Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is Mauna Loa Rumbling Back To Life?

Recent quake activity within the Mauna Loa volcanic system on the Big Island of Hawaii has some scientists and spectators wondering if Mauna Loa could be gearing up for another eruption in the near future. Many small quakes have been recorded under the summit and rift system lately, however this does not mean an eruption is imminent. While gradual inflation of the volcano has been occurring since 2010, the volcano is not displaying any signs typical of the volcano gearing up for an eruption, such as drastic inflation, changes in fumerole temperature, or large, rock-fracture quakes associated with magma rising through the crust.

But that really could change at any moment...

The main thing that would prevent an eruption of Mauna Loa is the fact that Kilauea is still highly active, and venting lava every day. This releases some pressure on the magma chamber of Mauna Loa, but deep down, the volcanoes are in fact linked at the magma source. If the magma plume exceeds what Kilauea pumps out, which is probably what's occurring slowly, Mauna Loa would experience refilling of its massive magma chamber, and slowly prime for an eruption.

Mauna Loa is one of Hawaii's most active volcanoes aside from Kilauea and Hualei (which last erupted in 1801), having last erupted in 1984 simultaneously with Kilauea who's 1983 eruption is still ongoing to this day. Typically Mauna Loa has erupted every several decades, and some volcanologist are of the mind that it is 'overdue' for an eruption - however volcanoes are never on a 'schedule', and statistical data for their eruptive periods is nearly useless.

There is no telling when Mauna Loa might actually erupt. Despite many efforts by the scientific community to accurately forecast volcanic eruptions months, or even years in advance, the technology and methodology simply has not coalesced yet. While it is easy to warn of an imminent eruption for most volcanoes a few hours before the activity increases (or at the very least, raise alert levels on restless volcanoes), forecasting an eruption from a volcano like Mauna Loa, which is one of the best studied volcanoes in the world, is still decades away at best.

HVO for now is keeping it's head cool and issued the most recent report on Mauna Loa:

(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

No significant changes were recorded through May 2014.  Seismicity: Seismicity continued to be elevated over the average rates of the past 25 years-12 shallow events below summit area, 7 events to the west of Moku`āweoweo Crater (<13 km), 5 events to the north of Moku`āweoweo Crater, 17 shallow events on the Upper Southwest Rift (Sulfur Cone), 2 shallow events on the Lower Southwest Rift, 2 shallow events on the NE Rift Zone.  

Deformation: GPS and tilt networks did not record any changes in deformation rates or patterns that were significantly above the error of the measurements during May. Southeasterly motion of the south flank continued.  Gas: No significant changes in SO2, CO2 were recorded by the Mokuaweoweo gas and temperature monitors in May. Daily average fumarole temperature during the month declined from 76 to 75 degrees C, still not back down though to the 71.7 degrees average of several months ago.  

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.  Rising gradually to more than 4 km above sea level, Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano on our planet. Its long submarine flanks descend to the sea floor an additional 5 km, and the sea floor in turn is depressed by Mauna Loa's great mass another 8 km. This makes the volcano's summit about 17 km (56,000 ft) above its base!

The enormous volcano covers half of the Island of Hawai`i and by itself amounts to about 85 percent of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined.  Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano on Earth and is among Earth's most active volcanoes, having erupted 33 times since its first well-documented historical eruption in 1843. Its most recent eruption was in 1984. Fore more information on Mauna Loa, see the USGS Fact sheet available at   CONTACT INFORMATION:  The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is one of five volcano observatories within the U.S. Geological Survey and is responsible for monitoring volcanoes and earthquakes in Hawai`i."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Alaska Volcano Semisopochnoi Raised To Yellow Alert

Semisopochnoi, a remote volcano island in Alaska's Aleutian arc, has begun experiencing heightened seismicity, leading AVO to raise its alert status to Yellow (watch). No eruption has yet occurred, however given the escalating seismicity, the possibility of an eruption is growing. On June 13th, AVO reported the following (not much has changed).

"A swarm of earthquakes at Semisopochnoi volcano that started at 10:00 AKDT (18:00 UTC) on June 9 escalated yesterday, June 12, at approximately 12:00 AKDT (20:00 UTC). The continuation of this anomalous seismic activity through the night prompts AVO to raise the Aviation Color Code to YELLOW and the Volcano Alert Level to ADVISORY. No eruptive activity is currently indicated. AVO is closely monitoring the situation and will issue further updates as conditions change. Semisopochnoi volcano is monitored by a 6-station seismic network as well as satellite imagery. Five of the seismic stations on Semisopochnoi are currently operational. The telemetry system for the Semisopochnoi stations, located on Amchitka Island, was just repaired in late May. Semisopochnoi Island is located 65 km (40 mi) northeast of Amchitka and 200 km (130 mi) west of Adak in the remote western Aleutian Islands. The last eruption of Semisopochnoi occurred in 1987."

Today's update indicates that the situation is about the same:

"The earthquake swarm at Semisopochnoi volcano that started on June 9 and escalated on June 12 continues. No eruptive activity is currently indicated and nothing was observed in cloudy satellite images over the past day."

Image of Semisopochnoi webicorder from AVO.

In the above image, you can see quakes that indicate fracturing of rock and magma dike intrusion into the shallow crust. The USGS earthquake indicator has detected at least one quake above mag 2.0 within the caldera. It is unknown at this time if or when the volcano may erupt, and which vent it may choose to use. 

The Smithsonian GVP indicates that most historical eruptions have occurred from a SE cone within the caldera known as Cerberus, although two other cones were considered to have possibly erupted in historical time by Coats (1950); Sugarloaf, and Lakeshore Cone. 

This now brings the current number of Alaskan volcanoes on alert status to 5:

Cleveland (Yellow)
Shishaldin (back up to Orange, after new eruptive activity was detected on webcam and satellite)
Pavlof (Orange; it is still having large eruptions)
Veniaminof (Yellow; activity has decreased, however seismicity remains above background)
Semisopochnoi (Yellow; has not yet erupted, but seismicity is high)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Reports Surface Of New Land Locked Volcano In India [UPDATED 6/18/2014]

So I am already skeptical about this, but there are news reports emerging of a 'new' volcano in India, in the province of Himachal Pradesh, an area in Northern India near the border to Indian controlled Kashmir. The area does not have a previous record of eruption, and unverified news reports such as this should be treated with a HIGH amount of skepticism. As this article reports:

"Flames and a hot liquid stream were seen spewing out of a hill 100 m from Gadiyada village. The village is over 200 km from Shimla. After a report by the state geologists confirmed the eruption as 'small magmatic activity', a team of Geological Survey of India (GSI) reached the site on Thursday. This is the first time such a volcanic activity has been witnessed in the state."

So far I have seen no video, and there is only a grainy picture of 'something apparently orange', which I suppose they are saying is the eruption of magma.

The "Times of India" is the only 'news source' publishing this article.

Occasionally, especially in very poor countries, like Nigeria, or in this case, India, you'll get dubious reports of supposed 'volcanic activity', which will cite 'Government Sources' as confirming the eruption, however they typically will not provide pictures or videos (and in this day and age, that should be a red flag... everyone has a camera, and we also have satellites that can easily confirm or deny the reports).

A couple years ago, there was a 'report' out of Burma of a supposed 'volcanic eruption with small amounts of magma'. Another report out of Nigeria stated that a volcano had erupted also turned out to be patently false, and was an attempt by the people of the area to get government services out there. Even another report some time last year said that Mt. Fuji had a minor eruption that created a 'new crater', which of course is completely false. No eruption at Fuji has occurred since the 16th century. The volcano is now primed for an eruption, but no activity has occurred.

In any case, this is an interesting story if true. Part of me hopes it is, but I'm keeping my skeptic hat on at this time. It's quite possible this is just a ruse, the same as in Nigeria, to generate quick money for tourism and whoever runs the 'Times of India' website. If this does turn out to be true, it would be of great scientific interest, as volcanic eruptions that occur in areas with no previously known volcanism are quite rare indeed. I'll even go so far as to say, so rare, that this is probably false... but I'll withhold judgment for the next couple days... we will see. My guess is no updates will be posted, and this is just another out of many false reports.

You can see the reported area (Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh, India) below in this Google Earth Screenshot. Nothing in the area jumps out to me as anywhere near tectonic or volcanic. Who knows?
I do see some very populated areas, more than likely with Internet access, so I would be very surprised these people don't have YouTube or camera smartphones. There are no reports from the Geological Survey of India (GSI, their equivalent of the USGS), so I am very quick to doubt this story.

The following video was posted to Youtube. It seems to show people digging in a forest which is not burnt. The show then zooms to clips of apparently solidified lava, and other rocks, apparently trying to convince the viewer that an eruption has happened. There is also an apparent shot of a lava "fountain", which to me looks nothing like one, and a shot of a boiling mud pot. I would at this point be confident in concluding this is indeed a stunt to lure tourists to the town under false expectations.

*****FINAL UPDATE*****

This story just popped up confirming that this was in no way an actual volcano... but it is now sort of easy to see why people were initially fooled. Apparently a buried electrical cable was damaged and caught fire underground, causing sand and rock to actually melt, producing what appeared to be a 'lava-like' substance. As suspected, there are no active volcanoes on the Indian landmass, and this was indeed a case of mistaken identity.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alaska Volcano Pavlof Waring Raised To RED Alert!! [UPDATED 6/4/14]

Wow! In the several years I have been covering volcanic eruptions, I have never once seen AVO raise a volcano to RED Alert, but this occurred yesterday as Pavlof Volcano, which has experienced unrest beginning May 31st was raised to the highest alert level. Massive explosions are now taking place. According to AVO on May 31st:

Image from June 2, 2014 from AVO, Eruption of Pavlof Volcano. Image copyright Christopher Diaz at northernXposed Photography.

"Elevated surface temperatures were detected at the summit of Pavlof volcano in satellite imagery this morning suggesting that the volcano is experiencing a low-level eruption with lava at the surface. A low level steam plume is visible in satellite imagery and in the FAA web camera located in Cold Bay. A pilot reported a gas and ash plume drifting north at 7,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. Based on these observations AVO is raising the Aviation Color Code to ORANGE and the Volcano Alert Level to WATCH for Pavlof volcano."

And suddenly, yesterday, the alert was raised to RED:

"The low-level eruption of Pavlof has escalated. Seismic tremor increased starting about 2300 UTC today and pilots have recently reported ash clouds to 22,000 ft. ASL. Recent satellite images show a plume extending over 80 km east of the volcano."

The alert level of Red will mean that flights will have to divert, as the ash plume is quite large. No populations are at risk for this eruption, as it is in a very remote part of Alaska, however there is a small airstrip east of the volcano at the foot of another volcano, Dutton (which is currently inactive), and an associated port town named King Cove, with an estimated population of around 792 (according to the 2000 census, which is probably a wee bit out of date). It is possible this area will experience fine ashfall, which does carry risks of its own.

Another town that could potentially experience ashfall would be Cold Bay, which is around 15km NE of Cold Bay Volcano (which is either dormant or extinct), and approximately 60km ESE of Pavlof.

Unfortunately for eruption fans, there is no web cam pointed at the eruption. This could potentially change if the eruption continues and AVO sends out a team, but given weather, budget constraints, and the danger of Alaskan travel, this might be unlikely.

This eruption marks the largest in years, and will likely be of great scientific interest. It will be a pain for air travel, however, and there is no telling how long the eruption may last. The last eruption of Pavlof was in may 2013. Pavlof is one of Alaskas most active stratovolcanoes, with numerous historical eruptions. Some eruptions have been highly explosive, like this ones, and others have consisted of effusive fissure eruptions.

Eruption of Pavlof (Photo from Smithsonian GVP) in 1996.

 A red alert is defined by AVO: "RED: Eruption is imminent with significant emission of volcanic ash into the atmosphere likely OR eruption is underway or suspected with significant emission of volcanic ash into the atmosphere [ash-plume height specified, if possible]." Eruptions of this magnitude can have far-reaching effects as ash and gas circles the globe, as seen during the 2010 eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which grounded air travel over most of Europe, and stranded many travelers, not to mention, making a headache for Iceland residents caught in the ash clouds.

This brings the total number of Alaskan volcanoes experiencing heightened activity to four; Shishaldin, Veniaminof, Cleveland, and Pavlof.

If any significant changes occur, I will update this post. 


AVO has lowered the alert level back down to Orange due to a decrease in eruptive activity.

An FAA webcam yesterday recorded 'intense lava fountaining' from Pavlof. You can view the webcam here. 

AVO released the following statements:

6/3 (still Red)
"The eruption of Pavlof Volcano continues. After elevation to Aviation Color Code RED yesterday late afternoon, seismic tremor began to decrease somewhat about 0800 UTC (11 pm AKDT) last night. Nighttime web camera images from Cold Bay showed intense lava fountaining at the summit and incandescence from the spatter-fed lava flow on the north flank. Seismic tremor increased again this morning and web camera images and pilot reports indicated the ash and steam plume up to 24,000 ft. ASL. Following an overnight shift in wind direction, the main plume is currently being carried south-southwest of the volcano. Lower-level winds (below 10,000 ft) extend west-southwest and may be carrying trace amounts of ash. There are no reports of ash falling in nearby communities."

Photo from AVO, Pavlof eruption with lava fountaining, early June 3, 2014, as viewed from Cold Bay. Photo courtesy of Robert Stacy.

6/4 (lowered to Orange)
"AVO is reducing the Aviation Color Code to ORANGE and the Volcano Alert Level to WATCH for Pavlof Volcano. Although the eruption of Pavlof continues, seismic tremor has deceased over the past 12 hours and has remained relatively steady throughout the day at a much lower level than that of yesterday. Recent satellite data and web camera views of the eruption plume indicate that there are now two distinct parts of the plume. The part of the plume that reaches high above the volcano appears to be mainly steam and gas with minor ash present, extending south of the volcano. Additionally, pyroclastic flow activity on the north flank is producing diffuse ash emissions that result in areas of hazy air, with variable concentrations of ash below 10,000 ft. Low-level winds are likely to disperse this ash to the west-southwest with no more than trace amounts accumulating. There are no reports of ash falling in nearby communities. Hazardous conditions exist on the north flank and north side drainages heading on the volcano due to continued pyroclastic and lahar activity. Ash in the vicinity of the volcano remains a hazard to local air traffic. AVO will continue to closely monitor the activity at Pavlof. With the eruption ongoing, conditions can change rapidly, and the possibility remains for large, more ash-rish (sic) plumes to develop with little or no warning."