Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Another volcano erupts in Far East Russia

A second volcano has erupted on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's Far East, spewing out ash up to an altitude of 10 kilometers (6 miles), a local seismology center spokesman said Tuesday.
The village of Kluchy, which is 50 kilometers (31 miles) away from the Shiveluch volcano, was covered in ash, and volcanic tremors were registered in the area, the spokesman said.

Shiveluch, the northernmost active volcano on Kamchatka, is the second to erupt on the Pacific peninsula in two days.

The outburst of the Bezymyanny volcano, which is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Shiveluch, resulted in a plume, stretching for up to 700 kilometers (435 miles) to the Pacific, and also covered Kluchy in ash.

Official have instructed local residents to avoid leaving their homes because particles of volcanic ash hanging in the air could cause poisoning and serious diseases.

Experts said the outbursts are not linked as the volcanoes belong to different magma chambers and their almost simultaneous eruptions are a coincidence.

According to experts, there are more than 150 volcanoes on Kamchatka, 29 of them active.
Volcano's activity has recently increased on the Kamchatka peninsula.

Experts registered up to 450 minor quakes daily near Karymsky, Kamchatka's most active volcano in the southeast of the peninsula, which rises to 1,536 metres (5,039 feet) above sea level.
This year more than 1,200 people, including 542 children, were evacuated from the north of Kamchatka after a series of earthquakes. The first 7.8-magnitude quake, the strongest in the Koryak Autonomous Area in the north of the peninsula since 1900, injured 31 people on April 21. It also damaged about 380 houses and 25 administrative facilities in four other towns.

Experts from the Moscow International Institute for Earthquake Prediction and Computing Geophysics earlier said there was a 30% probability that an earthquake of more than 7.2 will hit Kamchatka in December.

Since August, all regional rescue services have been put on high alert and a Rescue Center mobile hospital has been set up in the region.

Volcanic eruption affects Kamchatka villagers

A village on the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia's Far East is under ash fallout, as the Bezymyanny volcano, which is 25 miles from the village, is continuing spewing ashes up to an altitude of 15 kilometers (9 miles), local seismologists said Monday.

The Bezymyanny volcano erupted Sunday, a spokesman said. He added that the eruption resulted in a plume, stretching for up to 700 kilometers (435 miles) to the Pacific.

Official have instructed local residents to avoid leaving their homes, because particles of volcanic ash, spread in the air, could cause poisoning and serious diseases.

Experts said the plume poses no immediate threat to local residents, but that there is a danger to aircraft flying near the mountain.

According to experts, there are more that 150 volcanoes on Kamchatka, 29 of them are active. The Bezymyanny volcano is about 3,000 m high, it erupts once or twice a year, which can last from several hours to several days. The volcano spews ashes to a height of 10 km.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bulusan volcano still has steam and ashes eruptions

Mt. Bulusan in Sorsogon has continued to show signs of restiveness as seismic instruments detected 21 high frequency volcanic earthquakes and at least seven low frequency, or magma-related, tremors in the past 24 hours, volcanologists said yesterday.

The sustained high level of unrest started with an ash-explosion at 1:09 a.m. on Wednesday, accompanied with rumblings and tremors that lasted 20 minutes.

Orlando Guardacasa, resident volcanologist of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology at the Inlagadian Monitoring Station in Sorsogon City, said they are not discounting the possibility of more ash explosions due to the continuing tremors within the volcano.

“We are on close watch after that early Wednesday morning ash ejection. We are not yet discounting that more explosions might take place over Bulusan Volcano,” Guardacasa said.
He said they had already officially informed the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council of Sorsogon of Bulusan’s renewed abnormality.

Aside from ashfall, Guardacasa said they also alerted the council officials about possible lahar flows should heavy rains continue over Bulusan.

“We told them that they should also include in their disaster mitigation plan the possibility of lahar flow due to the continuing downpour over Bulusan. We already gave them the hazard map against lahar,” he added.

Guardacasa admitted that they were having a hard time in measuring the sulfur dioxide emissions of the Sorsogon volcano because thick clouds have been covering it over the past days.

Bulusan Volcano last exploded ash on Oct. 30 after its third level alert on April to May was lowered back to Level 1 which remained as its present alert status until yesterday.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Galapagos volcano will have its own scientific chart!

The October 2005 eruption of Sierra Negra volcano in the Galapagos Islands was preceded by an extraordinary 5-meter uplift of the caldera floor in just a dozen years – the largest inflation scientists have recorded prior to the eruption of a basaltic volcano.

The uplift was caused by magma accumulating beneath the volcano prior to the eruption, researchers say, and these kinds of measurable precursors can be used to forecast eruptions. This was the first time scientists had monitored the buildup to an eruption of a volcano in the remote Galapagos and they describe their findings in the December 2006 issue of Geology.
William Chadwick, a geologist at Oregon State University and lead author of the study, says the research is significant because it reveals clear interactions between inflation, faulting and eruption for the first time.

A ridge of the Sierra Negra volcano has been uplifted by repeated “trapdoor” faulting events. “We now have a much better idea of how the intrusion of magma makes space for itself in the shallow crust,” said Chadwick, a senior researcher at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “The uplift was punctuated by a series of ‘trapdoor’ faulting events that relieved some of the strain caused by the intruding magma and effectively postponed the date of the eruption.”

“This is what allowed such an unusual amount of uplift before it finally erupted and we were able to catch the volcano in the act,” he added.

Trapdoor faults are curved faults that bound blocks that are “hinged” along one edge to their movement is like a trapdoor. At Sierra Negra, trapdoor faults in the caldera floor relieve pressure from below, like the edge of a lid on a boiling pot of water is lifted from the steam below, Chadwick said.

“The trapdoor faults move in one-meter increments during large earthquakes, but over hundreds of years they have grown higher than the caldera rim at Sierra Negra, which is about 100 meters high.”

Sierra Negra is a large basaltic volcano with a caldera at the summit that is about nine kilometers across. The Galapagos volcanoes are similar to those in Hawaii and differ greatly from Mount St. Helens in Washington state, which is characterized by a different, more viscous lava composition.
This study was the first time that scientists had used global positioning system (GPS) technology at the Galapagos, Chadwick pointed out. GPS is a powerful new tool in the monitoring of volcanoes and earthquake faults because it allows scientists to measure movements of underground magma by measuring the displacement and deformation of the Earth’s surface.
“The technology is particularly helpful for monitoring the Galapagos,” Chadwick said. “They are some of the most active volcanoes in the world, but among the least monitored because of their remote location.”

Chadwick said the researchers are not yet sure what triggered the 2005 eruption of Sierra Negra – whether the volcano had “reached its limit” of allowing magma to intrude into the crust, or if the pressure-release mechanism somehow broke down. In any case, he added, inflation at Sierra Negra resumed immediately after the 2005 eruption so the scientists expect more trapdoor faulting.

“Or we may see another eruption soon,” Chadwick said.

He and his colleagues say they hope that continued monitoring of Sierra Negra will help anticipate just what the volcano will do next, and why.

Other scientists involved in the Geology-published study include: Dennis Geist, the University of Idaho; Sigurjon Jonsson, the Institute of Geophysics in Switzerland; Michael Poland, the Hawaii Volcano Observatory; Daniel J. Johnson, the University of Puget Sound; and Charles Meertens, UNAVCO.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Volcanoes: What are myths? What are facts?

We were assigned the job of monitoring the increasing activity of Galunggung volcano in western Java, one of the most densely populated areas of Indonesia. But we had practically no equipment—just a scrounged seismometer and a single geophone (a sensor for picking up higher-frequency ground vibrations). These were installed a few hundred feet outside the village where we were staying, about two miles from the crater.

A surveying instrument, a standard tool in volcano research, had arrived from the United States, but from my previous experiences I knew it would take weeks before the shipment would clear customs. In the meantime, as the only Westerner working with members of the Volcanological Survey of Indonesia, I spent my days with dozens of Indonesian counterparts documenting the effects of the eruptions and, when possible, helping to evacuate people. At night I slept alone in a tiny room furnished only with a bed, a small table and a kerosene lamp.

As soon as the surveying gear cleared customs, I rushed to Jakarta to pick it up, returning the next night. The boxes were placed in my room. Sometime after I fell asleep, I was awakened and asked whether a visitor could see the equipment. I said yes. The lamp was lit, and I watched as a teenage boy guided an elderly woman into the room. From the way she moved, it seemed she was blind. The boxes were opened, and the woman ran her hands over the equipment.

The next day, as my colleagues and I started unpacking things, I noticed a small green bundle in one box. Picking it up, I saw it was a tightly folded leaf with something inside. I examined this curious package and asked what it was. One of the Indonesian geologists told me that it was a coin left by the woman—that she wanted to wish us luck in studying the volcano.

Two months and several explosive eruptions later, I was back in Jakarta, preparing to return to the United States. I described these strange events to an Indonesian friend who smiled and said I had the story wrong. The old woman was not wishing me well; she had come to make sure the newly arrived equipment would not alter the course of eruptions because, as she and other local people knew, volcanoes do not spew things out without reason. They bring justice and vengeance to the world.

Although it took place a quarter-century ago, I often think about this episode because, after years studying volcanoes, it reminds me how differently people perceive eruptions—and natural disasters in general. To someone educated in Western science, the failure of people to evacuate in the face of an impending eruption seems irrational.

But geologists cannot yet answer the two questions most important to people who are in such peril: When will the volcano erupt, and exactly what will happen when it does? So these people often look to others—shamans and priests—for the answers to two slightly different questions: Why did the volcano erupt, and what do I do now? The response to the first query is invariably based on myth, and the answer to the second is always to follow some traditional volcano ritual. That people accept such advice frustrates and often astounds scientists.

For example, in May 2006, at Merapi volcano in central Java, both Indonesian and foreign volcanologists warned the locals that a growing lava dome could collapse without warning, sending a deadly, red-hot cloud of ash down the side of the mountain. Meanwhile, at a nearby village, holy men and hundreds of their followers lit incense and placed rice and fruit and other offerings in small, makeshift boats, then sent the miniature flotilla down a river. It was a ceremony to prevent their villages from being destroyed by the volcano.

A news story about the eruption in Science reported that officials were having trouble persuading the villagers to clear out. Instead of listening to geologists, the people were relying on spiritual advisers for guidance—prompting one scientist to note, somewhat incredulously, "The level of risk people are willing to tolerate here is remarkable." Added to that was a comment by Richard Stone, the journalist who wrote the article, calling the failure of people to evacuate in the face of such certain danger "obstinacy."

Rational Mysticism

To try to understand such seemingly irrational behavior, I have spent years compiling a list of myths and rituals associated with volcanoes. I have found them described in a variety of sources, including travel writings, religious documents, newspaper articles, even occasional references in scientific journals. I now have hundreds of such accounts for dozen of volcanoes.

Examining this collection as a whole, the first startling result is that not all cultures view volcanic eruptions as destructive. For example, in Africa, the volcano Oldonyo-Lengai, literally "Mountain of God," is venerated by the Maasai as the giver of all good things. In gratitude for an eruption in 1917, young mothers went to the volcano and expressed their breast milk on the ground. People who live near Mayon in the Philippines, around Agung on Bali and on the flanks of Maderas in Nicaragua are well aware that the eruption of volcanic ash greatly enriches the soil, giving better crops. In Hawaii, eruptions are viewed as beneficial, as acts of creation, and Hawaiians often see their lives mirrored in the level of volcanic activity.

On those islands, an eruption usually begins with lava gushing from a long crack in the earth. The hot, highly fluid material leaves a smooth, skinlike texture along the eruptive fissure. Because the structure is reminiscent of a huge vagina, native Hawaiians traditionally regarded an eruption as the menstruation of the goddess Pele, with the red lava always flowing toward the sea, the same path taken in ancient times by women to cleanse themselves. These Hawaiians oppose any attempt to control an eruption by diverting the flow of lava, as scientists have often urged. To them, it would be as unnatural as somehow trying to force a woman to end her menstruation.

The notion that an eruption is an instrument of justice (a view evidently held by the elderly woman I encountered in Java in 1982) is a common one. To the Aztecs, who were suffering under the conquistadors, Momotombo, a high cone located at the edge of a large lake in Nicaragua, was the symbol of defiance. It was said that the ground shook and the volcano roared whenever a Spanish priest tried to approach it. The Aeta, an indigenous people living on Luzon in the Philippines, considered the 1991 eruption of Pinatubo as nature's rebellion against the government's granting of permission for geothermal drilling and for jets from nearby Clark Air Base, then the largest U.S. military base overseas, to use the area for bombing practice.

Many cultures also consider an eruption to be a warning. In 1951, village elders said that the explosion of Hibok-hibok on Camiguin Island, the Philippines, which killed hundreds of people and thousands of farm animals, was an indication that "God had been displeased by young Camiguenos who grew lax in their churchgoing, forgetful of the feast days, and neglectful of the sign of the cross." In 1980 at Mount St. Helens, two Christian priests in Longview, Washington, told their parishioners that the ongoing volcanic activity meant that people should be more charitable and more caring of their families, that it was directing the community to get "back to its spiritual moorings."

Such reactions, though they may be anathema to science, cannot be dismissed. Anthropologists no longer regard myths as naive views of nature that retreat from consciousness as science advances. These supernatural explanations still hold powerful sway, not because they are factual, but because they represent people's core beliefs. Myths are much more pervasive and play a greater role than previously thought in all societies, even highly scientific ones, such as our own.

Humility and Utility

The widely differing views of volcanic eruptions can produce a disconnect between the scientists who are trying to understand and predict them and the people who are directly affected. I am concerned that this problem is becoming worse as remote sensing is used more and more to study active volcanoes. Now, in many cases, through the use of space radar and satellite relays, geophysical data can be received and analyzed in places far from the site of volcanic activity, say, by scientists in Baltimore, Pasadena or Houston, who have little, if any, sense of how their work might be received by people who are dealing with the eruption up close.

I have no clear solution for how the volcanologists who use the latest technology can bridge the gap with those who stand to benefit from their work. Being more culturally aware might help, but that is only a start. More important, we must check our tendency to assume that all people need are scientific assessments of the perils they face. Myth and ritual also help them to cope with disaster, albeit in a very different way.

Better technology could help with prediction of volcano eruptions

Australian scientists claim to have developed a new computer model that provides better predictions about volcano eruptions.

Dr. Alina Hale from the Earth Systems Science Computational Centre at the University of Queensland and colleagues have been investigating a type of repetitive earthquake that typically occurs before volcanic eruptions."Quite often these long-period earthquakes are observed before a volcano does something nasty. It's basically an indication that something's going to happen, but no-one has actually worked out how they occur," said Dr. Hale.

Recently, scientists have begun to think the quakes may be caused by areas of instability in volcanic lava called shear bands. But until now there has been no accurate way to explain the connection."It's been eluding us exactly what the volcano is trying to tell us with these signals. People have had a go at trying to correlate shear bands with these earthquakes, but so far it hasn't been convincing," she said.

Speaking at the Australian Institute of Physics conference Brisbane, Hale described how the new model incorporates processes such as the formation of crystals in lava to make the correlation more precise."It was a case of putting two and two together to pinpoint how these signals are being generated," said Dr. Hale.Dr. Hale used real-world data from Soufrière Hills Volcano, which devastated the island of Montserrat, to show that her model confirmed that shear bands were being generated at the depths where long-period earthquakes occur."

We're now getting closer to understanding where and why these signals occur. Basically it could potentially give us the ability to predict eruptions. But, more research needs to be done to further refine scientists' understanding of the processes behind long-period earthquakes," she added.

Russian volcano's activity was recorded

A growing seismic activity has been registered at Bezymyanny Volcano on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula, a source from the regional affiliate of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ geophysical service reported on Monday.

Clouds of gas and steam have risen up to 700 meters over its top. A weak thermal anomaly of minus 17 degrees Celsius has been registered on the volcano with temperatures in the region standing at minus 29 degrees.

Specialists keep monitoring the situation. So far there are no grounds to say the volcano is getting ready for an eruption, but such a possibility is not ruled out, the source told Tass.

Bezymyanny is one of 28 active volcanoes on the peninsula. Its height is 2,800 meters above the sea level. Eruptions of the volcano happen one to two times a year, and can last from several hours to several days. Over the past few years, scientists have managed to predict the periods of its activity.

The most powerful eruption of the volcano so far happened in 1956, when the volcano, 3,080 meters high at the time, ejected within a short period of time one cubic kilometer of volcanic material and became 280 meters shorter.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Mud volcano affects the Phillippines

The ash and boulders had been building up since an eruption in July, high on the slopes of the Mayon volcano. Typhoon Durian’s blasts of wind and drenching rain raked it all down in a deadly black wall of debris.

For nearly three hours Thursday afternoon, mudslides ripped through Mayon’s gullies, uprooting trees, flattening houses and engulfing people. Entire hamlets were swamped in Mayon, on northern Luzon island.

Some 198 people were killed - most in mudslides on Mayon - and 260 were missing, the national Office of Civil Defense reported. Another 130 were injured.

With power and phone lines down, it took until Friday morning, when the first flights managed to survey the area, for the scope of the devastation to emerge.

“The disaster covered almost every corner of this province - rampaging floods, falling trees, damaged houses,” said Fernando Gonzalez, governor of Albay province, the site of all but a few of the deaths.

Pope Benedict XVI, saddened by the “tragic loss of life,” was praying for the victims, rescue workers and others providing assistance, the Vatican said.

“Our rescue teams are overstretched rescuing people on rooftops,” said Glen Rabonza, the Civil Defense head, after officials briefed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on the disaster and the difficulties of getting to survivors stranded by seas of black mud.

Bodies were wrapped in blankets and slung on bamboo poles to be carried to trucks, then covered with coconut leaves and transferred to makeshift morgues.

“It’s terrible. We now call this place a black desert,” Noel Rosal, mayor of Legazpi city, Albay province’s capital, said after visiting one stricken village.

Rosal said three of the five communities comprising the village of 1,400 people had been “wiped out” with only the roofs of several houses jutting out of the debris. He said people claimed some of the boulders were as big as cars and red hot, suggesting fresh lava from 8,077-foot Mayon.

His own residence was under water that rose “higher than a person” in a flash flood.
“I was almost a goner. I had to swim,” Rosal said.

Mayon, a popular tourist attraction because of its nearly perfect conical shape, is one of the Philippines’ 22 active volcanos. It erupted in July, depositing millions of tons of rocks and volcanic ash on its slopes, and has continued to rumble since then. Rains from succeeding typhoons may have loosened the materials.

Villagers have lived with the threat of a Mayon eruption - the most violent one killed more than 1,200 people in 1814 - but say they never heard of debris being washed so far down or so violently.

Typhoon Durian blasted ashore with gusts of up to 165 mph, running head-on into Mayon, 210 miles southeast of Manila on Luzon island.

“When the water suddenly rose, we ran for our lives,” said Lydia Buevos, 58, who returned with her husband and children Friday to see their hut gone. Holding a pair of rubber sandals - the only possession she was able to save - she said she lost three relatives to the storm.

“It happened very rapidly and many people did not expect this because they haven’t experienced mud flows in those areas before,” Gonzalez said. “By the time they wanted to move, the rampaging mud flows were upon them.”

The typhoon weakened Friday as it moved northward, with sustained winds of 94 mph and gusts of up to 116 mph as it headed toward the South China Sea.

Cars zigzagged on the road to the affected area to avoid uprooted trees and toppled utility posts Friday. Steel pylons had been bent down by the wind, and power cables lay scattered about like strands of spaghetti.

With the sky surprisingly blue already, people dug foundations for new homes, hammering tin sheets onto leaking roofs and drying pillows, mattresses and clothes in the sun.

Durian was the fourth “super typhoon” to hit the Philippines in as many months. In late September, Typhoon Xangsane left 230 people dead and missing in and around Manila. Typhoon Cimaron killed 19 people and injured 58 others last month, and earlier this month, Chebi sliced through the central Luzon region, killing one.

About 20 typhoons and tropical storms hit the Philippines each year.

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