Tag Archives: eruption

Icelandic eruption attracts thousands of visitors, helicopter rides, over the weekend

What were probably the tastiest hot dogs made in all of Iceland this weekend were grilled over a volcanic eruption alongside marshmallows.

Aerial photo of the eruption. Image via Wikimedia.

In case it passed by below your radar, Iceland saw a new volcano start erupting late last Friday. Despite the island nation’s long history of volcanic activity and plane-grounding eruptions, this is the first time a member of this particular volcanic system has become active in around 9 centuries.

Still, the event attracted thousands of curious onlookers, and local media has even reported on some grilling marshmallows or hotdogs — which, scientifically speaking, is the best way to enjoy a volcano.

Mount Fagradalsfjall

The hard-to-pronounce volcano is situated around 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. Despite the fact that the only way to reach it is to hike for around 90 minutes from the nearest road, locals came in droves to see the incandescent lava slowly pour down Fagradalsfjall’s slopes.

Luckily for everybody, the eruption has been very calm and small in scope so far, with experts estimating that around 300,000 cubic meters of lava have poured forth from the volcano’s lip now.

“It’s absolutely breathtaking,” said Ulvar Kari Johannsson, a 21-year-old engineer who spent his Sunday visiting the scene, for AFP. “It smells pretty bad. For me what was surprising was the colours of the orange: much, much deeper than what one would expect.”

Access to the area was blocked immediately after the eruption started, to keep everybody safe. After a few hours, however, the police allowed access to the public but were strongly discouraging visits (lava tends to be dangerous). By Saturday, however, visitors were allowed free access as long as they respected strict safety guidelines.

For the most part, however, the police are keeping an eye on visitors and occasionally asking those that get too close to “step back,” according to a local police officer. Emergency teams were also involved in helping people find their way back to the road on Sunday after weather conditions and visibility at the site deteriorated rapidly. These teams also carried devices to measure gas pollution levels in the atmosphere — especially sulfur dioxide, which can pose a danger to health and even be fatal.

High pollution levels on Monday morning prompted the authorities to close the site down for visitors yet again.

A volcanic eruption takes place in Iceland roughly once every five years on average and, due to the rugged nature of the island, they’re often far-removed from population centers. But this was the first such event in the Reykjanes peninsula, which is densely inhabited, in over 800 years, and the first member of the Krysuvik volcanic system to erupt in almost 900 years.

Given its relatively close proximity to people, many visitors went to admire the event, probably happy to break the dullness of staying at home all day after 2020. By Sunday, local media reported, hikers had already beaten a visible trail up to the volcano. Helicopter rides were also organized around it over the weekend.

For now, the site remains closed due to unsafe atmospheric conditions. Experts believe the eruption will die out possibly within a few days. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fun — here’s a live stream of Mount Fagradalsfjall doing volcano things.

Indonesian volcano erupted twice last Sunday

Mount Merapi, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupted twice on Sunday sending clouds of ash some 6 kilometers into the air, according to Indonesia’s geological agency.

Mount Merapi before the eruption.
Image credits Aditya Ananta Parameswara.

The eruptions lasted for around seven minutes and caused local authorities to ask residents to stay outside a three-kilometer zone around the volcano. Mount Merapi is close to Yogyakarta, the capital city of the Special Region of Yogyakarta in Indonesia on the island of Java, one of the country’s most important cultural areas. However, so far no damage to property or life has been reported.

A rumbling display

The first reports of something going on with the volcano came from locals in the neighbouring areas hearing strong rumbling sounds in the morning, according to Deutsche Welle.

With the memory of Merapi’s last eruption in 2010 still fresh (the event claimed 300 lives and forced the evacuation of 280,000 residents), authorities immediately instituted the no-go zone and prepared for the worst. The geological agency even advised commercial planes to proceed with caution in the area.

However, it was luckily all bark and no bite, so the authorities didn’t need to raise the volcano’s alert status. No loss of life or property was so far reported, despite this being the most powerful eruption of Mt. Merapi since 1930.

Air traffic is currently unrestricted across the region, but pilots are still advised to be cautious around the area.

Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands and islets created by tectonic movements across an active fault line on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”. This geological backdrop explains why the nation also has nearly 130 active volcanoes and lively seismic activity.

So while Indonesia will definitely see more eruptions like this in the future, we can only hope that they will all be just as harmless.

The 2018 eruption of Mount Kīlauea in Hawaii likely caused by rain

The 2018 eruption of Mount Kīlauea in Hawaii was likely triggered by excessive and sustained rainfall in the region, according to a new paper from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Kīlauea Erupting with lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Image credits USGS.

Such findings have implications for volcanoes around the world, not just those in Hawaii, as they suggest local precipitation patterns could have an important role to play in the timing and frequency of eruptions.

Just add water

“We knew that changes in the water content in the Earth’s subsurface can trigger earthquakes and landslides. Now we know that it can also trigger volcanic eruptions,” said Falk Amelung, professor of geophysics at the UM Rosenstiel School and coauthor of the study.

“Under pressure from magma, wet rock breaks easier than dry rock. It is as simple as that.”

The team shows that the eruption was preceded by prolonged and at times extreme, rainfall in the months leading up to the event.

Kīlauea is an active shield volcano, one of the liveliest volcanoes in all of Hawaii. On May 3, 2018, it started spewing lava nearly two hundred feet in the air, eventually covering over 13 square miles of the well-populated east coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. The unprecedented event destroyed hundreds of homes and only ended four months later, in September, when the summit of the caldera (the volcano’s top) collapsed in on itself.

The researchers used data from ground- and satellite-based stations from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Japanese Space Exploration Agency (JAXA), to model rainfall patterns in the area before the event and, from that, estimate the fluid pressure within the volcano over time.

This pressure is, essentially, what drives volcanoes to explode. Magma itself may be molten-hot, but it is generally quite harmless if left to its own devices. What actually pushes it out of the volcano is the buildup of fluids — gas and liquids — in the enclosed space. These fluids typically seep out of the magma as they escape the depths of the Earth, and thus encounter lower pressures. It’s the same mechanism that makes a can of soda pop if you shake it before opening.

All in all, the team explains that fluid pressure was highest just before the eruption — this wasn’t surprising. But they also calculated that it was the highest recorded pressure value in half a century at this point, which they argue helped move the magma and caused the eruption. Their hypothesis would also explain why there was no widespread uplift (from gas building up beneath the surface) at the volcano in the months prior.

“An eruption happens when the pressure in the magma chamber is high enough to break the surrounding rock and the magma travels to the surface,” said Amelung. “This pressurization causes inflation of the ground by tens of centimeters. As we did not see any significant inflation in the year prior to the eruption we started to think about alternative explanations.”

This is the first time that this mechanism has been invoked to explain deeper magmatic processes. In support of their theory, the team notes that Kīlauea’s historical eruption record shows it was almost twice as likely to erupt during the wettest parts of the year.

And, if this process is at work here, it’s likely to also take place at other volcanoes, the authors add. If such a link between rainfall and volcanism can be reliably determined, it “could go a long way towards advanced warning of associated volcanic hazards,” according to Jamie Farquharson, a postdoctoral researcher at the UM Rosenstiel School and lead author of the study.

“It has been shown that the melting of ice caps in Iceland led to changes of volcanic productivity,” said Farquharson. “As ongoing climate change is predicted to bring about changes in rainfall patterns, we expect that this may similarly influence patterns of volcanic activity.”

The paper “Extreme rainfall triggered the 2018 rift eruption at Kīlauea Volcano” has been published in the journal Nature.

Four years ago this island didn’t exist. Now it’s full of vegetation and “mystery mud”

In 2015, a new island formed due to an eruption of an underwater volcano. Now, one NASA scientist has visited it.

The three-year-old volcanic island (center) as seen from the SEA drone. The island remains officially unnamed, but it is generally referred to as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai. Credit: Sea Education Association / SEA Semester / NASA.

“There’s no map of the new land,” said Dan Slayback of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Nestled between two other volcanic islands, the newly formed landmass was mostly known from satellite. Even so, it taught geologists quite a bit about how islands can form — but there’s only so much you can learn from satellite. Right off the bat, it was clear that the island was full of surprises.

First off, it wasn’t the flat landscape the team was expecting.

“Immediately I kind of noticed it wasn’t quite as flat as it seems from satellite,” Slayback comments. “It’s pretty flat, but there’s still some gradients and the gravels have formed some cool patterns from the wave action.”

The surprises just kept on coming. The team came across something no one was expecting: mud. How this mud came to be on a volcanic island is anyone’s guess at this point.

“there’s clay washing out of the cone. In the satellite images, you see this light-colored material. It’s mud, this light-colored clay mud. It’s very sticky. So even though we’d seen it we didn’t really know what it was, and I’m still a little baffled of where it’s coming from. Because it’s not ash.”

Vegetation taking root on the flat isthmus of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai. The volcanic cone is in the background. Credit: Dan Slayback / NASA.

As they were walking across the island, they also noticed the vegetation, as well as the fauna. The first animal they saw was a barn owl — which, while unexpected, isn’t all that surprising, as barn owls are found all over the world. How the owl got there, however, remains a mystery.

They also came across hundreds of nesting sooty terns that had taken shelter in the deep gullies etched into the cliffs surrounding the crater lake.

Slayback also took samples of rocks — like any respectable Earth scientist would. He harvested several small samples (with Tongan permission) for mineral analysis back at Goddard’s Non Destructive Evaluation Lab.

But perhaps even more importantly, he took exact measurements of the island’s position and elevation.

“The point is to try to take the satellite imagery and tie it to a known reference point, particularly the vertical elevation. The software that generates Digital Elevation Models (a 3D map) from stereo imagery is using a geoid model, and it’s not great in remote places like this. So if you were standing there with your GPS and you’re looking at the ocean at sea level and it’s telling you you’re at four meters elevation, you’re like, But I’m not! I’m at sea level,” he said. So he wanted to find a reasonable adjustment to the geoid model for local mean sea level.

The cliffs of the crater lake are etched with erosion gullies, which are getting bigger. Image credits: Dan Slayback / NASA.

So he used two GPS systems: one which was fixed, as a reference, and one which was mobile. With this, he was able to take 150 measurements, obtaining a precision of under 10 centimeters.

He found that the island is quickly eroding, making for an excellent time-lapse geological study.

“It really surprised me how valuable it was to be there in person for some of this. It just really makes it obvious to you what is going on with the landscape,” Dan said. One feature that was eye-opening in person was the deep erosional gullies that run down the side of the volcanic cone. “The island is eroding by rainfall much more quickly than I’d imagined. We were focused on the erosion on the south coast where the waves are crashing down, which is going on. It’s just that the whole island is going down, too. It’s another aspect that’s made very clear when you’re standing in front of these huge erosion gullies. Okay, this wasn’t here three years ago, and now it’s two meters deep.”

The data is currently being processed and analyzed, and Slayback hopes to return next year to find out even more answers about the island.

Kilauea volcano in Hawaii erupts, threatening local community. So far, everyone is safe

Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, has erupted at around 4:30 p.m. local time, ejecting magma, rocks, and toxic fumes.

“It sounded like there were rocks in a dryer that were being tumbled around,” said Jeremiah Osuna, who lives near Leilani Estates, one of two subdivisions evacuated. “You could hear the power it of it pushing out of the ground.”

The eruption didn’t exactly come as a surprise, not only because Kilauea is extremely active and eruptions happened regularly, but also because the eruption was preceded by a series of over 600 earthquakes — one of them going as high as 5.0 in magnitude.

All 1,500 inhabitants of Pahoa, which is close to the eruption, were told to leave after steam and lava started pouring out of a crack. In total, thousands of people have been evacuated following the eruption, with Governor David Ige saying he activated military reservists from the National Guard to help with the evacuations.

Currently, new ground cracks have been reported in the area, but the eruption seems to have calmed down. However, authorities have urged people to remain on alert. The opening phases of fissure eruptions are dynamic. Additional vents and new lava outbreaks may occur and at this time it is not possible to say where new vents may occur, the USGS writes.

Thankfully, no one was reportedly injured during the eruption. If anything, Hawaiians have grown to be quite resilient in the face of such eruptions. But, even for veterans, the event can be disturbing.

“Living on a volcano, everybody has got pretty thick skin. They know the risk,” said Ryan Finlay, who lives in Pahoa and runs an online trade school. “Lava for the most part has flown to the ocean the last 30 years. Everybody gets in a comfort zone. The last couple weeks, everything changed.”

For all its spectacular eruptions, Kilauea isn’t a particularly dangerous volcano. Its name means “spewing” or “much spreading” in the Hawaiian language (referring to its frequent outpouring of lava), but Kilauea is a shield volcano — a type of volcano usually composed almost entirely of fluid lava flows. Because the lava is so hot and fluid, it flows instead of blowing up, which means that eruptions tend to be less violent.

The first well-documented eruption of Kīlauea occurred in 1823, and since then, the volcano has been erupting more or less all the time. The volcano lies directly over the Hawaii hotspot — an area which is fed hot material directly from the mantle. In a way, the Earth’s mantle is “leaking” through Hawaii.

Volcano eruption might have pushed Iceland towards Christianity

What do a volcanic eruption, a medieval poem, and a conversion to Christianity have in common? Well apparently, in Iceland — a lot.

Black basaltic sand and bright green moss, at the bottom of Eldgjá. Image credits: Borvan53 / Wikipedia.

The Eldgjá volcano holds two records. It features the largest volcanic canyon in the world, some 40 km long, 270 m deep and 600 m wide at its greatest, and it also boasts the largest flood basalt in historic time, with an estimated 18 km3 of magma poured out of the earth, covering around 800 km2.

A multidisciplinary team of scientists has used information from ice cores and tree rings to date this violent eruption, which took place around the spring of 939 and continued at least through the autumn of 940 — shortly after the island was colonized by Vikings an Celts.

The eruption must have had a tremendous impact on these early settlers. Lava floods are rare and spectacular eruptions, in which huge flows of lava engulf the landscape, destroying everything in its path.

“This places the eruption squarely within the experience of the first two or three generations of Iceland’s settlers,” said first author Dr Clive Oppenheimer of Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “Some of the first wave of migrants to Iceland, brought over as children, may well have witnessed the eruption.”

But the team wasn’t interested just in studying the eruption — they wanted to see what effect it had on people in Iceland and beyond. They found that a haze of sulfurous dust spread over parts of Europe, resulting in an exceptionally blood-red and weakened Sun in Irish, German and Italian chronicles of the time.

More tangibly, the eruption also caused a reduction in global temperatures, which was revealed by studies on tree rings. The evidence contained in the tree rings suggests the eruption triggered an extremely cold summer, one of the coldest in 1,500 years.

“In 940, summer cooling was most pronounced in Central Europe, Scandinavia, the Canadian Rockies, Alaska and Central Asia, with summer average temperatures 2°C lower,” said co-author Professor Markus Stoffel from the University of Geneva’s Department of Earth Sciences.

Tree rings. Image credits: Albert Bridge.

[panel style=”panel-success” title=”Dendrochronology” footer=””]Dendrochronology is the study of tree rings. As is common knowledge, many trees grow ‘rings’ each year. This can not only be used to date certain events, but also infer how if those years have been particularly hot, cold, dry, or wet.[/panel]

This had devastating effects, mostly on people in Iceland, but also for people all around the world. The volcano eruption shifted weather patterns, causing a harsh winter and destroying crops in many places.

“It was a massive eruption, but we were still amazed just how abundant the historical evidence is for the eruption’s consequences,” said co-author Dr Tim Newfield, from Georgetown University’s Departments of History and Biology. “Human suffering in the wake of Eldgjá was widespread. From northern Europe to northern China, people experienced long, hard winters and severe spring-summer drought. Locust infestations and livestock mortalities occurred. Famine did not set in everywhere, but in the early 940s we read of starvation and vast mortality in parts of Germany, Iraq and China.”

Interestingly, this dramatic eruption might have had another effect in Iceland: it brought it closer to Christianity. Iceland’s Christianization began in 999 and was formalized sometime in the 11th century. Iceland’s most celebrated medieval poem, Vǫluspá (‘The prophecy of the seeress’), which can be dated as far as 961, tells a story about the end of Iceland’s pagan gods and the coming of a new age: the age of a single god.

The Codex Regius, an Icelandic codex in which many Old Norse poems are preserved. Credits: Oppenheimer et al.

In the poem, the seeress prophesies the destruction of the gods, with fire and flood overwhelming heaven and earth and the gods fighting their final battles. This is the “fate of the gods” — Ragnarök. What researchers found is that the poem seems to be describing the eruption. Here are some translated lyrics:

The sun starts to turn black, land sinks into sea; the bright stars scatter from the sky.
Steam spurts up with what nourishes life, flame flies high against heaven itself.

All that might seem circumstantial (after all, they are common themes), but it is very reminiscent of an eruption. The poem goes further, talking about cold weather — and in Norse mythology, Ragnarök itself is followed by a very cold weather, reminiscent of a volcanic or a nuclear winter.

“With a firm date for the eruption, many entries in medieval chronicles snap into place as likely consequences – sightings in Europe of an extraordinary atmospheric haze; severe winters; and cold summers, poor harvests; and food shortages,” said Oppenheimer. “But most striking is the almost eyewitness style in which the eruption is depicted in Vǫluspá. The poem’s interpretation as a prophecy of the end of the pagan gods and their replacement by the one, singular god, suggests that memories of this terrible volcanic eruption were purposefully provoked to stimulate the Christianisation of Iceland.”

Journal Reference: Clive Oppenheimer et al “The Eldgjá eruption: timing, long-range impacts and influence on the Christianisation of Iceland” Climatic Change (2018). DOI: 10.1007/s10584-018-2171-9.

Volcano in Bali has been erupting for over a week, and things might get even worse

The fiery Mount Agung started erupting on November 21. Yet, despite the impressive amount of lava, rock, and gas that it has already ejected, things can still get much worse.

Mount Agung on November 27. Image credits: Michael W. Ishak.

Scientists have been expecting an eruption from Mount Agung for quite a while, especially as local tremors started becoming more and more frequent since September. For months, magma had been gathering up inside the volcano, sending warnings which geologists picked up and then passed on to the local authorities and population. Up to 100,000 people have been ordered to evacuate the area before the eruption. Now, plumes as tall as 3 kilometers (2 miles) above the volcano have been reported and the Pacific Disaster Center estimates that over 5 million people have been affected.  However, it’s hard to say if the worst has passed or if the volcano will get even stronger.

“Lava is coming out of the volcano, there’s definitely enough to cause trouble. This can get much worse, you can’t outrun this,” volcanologist Dr Janine Krippner told news.com.au.

Mount Agung is a stratovolcano, the tallest point in Bali. A well-known active volcano, it’s closely monitored year-round. However, once an eruption actually starts, the volcano can only be remotely studied.

On November 27, the Indonesian authorities raised the alert to Level 4 (Awas, or Warning) — the highest official warning level. All people are urged to stay as far away from the mountain as possible. More than 400 flights have been canceled.

However, not all people are evacuating, especially as most people depend on cattle for their livelihood, and it’s very difficult to evacuate the cattle. Mount Agung is also a spiritual place for the Balinese, prompting a few priests to dangerously venture within the exclusion zone.

When Mount Agung erupted in 1963, it killed 1100 people, with clouds of searing hot ash, gases and rock fragments spreading several kilometers away from the summit. There are fears that the same could happen now.

If the Mount Agung eruption grows in intensity, the impact could spread beyond Bali and even Indonesia — the entire planet could be affected. Last time the volcano erupted, it caused a 0.1 to 0.2 of a degree Celsius drop in the global temperature. Large eruptions eject ash particles and sulfur-rich gases into the troposphere and stratosphere. These particles circle the globe and block some of the sunlight from reaching our planet, temporarily decreasing temperatures.

Supervolcano eruptions might be more common than we thought — but there’s still no need to panic

Supervolcano eruptions would make any other eruption pale in comparison. Image via Wikipedia.

Volcanic eruptions come in many sizes and “flavors”. There are the basic, almost harmless lava flows like in Hawaii, the small rock-throwers, the pyroclastic flows, and then there are the really big ones; on top of all eruptions, in terms of strength, are the so-called supervolcano eruptions, large enough to change life as we know it and potentially return humanity to a pre-civilization state. Needless to say, we’d want to know as much as possible about these eruptions.

Thankfully, they happen quite rarely. A 2004 study estimated that such eruptions (which throw over 1,000 gigatons of material) happen once every 45,000 to once every 714,000 years. There’s no fixed cyclicity and there’s an inherent variability of such estimates, but even at the lower end, that’s not a panic-inducing figure. After all, 45,000 years is much longer than the time that has passed since mankind emerged as a proper civilization. But a new study concluded differently.

Researchers from the University of Bristol’s Schools of Earth Sciences and Mathematics report that, according to their analysis, the average time between such eruptions is only slightly greater than the age of our civilization. Jonathan Rougier, Professor of Statistical Science, says the “best guess value” is once every 17,000 years:

“The previous estimate, made in 2004, was that super-eruptions occurred on average every 45 – 714 thousand years, comfortably longer than our civilization.”

“But in our paper just published, we re-estimate this range as 5.2 – 48 thousand years, with a best guess value of 17 thousand years.”

They reached this conclusion by analyzing a large database. The difference doesn’t necessarily come from a different type of analysis or statistical approach, it comes from the fact that we now we have access to a larger database than we did a decade ago. Basically, we’ve had enough time to do more studies and we now know more about eruptions than we did in 2004.

Based on these recent figures, we’ve been quite lucky to evade supereruptions in our recent history, but it’s also important to note that volcanic activity follows no strict cycle or pattern. Just because eruptions tend to happen with this periodicity doesn’t mean they’ll always stick to it.

“On balance, we have been slightly lucky not to experience any super-eruptions since then,” Rougier added in a statement. “But it is important to appreciate that the absence of super-eruptions in the last 20,000 years does not imply that one is overdue. Nature is not that regular.”

The chances of such an eruption happening in the next 1,000 years is relatively small, and our civilization will change in unforeseeable ways in the next thousand years (just think of how much has changed in the past century). Furthermore, researchers argue, there are other issues far more pressing than a supervolcano eruption.

Journal Reference: ‘The global magnitude-frequency relationship for large explosive volcanic eruptions’ by J. Rougier, S. Sparks, K. Cashman, and S. Brown, in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

 

Do volcanoes really emit more CO2 than humans?

No matter how you look at it, even during massive eruptions, mankind still emits much more carbon dioxide than volcanoes. In total, volcanoes barely emit 1% of mankind’s emissions. By itself, the US emits ten times more CO2 than volcanoes do.

Atmospheric CO2 levels measured at Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii (NOAA) and Stratospheric Aerosol Optical Thickness at 50nm (NASA GISS).

There’s a big disparity between what scientists know about climate change and how the media presents the situation. Perhaps not surprisingly in this situation, numerous nonscientific or outright false arguments have made their way into the discourse. Among them, there’s this idea that mankind’s emission just don’t matter — volcanoes output so much CO2, some people say, it massively overshadows everything we do. Let’s see what the data says.

Volcanic CO2

The United States Geological Survey (USGS), alongside several other similar organizations, monitors volcanic emissions. According to their data, volcanoes (both land and underwater volcanoes) emit 200 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually. Of course, it’s not exactly a linear figure and major eruptions can bring dramatic changes.

Volcano eruptions can change a lot of things, but they’re not responsible for climate change. Image credits: Christina Neal, AVO/USGS.

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo, for instance, brought vast changes to the atmosphere. It ejected roughly 10 billion tonnes of magma, bringing vast quantities of minerals, toxic metals, and of course, greenhouse gases. It spewed more aerosols than any eruption since Krakatoa in 1883. By the time it was all finished, 42 million tonnes of CO2 were ejected into this atmosphere. But even with this eruption, volcanic activity didn’t match human activity. Ironically, aerosols from Pinatubo’s eruption formed a layer which dropped global temperatures by about 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) in the years 1991–93.

The data from the British Geological Survey, the British equivalent of the USGS, is quite different. Their estimations claim that volcanoes emit 300 million tonnes CO2 on an average year. This is, as far as we could find, the higher estimation for volcanic CO2. However, that is also not even close to the anthropic contribution.

Mankind CO2

While estimates for volcanic CO2 vary mostly between 200 and 300 million tons, our own CO2 emissions range around 24 billion tons — and that figure speaks for itself. No matter how you look at it, 2.4 gigatons are much more than 0.3.

Mankind’s activity dwarfs the of volcanoes, and our emissions are constantly growing, year after year. As volcanologists emphasize, it doesn’t even make much sense to compare the two.

“In fact, present-day volcanoes emit relatively modest amounts of CO2, about as much annually as states like Florida, Michigan, and Ohio,” writes USGS scientist Terrence M. Gerlach. “Anthropogenic CO2 emissions—responsible for a projected 35 gigatons of CO2 in 2010 [a figure that has grown significantly since] — clearly dwarf all estimates of the annual present-day global volcanic CO2 emission rate. Indeed, volcanoes emit significantly less CO2 than land use changes (3.4 gigatons per year), light-duty vehicles (3.0 gigatons per year, mainly cars and pickup trucks), or cement production (1.4 gigatons per year).

In case you’re wondering, there’s really not a lot of uncertainty around this. If volcanoes would be the driving factor of the atmospheric CO2 rise, we would see a correlation between volcanic eruptions and this steep rise in CO2 — and we don’t. Furthermore, a global volcanic CO2 output exceeding 35 gigatons per year would mean that the annual mass of volcanic CO2 is more than 3 times greater than the mass of erupted magma (~10.8 gigatons per year), and that’s simply not believable. Lastly, even if these estimates are a bit off, and even if they are way off, there’s still no term of comparison between volcanic and human CO2 emissions.

The bottom line

CO2 is a greenhouse gas and it is the main culprit we blamed for climate change. Volcanoes emit a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but nowhere near what humans emit. We know this with a great degree of certainty.

New volcano forecasting technique shows danger in Japan

Worrying news surface in Japan, as geologists warn Sakurajima volcano might be powering up.

The Sakurajima Kagoshima volcano in Japan might be preparing for an eruption. Photo by TANAKA Juuyoh

Sakurajima is an active composite volcano in Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu, Japan. The volcano is close to Kagoshima city and its 600,000 inhabitants and any eruption would be a serious threat. A previous eruption in 1914 killed 58 people and caused widespread flooding – but an eruption now would almost certainly be much worse.

The team combined GPS deformation measurements with other geophysical data and advanced 3D computer models to ‘see’ how the magma is flowing in the volcano’s magma chamber. Lead author Dr James Hickey (now at the University of Exeter) said:

“These results were made possible by combining data from various monitoring methods and applying them to new numerical modelling techniques, moving away from older modelling methods that have been in use since the 1950s.”

He believes that the technique could be used not only in Sakurajima, but everywhere in the world.

“This approach could help to improve eruption forecasting and hazard assessment at volcanoes worldwide. Sakurajima volcano was a particularly great place to develop this approach as there is genuine concern over the state of the volcano, which was particularly evident during a crisis in August 2015.”

They found that the volcano is being supplied with around 14 million cubic metres of magma each year. This is a huge quantity which raises concerns that the caldera is powering up for an explosion. The magma supply is key for understanding the volcano’s dynamics and the team believes that this excessive build-up of magma likely indicates a growing potential for a larger eruption. Co-author Dr Joachim Gottsmann, from the University of Bristol added:

“A thorough understanding of the rate and volume of magma supply and accumulation, and their thermomechanical controls, is essential for continued monitoring and eruption forecasting at Sakurajima volcano, and volcanoes worldwide.”

Volcano forecasting is something geologists have been working on for decades, with some success. The process of a volcano eruption is extremely complex and hard to predict. This approach might make a difference in that regard.

“By identifying a timeframe over which we may see an increase in the level of activity at the volcano our colleagues at the Sakurajima volcano research centre can plan accordingly. The numerical constraints we were able to put on the magma supply conditions can also be used to assist with probabilistic and quantitative eruption forecasting.”

Volcano facts and other pieces of hot science

Volcanoes are some of the most amazing geological features but quite often, they’re misunderstood or not understood at all. Here we’ll get to know them a bit better, starting with the basic facts and the moving onto cool and surprising facts, and of course, continuing with everyone’s favorite (from a distance): eruptions.

Basic Volcano Facts

1. Volcanoes are ruptures in the Earth’s crust. Our planet’s crust is split into 17 major tectonic plates, and almost all volcanoes occur at the edges between these plates.

2. There are three types of volcanoes: stratovolcano (conical volcano consisting of layers of solid lava), cinder cone volcano (steep hill of tephra that accumulates around the vent) and shield volcano (built entirely or almost entirely from fluid lava vents).

3. Volcanoes can be active (with eruptions in the past 10,000 years), dormant (no eruptions in the past 10,000 years, but could wake up) and extinct (unlikely to ever erupt again). However, active volcanoes can become dormant and extinct, and dormant volcanoes can wake up. Before 79 AD, Vesuvius was considered dormant and its eruption was catastrophic. Knowing whether a volcano is truly extinct is hard to determine.

4. We’re still not sure how many volcanoes there are in the world, but geologists identified about 1300 active volcanoes, not counting underwater volcanoes.

5. The biggest volcano on Earth is Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. At 33,500 feet (10,210 meters) it’s even taller than the Everest, but most of it is underwater, so its height relative to sea level is lower. However…

6. The tallest volcano in the solar system is on Mars. Olympus Mons on Mars is a shield volcano with a height of nearly 22 km (16 mi), almost three times higher than Mount Everest. It was able to grow this big because Mars doesn’t have active tectonic plates.

Volcanic eruption on Io. Image credits: NASA/JPL.

7. Earth isn’t the most active place in the solar system – Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanic body in the solar system. Astronomers recently witnessed two huge eruptions, possibly largest than any ever recorded on our planet.

8. The two most active volcanoes in the world are Etna in Italy and Hawaii’s Kilauea, depending on how you judge. Etna has been active in the past 3,500 years, but it’s still being used for agriculture because its slopes are so fertile. Kilauea has been in a state of constant eruption since 1993, and more than 90% of its surface is made from young lava.

Image via USGS.

9. Volcanoes can be scary, but supervolcanoes can be downright terrifying. St. Helens, one of the largest eruptions in history spewed up 0.25 cubic kilometers of volcanic material while the last known eruption from the Yellowstone caldera ejected 4000 times more – 1000 cubic kilometers.

Volcano Eruption Facts

10. There are three types of volcanic eruptions: magmatic eruptions (involving gas decompressions that propel the eruption forward), phreatic eruptions (superheating of steam via contact with magma, often with no ejected material) and phreatomagmatic eruptions (compression of gas within magma, the complete opposite of magmatic eruptions).

11. How dangerous are volcano eruptions? In 1815, the volcano Tambora exploded in Indonesia. All vegetation on the island was destroyed and projected into the sea. Uprooted trees mixed with pumice ash, washed into the sea and formed rafts up to 5 km (3.1 mi) across. The eruption sent material into the stratosphere, at an altitude of more than 43 km (27 mi). Over 10,000 people were killed directly by the eruption, but that was only the beginning.

The epic explosion of Mount Tambora in 1815 left a massive crater behind, 3.7 miles wide and 3,600 feet deep. (NASA)

Over 40,000 people were killed by hunger and disease in neighboring islands, and the effects were felt globally. The following year, 1816 was called “the year without a summer”, as snow fell in the summer in Boston and New York. Crops were destroyed, widespread famine was reported in Asia, Europe and the Americas. It’s impossible to estimate the total damage, but up to 100,000 people lost their lives following this eruption. A Massachusetts historian summed up the disaster: “Severe frosts occurred every month; June 7th and 8th snow fell, and it was so cold that crops were cut down, even freezing the roots.” Which leads us to another question:

12. What if a supervolcano erupts? Geologically, it won’t mean much for the planet. At a geological scale, supervolcanoes erupt all the time… but for humans, the effects would be ghastly. The tens or hundreds of thousands of lives lost will pale in comparison to what will happen. The world will be thrown into a nuclear-type winter, where food availability could become a luxury (because volcanic eruptions can block sunlight, lowering global temperatures). Famine and widespread disease will emerge for at least a couple of years, as no country has the food reserves to last that long; it’s extremely difficult to gauge the full impact such an eruption might have. However, you shouldn’t waste much sleep on this – it’s extremely unlikely for such an eruption to take place in the next few thousand of years.

13. The last known supervolcano eruption was the Toba eruption 74,000 years ago, when more than 2,500 cubic kilometers of magma were erupted. The largest eruption in recent human history was the 1815 eruption described above.

Chichester Canal circa 1828 by J. M. W. Turner. Image via Wikipedia.

14. But it’s not all bad. Volcanic eruptions make sunsets more vibrant. The eruptions spew hundreds, thousands or even millions of tons of dust and gaseous sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. The finer dust particles remain in the atmosphere, sometimes for years, producing vivid sunsets and twilight effects.

In fact, a team of German and Greek researchers are studying paintings of sunsets after historical eruptions to discover clues about our atmosphere, and even study global warming.

Image via Wikipedia.

 

15. Some volcanic eruptions can create massive thunderstorms and we still don’t know exactly why. A study published in Science found that this phenomenon, also called dirty thunderstorms, appear because electrical charges are generated when rock fragments, ash, and ice particles in a volcanic plume collide and produce static charges, just as ice particles collide in regular thunderstorms.

More Volcano Facts

16. You need at least 3.35 kg of lava to boil a liter of water. Quora user Nissim Raj Angdembay calculated that for a lava of an average temperature of 950 °C, you need to use 3.35 kg of lava to boil a liter of water. Of course, this is only a theoretical calculation, and in practice, you’d need a bit more as some of the heat will be lost to the ambient.

17. There is one unique volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai, that produces black carbonatic lava. It also isn’t as hot as other types of lava and it’s much less viscous – comparable to water.

Black carbonatic lava. Image via SwissEduc

18. The volcanic rock pumice is the only rock that can float in water. Pumice is an extrusive volcanic rock with a very high content of water and gases extruded quickly out of a volcano. The unusual foamy configuration makes it very light.

19. Volcanic energy can be harvested to warm water and even generate electric energy. Geothermal energy generates about 3% of renewable energy-based electricity.

20. The Maleo bird in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi uses volcanic heating to incubate its eggs.

21. When Paricutin in Mexico erupted from 1943-1952 (more on that a bit later), not a single person was killed by lava, rocks or flows, but three people were killed by lightning.

Paricutin. Image via Wikipedia.

 

22. Lava temperature varies between 700 to 1,200 °C (1,292 to 2,192 °F). Geologists do sometimes use a thermometer called a “thermocouple” to take a volcano’s temperature.

23. Lava chemistry greatly influences both the temperature and the type of eruption. Lava with greater silica content (more basic) tends to be hotter, more fluid, and erupt more “gently” – think of the Hawaiian lava flows. Lava with less silica (acidic) tends to have more explosive eruptions. They also form different types of rocks.

24. In 1943, a Mexican farmer named Dionisio Pulido started to notice something strange in his cornfield. It started as a slight depression, and soon started to fissure, eliminating volcanic material. By 1952, the volcano was already 424 meters high and damaged a 233 square km area with the ejection of stone, ash and lava. Three people were killed by lightning as described above. Today, Paricutin the volcano is 2,800 m (9,200 ft) high and is considered dormant.

Tremors around St. Helens may hint at a new eruption

On May 18, 1980 Mount St. Helens erupted with terrifying force, the violence of the explosion destroying the upper part of the mountain. The event claimed the lives of 57 people and severely damaged the homes and infrastructure in the area. Since then, a $3 million study has been commissioned on the volcano to study its internal workings in the hope that a future eruption can be detected in time to prevent such a tragic event from happening again.

Mt. St. Helens
Image via wikipedia

The findings reveal that there’s a real danger that the volcano possibly erupting again — geologists identified an enormous second chamber, buried between 7 to 23 miles (11-37 km) deep under the surface. The reservoir is connected to a smaller chamber that rests directly beneath the volcano.

This connection, correlated with seismic data from the site, is helping them piece together what happened prior to the 1980 eruption, the deadliest in recorded U.S. history.

In the months leading to the explosion, geologists recorded a series of tremors. They were puzzled at the time, but with the benefit of new data they concluded that magma pumping between the two chambers caused pressure to increase in the upper reservoir. As the structures around it adjusted to the increased pressure, the tremors were a way for the rocks to release lithological stresses. They couldn’t adjust fast enough and compress enough however, so the pressure built up gradually and resulted in the deadly explosion.

“We can only now understand that those earthquakes are connecting those magma reservoirs,” said Eric Kiser, seismologist at Rice University. “They could be an indication that you have migration of fluid between the two bodies.”

And now, more tremors have been registered in the area, the team reported at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Baltimore, Maryland on Nov. 3rd. This suggests that fresh magma is being injected upwards into the volcanic structure, hinting at a new eruption.

“A cluster of low frequency events, typically associated with injection of magma, occurs at the northwestern boundary of this low Vp column,” the researchers reported. “Much of the recorded seismicity between the shallow high Vp/Vs body and deep low Vp column took place in the months preceding and hours following the May 18, 1980 eruption. This may indicate a transient migration of magma between these two reservoirs associated with this eruption.”

The Vp/Vs is the ratio of compressional and shear wave velocity, i.e. how fast the two main types of seismic waves travel through a structure. This can be processed and reveals information about rock composition, underground structures, shapes and many other geological characteristics.

After the 1980 eruption, Mount St. Helens started to erupt again in 2004 and released magma through gradual extrusion [i.e. non-explosive release of magma] up to 2008. Despite this, the Mount is considered to be a high risk volcano, under close observation by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The researchers said that their findings could offer a crucial early warning system of a potential eruption.

Crater wall collapse causes lava explosion in Hawaii [with video]

A crater wall collapse in a Hawaiian volcano has triggered a powerful lava explosion. The Kilauea explosion spread lava and debris around it, in a spectacular display which was caught on camera by the USGS. Material was thrown 280 feet (85 meters) up into the air.

Janet Babb, a geologist with the USGS, compared the blast to popping a champagne bottle with a hammer:

“You look at the bottle and you see the liquid, but you don’t see the gas,” she said. “There’s a lot of gas in the lava. And so, when that rock fall hits the lava lake, it’s like the moment you knock the top of the champagne bottle off and that gas is released and it hurls molten lava and rock fragments.”

Thankfully, no injuries were reported after the incident at the crater, which has been shut off to visitors. It’s the first time lava has been visible in the crater since 1982, when a fissure cracked and the volcano erupted. The last time there was a lake similar to this one was in 1974. From the early 1800s up until 1924, there was a continuous lake of lava at Kilauea summit within Halemaumau. At that time, the crater was about half the diameter of what it is now.

“As long as magma supply is elevated, we expect continued high lava lake levels accompanied by additional overflows,'” one observatory scientist noted. “We expect continued rockfalls, intermittent explosions and ash fall, and continued high levels of gas release.”

Here’s the video footage captured by the USGS:

The Kilauea  Volcano is a very active shield volcano, a product of the Hawaiian hotspot. The most recent major eruption at Kīlauea has also proved by far the longest-lived. The current Kīlauea eruption began on January 3, 1983, along the eastern rift zone, and the volcano has been considered to be active ever since. A magnitude 3.6 earthquake accompanied the explosion.

methane eruption undersea

200 million years ago, half of all life on Earth went extint from a methane eruption

methane eruption underseaAround 200 million years ago, the Earth was still one big continent – the great Pangaea. Around that time came, what’s commonly referred to as, the End-Triassic mass extinction period in which half of all marine life on the planet went extinct. For years, scientists believed that this came as a result of a mass volcanic eruption across the world, as the massive continent split into multiple segment-continents.

A new study, published just recently in the journal Science, concludes, however, that responsible for the mass extension is actually a deadly methane eruption in the sea floor. Researchers at the Nordic Center for Earth Evolution at the University of Copenhagen claim that as a huge quantity of methane being released into the atmosphere, it killed off much of the species on Earth and paved the way for the age of dinosaurs.

Earth scientist Micha Ruhl and colleagues examined ancient plant fossils sampled from the bottom of the Tethys Ocean, and based on their molecular analysis it appears that “at least 12,000 gigatons of methane was injected into the atmosphere over just 10- to 20,000 years of the end-Triassic extinction.”

The sea floor eruption seems to have went on “burping” for at least 600,000 years, scientists observed. Although it stays in the atmosphere for a briefer period, methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and when released outside in the atmosphere, it triggers the release of more methane. A snow-ball effects is thus achieved, which might explain the prolonged duration of the emissions.

According to a release about Ruhl and his team’s findings:

The researchers suggest that this short-lived burst of methane was more likely responsible for the mass extinctions. Changes in vegetation at the end of the Triassic Period also provide evidence of strong warming events and an enhanced global water cycle at the time, they say. Ruhl and his colleagues also say that their findings may help scientists plan ahead, since humans could potentially contribute 5,000 gigatons of carbon or more to the atmosphere if we were to burn all of our known fossil fuel reserves.

However, this doesn’t change any theories about how the dinosaurs went extinct. Just last week the youngest dinosaur fossil was found, which added considerable weight to the already prevailing asteroid mass extinction theory.

via

Mind blowing pictures of the recent Iceland volcano eruption

 

Photo by Roger McLassus.

 

Taken at distances as small as 1 kilometer, these pictures of Grimsvotn (the volcano that erupted recently in Iceland) reveal how beautiful and terrifying at the same time volcanic eruptions can be. Blending smoke and ash with lightning, the pictures are truly breathtaking.

They were taken by Johann Ingi Jonsson, an amateur photographer from Reykjavik, who sits 124 miles (200 km) from Grimsvotn. The ash cloud went as high as 20 km into the air, settling at 10-15 km in the atmosphere.

 

The complete and exact phenomena through which lightning forms at volcanic eruptions is still a matter of debate among scientists, but what is certain is that the process starts when two particles separate, either from a collision or as a result of some other force. Then the positively charged particles to be systematically separated from the negatively charged particles as a result of aerodynamic differences. Lightning is the electrical flow that results when this charge separation becomes too great for air to resist the flow of electricity.

 

Via Johann Ingi Jonsonn

Geophysics shows plume of Yellowstone volcano is much larger than previously believed

Yellowstone is without a doubt one of the most fascinating places on the face of the planet. But it doesn’t only attract families or people who want to relax, but it attracts scientists as well, and among them, geologists and geophysicists hold a top spot. University of Utah researchers made the first large-scale picture of the electrical conductivity of the enormous underground plume of hot and partially molten rock that feeds the Yellowstone volcano. The image suggests that it is much bigger than previously thought before, when it was also investigated with geophysical methods, but in the form of seismic waves.

“It’s like comparing ultrasound and MRI in the human body; they are different imaging technologies,” says geophysics Professor Michael Zhdanov, principal author of the new study and an expert on measuring electric and magnetic fields, with the purpose of investigating underground objectives.

In a previous 2009 study, researchers (Smith) used seismic waves from earthquakes to make an accurate image of the plume that feeds the volcano. In addition to other factors, seismic waves travel faster in cold rocks and slower in hotter rocks, so seismic velocity information can be used to make a pretty accurate 3D picture, much like X-rays are combined to make a medical CT scan.

But in this type of cases, electric measurements can be much more direct and offer much more answers, but they measure slightly different things. Seismic analysis shows which rocks are hotter and slow down waves, while electric measurements show the conductivity of the rocks, and is especially sensible to briny fluids that conduct electricity.

“It [the plume] is very conductive compared with the rock around it,” Zhdanov says. “It’s close to seawater in conductivity.”

The new study doesn’t say anything about the chances of a catastrophic eruption at Yellowstone, but it does seem to suggest than when it is going to come, it will be bigger than previously expected.

Stunning picture and video from the Kilauea Eruption in Hawaii

Photo by Adrian Glover.

As I was telling you just earlier, the Kilauea volcano erupted, with a fissure throwing lava up more than 20 meters towards the sky in a dazzling display of volcanic power. The Hawaii eruption took place just after one of the volcano’s floors collapsed, thus creating the necessary conditions for lava to come out to the surface. This is great news to volcanologists and volcano loves throughout the world, especially as so far no lives were threatened and no significant damage was done.

 

More absolutely amazing videos which I highly recommend can be found at USGS

 

Volcanic eruption in Hawaii

Hawaii isn’t all warm breezes, mojitos and surfing; it’s what geologists call a hot spot, one of the most active volcanic regions on the face of the planet, so it was little surprise when Kilauea erupted; after all, it is one of the most potent volcanoes in the world, being in a constant eruption since the 3rd of January, 1983 (yes, you read that right)

This time, lava came out to the surface through a fissue, after the Pu’u ‘Ō’ō crater collapsed, event which led to the dramatic and destructive display we can see now; the magnificent volcano threw lava at heights of 65 feet, which then began to flow. As USGS reports, it is still erupting powerfully at two locations, and no less than 18 earthquakes were detected inside the volcano (I haven’t been able to find out their magnitude, but they shouldn’t be too great – still, the seismic tremor levels remain significantly elevated).

You can get maps, photos, videos, and even webcam views at Kilauea status, and we will also keep you posted with what happens.

Despite the fact that this eruption doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody, the 370 feet collapse of one of the volcano’s floors (Pu’u ‘O’o) was pretty unexpected. Janet Babb of the U.S. Geological Survey said this weekend’s activity indicates “new episodes in eruptions and further unknowns”.

4 hottest volcano events of 2009

Boy 2009 passed quite quickly, but it didn’t go without a blast, that’s for sure ! I’m gonna show you some really amazing stuff that happened during 2009, most of which you probably have no idea of, and this is the first one from that series.

4th place (honorable mention): Mayon, Philippines

Photo by C.G. Newhall.

It may have happened just a week ago, but it was spectacular nonetheless. Mayon has been keeping everybody on their toes, despite not technically erupting: 50.000 people have been evacuated because of lava fountains flowing freely downhill, and geologists reported they expect a major boom during 2010.

Photo by Tryfon Topalidis.

The sights it created may be absolutely stunning, but trust me, Mayon is not the place you want to be the following year.

 

3rd place: Redoubt, Alaska

Photo by R. Clucas.

Since the beginning of the year, Redoubt had us wondering; it seemed certain it will make a boom, and the only question was how big it will be. Well, it wasn’t that big really, but any volcanic eruption (especially in the US) is definitively an event. It was also what you can call the first “digital” eruption, with updates being constantly posted on twitter, among other channels.

2nd place: Underwater eruptions, Tonga

The underwater eruptions were absolutely amazing, and good thing is no people were threatened by them.

 

1st place: Sarychev peak, Russia

Photo by The High Fin Sperm Whale.

Yep, it’s old Mother Russia that gets this award, though I’m not sure it’s one you’d be happy to receive. It was big enough to be seen from the ISS, and they took some stunning pictures. The eruption absolutely stunned all flights above the Pacific over the Kuril islands for weeks and despite taking place practically in the middle of nowhere, everybody (well, that’s an exaggeration really) got a good look at it.

Volcano eruption could have caused global extinction

A previously unknown volcanic eruption was uncovered by scientists at the University of Leeds. It’s believed that this massive eruption took place 260 million years ago in South West China and released half a million cubic kilometers of lava covering a land mass the size of Great Britain and destroying marine life everywhere throughout the world.

Unlike most eruptions, this one was very easy to describe and researchers were able to pinpoint the time it took place with a high degree of precision. They were able to do this because it took place in a very shallow sea which made lava appear today as a “distinctive layer of igneous rock sandwiched between layers of sedimentary rock”; this made it easy easy to date because the sedimentary rock contains fossils of marine creatures that are very highly datable.

The layer of fossilized rock after the explosion shows the extinction of a very significant number of species, clearly pointing towards a major environmental disaster.

“When fast flowing, low viscosity magma meets shallow sea it’s like throwing water into a chip pan – there’s spectacular explosion producing gigantic clouds of steam,” explains Professor Paul Wignall, a palaeontologist at the University of Leeds, and the lead author of the paper.

“The abrupt extinction of marine life we can clearly see in the fossil record firmly links giant volcanic eruptions with global environmental catastrophe, a correlation that has often been controversial,” adds Professor Wignall.

The huge amount of sulphur dioxide that was thrown into the atmosphere lead to a massive cloud that surrounded all the planet and made it cooler and finally resulted in a torrential acid rain.