Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Volcano of Fire in Guatemala erupts!

Guatemala's Volcano of Fire erupted on Tuesday, sending rivers of lava down its slopes and a huge cloud of ash and smoke into the sky.

About 25,000 local residents were put on alert. Emergency teams said there was no immediate need for evacuations but they might be necessary if there were more eruptions.

Experts said two rivers of lava, both about 1.5 miles (2 km) long, were flowing down the volcano's slopes, although they posed no threat to villagers in the area. A column of ash rose 1.5 miles and ash fell on areas south of the capital.

The volcano stands 40 miles southwest of Guatemala's capital and its peak is about 12,000 feet (3,700 metres) above sea level. It is one of the most active of Guatemala's 33 volcanoes.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Scientists take a peek inside Augustine volcano

For the first time since the Augustine Volcano came rumbling back to life last month, scientists have flown a heat-sensitive camera over its summit. That camera shows steam jets spewing out the top of Augustine. Now the new photographs have scientists keeping a close eye on the mountain.

Despite the ominous appearance of the pictures, Augustine is in no imminent danger of erupting. The mountain is still code yellow, which categorizes it as restless. An infrared camera took dramatic pictures of the Augustine Volcano Saturday. It was attached to a helicopter in Homer.

“Yeah, this is a thermal infrared camera that’s thermal infrared here and also a regular digital video camera,” said Dr. Dave Schneider, a volcanologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

The cameras are meant to provide valuable data on what's going on inside Augustine Volcano, but it's got one problem: the system needs good weather to work. For most of this week, flights that went to the volcano came back empty-handed.

Then yesterday, the clouds broke and scientists were able to get in the air and shoot stunning images of a smoldering Augustine. Schnieder says the pictures show a previously unknown feature on the summit -- a smoldering fumarole, or steam vent. It is venting steam at tremendous pressure. The infrared images show the actual temperature of that fumarole.

“The hottest temperatures we got were in this new fumarole on the south side of the volcano, with the temperatures in excess of 400 degrees Fahrenheit,” Schnieder said.

Dr. John Power, a seismologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, says the hot steam plumes, combined with the sharp increase in earthquake activity, makes scientists think could be coming back to life.

“The present level of activity that we’re seeing is the highest that we've seen since 1986 -- the last eruption,” Power said.

“On Augustine, however, the pattern’s been that profuse steaming like this typically has preceded eruptions -- the last two eruptions, for sure,” Schnieder said.

Scientists emphasize that while Augustine is more active now than at any time since its last eruption, in 1986, it is not yet close to an eruption. There would need to be a 10-fold increase in seismic activity for officials to raise the danger level to Code Orange.

A desalination water plant helps Vanuatu

A water desalination plant is on its way to Vanuatu to help locals who are still without clean water almost a month after the eruption of Mount Manaro.

The volcano erupted on Ambae, one of Vanuatu's outer islands, on November the 27th, leaving thousands of people homeless.

The New Zealand Red Cross' Operations Manager, Andrew McKie, says most of the water supply is still contaminated by ash and that's of greater concern right now than further eruptions.

McKie says the desalination plant produces 1500 litres of water a day, which should be enough for about 500 people.

What should you do if Augustine volcano erupts?

Recent changes in earthquake activity and increased gas emissions at Augustine Volcano have prompted the U.S. Geological Survey to call for public awareness of volcano hazards, the agency announced yesterday. The Alaska Volcano Observatory increased the alert status for Augustine to code yellow last month. (See story, below.)

The main hazards from Augustine are a tsunami and an ash fall. While a tsunami would be more catastrophic, the greater concern — as in 1986 — is with an ash fall, Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Painter said.

The best advice for dealing with ash? Stay indoors and avoid stirring up the ash.
Oh, and get out the panty hose and dust masks.

As with any geologic hazard, Robert McGimsey, a U.S. Geological and Geophysical Survey volcanologist with AVO, said now is a good time to make emergency preparations.
“We’re just using this as another opportunity to remind people they need to be prepared 24-7,” said Painter.

Ash could fall anywhere the wind blows. When Augustine blew at 2 a.m. March 27, 1986, ash didn’t reach Homer until about noon. Ash clouds look like a big black cloud with bulbs hanging down, McGimsey said.

“They’re pretty dramatic, those big ash clouds coming over,” said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl.
Robl was a patrol officer when Augustine blew early in the morning. He said he went to the bluff to check out a report of a boat burning in Kachemak Bay — and saw Augustine erupting.

“The best I could describe it was lightning columns going out of it,” he said.

Ash particles are like ground glass and can be abrasive to lungs, machinery and electronics. Officials offered these suggestions for dealing with an ash fall:

¥ Stay inside.
Keep doors and windows closed.

¥ Don’t go out.
Driving stirs up ash on roads.
“Just stay at home until the stuff settles out,” Painter said.

¥ Protect lungs.
People with respiratory problems should be especially careful, but everybody should wear dust masks or respirators if they have to be outside.

¥ Remove contact lenses.
Ash can scratch contacts. If ash gets on glasses, don’t rub the ash off — wash glasses with clean water.

¥ Protect pets.
Keep pets inside. If pets go out, brush them before letting them inside so they don’t bring in ash.

¥ Protect machinery.
Air filters keep ash from getting into car engines, but filters clog up quickly, said mechanic Val McLay, owner of The Auto Clinic.

“The quickest down and dirty fix I’ve heard of is a pair of panty hose over the intake,” said Maynard Kauffman with Eayrs Plumbing and Heating.

In 1986, McLay said people did exactly that. Ash can be knocked off the panty hose.
McGimsey suggested also keeping ash out of car air intake vents. If ash gets in vents, when the fan is turned on, it can suck ash inside the car. Turning the fan to “recirculate” so it doesn’t bring in outside air is also a good idea.

Kauffman said forced air furnaces would need to have some sort of filter between the outside air and the combustion chamber — again, panty hose or something similar. For direct-vent heaters like Monitor stoves, Mark Vial of VBS Heating Products said filtering the small air intake can be trickier. Vial suggested contacting manufacturers for advice.

¥ Protect electronic equipment.

Ash sucked in through cooling fans can damage computers. If air is clean inside, it should be OK to use computers. John Simpson, a technician at TechConnect, suggested turning off and covering computers with plastic bags when not in use.

¥ Protect homes and boats.

As with heavy snowfalls, home and boat owners should remove ash from roofs and decks.
The city is prepared for an ash fall. Public works director Carey Meyer said the city has extra filters on hand for city vehicles. Painter and Robl said fire and police will use its older vehicles first, but will roll whatever equipment is necessary to respond.

Homer’s water supply is safe, Meyer said. Ash wasn’t a problem in prior eruptions. The treatment plants have filters.

“We’re prepared for an ash fall,” he said.

For more information on dealing with volcanoes, McGimsey recommended a U.S. Geological Survey Web site, For weather information, visit

Alaska is getting ready to face a possibly explosive holiday

A restless volcano near Alaska's most populated region is being watched by scientists and officials, who warned on Thursday of the risk of clouds of ash and a tsunami from a possible eruption.

The intensifying rumblings in the past few weeks at Augustine Volcano, an island peak 175 miles (280 km) southwest of Anchorage in Cook Inlet, have produced a series of steam explosions, releases of sulfur gas and signs that there may be an eruption similar to events in 1986 and 1976 which sent ash clouds as high as 40,000 feet (12,000 m), scientists said.

There has even been an increase of 1 inch (2.5 cm) at the top of the 4,134-foot (1,260-m) volcano, a sign that seismic activity is causing the summit to bulge slightly, said John Power, a seismologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, a joint office run by the U.S. Geological Survey and state agencies.

"All of these things are very typical of what you would expect to see in a volcano that is reawakening," Power said.

Although there are no specific signs that an eruption is imminent, flight restrictions are already in place and there are plans to expand those if activity increases at the volcano.

If Augustine does erupt, that could result in grounded flights, school closures and even evacuations, officials said. It is also possible that there will be a landslide from the volcano into the waters of Cook Inlet, causing a tsunami, they said.

Such an event occurred in 1883, when a wave believed to be 20 feet (6 m) high hit the Native Alutiiq village of Nanwalek, 50 miles (80 km) east of Augustine.

"Any time you have a volcano on the water that's erupting, common sense says you could have a flank collapse and a wave," said Paul Whitmore, director of the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center.

Anchorage is too far away to be at risk from an Augustine-related tsunami, Whitmore added.
But preparations for the possibility are well under way in Nanwalek, said Sergie Active, rector of the local Russian Orthodox church in the village of 200 people.

"We would have to go to higher ground, basically. The first thing is to have things packed away, just in case," Active said in a telephone interview from the local tribal council office.

"We have asked all the households to have sleeping bags, clothes, food, first-aid kits -- all the things that would be needed."

Augustine is one of Alaska's most active volcanoes, with five eruptive periods since the late 1800s, scientists said. Those events have generally started with major ash explosions that last a few days, followed by months of less powerful eruptions that produce oozing lava at the summit, they said.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Augustine volcano is still all steamed up!

Six more steam explosions were recorded Saturday on Augustine Volcano, but the island cauldron refused to yield its secrets to scientists who arrived by helicopter from Homer.

Dark clouds and rain obscured the upper reaches of the 4,134-foot peak, blocking access to a team equipped with an infra-red camera mounted on a helicopter. A second team in an airplane, hoping to measure gases in the air above the island, was similarly thwarted.

Dave Schneider, a U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, was on an Augustine beach Saturday talking to his Anchorage office when he was told island seismometers were registering another explosion. But peering up into the inky sky, he heard and saw nothing.

Schneider had taken advantage of a break in the weather Saturday in Homer. He had hoped to see what happened to the seismometer near the summit, which shut down Thursday during a steam burst. His main purpose, however, was to get infrared data from the island. He knew there would be hot spots. He had hoped to look for new vents and fissures that might indicate magma moving toward the surface.

"Volcanoes are hot. That's not what we're after," he said when he'd returned. "We're looking for change in intensity over time."

Augustine, historically the most active volcano in Cook Inlet, began stirring last month. The mountain had significant eruptions as recently as 1964, 1976 and 1986.

With its array of seismometers, Global Positioning System satellite receivers and, thanks to Saturday's visit, a time-lapse camera, Augustine is one of the best-wired volcanoes in Alaska. Scientists have been especially interested to see the measurable swelling of the mountain -- by an inch, according to the GPS units -- coinciding with the recent sharp increase in ground tremors, Schneider said.

Augustine was also outfitted with a new ash collection system on Saturday, Schneider said. Scientists with ion probes and electron microscopes are eager to examine samples of ash blowing out the vents to see whether fresh magma is involved. The collection system consists of bright orange buckets purchased at Home Depot, left to collect whatever falls out of the sky in the coming days.

"Ash from a four-dollar bucket is going to get put in front of a half-million-dollar machine," he said.
With more bad weather in the forecast, scientists will continue to use remote sensors rather than eyes and ears to watch for any signs of an approaching major eruption.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

People running away from Vanuatu volcano may face another major obstacle

Officials in Vanuatu say people displaced by Ambae volcano are threatened by a shortage of fresh water.

Radio New Zealand International reports thousands of litres of water have already been handed out to the 3-thousand people forced to move to relocation centres by continuing volcanic eruptions.
The chairman of the Port Vila Manaro Disaster Committee, Jean Sese, said if further ashfall poisons existing water tanks, more water will be needed.

“There is already sign that water on the island has already been affected by ashes. They’re tapping water from the bore holes, they will certainly need more water. The Red Cross has been providing water, but not enough.”

Mr Sese said a second shipment of relief supplies compiled by private donors, is expected to head to Ambae within days

Coolest lava in the world

Ol Doinyo Lengai, which translates to “Mountain of God”, is in northern Tanzania, fifty kilometres south of the Kenyan border. It is a volcano along the African Rift Valley that has small eruptions multiple times per year, but has not had a major eruption since 1967.

The top of the mountain is crowned with a ring of spires in the crater, 2000 metres above the surrounding grass plains, and there is a white stain down the south western side where lava has overflowed the crater in recent years.

The lava is chocolate brown when it is molten, at around 400 degrees Celsius. This is just hot enough to glow a dull red in the dark, and is the coolest type of lava of all the worlds’ volcanoes. The lava which issues forth from Ol Doinyo Lengai is a natrocarbonatite lava which, unlike common basalt lavas, is made up almost exclusively of sodium carbonate, giving it the lowest viscosity of any lava, like that of hot melted chocolate. Ol Doinyo Lengai is the world’s only active carbonite volcano.

Once the lava has been hurled out of the ground it flows in waves and rivulets towards the crater rim, and slowly cools. As it cools it starts to skin over, and with the hotter lava below the surface still flowing the top cracks up and slowly moves in crumpled file. The cooled edges set to a chalky white plaster in intricate patterns, and the entire lava flow crackles like a cooling engine after a hot drive for days.

When I was on the mountain a week ago, it had recently erupted and the lava flows were still cooling, but set enough to walk on the crust without breaking through. Near the centre of the crater was a hole emitting heat waves and cavernous wave sounds. A peek into the hole revealed a churning mass of molten rock sloshing around as if in a large cauldron, ready to spew at any moment, which inspiring a quick retreat on my part.

A knowledgeable guide who takes people up the mountain is Bura Ammy, based in Ngarasero village near Lake Natron. He charges $50 per trip. The standard route up the mountain is a four hour hike on a path up the eastern face.

My group ascended the mountain up the rarely climbed and steeper west face, taking a day and a half up grass slopes and a beautiful final curving ascent to the crater on a lava capped knife-edge ridge. We parked at the base of the mountain, GPS co-ordinates S 02 45 421, E 35 57 303, in a large river bed and climbed the grass embankment dead ahead up to the curving ridge, with a camp halfway up at S 02 45 663, E 35 55 938.

To get to the mountain, drive the Ngorongoro Crater road until Mto Wa Mbu, then head north for 60 km past Engaruka before taking the left fork towards Lake Natron and Ngarasero. The road requires a 4WD or high clearance vehicle.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Augustine volcano is showing some active behavior

Augustine Volcano has rumbled with earthquakes, blasted steam and belched sulfurous fumes during the past few days.

People in Kachemak Bay communities reported "sewer" smells in the air, and the FAA restricted flights below 6,000 feet within five miles of the summit.

A gigantic plume stretched into the mouth of Cook Inlet. Ash dusted the snow. New vents emerged.
Welcome back, Augustine.

"Augustine is doing all the things that Augustine does prior to an eruption," said volcanologist Game McGimsey on Tuesday. "Now, that doesn't mean that Augustine is going to erupt -- we're still at color code 'yellow.' But we're at a little higher level of concern than we were yesterday."
The storybook cone, which rises 4,134 feet from an island in lower Cook Inlet about 75 miles west of Homer, has been listed as restless for the past two weeks by the Alaska Volcano Observatory.
One of Alaska's most active volcanoes, Augustine last blew its top in 1986, when it drove a column of ash almost seven miles high and dusted Anchorage with ash.

It's one of 30 volcanoes monitored around the clock by the observatory, stretching from Mount Spurr 80 miles due west of Anchorage on out the Aleutian Chain.

"What we've seen is a pretty slow but sustained increase in seismicity (at Augustine) that began about early summer," said volcano seismologist John Power. "We have not seen this level of seismic activity since the 1986 eruption, so this is fairly substantial."

The volcano swelled about one inch in size too, based on measurements taken by global positioning system sensors near the summit.

All that suggests that a dike of molten rock or magma has intruded beneath the volcano from deep within the earth, squeezing into cracks and fissures inside the cone near sea level, Power said.
A batch of tiny quakes shook the volcano Friday and Sunday, one lasting 45 minutes. These new temblors jostled Augustine's plumbing -- the scientists say "perturbed" -- and apparently triggered steam explosions at the summit.

On Sunday night, people in the Kachemak Bay villages of Nanwalek and Port Graham, about 50 miles downwind, whiffed nasty fumes and got worried.

"I had received a call from a community member, and they were fearful that the volcano had erupted," said Nanwalek village police officer Kevin Seville. "There was distinct smell of sulfur in the air."

The observatory reassured him that the smells were minuscule amounts of sulfur carried by steam, and the volcano wasn't going to erupt immediately. Seville passed the word.

"Depending on the direction of the wind and the amount of gas emitted at the volcano, sulfur odors may persist," the observatory reported. "These periods should be relatively brief and are not expected to be a significant health concern."

On Monday, a team of scientists that included McGimsey and Power flew over the volcano. They spied a nest of fumaroles -- columns of rising steam ---- south of the summit in an area undisturbed in 1986. Light ash had dusted the snow.

"It's a lot of steaming and from multiple vents, and no doubt it is putting out sulfur," McGimsey said.
A satellite image taken Monday clearly showed a steam plume stretching at least 50 miles over the Barren Islands, out the mouth of Cook Inlet. By Tuesday, the plume shifted north, triggering a few reports of sulfurous "rotten egg" odors in Homer.

Augustine eruptions typically begin with months of rumbling that climax in a big explosion that busts open its throat and blasts ash thousands of feet into the sky, Power and McGimsey said. After that, sticky viscous magma oozes up and clogs the summit with a giant dome. The magma can dribble down the steep slopes as it cools, or collapse in floes of hot ash and rock.

"Prior to both the 1976 and 1986 eruptions, there were very marked increases in earthquake activity, and we have not seen levels that compare yet to those," said Power, who has studied Augustine for decades.

"If this activity is going to lead to an eruption, we believe we're still early in the game here."
Nonetheless, something inside the volcano has been heating up the summit, though it's not clear whether it's rising magma or hot liquids.

"Basically what the volcano is doing right now is drying itself out," McGimsey said.

Scientists in airplanes will sample the gases emerging from the volcano and use an infrared sensor to detect hot spots. Depending on the weather, scientists also hope to travel by helicopter to Augustine next week to install extra seismic instruments on its flanks, Power said.

McGimsey, the volcanologist, wants to snatch a sample of the ash to figure out whether it came from new magma or just old shattered rock.

Ash blasted from Cook Inlet or Aleutian volcanoes like Augustine can damage or destroy aircraft, and the observatory has the mission to warn people of possible dangers.

The prospect of an eruption has got the scientists on edge.

"Extremely," McGimsey said.

Vanuatu volcano still displays signs of activity

Thousands of tons of ash are continuing to spew from a volcano in Vanuatu, but officials said on Monday the activity on the South Pacific nation was not likely to result in a major deadly eruption.
Some 5 000 people have been evacuated to safer areas on Vanuatu's Ambae island since the crater lake on top of Mount Manaro began erupting with gas, steam and ash on November 27.

There were fears that a major eruption could send a deadly torrent of water, ash and lava down the sides of the volcano, but experts said on Monday the volcanic activity was likely to continue at the same moderate level for one to two weeks before gradually abating.

"The level of activity has remained steady for the last six or seven days," Lucas Merrigan of the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office in Port Vila told AFP.

"It's still at level two. Level three is when we start evacuating people off the island - the scientists don't expect it will get to that."

A spokesperson for aid agency Oxfam said about 2 000 tons of ash were continuing to land on the island daily.

"The information that we've got from the scientists and the vulcanologists on the island is that there's less seismic activity and gas emissions than there used to be... but it could be the calm before the storm," she said.

The eruptions could continue at the same level for another fortnight but were unlikely to become worse, she said.

"They are not predicting a major eruption, they are not predicting that people are going to have to move off the island."

There are fears that ash and acid rain will continue to fall on homes and food crops, leading to the contamination of water supplies and respiratory problems for inhabitants.

The Vanuatu government has not declared a state of emergency but has taken precautions in case the eruptions become worse. Ships are standing by off Ambae in case some of the population of about 10 000 people need to be evacuated.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Theft of equipment makes monitoring of volcano quite difficult

Thieves took vital equipment from a seismic-monitoring station on the slopes of Colombia’s Galeras, whose eruption last month prompted an alert for more than 8,000 residents in the Andean nation’s south, authorities said Friday.Officials with the government’s Ingeominas earth-science institute said the devices were taken two days ago.

Located just a few kilometers from Pasto, a city of roughly 380,000, Galeras erupted on Nov. 24, putting more than 8,000 residents near the volcano on alert and leading authorities to order the evacuation of many residences.Though the volcanic activity subsided by early December, Ingeomi-nas stressed the importance of continuing to monitor Galeras.

“This robbery hurts the task of monitoring the volcano,” the institute’s deputy director, Marta Calva-che, told reporters, adding that the equipment was taken from a permanent observation station at an altitude of 3,800 meters.She said the thieves grabbed the solar batteries that power the seismic-measuring devices as well as radio antennas used to transmit data from the remote site.

Galeras, which rises more than 4,200 meters above sea level, has erupted a dozen times since becoming active again in 1989.Calvache appealed to the thieves to return the equipment, which she described as “fundamental” to the task of alerting area residents to dangerous eruptions.

Volcanic activity on Saturn's moon...Titan

Saturn's planet-size moon Titan has dramatic weather, with turbulent high-altitude winds, periodic floods of liquid methane and possibly lightning, scientists said Wednesday in describing a world that may look like Earth before life developed.The European Space Agency's probe landed on Titan in January, uncovering some mysteries of the methane-rich globe — the only moon in the solar system known to have a thick atmosphere.

Scientists presented detailed results of months of study in the online edition of the journal Nature and at a news conference in Paris."It's a very strange fantasy world made of ice, with things like gasoline and tar that make up the rivers and the lake beds," said scientist Jonathan Lunine of the University of Arizona, when asked how he would explain the finding to a child."If you try to walk around on it, your feet might get stuck in some places, you'd slide down into methane rivers in other places, and you'd better watch out for the ammonia volcanoes," he said.

"And absolutely bring a big heavy coat, because it's really cold — and bring a tank of oxygen because there's no oxygen to breathe, but don't light a match."Titan, located 740 million miles from Earth, has long intrigued researchers because it is surrounded by a thick blanket of nitrogen and methane. Until recently, scientists believed the most likely explanation for the methane was the presence of a methane-rich sea of hydrocarbons.

The Huygens probe and its mother ship, Cassini, have offered evidence against that theory. The $3.3 billion Cassini-Huygens mission to explore Saturn and its moons was launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral, a joint effort involving NASA, ESA and the Italian space agency.Titan's clouds are made from molecules that include carbon and nitrogen — compounds generated in photochemical smog and circulated by rain and the atmosphere, the researchers reported in Nature.They said there was no reason to believe Titan's methane is a product of biological activity.

Yet more methane is appearing constantly and may burst from ice volcanos or fall as rain, researchers said, describing riverbed and drainage channels spotted during the craft's descent Jan. 14.Titan's upper atmosphere is turbulent, with winds blowing mostly in the direction of its rotation, then slowing down and changing direction closer to the surface. Electric charges detected in the atmosphere could be lightning, Lunine said.

The first results from the Huygens probe were released in January: Black-and-white photos showed a rugged terrain of ridges, peaks, vein-like channels and apparently dry lakebeds on the moon 740 million miles away.Scientists have been surprised by a mystery component they cannot identify."It's a world, an atmosphere, a surface that is very dynamic, and perhaps as it seems there is volcanic activity, the interior of Titan is also no doubt very dynamic," said Jean-Pierre Lebreton, Huygens mission scientist.

Titan's smoggy atmosphere may be similar to that of the primordial Earth, and scientists believe that studying it could provide clues to how life began.Titan shows signs of having "the very first stages of the building blocks of life," but it's too cold for the process to progress, said John Zarnecki, a scientist from Open University in Britain. Temperatures on the surface are 290 degrees below zero.If the sun one day expands and becomes a red giant, as some speculate, Titan may warm up, Zarnecki said.

"Maybe in 4 billion years' time, at the end of the sun's life, maybe Titan will be the new Earth," he said.The European Space Agency on Wednesday also released details from Mars Express' first radar sounding of the red planet. Scientists said they have yet to find any convincing evidence for underground water on Mars — but next spring, as the orbiter drifts to warmer areas, they will look again.Scientists detected what appears to be a large, underground basin that may hold subsurface ice, but have not found conclusive signs.

Committee provides help for families in Vanuatu

It is estimated that it will cost the Manaro Disaster Committee Vt30 million (US$266,000) a month to feed and clothe people on Ambae Island displaced by the recent volcanic activity on the island.
Committee chairman, Jean Sese said they are forging ahead with the relief effort instead of waiting for the Vanuatu government to act, Vanuatu Daily Post reports.

“We are not waiting for government to make a decision on the budget but are sending a ship load of supplies from Luganville to Ambae tonight (last night) and another ship load from Port Vila next week,” Mr Sese said.

Immediately after the formation of the committee last Friday (02 Dec), it received Vt148, 200 (US$1,300) as assistance for families displaced by the volcanic eruptions.

Meanwhile, scientists in Vanuatu monitoring Mount Manaro volcano, which has been emitting ash and gas for more than a week on the island of Ambae, have reported activity has lessened over the last 24 hours.

The director of the Disaster Management Centre, Job Esau says more than 2,000 people are living in emergency accommodation although hundreds are refusing to leave their settlements near the volcano.

Scientists say seismic activity is less and gas emissions have reduced by 25 percent, but the level of alert remains the same, because the volcanic cone is increasing which could cause more dry ash to fall.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Volcanic activity sends people packing

THOUSANDS of villagers on a Pacific island were being evacuated from homes near one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes yesterday after it started spewing ash and steam.

Mount Manaro on Ambae, Vanuatu, began smoking on 27 November and yesterday officials said they feared there would be a major eruption.

Douglas Charlie, a vulcanologist, said yesterday that the volcano "is one of the most dangerous in the world, as it's situated below a lake".

Lake Vui, which lies in the crater of Mount Manaro, could have its base torn open by an eruption, causing "a gigantic explosion" as the water hits hot volcanic magma or rock inside the volcano, Mr Charlie said.

The volcanic lake is also being forced up towards the rim, sparking fears of a mud flow if the lake wall bursts, which could drown the villages that surround the mountain.

Ham Lini, Vanuatu's prime minister, has yet to declare a state of emergency on the island, but said he would do so if the situation worsens.

Officials have ordered 5,000 people living in 15 villages in a "red zone" round the mountain to move to the coast.

Schools and halls were being used to accommodate displaced villagers as about 2,000 tonnes of ash a day fall around the mountain base and white steam clouds billow 4,500ft above its cone.
Steve Sherburn, a New Zealand vulcanologist, said Mount Manaro "is trembling all the time".
Apart from shaking, he said, "we are not seeing any large quakes associated with the island", which suggests the trembling is originating from eruptions in the lake.

"There have been several eruptions on the island in the past and this [event] at the moment seems to be typical of some of the larger eruptions," Mr Sherburn said.

A group of scientists had walked to the volcano's rim on Sunday and found the water of Lake Vui about 500ft below the rim of the 4,500ft mountain.

Three volcanologists from nearby New Zealand are monitoring the volcano in detail.

Mr Charlie said that "the danger is not yet high" but if the ash-falls continue, they will seriously affect water supplies and gardens at the volcano's base.

"If the eruptions worsen, the government may have to evacuate all 10,000 people from the island," he said.

Two ships have been sent to the island to aid any evacuation.

Ambae, an hour's flight northeast from the capital, Port Vila, lies near the islands of Pentecost and Maewo, which could be used to help resettle people displaced by a major eruption.
Vanuatu is an archipelago of more than 80 islands and 200,000 people.

Active volcanoes, part of the travel plans

The Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador are among the world's most famous destinations, a once-in-a-lifetime trip near the top of many travelers' wish lists.

But the islands' capacity to accommodate visitors will reach its limit within two years, when 160,000 visitors are expected annually.

So a campaign called the "four worlds" of Ecuador is being launched to promote other parts of the country worth visiting. In addition to the Galapagos, those regions are the Amazon, the Andes and the coast.

"The Galapagos is the most famous destination in Ecuador, but Ecuador has much more," said Maria Isabel Salvador, the country's tourism minister, in a recent telephone interview.
These other three regions are a mere 30-minute flight from one another, perfect for visitors interested in exploring a variety of destinations in a short time.

The coastal region includes Guayaquil, a port city and the gateway to wild tropical beaches bordered by lush greenery; and a trading culture that goes back thousands of years and that includes a colorful pirate history. The country also has eco-lodges and interesting agritourism attractions, including rose farms, coffee and cocoa routes, farms where white shrimp are cultivated, and banana plantations. The World Banana Fair is celebrated each year on Sept. 24.

The Andes region offers spectacular mountain vistas and two cities that are on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites because of their Incan, pre-Incan and Spanish colonial history -- Cuenca and Quito. In Quito, the Avenue of the Volcanos provides a panoramic view of active volcanos -- including the tallest active volcano in the world, Cotapaxi -- and snowcapped mountains. A monument north of the city marks the equator.

The Amazon region is home to indigenous cultures and a huge variety of flora and fauna, from orchids and pink river dolphins to monkeys and some of the country's 1,600 species of birds.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Assistance given to displaced people in Comoros

Aid operations are now starting to assist the thousands displaced by this weeks eruption of the volcano Mount Karthala in Comoros. More than a third of the population of Grande Comore may have been displaced by the eruption, which mainly caused damages to water reservoirs, agriculture and livestock on the main Comoran island.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today announced that it was "joining in emergency relief operations" in the small Indian Ocean country of Comoros, where a volcanic eruption may have displaced more than a third of the total population. Several UN agencies were now assisting national authorities in providing clean water, clearing away dust and debris and assessing damage to agriculture and livestock.There are concerns about the impact of pollution due to volcanic debris on public health, agriculture and livestock for some 250,000 people living in 76 villages in the areas covered by the ash and smoke, OCHA said in a statement today.

Approximately 175,000 people were said to have "inadequate access to clean drinking water due to the contamination of water tanks." Affected populations had also been inhaling volcanic dust since the eruptions, OCHA warned. Many Comorans - including the elderly and children - were now "having trouble breathing freely," the UN agency stated. The eruption is estimated to have displaced between 180,000 and 250,000 people, out of a total population of about 670,000 living on the islands between continental Africa and Madagascar.

In response, national authorities had prioritised delivering clean water, cleaning water tanks and water analysis; cleaning streets, public facilities and private buildings and preventing dust inhalation; and providing technical expertise for an environmental impact assessment and establishing a system to monitor the impact of the eruption over time.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) was further supporting the Comoran government's delivery of clean water by providing water tanks, fuel for trucks, and financial resources to cover operational costs. On average, 200,000 litres of water had been delivered each day. UNICEF had also supported the cleaning of all schools and is ensuring their water supply.Meanwhile, the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) was providing technical expertise to assess public health and water and sanitation conditions. Authorities still need to map which areas of the island that are intoxicated by volcano debris.

Such mapping was important to determine whether some of the large number of displaced could return to their homes. Additionally, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), together with UNICEF and WHO, were to provide material support such as computers and office equipment to the National Emergency Operations Centre. Finally, UNOSAT - a UN agency offering the humanitarian community access to satellite imagery - was working to provide accurate images of the Karthala volcano area in the next days.

The images are to "help ascertain the scope of damages." The Karthala volcano has been erupting since 24 November, with projections of ash and smoke that spread volcanic dust and debris over extensive areas of the Grande Comore, including the capital, Moroni. Although the eruptions receded after the initial day's eruptions, the Karthala Volcanological Observatory warns that the level of seismic activity remains high and that a lava lake is forming in the volcano's crater. An eruption of the volcano earlier this year, in mid-April 2005, also led to water contamination and the UN had to assist the government in providing clean water.

Mount Karthala, one of the world's largest active volcanoes, is the southernmost and largest of the two volcanoes that form Grande Comore Island (Njazidja) in the Indian Ocean Comoros archipelago. It is documented to have erupted more than 20 times since the 1800s. Mount Karthala has a great potential of destruction, causing Comoran authorities and humanitarian agencies always to be on high alert. The volcano last erupted in July 1991. At that occasion, no persons were killed although tens of thousands of villagers had to flee their homes.

Large damage was done to crops and pastures. The volcano is known to erupt in a cycle of approximately 11 years. Two strong eruptions in 1972 and 1977 did significant damages as lava flows reached the ocean. In 1977, the coastal village of Singani was partly destroyed by lava flows. In 1860, a lava flow even reached the coast close to Moroni.

The entire Comoran archipelago - with the four major islands Grande Comore, Anjouan, Moheli and Mayotte (the latter a French colony) - is created through volcanism in geologically modern times. The volcanoes are a result of the island of Madagascar's drifting from the African continent and subsequent tensions in the stretching sea floor.

When volcanic eruptions end, the danger is not over yet

Erupting volcanoes are among the most destructive forces in Mother Nature's arsenal. But where many people live on or near the flanks of such mountains, the real disaster often doesn't start until the eruption has subsided and the world has stopped paying attention.

It is then that rain-swollen rivers emanating from volcanic peaks can send massive lahars -- large waves of mud made up of water, ash and volcanic rock -- careening down the mountainsides, often burying everything in their paths, even entire towns and villages. Such lahars can occur for years after an eruption, depending on how much debris the volcano deposits and how much rain falls, until the sediment has either been cleaned off the mountain or has stabilized so that it doesn't erode easily.

Mount Pinatubo, northwest of Manila on the Philippine island of Luzon, erupted with devastating force in June 1991 and now is proving to be an ideal laboratory for studying the "hydrologic aftermath" of a volcanic eruption, said Karen Gran, a University of Washington doctoral student in Earth and space sciences.

Gran has been studying data compiled from 1997 through 2003 from five rivers on Pinatubo's flanks. The streams are in various stages of recovery, with one almost back to its pre-eruption state because it didn't become as clogged by sediment. But others traverse areas that still have vast amounts of sediment that can be washed away easily. Pinatubo's location, in the tropics not far north of the equator, makes it subject to torrential rains from monsoons and typhoons.

"In one of the streams we're studying, nothing can live. If a big storm hits, the whole riverbed moves," Gran said. That means that more than 13 years after the eruption, some of the rivers studied have not recovered to the point of having stable channels, which are necessary for a return of aquatic species and a general ecological recovery.

Gran is a lead author of a paper detailing the research on how streams on vol
canoes recover, published Jan. 5 in the Geological Society of America Bulletin. David Montgomery, a UW Earth and space sciences professor, is co-author.

Mount Pinatubo's eruption, the second largest recorded in the 20th century, deposited nearly 1.5 cubic miles of volcanic ash and rock on its flanks, about 10 times more than Mount St. Helens in Washington state deposited in its eruptions in 1980. The town of Bacolor at the edge of Pinatubo was buried repeatedly by major lahars. Today a large church in Bacolor must be entered through the choir loft -- everything below is filled with sediment.

"The thing about a mud flood is that it doesn't recede. It just stays," Montgomery said.

Eventually, all the river channels will stabilize and lahars will occur infrequently, Gran said. That's because the fine-grained ash and pumice typically are the first to be carried away by water. As a river cuts deeper into the sediment, coarser material eventually will form a more solid streambed and the amount of sediment in the water will decline steadily.

Sediment runoff comes from three primary areas, Gran said. One is the vast amount of material hundreds of feet thick deposited in a river valley, which the river can wash away as it meanders across the valley. Another is high terraces formed from a combination of fine and coarse material, which stand above the river level but erode into the river during heavy rainfall and eventually can be stabilized by vegetative growth. The third source is high cliffs that are unstable and can drop large chunks of sediment into the water at any time.

The frequency of lahars is much lower now than in the first five years after the eruption, she said, and the indigenous Ayta people are moving back to their ancestral home on the mountain's uplands. But the large amount of sediment remaining on Pinatubo's flanks still poses danger. Some of the rivers still can flood wide areas, making it difficult to site and build bridges. And in some places, the water flows at a much higher elevation than it used to, placing the streambeds above where people live.

"There's been more loss of life and property at Pinatubo from lahars than from the eruption itself," Gran said. "And recovery comes slowly, in stages. It could be years before we start to see ecological recovery on some rivers."

Search for seafloor eruptions

The most intense swarms of earthquakes detected in the last 10 to 12 years on the far edge of the Juan de Fuca plate could indicate the eruption of magma from the seafloor or an underwater volcano. Between 50 and 70 earthquakes an hour, most of them small, were occurring at the end of February at a spot some 200 miles off the Canadian coast.

University of Hawaii's Jim Cowen, chief scientist, and National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration's Ed Baker, co-chief scientist, are at sea now leading an expedition at the Endeavour Segment, the site of the quakes. The Endeavour Segment is located in deep water and the quakes are not of a magnitude that would cause noticeable effects on land in Canada or the United States.

Reports from the expedition are
online. As of March 8, the site said the number of quakes had calmed in recent days.

The scientists are on board the Thomas G. Thompson, the 274-foot research vessel operated by the University of Washington, and will return to Seattle March 11. The project is a rapid-response cruise funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, with cooperation from the Canadian government.

There have been six rapid-response cruises to investigate seismic activity on the Juan de Fuca plate since 1991, the most recent having been in 2001 led by Marv Lilley, University of Washington oceanographer.

Nowhere have scientists been in position to document lava flows while they are erupting, other than in Hawaii where Kilauea lavas flow into the sea, Lilley says. They've been tantalizingly close a few times out on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, once detecting fresh lava that was still hot enough to have diffuse water flowing out of it and another time arriving to find small glass shards still suspended in the water.

Even if there is no chance to witness lava flows, scientists are eager to arrive at the site as quickly as possible to measure changes that rapidly unfold following an eruption. Fluids discharged into the ocean during such events can form a billowing plume half a mile thick and stretching 6 miles in diameter, substantially changing water temperature and chemistry. Microorganisms flourish, increasing in such abundance that scientists say water near eruption sites can appear blizzard-like as it becomes laden with individual organisms and those that have formed into trailing mats and strings in the water.

"What's expelled gives scientists a view into what's deep in the seafloor, in places scientists can't reach," chief scientist Cowen says.

The swarms of quakes started Feb. 27 and lasted long enough that co-chief scientist Ed Baker told the Seattle Times before the expedition left port that, "We're pretty sure lava is moving."
The seafloor quakes are monitored by SOSUS, the SOund SUrveillance System, that can "hear" sound waves generated by seismic events, submarines or whales.

The swarms are centered about 200 miles west of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, at 48 degrees N and 129 degrees W. The seafloor is about a mile and a half below the surface there. As of March 4, fewer than 10 quakes an hour were being detected.

The site is on the Endeavour Segment, on the northern part of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. The ridge is where the Juan de Fuca plate is pulling away from a neighboring plate. Molten lava typically oozes up into the open spaces creating new seafloor at a pace of usually only inches a year. There can be more rapid spreading, however, during volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

Fields of hydrothermal vents form where seawater circulates beneath the seafloor gaining heat and chemicals until the fluids vent back into the ocean, sometimes like geysers. As the fluids mix with cold seawater the chemicals separate and solidify, sometimes piling up into impressive mounds, spires and chimneys.

Researchers will sample sea water, take images using a camera sled, collect rock fragments and deploy three to four floats made especially to be able to float along with the plume of vent fluids for several months.

There is the possibility scientists will find something other than an eruption underway. A swarm of earthquakes off the coast in 2001 caused an area of the seafloor to draw in surrounding seawater for more than a year. It was a surprising twist for scientists who visited the site expecting to find hot water, and possibly magma, being expelled, says Lilley, leader of that expedition and co-author of a paper last July in Nature about the event. The void created by the earthquakes was under negative pressure, drawing water down into hundreds of feet of sediments, something scientists had never observed before.

Scientists, graduate students and undergraduates on the current expedition are from the University of Hawaii, University of Washington, University of Miami, Oregon State University, NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, as well as students from Canada, Hong Kong and Switzerland.

Mt. St.Helen's gentle eruption

The satellite trucks and news reporters have long gone. The crowds of tourists have thinned. No plumes of ash have risen above Mt. St. Helens for nine months.Daniel Dzurisin, a volcanologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash., said people often asked him when St. Helens would erupt again."When I tell them it's erupting today," Dzurisin said, "they're surprised."The mountain has a split personality.

The cataclysmic eruption on May 18, 1980, blew off the top 1,300 feet of the mountain, flattened 86,000 acres of forest and killed 57 people.The current eruption, now in its 15th month, is quiet, as volcanic eruptions go. It shows no signs of turning violent, and there isn't even lava.Instead, what is coming out of the ground is a tube of rock that, while still hot, solidified perhaps a mile underground and then was pushed upward.

The process is like holding a toothpaste tube vertically and squeezing the toothpaste out.Each second, about a cubic yard of new mountain--roughly a pickup truck's worth--is pushed to the surface, adding to a dome growing in the crater.In earlier months, the cylinder of new rock, which is about 200 yards in diameter, toppled to the side as it rose. Now, the new rock is buried beneath earlier material and just pushes up the entire hill."It's looking pretty impressive," said Jon Major, a hydrologist at the observatory.

"There's quite a pile of rock and rubble."For the scientists at the volcano observatory, the past year has been an unexpected bonanza, one that is giving them new insight into Mt. St. Helens, the youngest and most active of the volcanoes in the Cascade Range. It also may give clues about the 60 other volcanoes on the U.S. mainland that have erupted in the past 10,000 years and are thus presumed to have the potential to erupt again.Among all volcanoes in the United States, the long-term average is two eruptions a century.

"That doesn't sound like a lot," said John Ewert, a Geological Survey scientist. "But when you consider the size of the volcanoes and consider most of them are covered with snow and ice, it becomes a much more significant number."An eruption can melt the snow and ice, setting off avalanches and gargantuan flows of debris rolling down the mountain.

But for now, the Geological Survey has few instruments keeping watch over them.Many of the scientists observing Mt. St. Helens were there when it erupted in 1980 and continued to observe the mountain as about 20 smaller eruptions, some lasting only a few days, continued through 1986. Then the mountain fell quiet. Scientists did not expect another eruption in their lifetimes.Last September, a swarm of small earthquakes shook the volcano.

The first eruption of ash and steam rose upward a couple of weeks later.Mt. St. Helens tossed up a few more small clouds of steam and ash. The reporters went elsewhere, but scientists have a rare, close-up view with relatively little danger. Gases such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide--the ingredients that make volcanoes explosively deadly--are largely missing this time."It's become an incredible scientific experiment," said geologist John Pallister.

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