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.