Tuesday, January 31, 2012

El Hierro Activity Strong Today, Volcanic Tremor Vigorous

The El Hierro Volcano has picked up activity this morning and into the afternoon with strong harmonic tremor, multiple recorded underwater explosions, and lots of steaming lava rocks floating to the surface. The tremor began to pick up before dawn at El Hierro, and continued throughout the day with one of the most vigorous displays of activity yet. This volcano is far from done erupting.

Below is today's tremor graph from IGN.

The obvious increase in volcanic tremor this time did coincide with surface activity. Even though the tremor is currently a bit lower than earlier, smoking lava stones and a very strong and colorful stain on the ocean surface can easily be seen on the live webcam.

If El Hierro can sustain this eruption for a couple more months, it is highly likely it will breach the surface and enter into a Surtsetyan, or island building phase. This would be characterized by a large increase in emissions and explosive activity, eventually (probably) resulting in a more Strombolian type eruption from the cone (at least this is what I gather will happen when the cone can get free of the water, given the type of ejecta making its way to the surface). With gassy lava like this, it will probably end up being quite a show.

It is time for those of you who gaze at the volcano to remain vigilant. I for one would be overjoyed to see the birth of this new island live on camera (of course I'd rather be there, but that costs lots of money!). Keep your eyes peeled!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Possible Dike Intrusion at Katla Volcano, Iceland

Seismographs are recording a large amount of small quakes beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Katla's caldera in the past 48 hours. Over 20 small quakes have so far hit a concentrated area, which usually indicates slow dike intrusion under the volcano. Katla, next door to the now infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano which caused massive transportation disruptions in April of 2010, is far larger and has been known to erupt with much more fury than Eyjafjallajökull.

Katla may have had a minor eruption earlier in 2011, when a glacial outburst flood (jökullhlaup) came suddenly and destroyed a small bridge with debris in a lahar-like surge. This was considered by some to be a small eruption, possibly preceding future stronger activity.

While many Icelandic volcanologists have expected Katla to blow shortly after Eyjafjallajökull, it has yet to occur. This new intrusion could be the start of more activity, but it will likely be small. It could be Katla might just have a few small eruptions rather than a large one, but it's anyone's guess at this time.

Image from Icelandic Meteorological Office website showing current quake swarm at Katla.
Katla has not had a major eruption in quite some time. Some of Katla's previous eruptions have been record setting events that produced some of the largest amounts of tephra and basaltic lava flows that Iceland has ever witnessed (except for of course the famed eruption of the Laki fissure system, credited for worldwide famine and the straw that broke the camel's back for France preceding the revolution). While Katla's future is highly uncertain, the only certain thing that can be said about it is that it is active, it will erupt again, and probably soon.

Other than this, speculation is always useless with Icelandic volcanoes. The media like BBC and DailyMail will no doubt hype this up tot he point people are hysterical... while those of us who know better will sit back and wait for the show with the knowledge that this is probably going to be a non event.

After Two Day Break, El Hierro Roars Back To Life

The last two days at El Hierro saw a calm stain on the water with few if any smoking lava stones, low harmonic tremor, and very little else. That ended this morning, when tremor again picked up, more smoking stones could be seen on the surface and emissions bounced back. El Hierro is not done yet.


Images from El Hierro Telefonica/Movistar cam.

Today's current tremor. note the large increase over the last couple of hours.

El Hierro has been doing this off and on again eruptive cycle for weeks now, if not months. This is probably related to vent collapse and re-pressurization, leading to sporadic bursts in activity. Likely this will keep going on for quite some time. Tremor is QUITE strong today, so if you have the opportunity, you should check out the cam and keep your eyes peeled for some cool activity.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Morning Activity At El Hierro Reveals Vigorous 2nd Vent

The activity at El Hierro Volcano has taken an interesting turn. The 2nd large vent to open up has created a strong jacuzzi area and emitted many smoking lava stones (SLS).Views on this morning's webcam revealed two very distinct 'jacuzzi' areas, with the Eastern vent emitting far more floating steamy lava rocks. These were numerous and frequent this morning.

The harmonic tremor (below) seemed to correspond with the activity.

The lava stones are shown below.

 The activity, for now, continues as it has now for months.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Possible Dike Intrusion at Golden Trout Creek

A minor earthquake swarm is ongoing south of the main peak of Golden Trout Creek volcanic field in CA, USA. The largest event so far has been a mag 2.9 tremblor (curiously with a depth of 0.0 KM), with aftershocks or other independent quakes registering from 1.1-2.3 magnitude. Due to the locations and magnitude of the quakes, this could be related to minor dike intrusion. If it is, there can be an expected die-off of indigenous trees in the area due to CO2/SO2 release similar to what happened at Mammoth Mountain in the 1990's.

This area does not produce frequent earthquakes.

The quakes have been recorded in a longitudinally linear fashion, with most occurring at or near the same depths, indicating a localized source, with the exception of the 2.9 tremblor at surface depth, which could be depth read error. This area is not highly known for much tectonic volcanism.

The Golden Trout Creek volcanic field is a Holocene volcanic center, listed on the GVP as an active volcano. While no historical eruptions have been recorded at Golden Trout Creek, the last eruption has been carbon dated to be around 5-10,000 years old, post dating glaciation at the site. In short, this volcano has erupted when humans were present on North America, and probably will again.

This current cycle will NOT likely result in any eruptive activity, however, as with all active, or slightly active Holocene volcanoes, there is always that possibility.

The Golden Trout Creek volcanic system is not near any large population centers in California. If it did erupt, it is likely that news would be slow to come out of that area, if at all. The area is known for producing about 5 different volcanic cinder cones, which are monogenetic (erupting only once) in nature. The last volcanic eruption produced a ~6km flow down a river gully.

The below picture is from Google Earth with the USGS overlay added, and the largest earthquake highlighted.


Blog Updates and Changes

First off, I'd like to thank all of my readers for coming to my blog, and hopefully enjoying good reporting on volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and other topics of interest. I love writing about this stuff, and it's always nice to run across another blog with good reporting and content in this cyber-world of bad reports, lies, and sensationalist yellow journalism. Apart from the blogs I regularly visit for good information (Wired Eruptions, Jon Frimann, John Seach, Earthquake-report.com, Smithsonian GVP, etc), this blog has actually topped several of the aforementioned blogs in traffic, and content. Thank you for making this possible.

I'd like to take the time to tell you what it is I actually do for my reports, and appeal to your sense of philanthropy in regards to donations and ad revenue.

While this is a blog I started out of the goodness of my heart, and a desire for better reports on volcanoes, the potential for making a it of money off of my hobby cannot be ignored.

I have installed a "donate" button on my blog, in case you don't feel like looking at ads to support my column. So if you're feeling frisky, please click on the Google donate button, and donate what you feel my blogs are worth! This will go to blog improvements, future expeditions to volcanoes with great photography and first-hand reports, not to mention, I might be able to eat some fancy food at a nice restaurant with my girlfriend!

While this blog will ALWAYS be free to view, comment, and re-post (I do hereby give TOTAL AUTHORIZATION TO ALL VIEWERS to re-post my content to their hearts desire), in order to keep me up and running with a nice computer, Internet, and a home, a little extra money never hurts.

A big thank you to all the readers who have made this blog what it is today. A blog dedicates to good, accurate, and non-sensationalist reporting. Yeah, a lot of it is boring, but reality is usually a lot less exciting than made-up 'facts' about volcanoes. Sure, I won't tell you the world is going to end, but I use real scientific data to report, and am not afraid to call out those who would distort that data for sensationalist journalism (DailyMail.co.uk, I am looking squarely at YOU).

So if you're feeling a bit heavy with pocket change, please feel free to dispose of it my way. I assure you it will go to good use, and only improve what I have started here.

So until a supervolcano, asteroid, gamma burst, or WWIII breaks out, I thank you for your support, and your patronage. I can only hope to continue to be on top of all things geological, for as long as I can keep it up.

Read on!

El Hierro Update

El Hierro tremor picked up this morning as a large stain and jacuzzi area reappeared after the lull in activity yesterday. This morning a ship could be seen cruising the stain area, presumably a scientific ship collecting data. Vent collapse yesterday built up pressure and caused nearly 10 small earthquakes, followed by a resumption of harmonic tremor and eruptive activity today. This is becoming a pattern.

Plenty of smoking lava stones could be seen live on the camera, with the ship swooping around to try and scoop them up before they burst and fall back to the ocean floor in a fiery pop. The presence of these smoking stones rules out a simple hydrothermal surface eruption, and confirms lava is still being emitted at the vent. It also appears that multiple smaller vents have opened aside from the main vent, as there are two smaller jacuzzis present in webcam images. there is a second large vent, and a much smaller one as of now. The larger new vent is to the East of the original one, and the smaller vent is N of the original vent. This totals nearly three vents active from what I can see on cam.

Smoking lava stone right of ship this afternoon at El Hierro.

El Hierro will likely continue to erupt for some time. You can see today's current tremor graph below.

Tremor this morning, Image copyright IGN.

As is the case with many "hotspot" volcanic systems, they are hard to predict, and often will have long term effusive eruptions like Kilauea in Hawaii. The eruption at Kilauea has entered its 25th straight year of activity with no end in sight. El Hierro could end up being this type of long term eruption, or simply cease at any time, however given the size of the magma chamber, and the characteristics of this eruption, I'll say that El Hierro has plenty still to give. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

5.2 Mag Earthquake Strikes Near Santorini, Greece

A 5.2 magnitude quake struck approximately 30 miles Southwest of Santorini Island today at 4:42 UTC. The quake was followed by 4.1 and 4.2 aftershocks. 

Image from Google Earth with USGS overlay.

Santorini volcano was last active in the 1956 when a large earthquake and subsequent volcanic eruption resulted in the demolition of buildings and evacuations. An island was formed in the middle of the caldera, and thermal activity still occurs. While these quakes are not near the magma chamber, they do have the potential of destabilizing the region. More than likely a few aftershocks will continue to be recorded in the quake area.

*****UPDATE 1/27/2012*****

Another earthquake registering mag 5.2 has hit the same area, slightly SW of the original quake. This seems to confirm a statement from Greece's geologists that the Santorini fault is now in motion, and we could expect more quakes. Whether or not the quake activity affects nearby Santorini/Thera volcano remains to be seen, but scientists are being very cautious at this point in regards to statements. They are however closely monitoring the situation. Likely this will cause more fault slips and afterschocks. It will be interesting to see if there is a cascade effect up the fault to Santorini, but at this time it appears the activity may be moving away from the caldera. I will post more updates if anything new occurs.

*****UPDATE 2 1/27/2012*****

A 4.7 aftershock has hit near the epicenter of the first 5.2 quake.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Mechanics of the El Hierro Eruption (and current update)

The El Hierro volcano is a vexing one to watch and attempt to predict. While predicting any volcanic activity is not a science, more of an art, there are some typical signs for volcanic eruption that most scientists use to gauge the intensity, duration, and potential eruption time window. For El Hierro it seems, a lot of these rules are out the window and useless.

Harmonic Tremor (HT) is a seismic signal that is typically generated after preceding earthquakes, which indicates moving magma underground. This is usually indicative of an ongoing or soon to be starting eruption. This is not always so however, as El Hierro has proven time and again during this eruption. Some days, there are many smoking lava balloons and an intense jacuzzi, despite an absence of HT or earthquake activity. Slow effusion of underwater lava it seems can be independent of any HT signal. This has been the case now for weeks.

To scientists and remote bloggers, using HT monitors could give the false impression that the eruption has ended (Jon Frimann of the Iceland Volcano Blog uses this reasoning a lot). Without visual confirmation of the cone underwater, some bloggers leap to the conclusion that with an absence of strong HT, that the eruption MUST be over. If you were looking at an erupting cone, but your seismographs weren't showing any tremor, would you believe your eyes, or your instruments?

There are of course many other indications of an ongoing eruption. Gases, CO2 and SO2, can tell scientists what is going on inside the magma chamber. SO2 is usually indicative of a stable, and mild eruption, while large spikes in CO2 usually precede larger explosive activity. Monitoring these gases in real-time is the best way to really gauge the 'attitude' of the volcano at any given moment. CO2 and SO2 emissions at El Hierro remain stable, which suggests a stable eruptive cycle for now. If there are any spikes or dips, this could merely mean the magma chamber is either gearing up for a large explosion, or simply recharging/reloading.

Despite the fluctuations in HT and SO2/CO2 emissions, the visual observations of El Hierro don't seem to match up with instrument data very often. This is a unique volcano, like all of the other volcanoes of the world, and each has its own mechanisms for erupting, so using old methods from more active volcanoes simply will not produce the same results. Its important for those that monitor this volcano to realize that the eruption will only be "over" when the volcano is out of juice. Given the long duration of this eruption, and the supposed size of the magma chamber, I don't see this eruption ending any time soon. It will likely go on for a few more months, if not a year.

We do not know the exact size of the magma chamber, but like the Hawaiian Islands, Iceland, and other "hotspot" type volcanoes, eruptions can last years, or simply have a tiny eruption. The eruption at El Hierro is very much like the eruptions of Hawaii, specifically those of the Loihi Seamount, where an underwater volcano (that last erupted in 1996) is expected to one day create a new Hawaiian Island (in about 10,000 years or so!). The eruption at El Hierro is much shallower than Loihi so the time table here is around a couple of months if it keeps going. There has been an ongoing eruption in Hawaii from Kilauea since 1983, proving that sustained eruptions can and do occur on hotspots. This could be the beginning of a long term eruption at El Hierro... I would not be surprised.

This morning El Hierro is displaying vigorous jacuzzi activity, with occasional bursts of smoking lava stones. HT is gradually picking up again (which only means that somewhere in the chamber, magma is moving), and a few quakes were recorded. The activity has consistently ramped up on the surface the closer the vent gets to the surface of the ocean, and I expect it will continue to do so.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

3.8 Magnitude Quake in Clear Lake/Geysers California

A magnitude 3.8 quake hit Clear Lake today at around 4:30am north of the normal seismic swarm region. Typically, the Clear Lake geothermal prospect can cause up to 50 small quakes a day, many ranging from 1.0-4.0. 3.8 is a bit larger than the area usually sees, and this quake is different due to its location and size. The area where this quake occurred is at the SE shore of the lake, not near any geothermal drilling or activity. This is most likely a tectonic event and not magma movement, although the area is considered to be an active volcano.

Above image from Google Earth with real-time USGS layer added.

Waveforms of the quake from USGS website.

The Geysers Geothermal Field/Clear Lake area has had an ongoing quake swarm since geothermal power plants were installed on the mountain range south of the lake. This has been going on since the late 1990's. While information on this activity is hard to come by, and the science papers released mostly being from corporate scientists with interests to protect, it is anyone's guess what's going on in this area. The wave forms do appear to be tectonic from this quake (above), so it's probably not a cause for concern. As always though, I will keep my eyes peeled on this location to see if anything new develops (but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it).

Activity Strong Today At El Hierro

The Canary Islands volcano does not seem to want to quit. Despite reports around the web and other blogs that say "El Hierro Eruption Stops", it seems again that El Hierro is making fools out of those who try to predict this volcano. Today the activity is quite high, with more lava balloons (gas filled lava that floats on the surface of the water) visible day and night, and a very strong "jaccuzzi" area present during the afternoon at El Hierro (below).

Picture from Movistar/Telefonica webcam.

El Hierro has been in a sort of on-off-on-off-on pattern with its eruptions, probably due to structural adjustments and dome collapse underwater. Once magma pressure builds again, activity resumes. This is probably indicative of a large magma chamber beneath the island. My guess is that the volcano probably has plenty of life in it yet, and that we can't expect it to stop anytime soon.

Pictures posted on Earthquake-report.com from the local scientific expeditions show that there are now two vents active underneath the water. The main vent, lovingly referred to as "Bob", and a nameless vent closer to the shore, but much smaller. The dual jaccuzzis can be seen in the image above. 

The main vent is now a mere 30-50 meters below the sea surface, and if activity continues, we will most likely bare witness to a surtseyan eruption within a couple months. Just last month a similar eruption created a new island in the Jebel Zubair chain in Yemen. Since that area isn't closely watched, and is rather deserted, that eruption was a surprise only identified by local reports and satellites. Scientists did not witness the start of the eruption underwater, and thus only knew of the eruption once it breached the surface, so we have no way of knowing how long Jebel Zubair erupted for. 

We are fortunate with El Hierro to see the precursors to the eruption in the form of a vast amount of earthquakes, along with the underwater cone building phase, and hopefully the surtseyan island forming phase. This will have been a complete record of an eruption, and will no doubt be invaluable to science.

Monday, January 23, 2012

6.2 Mag Quake Strikes Chile Near Bio-Bio

A 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck today near Bio-Bio in Chile, off the coast. No tsunami warning was issued (at least according to the few reports I read). The quake was at a depth of 29.7KM, and was followed by a 4.9 aftershock. The town of Tome' was the hardest hit, with shaking in the area characterized as strong-very strong on the USGS scale. The quake was felt further inland.

Chile is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and resides entirely on the rim of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the tectonic plate boundary where the majority of Earth's active volcanoes are located.

Chile has seen some very strong quakes in recent years, with an 8.8, and 9.0 striking last year alone. The 9.0 quake did cause a tsunami, that resulted in only one fatality (a guy from my hometown no less!) where a man was taking pictures of the wave at his own risk, and got swept up the West Coast from California and ended up in Oregon. Some damage was caused by the tsunami in various ports where boats got knocked together, and a minor wave also 'hit' Hawaii, although this caused little damage as well.

There is no word yet on whether or not the current quake caused any damage or injuries. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

El Hierro Volcano Still Erupting

The eruption at El Hierro continues at a steady pace. Harmonic tremor has fluctuated during the past few weeks, with tremor picking up in the last couple of days following a supposed vent collapse (possibly two). Last night, viewers of the webcams reported seeing flaming lava balloons on the surface of the jacuzzi area, with sporadic increases and decreases in jacuzzi intensity.

As of this writing, tremor is picking up, which has become somewhat typical following vent collapse. This is a result of re-pressurization of the vent magma chamber, which will likely result in further underwater cone building and subsequent collapses, until the volcano either breaks the surface and enters a surtseyan eruptive phase, or the eruption ceases altogether.

El Hierro volcano has vexed bloggers, enthusiasts, and scientists alike, with frequent stops and starts to the eruption action. Some bloggers like John Frimann (Iceland Volcano And Earthquake Blog) and Earthquake-report.com (who currently has the best equipped coverage of the area, sans opinions) have previously reported the eruption to be over, which is obviously not the case.

As is sometimes a fact with long dormant volcanoes, eruptions can be long lived, or short in duration. The eruption at El Hierro was preceded my many thousands of small earthquakes, which resulted in a good picture of the girth of the magma chamber, which it turns out, is quite large. This is one of the least studied volcanoes in the Canary Islands, if not THE least studied. So most of the info about El Hierro is quite new.

The magma chamber is large, and has clearly made a channel to a massive magma source, probably deeper than scientists are currently able to measure without the aid of a massive seismic network, or the newly minted muon scanning technology. Judging from the earthquakes alone, in conjunction with depth, magnitude, location, etc, it seems this eruption probably has plenty of pressurized magma to feed activity for months to years.

In my opinion, this will be a very sustained and long eruption, possibly resulting in the creation of a new island. If the volcano ever does break the surface of the water and enter a land-building phase like the new island in Yemen (in the Jebel Zubair chain), the eruption will likely speed up with no water pressure to hold it back. A lack of water at the vents surface would allow the eruption to "blow its load" so-to-speak, resulting in probably a quicker release of magmatic gas pressure. This of course is only my theory.

In any case, the eruption continues unabated, and is beginning to develop a pattern of vigorous cone growth followed by periodic collapses and a subsequent increase in tremor and pressure. The lava balloons on the surface seem to indicate a very even flow of lava to the vent area, very consistent.

I will post more updates if anything interesting occurs. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Quick Post In Support Of The Internet

By now many people have probably realized that a lot of websites are "blacked out" today in protest of a bill called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), which would hold accountable any website, company, host, etc for the use and/or distribution of copyrighted material such as pictures, sounds, and more. Obviously we'd all love to keep the Internet a free domain for creative thought, and keep it so information can be disseminated freely to the world. Sadly, some media companies see it differently.

The MPAA, Hollywood, record labels, and other organizations have lobbied congress with millions of dollars in order to have them craft a TRAVESTY of a bill that would basically end the Internet as we know it. And I'm not even being dramatic. The bill would change the way bloggers blog, how news organizations report, would trash our judicial system with thousands of infringement cases, and the lives of mostly innocent adults, teenagers, and kids put into jeopardy for something as simple as a re-tweet, or Facebook post.

To put it bluntly, SOPA must NEVER happen.

Currently the White House is saying that it will veto the bill, and Congress seems to have gotten the message that this is something the USA and it's citizens will not stand for. But the bill is still being 'kicked around the office' so-to-speak, and the danger of its passage is anything but over.

How can you help fight the bill? Visit Wikipedia.org and give them your ZIP code, they will point you to a petition that you can sign and send to your local and state representatives. Make your voice heard, keep the Internet free, and excersize your freedom to dissent!

As an Internet engineer and avid blogger, this issue is near and dear to my heart. The Internet is one hell of an invention, and the only thing I'd like to see in regards to changing it, is increasing the services it provides to the world, not the other way around. STOP SOPA, WRITE YOUR REP!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Headaches For South American Travellers As Puyehue Cordon-Caulle Continues To Erupt

BBC news and local websites are reporting that Argentina's airport in Bariloche, which was closed due to the eruption of Puyehue Cordon-Caulle volcano in Chile, had reopened three days ago after a 7-month closure due to volcanic ash, only to close again today as another wave of ash fell on the airport. I guess you can say this is the Southern hemisphere's Eyjafjallajokull moment. Airports as far as Melbourne, Australia have been forced to close due to the amount of ash in the air, as this volcano continues a strong eruptive cycle.

Chile's  Puyehue Cordon-Caulle volcano sprang back to life last year with major ash emissions coming from the Cordon-Caulle fissure system. The eruption has ejected many thousands of tons of ash into the atmosphere, and the ash cloud has recently circumnavigated the entire southern hemisphere. The current eruption has been characterized as highly explosive, with a VEI of 3, and has ejected pumice, effused lava down the flank, and has so far released enough energy equivalent to 70 nuclear bombs!

The eruption has forced closure of over 10 airports in the Southern Hemisphere, and has caused travel delays and chaos for months. However, like the Icelandic eruption of 2010, it is far better to be late, than to be dead, so I'm certain airlines are erring on the side of caution in this case.

Aside from the ashfall, and danger of lahars, the volcano has not caused any deaths or fatalities (directly) from the eruption. It has been erupting since April/March of 2011 and so far shows no signs of quieting down.

Eruptions from this volcano are somewhat rare, with many reports of historical eruption highly questionable, with the exception of the 1914, and 1960 eruptions.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Costa Rica's Turrialba Volcano Alert Level Raised To Yellow

Costa Rica's Turrialba volcano has been raised to alert level "Yellow" in response to reports of increased seismicity, and emissions. Residents and pilots reported seeing a gas plume (possibly containing ash), and some photos seem to confirm this (below). Turriabla has had several major explosive eruptions in the last 3200 years, with most historical activity being fairly small (some phreatic eruptions and minor explosive events). It is anyone's guess as to how this particular volcano will behave if it does decide to erupt.

Turrialba Volcano in Costa Rica (Credit not given from original website)

Increase emissions with ash and gas do not always lead to a major event. The volcano Cerro Hudson in Chile recently came out of 'hibernation' and gave a small 'burp' of ash and gas for a couple days, but then quieted down quickly. As the M.O. for Turrialba seems to be many brief, weak events, with the very occasional large event, this event will likely be small and brief. Time will tell.

Costa Rica has many active volcanoes, 5 of which are the typical repeat offenders (Poas, Irizu, Arenal, Rincon de la Vieja, and Turrialba) as far as frequent eruptions. Of the volcanoes in Costa Rica, only a few have little to no historical volcanic activity (Tenorio, Miravalles, Orosi, an Platanar). The four least active volcanoes doe however display hydrothermal or fumerolic activity, and were considered to be of Holocene age by the Smithsonian GVP, and their referenced volcanologists.

Costa Rica, like most Latin-American countries, the US, and Canada lie on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Costa Rica, is prone to frequent eruptions from Poas, and Arenal (very rare to see these volcanoes dormant).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chile's Lascar Volcano Alert Level Raised

The Smithsonian GVP and Chilean media report that Lascar volcano has been raised a level on their alert scale due to increasing seismicity and volcanic tremor. There is a great article on Wired.com that details the latest unrest and provides plenty of great links to other info and a webcam for you volcano-voyeurs.

Lascar Volcano is one of Chile's most active volcanoes. Situated amongst many other young and old stratovolcanoes in the Andes range, many of them also considered to be active, it has produced some very large eruptions in our recent history, the largest of which occurred in 1993 when pyroclastic flows traveled more than 8KM from the summit, and ash fell as far away as Buenos Aires. Current activity would likely consist of explosive eruptions, although probably not as large as the 1993 event.

The volcano is located about 70KM southwest of the town of San Pedro de Atacama. The volcano, due to its remoteness, is not considered a threat to anyone, or anything (except perhaps aircraft due to ash), and is not close (within 20 miles or so) to any population centers.

You can read the article on Wired.com for yourself, and enjoy going down the rabbit holes (links). Its always fun to get to really know a volcano!

New Imagery Of Nyamuragira Eruption In Congo

The eruption of Nyamuragira in the Congo continues, and NASA has released new photos of the lava flow from space. The (infrared) image shows the heat coming off of the lava flow, as well as the red glow of the Nyiragongo crater to the West. The lava flow is South of Nyamuragira and has extended several miles from the fissure cone area. The volcano has now been erupting for several months.

Nyamuragira and its neighbor Nyiragongo are a couple of Africa's most active volcanoes, having had many historical eruptions. They are considered to be dangerous volcanoes, as lava lake drainage has destroyed villages and caused fatalities in the past. One of the most interesting things I have ever seen about this volcano is how it occasionally catches elephants off guard and creates a lava 'casting' of an elephant in its flow. The lava erupted from these volcanoes is very silicic pahoehoe, and has been known to flow at speeds up to 60mph (not a lava flow you would be able to outrun, like Hawaii volcanoes)!

The current eruption at Nyamuragira does not currently threaten any developed area, or the area where the famed and highly endangered mountain lowland gorillas live. For now, this is a great eruption for tourists, and the Congo has seen a marked increase in the number of eco-tourism to the embattled nation-state.

Enjoy the photo from NASA's Earth Observatory!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Quiet Week in Volcano World

This week has been so far pretty quiet as far as new or interesting geological events, but a few have occurred.

Indonesia suffered a 7.3 Mag Quake off the coast of Sumatra, prompting the government to issue a brief tsunami warning (even though the Pacific Tsunami Center stated that there was no tsunami... I'd be freaked out if I were them too!). The quake did not damage any buildings.

Chile's Callaqui volcano appears to have either never erupted as reported, or had a very brief, non-explosive event. It is now thought that the volcano was merely exhibiting vigorous fumerole steaming.

El Hierro is in a holding pattern, with tremor at a medium level, and the stain on the ocean surface persistent. Not a lot has changed since the last post.

The quake swarm that was occurring at Mono Lake in California appears to have subsided or ceased. If this was magma dike intrusion, it was a very small one.

The quake swarm at Sierraville, CA (which scientists do say is a magma dike intrusion event) is ongoing after taking a few weeks off.

The volcano Sakura-Jima in Japan broke its previous record for the most explosive eruptions in a year -- around 980! (This is one of Japan's most active volcanoes).

Jebel-Zubair off the Yemen coast is still erupting and building more land, however the eruption (at last glance) appears to be subsiding. Based on the size of the other islands in the area, it is reasonable to assume this will be a short eruption, with a lasting island (given the lava composition).

If anything new or interesting occurs, I will surely post about it! There has not been a brand-new eruption to report on so far this year, so I will update some other volcanoes I am monitoring. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Vigorous Steaming at El Hierro Volcano

Morning webcam stream shows a VERY strong steam area over the vent at El Hierro. This indicates the vent is getting near to the surface, or temperature has drastically increased near the surface of the water. The steaming is constant, and lively, with occasilanl lava rocks coming briefly to the surface before they sink back down. It is quite possible that the volcano will legitimately enter the Surtseyan phase soon enough.


The column of steam near the surface this morning.

The eruption at El Hierro has been a bit erratic lately, occasionally looking like it's going to end, but the volcano has continuously been erupting for months now, with at least no visual signs lately of slowing down. Indeed, this vigorous steaming is about the most active the surface has ever been during the eruption, with the minor exceptions of a brief explosive event during the evening, and burning lava rocks occasionally visible at the ocean surface.

As of this writing, the column of steam coming from the water is quite persistent, and I see no reason why this eruption would end at this point. Time will tell. The eruption thus far has proceeded at a very slow pace. The island had plenty of warning via thousands of earthquakes, and the vent that opened up south of La Restinga has slowly but consistently grown, collapsed, and grown again. It seems the volcano is in no rush to breach the surface, but that could change at any time.

The steam so far seems to be a combination of floating steaming lava rocks, and very hot water. From what I saw this morning, I did not see a great many floating rocks, and the ones I did see didn't stick around too long. This looks to me like the water is incredibly hot, meaning that either the eruptive force down below is becoming strong enough to boil the water near the summit, or the summit is closer to the surface. Time will tell, and this new activity hasn't gone on long enough for INVOLCAN to take a close up look scientifically. Likely this will take some time. Updates will be posted tomorrow.

As of about 10:30am PST, the Movistar/Telefonica webcams appear to be offline. Earthquake-report.com is urging people to tweet:

@movistar_es ¡Las webcams de la erupción volcánica en El Hierro NO FUNCIONAN! Hay mucha actividad, por favor arreglarlas pronto. Gracias

which translates to: The El Hierro eruption webcams DO NOT WORK. There is a lot of activity, please fix them as soon as possible. Thank You

I would certainly "tweet" this message, if I were a Twitter user (nothing I have to say is 140 characters short!), so if anyone that reads this would like to use their tweet power to help get the cams back online, I'm sure all of us "Bob" fans would greatly appreciate it!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Yemeni Volcano Jebel Zubair Erupts (VIDEO)

"Yemeni volcano Jebel Zubair has entered an eruptive phase (below)
Zubair Islands, Yemen
15.05 N, 42.18 E
summit elevation 191 m
Shield volcano
Jebel Zubair Volcano is located in the Red Sea, Yemen. Eruptions have formed the islands of Zubair, Centre Peak, Saba, and Haycock. 
Eruptions occurred at Saddle Island in the 19th century. Thee islands form the summit of a submarine rise. The volcanic cone is barren and rises 191 m above sea level.

2011 Eruption
A possible eruption occurred at Zubair volcano on 19th December 2011. Fishermen from Salif port city in the west of Yemen reported seeing an eruption with red lava rising to a height of 30 m. This was the first eruption the fisherman can recall from the area. Satellite images showed raised sulphur dioxide emissions close to the volcano on the following day"

From the Smithsonian GVP:

"The 5-km-long Jebel Zubair Island is the largest of a group of 10 small islands and submerged shoals that rise from a shallow platform in the Red Sea rift. The platform and eruptive vents forming the islands and shoals are oriented NNW-SSE, parallel to the rift. An early explosive phase was followed by a brief period of marine erosion, and then by renewed explosive activity accompanied by the extrusion of basaltic pahoehoe lava flows. This latest phase of activity occurred on the morphologically youngest islands of Zubair, Centre Peak, Saba, and Haycock. Historical explosive activity was reported from Saddle Island in the 19th century. Spatter cones and pyroclastic cones were erupted along fissures that form the low spine of Zubair Island."

(Now from me)

About two years ago now, another volcano on the same tectonic spread erupted, named Jebel al-Tair. That eruption was witnessed by a Coast Guard ship on patrol at the area. The island held a small Yemeni military contingent which was evacuated. At least two seven people died either swimming into the water in a panic to escape the lava, or from toxic gas. The new eruption is the island directly south of this volcano.

This could end up being a crustal trend in the area, although this is speculative. There are two other holocene volcanic islands to the SSE of Jebel al-Tair, and Jebel Zubair, which are morphologically fresh, although neither have a record of historical eruptions. The area is quite remote however, so it would not surprise me in the least if these islands had erupted behind our backs once or twice. Below is a screenshot from Google Earth of the Jebel Zubair volcanic island chain.


There seems to be some confusion as to whether or not this is Jebel Zubair, or Jebel al-Tair volcano. You can read about the confusion at Wired.com for yourself. Apparently, local reports place the eruption at Zubair, but satellite images are confusing. There does appear to be a steam/gas plume over Zubair, but satellite images show SO2 emissions over Al-Tair. It could even be that BOTH volcanoes may be showing signs of activity, which would not be entirely surprising. However, I have not known John Seach to post anything about an eruption unless he has confirmation somehow, so I honestly don't know who to believe at this point... interesting, nonetheless. 

Information from this part of Yemen and the Arabian rift is hard to come by. The area is not very populated, and the military outpost on Jebel al-Tair was destroyed in the last eruption, which was really one of the only "populated" (in quotes because 15 people does not a population make) island in the area. Reports will likely be few and far between, as far as Western Media.

*****UPDATE 1/5/12*****

Video footage via helicopter has been released!

Sierraville, CA Quake Swarm Returns

A quake swarm has again occurred (and is possibly ongoing) under Sierraville, CA at approximately the same depth as the previous quake swarm. The previous swarm was determined to be minor magma dike intrusion, which is also likely the case here. There is still no risk of a volcanic eruption, the intrusion is taking place at around 30-40KM beneath the surface, so it is still quite far.

The Sierraville swarm is an interesting one to watch. The area does not have any recent eruptive history, however hot springs and fumeroles can be found near the area.

The current continuation of the quake swarm occurred between December 29th, and January 3rd. Two quakes of mag 1.4 and 1.2 occurred today at a depth of 33KM.

The Sierraville swarm has been felt by residents unaccustomed to frequent quakes. Given the fact that we know these quakes are volcanic intrusions, I'm sure the residents may be a bit nervous. But this swarm will likely never result in an eruption due to its depth. Indeed many magma dike intrusions never result in a surface eruption. It does not mean it's impossible, but I'd try your luck at the lottery first if I were a betting man.

Anyhow, something interesting to watch.

New Volcanic Monitoring Tech Under Development

Scientists are close to deploying en masse a new technology that could greatly improve our knowledge about the inner workings of volcanoes, possibly leading to a method in the future to determine how, when, and for how long an eruption might occur. Last night on PBS (here in the States), Nova produced an excellent show about volcanoes and what is being invented to monitor them properly. This is a two fold solution to a problem that has vexed mankind since our earliest days on the planet.

First, there are many technologies that can 'map' a volcanoes inner workings. The most common is seismic monitoring through low-velocity zones. What happens here is that deep earthquakes around a volcano (such as Yellowstone) are recorded by multiple instruments around the area. The data is timed so that computers can analyze exactly how fast, and at what portions, the waveforms slow down, or travel unimpeded through the crust. A slower wave form denotes molten, or semi-molten rock. This is called a low-velocity zone, and computers can now produce rather accurate images of underground magma chambers, which was recently done to Yellowstone.

But a far greater technology is in the works, and one that will not require thousands of seismic recorders, and is independent of earthquake data. Cosmic rays have been observed to produce particles called muons. Muons travel at near light speed, can easily travel through objects such as mountains, buildings... us. Scientists have figured out a way to place muon sensors around a volcanic summit to not only map the inner magma tube that feeds volcanic summits, but can tell where the magma is, at what pressure, and produce a very detailed 3D image of the inside 'guts' of a volcano.

This technology coupled with seismic extrapolation of underground magma reservoirs will GREATLY reduce inaccuracies in predicting or assessing eruption risks. This technology is now currently being used on Italy's Mount Vesuvius, which most scientists agree is currently the worlds most potentially lethal volcano, with a large population (in the millions) living around its base. Vesuvius is most famous for the 79AD eruption that destroyed the town of Pompeii, but it has had many many eruptions in the last 2000 years. It erupted during WWII, and again in the 1960's in recent history, but has since been oddly quiet.

The second volcano to be monitored is another potential killer. Mount Shasta on the West Coast of the US is a silent monster, looming over the Washington state skyline like an American Mt. Fuji, it is structurally weak, and has a record of historical activity. The main threat from this volcano is flank collapse that would result in landslides and lahars, however elevated thermal temperatures and chemicals in surrounding creeks suggest that the volcano is also slowly heating up. Nova pointed out that the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 was preceded by reports of discolored and high temperature river water weeks and months before the actual eruption. This has prompted the muon analyzing tech to be deployed around Shasta to get the real story on what's going on.

In any case, the technology for volcanic monitoring and prediction is improving by leaps and bounds as technology improves day by day. It is entirely possible that with these combinations of technology that getting caught off guard by a volcano erupting may soon be a thing of the past... at least for countries that can afford the investment. Areas that are remote, and inconsequential to humans, like the Aleutian Island volcanoes of Alaska, would probably be a low priority area for deploying this technology. However urban centers near these volcanoes would certainly benefit.

If you weren't able to see this Nova presentation last night, I'd see if you can find it online, or maybe order it from PBS. It was a great special, and brings a lot of food for thought.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

El Hierro Erupting Glowing Lava Stones At Night

Video from Earthquake-Report.com shows glowing lava stones floating on the surface of the water during night time as activity again increases at El Hierro. Video shows a very obvious lava blob floating on the surface of the water, and eventually being extinguished by the ocean. Hopefully this activity will continue into the daytime so we can see some good video. You can watch the webcam here and hope to see a glimpse of the lava as it happens.

The El Hierro volcano continues to vex bloggers who want to be the first to report an end to the eruption. I will say this, the volcano has proven time and again that it is in no rush to finish what it started, and will probably be content to ooze lava from time to time. Sometimes, volcanoes that have been long dormant might have a longer than normal eruption, mostly due to the foundations on which they sit. An Island like El Hierro could conceivably, have a long term eruptive phase much like that of Hawaii's Kiluea volcano (which I suspect might be the case). Even though the eruption is a few months old now, it is still too early to tell when it might stop and give the residents of El Hierro a break.

The unfortunate thing for El Hierro is the location of the volcano (near one of its main port cities and tourist destinations), and the negative press its own government has given the eruption. Sensationalist news outlets and tabloids have effectively scared most of the normal tourists into cancelling whatever plans they had on the island, and damaged the local economy (not to mention the hit to fisherman who have seen their shoals of fish boiled by the underwater volcano in the early phase). It could have been very different, like it was for Iceland when Eyjafjallajokull erupted, drawing in thousands of tourists to the arctic isle. I guess the Spanish government probably wouldn't have a lot of experience with volcano-tourism.

In any case, stay tuned for more updates!

Chilean Volcano Callaqui Erupts

The Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program reported an eruption today at the Callaqui volcano in Chile. This makes a total of 3 currently erupting volcanoes in Chile with Chaiten, and Puyehue-Cordón Caulle. Chile has seen some rare eruptions from some of its least known, and least active volcanoes in recent years. In 2008, Chaiten, a stratovolcano with no historical records of any eruptive activity, violently exploded, destroying the small town of the same name to the West of the volcano. Puyehue-Cordón Caulle erupted several years later. Both eruptions are ongoing.

The Smithsonian GVP had this to say about the new eruption (which wasn't much):

"Based on a pilot observation, the Buenos Aires VAAC reported that the top of an ash plume from Callaqui was at 3 km (10,000 ft) a.s.l. on 2 January. Ash was not detected in satellite imagery under clear skies.

Geologic Summary:

The late-Pleistocene to Holocene Callaqui stratovolcano has a profile of an overturned canoe due to its construction along an 11-km-long, SW-NE fissure above a 1.2-0.3 million year old Pleistocene edifice. The ice-capped, 3164-m-high basaltic-andesite Callaqui volcano contains well-preserved volcanic cones and lava flows, which have traveled up to 14 km. Small craters 100-500 m in diameter are primarily found along a fissure extending down the SW flank. Intense solfataric activity occurs at the southern part of the summit; in 1966 and 1978, red glow was observed in fumarolic areas. Periods of intense fumarolic activity have dominated at Callaqui, and few historical eruptions are known. An explosive eruption was reported in 1751, there were uncertain accounts of eruptions in 1864 and 1937, and a small phreatic ash emission was noted in 1980."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sierra, CA Earthquake Swarm Resumes

Sierra CA has experienced another minor swarm of earthquakes in the same region as the previous swarm. The previous swarm was determined to be magma dike intrusion by geologists, although the intrusion is at a fairly deep depth and has very little if no chance of breaching the surface.

The below screenshot from Google Earth with the USGS KML file enabled details the locations of the quakes. They all occur at a depth of approximately 30KM or deeper.


The Sierra swarm is of little consequence to the community aside from the periodic shakes, however if the quakes do become shallower, they will be felt more strongly. There is very little chance of a new volcano or vent opening up (but as always, it is not impossible). While this event series is NOT tectonic in nature, the depth at which it is occurring does nto signal a volcanic eruption.

There are to my knowledge, very few news agencies reporting on this, so don't hope to find anyone else on the 'net!

Mono Lake Earthquake Swarm Ends

There has been no renewed activity at Mono Lake since the last post. The swarm at this time appears to be over. If the area does have some more earthquakes, they will likely be small and shallow (~5km) and become less frequent. This could have been magma dike intrusion, or even cryptodome intrusion, as the area does have a history of that. However given the seismographs I've reviewed in comparison to past tectonic events, this event was likely purely tectonic/structural and will likely not result in any eruptive activity.

Mono Lake has not had an explosive eruptive event in human history, but has a rather unique geological past. The last activity to occur in the area resulted int he intrusion of a rhyolitic cryptodome, which in turn created some hydrothermal activity resulting in the extrusion of the famed tufa towers. The lake has since been of particular interest to astrobiologists (those that study the biology of potentially extraterrestrial life forms) due to the presence of bacteria that thrive on the element arsenic.

The area is an extension (as some claim) of the Long Valley Caldera, a dormant supervolcano (similar to Yellowstone) that has experienced long periods of uplift and subsidence since the 1970's. Long Valley Caldera is monitored by the USGS at the Long Valley Observatory (http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/lvo/) but the observatory does not often keep up to date with Mono Lake. 

Smoking Lava Stones at El Hierro This Morning

Video from El Hierro this morning showed smoking lava stones on the surface of the water intermittently, during a period of supposed low harmonic tremor. Many bloggers and volcanologists are under the assumption that a volcano only erupts when harmonic tremor is detected, leading them to falsely report this eruption is at its end. Again, El Hierro is still erupting. You don't get floating lava rocks freshly steaming at the surface from a volcano that is not erupting, period. Earthquake activity has also picked up again on the island.

Harmonic tremor does not denote an eruption. It precedes an eruption. There are a few stages to an eruption, the first is earthquake swarms from breaking rocks and underground explosions. Second, harmonic tremor starts when magma finds a channel toward the surface. Once a channel reaches the surface, you generally have an eruption with a decrease in harmonic tremor. Once the channel of lava becomes more stable, harmonic tremor decreases. If the vent collapses and plugs the main fissure, harmonic tremor will again pick up, building pressure and attempting to find another outlet. This is what is occurring at El Hierro. The summit vent has collapsed several times. When it does, you see harmonic tremor pick up.

The vent at El Hierro has collapsed several times, each time harmonic tremor drops, and people say "Oh the eruption must be over". Shortly after there is always an explosion, with lava rocks reaching the surface, with another gradual decrease in tremor (when the vent can erupt again). The likely scenario is that the vent has a stable magma tube coming to the surface, and periodically gets plugged, which results in collapses and underwater explosions. This is NOT simply hydrothermal, as magma/lava is rarely involved.

My own thoughts are that El Hierro will continue to be active for a long time, and will continue its on/off phases until it finally gives up the ghost and settles down. However the vastness of the underground low-velocity zone, coupled with CO2 emissions on the island itself suggest that this may not be the only vent that will open up during this eruption. As I've pointed out in an earlier post, there appears to be two separate magma chambers under El Hierro, a smaller one to the ENE of El Hierro, and one to the WSW/SE of El Hierro (covering the area of El Golfo to the E of La Restinga, and through the main island). I believe the smaller one is related to the erupting vent, and the bigger one may not have erupted yet (and may or may not).

It is still too early to say whether or not El Hierro is in its last gasps, even though some other bloggers seem to think so. I surely do not.

I will post more updates as they become available.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Fear Mongering Begins Anew in 2012 with False Laacher See Predictions

Well, that didn't take long... It's not two days into the New Year and already the fear mongers at the Daily Mail (a British Tabloid) have published an article claiming that "new activity" in the Laacher See in Germany indicates magma degassing or on the rise... except this is OLD news, and magma continually degases, even in 'extinct' volcanic areas. They claim (like most Yellowstone carnival barkers) that since it 'erupts regularly' in intervals of 10,000-12,000 years, that its 12,900 year dormancy is certain to be coming to an end. The article says that scientists told the Daily Mail all these facts... yet they cite none of them. No scientists, no experts, no nothing, just a bunch of hot air.

Wired News has already picked up on this travesty of reporting and correctly pointed out all the falsehoods of this article. The area is nowhere NEAR as thermally active as Yellowstone, which is still of minimal concern to most scientists, and despite continuously seeping carbon dioxide gas coming up from the ground (much like Lake Nyos in the Cameroon), this volcano has been doing the same exact thing, degassing, since the dark ages.

There is NO imminent risk of eruption, and only very minor seismicity. The Daily Mail is known for its sensationalist garbage journalism, very rarely citing sources or credible quotes, and seems to have no problem publishing damaging and irresponsible articles such as it did. Indeed, halfway credible news outlets (emphasis on HALFWAY) have picked up the Daily Mail article and re-written all the 'factoids' to further promote this false story.

In any case, get ready for a lot of bad volcano articles in 2012 from Yellowstone to Toba. Any Supervolcano is at risk of falling victim to bad press it seems.

On a side note, the reason Doomsday prophecies are a bunch of BS is because (surprise surprise) not one has come true in the entirety of human history. It would take an incredible, and improbable combination of events to actually wipe out our planet, and even if it were to occur (odds are that it will some day), there is NO WAY to predict the end of our planet in terms of volcanic eruption, earthquakes, or gamma ray bursts. In fact, the only thing we'd be able to see coming is an asteroid, meteor, or a planet (I shudder to even mention the stupid Planet X/Nibiru conspiracy, but the madness must stop). We have survived the ages regardless of what people try and prophecise, and I don't suspect that will change any time soon.