (48km) from the volcano of Bagana, Bougainville's most active volcano.

The quakes proximity to multiple volcanoes on this island, such as Billy Mitchell (yes, that is the volcanoes name!), Tore, Balbi, Loloru, and the Takuan Group could initiate a change in behavior for any one of these volcanoes, although more likely, it will result in changes mostly at Bagana.

Bagana is frequently in eruption, and is a 'usual offender' on the Smithsonain GVP's weekly volcanic activity updates.


Image from Google Earth With USGS quake overlay and shakemap.
No fatalities or injuries have yet been reported, and no tsunami warning has been issued.

Earthquakes in Bougainville are very common, and their structures are likely built to withstand very strong tremors. Earthquakes that occur in imporverished nations, or in areas of the world without a history of frequent quakes, are often far more vulnerable than places like Bougainville, or California, who have very frequent quakes and are used to shoring up their structures and policies to mitigate their effects.

A 7.1 magnitude quake struck the Philippines within the last couple of days, and that quake did result in fatalities, numbering around 100 at the time of this update.

Larger than normal quakes seem to be a running theme this year, and volcanic eruptions less so. 


USGS, Smithsonian, Among Agencies Affected By The Shutdown

Volcano monitoring, many USGS services, and the Smithsonian were all devoid of activity updates for volcanoes during the ongoing (and hopefully nearly over) US government shudown. The Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program (GVP) website posted a message that read:

"The Smithsonian is closed due to a United States federal government shutdown. Global Volcanism Program staff are out of the office and unable to update or maintain this site until further notice. The Smithsonian/USGS Weekly Volcanic Activity Reports are also suspended at this time. Updates will resume when USGS staff are permitted to return to work."

Similarly, the USGS had this up:

"Due to the Federal government shutdown, usgs.gov and most associated web sites are unavailable. Only web sites necessary to protect lives and property will be maintained. Ecosystems Disease Maps National Wildlife Health Center Imagery and Geospatial Information USGS Hazards Data Distribution System (HDDS) satellite and aerial imagery portal Natural Hazards USGS coastal erosion hazards information USGS earthquake information USGS information on geomagnetic activity USGS landslide information USGS volcano information Water Please see doi.gov for more shutdown information."


The US Government shutdown has lasted nearly two weeks over a budget impasse (including the funding of the Affordable Care Act, the debt ceiling, and further budgetary cuts), which paralyzed the work of the US Government, and has threatened the world with a first ever US default on its loans. Many countries have expressed dismay and outrage that the United States would even dream of getting this close to not being able to pay its bills.

While this is NOT a political blog, I feel it necessary to publicly denounce the actions of my government, and the inability of its elected representatives to come to an agreeable consensus on matters like paying the bills. It is all fine and good to have your principles, until those principles end up causing more harm than good. 

The USGS is a vital service for the USA, in regards to earthquake monitoring and response, volcano monitoring, threat assessment, and many other services. The shutdown, if a disaster would have occurred, could have cost American lives (although vital services were maintained), and it is simply unacceptable that the richest, most powerful country on this planet seems to disagree with itself so much, that they needed to prove it at the expense of people's lives that had nothing to do with budget negotiations. It is always the regular people who pay for the disagreements of the powerful.

While I won't get into my own personal political leanings, I urge you, if you are an American citizen to be mindful of whom you choose to give your vote of support, and be mindful of who your candidate is. It is true that any democratically elected government is the government that its voters deserve. Let's all hold ourselves in higher regard, and vote for quality - not quantity (ie: the content of a candidate's character and qualifications, not how many "yes" votes your party is capable of garnering).

As I am hearing now, the Senate has reached an agreement, and we are waiting to see if the House will agree to pass the measure. This is not over yet, and I am waiting with bated breath to see how this turns out, so I can get back to updating you on the actual volcanic eruptions that are going on, and not the political kind.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

7.1 Magnitude Quake Strikes The Philippines

Dozens were dead, and many roads and buildings damaged when a 7.1 magnitude quake struck Bohol Island in the Philippines Tuesday morning. As many as 49 people so far have been confirmed dead, and up to 33 people were reported missing. Approximately 164 people were reported injured. The quake occurred about 20km deep underneath the island of Bohol, in the center of the Philippine archipelago, violently shaking Bohol island and neighboring (to the NW) Cebu island, while the rest of the islands felt moderate shaking. Many aftershocks of varying magnitudes are occurring and will likely continue for several weeks.

There are many nearby holocene volcanoes, some of which have shown historical activity. On the island of Negros I West of the epicenter, several volcanoes likely shook and could be destabilized by the quaking, including the Pleistocene to early Holocene Cuernos de Negros, Kanalon volcano, Mandalagan volcano, and Silay. Out of all of these volcanoes, only Kanalon volcano has had confirmed eruptions in historical time.

East of the epicenter, on the island of Leyte I, there are several volcanoes as well, including Cabalían, Mahagnao, and Biliran, all of which currently display fumerolic or geothermal activity, and all of which have had eruptive activity within the past two centuries.

                                    

Image from Google Earth with USGS quake shake map overlay, detailing the strength of the shake force around the Philippine archipelago and associated volcanoes.

Earthquakes this large can cause disruptions in magmatic systems. Although rarely will a volcano erupt directly after a large quake event, changes in pressures in the magma chambers, fractures in the mountains (which can cause landslides and other destabilization), and tectonic stress, can contribute over time to an increase in eruptive potential. While it is not an extreme danger at this point, monitoring on volcanoes near the epicenter would be a good proactive step to take in order to cover all of the bases.

The Philippines is home to many famous and dangerous volcanoes. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo, previously a rather unknown and unremarkable lava dome complex which was heavily forested, erupted violently, sending columns of ash skyward, and pyroclastic flows down its flanks, accompanied by deadly lahars. The eruption vented so much material into the atmosphere so quickly, that the ash circumnavigated the globe, and actually lowered global temperatures for about a year, effectively pausing the effects of global warming. This was the second largest eruption in the 20th century after Alaska's Novarupta event.

Mount Mayon is also quite an active volcano in the Philippines, having had many frequent eruptive episodes throughout history. Currently, no volcanoes except Mayon are displaying eruptive activity, but Taal volcano in Luzon has been showing unrest in recent years. This is most certainly a dangerous volcano on the island. Having last erupted in the 1960s-1970's, and causing many fatalities as pyroclastic flows moved quickly over the caldera lake's surface to the shores, the volcano has since been showing fluctuations and signs of D/I (Deflation/Inflation) events. The temperature of the central caldera cone's lake has risen and fallen, acidity levels have fluctuated, and GPS shows many deformation events. It is likely that within the next decade or two, Taal will erupt again.

As it stands currently, no alert levels have been raised for any currently active volcanoes in the Philippines after the quake, and there is no imminent risk of eruption.

The Philippines archipelago lies along the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, which encircles the entire Pacific ocean plate. The majority of the worlds large earthquakes and active volcanoes occur along this ring, which spans form the West Coast of the Americas, to Russia's Kamchatka and Kurile Islands, to Japan, to the Philippines, to Indonesia, and New Zealand.



Monday, October 7, 2013

Shallow Ongoing Quake Swarm near Pisgah Crater, CA

Over the last several days there has been an ongoing quake swarm near California's Pisgah Crater in the Lavic Lake Volcanic Field. Magnitudes have ranged from less than 1.0 up to 4.3, and most are occurring at very shallow depths. While this may alarm some due to the proximity to the monogenetic Pisgah Crater, these quakes are purely tectonic and not volcanic in nature. The depths are far too shallow to be related to magma, unless there was already an eruption underway (which there is not).

The quakes however are close enough to the system to have an effect (if say, there was a magma chamber still laying around underneath the crust, which is a bit doubtful at this time).


Image of the Pisgah Crater area with the location of the quakes. Screenshot from Google Earth with USGS plugin. 
While normally I wouldn't even bother writing about this volcano (as it has not erupted in historical time, nor will it likely erupt int he near future), there has been some un-needed and unjustified hype about it due to some alarmist bloggers, namely some anonymous 'blogger' named "Dutchsinse", who regularly raises false alarms about this volcanic system. I can assure you, there is nothing now, or in the recent past, that suggests that this system is currently active at all. If in fact there was any reason for concern in the near future, you can rest assured that the USGS would absolutely be able to tell far in advance if magma was rising, and since we are talking about California, media coverage would be incredibly heavy.

In any case, earthquake swarms near the San Andreas fault are quite common, and California is criss-crossed by many other smaller faults with regular small to moderate activity. This is absolutely nothing new.

The area is however a beautiful place to visit if you have the time and the drive to go out that way, and it is certainly a cool sight to see 'fresh' looking lava flows much like you'd find in Hawaii's Kilauea volcanic system. If you'r in the area (or are ready for a read trip to basically nowhere) you can easily check out Pisgah Crater, and nearby Amboy crater, both of which are morphologically fresh and well-preserved monogenetic cinder cones. Monogenetic cones only erupt once, and typically never again.

If a new eruption were to occur at Lavic Lake, it would likely not be in the same location that it had erupted in before, and would create a new vent or vents.