Saturday, January 28, 2006

TV Show gives Mount Rainier's full potential!

If you’ve been thinking about moving to Orting, you might want to watch the Weather Channel at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, then think again.

The 30-minute show on Comcast Channel 78, called “It Could Happen Tomorrow,” depicts what would happen to the town of Orting and surrounding communities if a huge chunk of Mount Rainier suddenly collapsed, sending a slurry of mud, rock, snow and ice racing through the Puyallup Valley.

“Entire communities will disappear from the earth,” the narrator pronounces in his solemn yet dramatic voice.The fact of the matter is: The narrator is right. Eruptions and earthquakes at the Cascade Mountain range’s aging, iconic volcano have triggered these types of mud flows, known as lahars, before. What is now Orting, population 4,400, was built atop a 30-foot-deep piece of Mount Rainier that flowed down the river valley 300 years ago.In fact, the latest assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey places the risk of a catastrophic lahar from Mount Rainier at 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent per year, noted Tom Pierson, a USGS geologist stationed at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash. Pierson appears on camera in the show.

The Weather Channel narrator takes that data and extrapolates it to say that someone who lives his entire life in Orting has a 1 in 7 chance of experiencing a lethal lahar.“That’s not an unreasonable number,” Pierson said Thursday. Incidentally, Pierson hasn’t seen an advance copy of the show, and he doesn’t get the Weather Channel. I offered to lend him my advance screening copy, if he can’t get his hands on one.

Giving the chance for a lahar a number is a little dicey in the first place, Pierson said, because scientists are working on a pretty small set of data.The show makes two very accurate and relevant points when examining the risk posed by Mount Rainier.First of all, as Pierson points out in his Weather Channel interview, Mount Rainier is covered by 1 cubic mile of snow and ice, more than all of the other Cascade peaks combined. That’s a lot of material available to bury a river valley.

Secondly, despite Mount Rainier’s beauty, it is 628,000 years old. Mount St. Helens, the relative newcomer on the block, is 40,000 to 50,000 years old. With age comes decay, and with decay comes a greater chance of a sector collapse of the volcano, even without the aid of an earthquake or eruption.Incidentally, the Weather Channel show relies on a lot of footage from the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption to illustrate the dangers of Mount Rainier. OK, fair enough.

And in the case of Mount Rainier, as many as 100,000 people are living and working directly on top of mud flows which, if they happened today, would bury them if they didn’t scurry out of harm’s way.Folks in Orting would have about 40 minutes to bolt for higher ground, once the mud flow sensors mounted on the flanks of Mount Rainier triggered sirens in town.To reach higher ground, residents would have to cross a bridge — either one across the Carbon River or one over the Puyallup River.

Good luck getting everybody out of town.I have a confession to make. I didn’t learn much from the show.I’ve written about most of the information presented on the geologic hazards of Mount Rainier several times before in The Olympian.But the simulated footage of a lahar plowing through Orting was new to me.The show is informative, visually drawing in the viewer.

And, if you’re a newcomer to Puget Sound, there’s a lot to learn from it. Just ask Barb Digman, an Olympia-based clinical psychologist who moved here about 18 months ago and watched the advance screening with me to provide a fresh perspective.

After viewing this nightmare waiting to happen, she was amazed by how much snow and ice sits on Mount Rainier and how this seeming fortress of a volcano actually is crumbly and vulnerable to collapse.“My curiosity is piqued,” she said. “I want to learn more about Mount Rainier.”By the way, she also ruled out Orting as a place to live.“Why put yourself in an area that’s had these kinds of disasters before?” she asked.

Volcanic discovery makes history!

Benjamin Franklin, whose 300th birthday occurred on Jan. 17, was probably America's first genius, and certainly our first great scientist. Besides all his remarkable accomplishments as a Founding Father he discovered, invented, worked on, wrote about, contributed to, and did research on many diverse topics in many different fields - including scientific ones such as chemistry, physics, geology, electricity, oceanography, weather, music, optometry, hydrology, water supply, and household heating.

Franklin's work in electricity goes far beyond his well-known flying a kite into a thundercloud. That dangerous experiment (which almost killed him) led to his discovery that lightning was an electrical phenomenon. This in turn led to his invention of the lightning rod - which has protected millions of buildings worldwide from destructive fires and myriad more people from being killed by fire or electric shock. He coined many electrical terms: battery, positive and negative terminals, conductor, etc. And another invention that benefited humans tremendously was bifocal eyeglasses.

In 1740, he invented a stove that heated better and used less fuel (called a Franklin stove in his honor). In 1743, he discovered that land storms usually come from the southwest, rather than from the northeast as was previously believed. In 1783 when he was in London, he correctly theorized that an unusual odor in one of London's famous fogs was caused by gas eruptions from a distant volcano.

Franklin also invented the armonica, a musical instrument consisting of 33 bowls filled with different amounts of water. When the rims are rubbed with a moist finger, each bowl produces a different musical note. The 33 bowls give the musician access to notes over a range of four octaves. He probably thought this up while fingering a wine glass after it had been refilled several times, enabling him to note that different volumes caused the glass to give off different notes.

His ever-present scientific curiosity enabled him to discover the Atlantic's warm Gulf Stream. He noticed that westbound ships from Europe to America usually took longer to cross the Atlantic than eastbound ships returning over the same route. Suspecting that a meandering east-flowing ocean current that ships might unknowingly encounter was responsible, he gave thermometers and ropes to captains of vessels crossing the Atlantic and asked them to record the water temperatures and the latitude-longitude positions periodically as they sailed.

These data enabled him to locate the current's shifting positions and to advise sea captains how to stay out of it while sailing westward.

Ben Franklin's legacy to Philadelphia was clean drinking water for 100 years. He purchased a pristine spring located far outside the city and the right-of-way for a pipe leading into the city's center. He estimated correctly that Philadelphia's urban expansion would take about a century before development would reach the spring and ruin it through contamination. He was right!

Franklin was a founder of a school that taught the first science courses in America. He also helped found the University of Pennsylvania and Franklin-Marshall College as well.
Benjamin Franklin was America's colonial Renaissance Man!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fire and ice...the adventure of a lifetime!

Things are getting a bit tense aboard the aging Aeroflot MI-8 helicopter crammed with 23 Russians, their skis, 650 gallons of fuel and a case of vodka. Vilyuchensky, one of Kamchatka’s hundred-plus volcanoes, mushrooms beneath the starboard side, and suddenly the MI-8 careens sideways toward the crater. I’m struggling to keep my balance on the red hydraulic fluid that smears the deck when one of the Russians gives me a thumbs-up. I pray he’s the mechanic.

Running alongside Russia’s Pacific Coast, the 750-mile-long Kamchatka Peninsula is part of the Ring of Fire, a chain of volcanoes that encircles the Pacific Basin. Nearly every kind of volcanic activity is observable here, from fissure eruptions that spew searing lava to the geysers that spout off across the landscape. Rising to an elevation of 15,000 feet, glacier-ringed cones hem a wild mix of birch forests and snow-coated plains between the Bering Sea and Sea of Okhostsk.

Once a Soviet military outpost, Kamchatka has opened to ski tourism with a season that runs from December to June. Most of Kamchatka’s volcanoes have long been dormant. Twenty-eight, however, shiver with life. We’re going to ski two of them.

Among the eager Alney Ski Club members crowding the bird are housewives, accountants, students and engineers—none of whom appear worried about the lack of visibility above the 7,136-foot volcano’s sheer eastern face. I’m within seconds of a nervous breakdown when Vladimir Shetsov, club president, yanks open the port hatch and starts pitching skis into the acrid volcanic fog. Ten feet or a hundred, there’s no telling how high we are when lawyer Valery Saratsev hucks himself into the whiteout. I’m hustled forward and have no choice but to windmill into the void.
I fall six feet from the MI-8 into fresh powder, and the club quickly splits into groups. Mine follows a spine that runs between two bowls, spitting us down a chute cradled by two towering, red-lava walls. The lines from the summit—25- to 40-degree pitches—are mantled with powder. With 5,249 feet of vertical, a hundred turns make no dent in this huge cone. We ski until the sun cooks the snow to corn.

Breathless and exhausted, I stop to rest in view of a neighboring volcano, 7,621-foot Mutnovsky. A plume of sulfurous steam wafts from its crater. My guide, Sergey, stops beside me. "Tomorrow we fly to this volcano and ski into crater," he shouts, adding, rather unnecessarily, "You will see, it will be great adventure!"

Imperial couple plans a visit on island scarred by volcanic eruptions

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will make a day trip to Miyake Island in March to offer encouragement to the islanders, who are rebuilding their communities destroyed by volcanic eruptions that began in 2000, the Imperial Household Agency said Wednesday.

They will fly to the island, 200 km south of Tokyo, to see how the residents are progressing, it said.
The couple will carry gas masks and will meet with residents indoors as the volcano continues to emit gas.

It will be the first time the couple will have set foot on the island since the volcano erupted. They flew over the island in a helicopter in July 2001 to view the damage.

The roughly 3,200 residents were evacuated on orders issued in September 2000 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which administers the island, after several major eruptions the previous month. The order was lifted last February.

About 2,900 people have returned to Miyake so far. Schools on the island opened at the start of the academic year in April.

In his New Year's Day statement, the Emperor said he wished for the good health of both the people who had gone back to their homes and those who had not been able to return.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Kilauea's dangerous eruptions are underestimated!

Geologists at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory are referring to a "revolution" in their understanding of the explosive nature of Kilauea Volcano.

Although explosive eruptions at Kilauea in 1790 and 1924 were known, the volcano has been considered generally peaceful, even when it erupts. That was one reason geologist Thomas A. Jaggar chose Kilauea, out of sites around the world, to create a volcano study center in 1912.

Now geologists are realizing that Kilauea can be much more explosive than previously understood. Kilauea appears to have explosive eruptions about as often as Washington state's Mount St. Helens, which produced the devastating explosive eruption of 1980. Although erupting as often as St. Helens, Kilauea's blasts are generally smaller yet occasionally deadly.

The new view of Kilauea is outlined in a two-part series in the observatory's weekly Volcano Watch column starting this week and on the observatory's Web site since last August, said observatory head Jim Kauahikaua.

The descriptions were written by Don Swanson, former head of the observatory, based on his studies. Swanson is currently in Ecuador.

An explosive eruption is one that throws solid rock, with or without liquid lava, Swanson wrote. That means the high lava fountains on Kilauea's east rift from 1983 to 1986 were not explosions.
A well-known explosive eruption happened in 1790, killing 80 to 800 members of an army loyal to Chief Keoua. That was long viewed as a rare event.

Then new evidence piled up. Geologists found layers of volcanic ash piled on top of each other, each consisting of material blasted out of Kilauea.

Some pre-1790 rocks as big as 10 pounds were blasted four miles. The 1924 explosion shot out a rock weighing 13 tons.

Some of the pre-1790 layers had Hawaiian structures between them, covered by later blasts. Radiocarbon tests showed these layers were deposited repeatedly starting about 1490.

As even older layers were studied, a new view of Kilauea's explosiveness began about five years ago, then picked up speed just 18 months ago, Swanson wrote.

The new understanding doesn't necessarily mean greater danger. Explosive eruptions occurred on the east rift in 1987, 1991 and 1996, and few people noticed aside from geologists.

Kilauea isn't more dangerous, Kauahikaua said. "We're just recognizing another threat that Kilauea has always had," he said.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

They took a hike!

For six months last year, major decisions for Scheitrum and McKenrick centered on basic needs — food, water and shelter.

Extreme heat or deep snow hampered their progress. The couple reached the scorching Mojave Desert in early June. Hiking by day was out of the question. McKenrick wrote: We night-hiked with some friends and made up scary stories as we walked through the desert. In the story, all of us start to disappear into the desert night. What happens to us? No one knows.

Donna and I camp in a colony of large Kangaroo rats. We sleep out under the stars and fifty miles per hour winds.

A week later, approaching the still snowbound Sierra Nevadas, the couple decided to hitchike north to Ashland, Ore., and head south, hoping to cross the Sierras in late July when high elevation trails would be open.

Without help from outside, the long-distance hike would have been more challenging. Burdens were lifted with the occasional appearance of "trail angels," hikers' jargon for people who offer unexpected aid.

"We've met the most wonderful people who are still not afraid to be a neighbor," said McKenrick. "If you walk down to a trail crossing, it's not uncommon for people to drive you to town. My parents (who live near the Appalachian Trail crossing at Caledonia State Park) do it all the time."
During their hike, the couple were offered such "trail magic" as a lift to town, a hearty meal, hot showers, cold drinks and fresh fruit. One of McKenrick's grateful references to trail angels was: "Don't talk to strangers." What a crock.

For the second half of their trip, the couple hiked alone much of the time, just the opposite, McKenrick said, of his 2004 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, when he was usually among fellow hikers.

Yet they felt at home in the Oregon rainforests.

"The forested areas were easier, more beautiful," Scheitrum said. "A lot of green. They reminded me more of the east."

As much as she wanted to say this was her favorite part, she was in continual pain from stress fractures in her feet. As early as June 9 she wrote:

After 2 days of large mileage and sand walking, my tendon in my foot feels like it's being pierced by a knife and (it) blew up after taking my shoe off. . .

And the following day:

We made it about seven miles before my tendon started bothering me again. I have no real concerns about my foot, but knew it needed rest or to take it slow.

Still, she was aware of her surroundings, and was impressed.

"There are a lot of volcanos around the northern mountains," she said. "I didn't realize it would impact me so much."

The scenery affected her companion as well.

He wrote:

There are glaciers above our cowboy camp. The melt of the ice sheets fill the streams. They flow with volcanic silt of Mt. Hood's birth. I drink the cold water full of grit and am completely satisfied. I will never forget the majesty of Romana Falls.

Snowstorms continued to plague the pair, but they were fortunate on every occasion to prevail against the elements. The mountains came to represent their own strength.

On Sept. 11, two days after Scheitrum experienced disorientation from hypothermia, McKenrick paused to write:

The storm has passed. All that remains is fresh snow, like dandruff on the shoulders of Mt. Jefferson. Why do they name mountains after dead guys? Why not name men after mountains? I would be honored to be named after a mountain.

This summer, the couple are making plans to hike the Continental Divide Trail.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Lipari island has a lot to offer to volcano amateurs

The island of Lipari, in an archipelago north of Sicily, has always appealed to its mostly well-heeled summer visitors because it's hard to reach and therefore remains a secluded paradise .So a plan by the local mayor to build an airport on what is now a green plateau inhabited by buzzards and falcons has caused a flurry of alarm.

Many Italian politicians take holidays on Lipari and the neighbouring Eolian islands. Other frequent visitors include fashion designers Dolce & Gabanna, actors Michael Douglas and Al Pacino, and writers of the calibre of Umberto Eco .The worries of the politicians, artists and writers who regularly come to hide in the Eolian islands are coupled with the consternation of environmentalists .

But mayor Mariano Bruno insists that Lipari and the other Eolian islands need an airport because sea ferries are too few, too slow and too vulnerable to cancellation because of bad weather ."We live on tourism. There are few sea connections to our islands and this airport would solve a lot of our problems," he said .Bruno noted that you can fly from Rome to London in less than three hours but getting from mainland Italy to Lipari takes seven hours .

Plans for the airport, which would cost 30-40 million euros, have controversially been included in Lipari council's official plans for future construction projects .Giuseppe La Greca, a leftwing council member, is livid: "It would disfigure the island. We would be destroying one of its most beautiful parts just so as to have a few charter flights during the high season." Meanwhile, in Rome, the plan has also caused a stir. Former culture minister Giovanna Melandri and MP Ermete Realacci, honorary president of environmental group Legambiente, have called on the transport minister to block the project .

They point out that, because of their astounding beauty and the presence of active volcanos, the Eolian islands have been part of UNESCO's list of world heritage sites since 2000 .Building an airport on Lipari could mean the islands lose their special protected status, warned Melandri, who has a house on the island of Filicudi. Legambiente's Sicilian chapter branded the airport project as extremely "damaging" and said it would be better to simply improve ferry services to the islands .

The 18 most dangerous US volcanoes also include Augustine!

Spewing ash and steam miles into the sky, Alaska's Augustine Island volcano has been erupting this week and posing a threat to air traffic.

The newly vigorous mountain is just one of the 18 most dangerous U.S. volcanoes, according to a report presented by John Ewert at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco last month. Ewert is a Vancouver, Washington-based volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The overview ranks the United States' 169 volcanoes according to their threat levels and assesses the monitoring activity at each. The study authors aim to guide efforts to improve monitoring of U.S. volcanoes.

Ewert and colleagues based the threat rankings on frequency of eruptions and risks posed to nearby populations, infrastructure, and air traffic, among other factors. The more dangerous the volcano, the thinking goes, the better the early-warning system it should have. (
Eighteen U.S. volcanoes are designated "very high threat"—the report's highest threat level.

Most Dangerous U.S. Volcanoes, in Descending Order

1. Kìlauea, Hawaii

2. Mount St. Helens, Washington State

3. Mount Rainier, Washington State

4. Mount Hood, Oregon

5. Mount Shasta, California

6. South Sister, Oregon

7. Lassen Volcanic Center, California

8. Mauna Loa, Hawaii

9. Redoubt Volcano, Alaska

10. Crater Lake area, Oregon

11. Mount Baker, Washington State

12. Glacier Peak, Washington State

13. Makushin Volcano, Alaska

14. Akutan Island, Alaska

15. Mount Spurr, Alaska

16. Long Valley caldera, California

17. Newberry Crater, Oregon

18. Augustine Island, Alaska

Only three of the most dangerous U.S. volcanoes are sufficiently monitored, according to the report: Kìlauea in Hawaii, Mount St. Helens in Washington State, and the Long Valley caldera in California.

"We do need more monitoring," said Stanley Williams, a volcanologist at Arizona State University in Tempe. "There are few volcanoes that are really being studied at a very close level."

Williams, who was not involved with the USGS study, said better monitoring of volcanoes would allow scientists to more accurately forecast eruptions. It would also allow experts to collect detailed information on what causes volcanoes to stir. Such information would help volcanologists to better distinguish routine rumblings from signals of unrest.

"People who have hurricanes to study have it nice and easy," Williams said. "They know they have six months to test instruments, to make measurements and six months to work on the data and upgrade things, whereas when volcanoes are erupting is unknown."

Instead, volcanologists can only put their monitoring equipment in place and wait.

Such specialized gear includes a mix of instruments: volcano-specific seismometers to measure earthquakes, sensors to gauge gas emissions, and global positioning systems (GPS) to detect land deformations.
"Volcanology requires you to have a suite of technology and instruments you are using, because there is no single magic thing you can do. You have to look at it all together," Ewert, the USGS volcanologist said.

With the right mix of equipment and personnel in place at the right time, volcano scientists today have the ability to detect unusual activity and forecast an eruption, Ewert said. Now scientists hope to refine their ability to forecast the style and size of eruptions.
"We're pretty good at the when, but not so good at the what or how big," he said.

Alaskan Eruption

The currently erupting Augustine Volcano, ranked as the 18th most dangerous, is the best monitored volcano in Alaska, according to geologists. Even so, scientists would benefit if more modern instruments were on the volcano to send back data for real-time analysis.

Rising from Cook Inlet in Southeast Alaska, Augustine Volcano forms the bulk of remote, uninhabited Augustine Island.

The volcano frequently cycles through bouts of explosive ash-producing eruptions, which pose a risk to air traffic, Ewert said.

"In terms of ash hazard, there are no remote volcanoes," he said. "Somewhere between 20 [thousand] and 25 thousand people fly in air routes that cross Alaskan volcanoes every day."
Hot ash can get sucked into jet engines, where it can melt, coat turbine blades, and cause engines to stall, Ewert explained. Ash can also jam electronic circuitry and coat windshields, reducing pilots' visibility.

To date, no airplane has crashed due to ash, but there have been several close calls.
In 1989 a Boeing 747 flew through an ash plume from Redoubt Volcano in Alaska and lost power to all four engines. The plane glided for four minutes, dropping nearly 12,000 feet (3,700 meters). It recovered just a few thousand feet from the ground.

When the 4,134-foot (1,260-meter) Augustine Volcano began erupting on January 11, several airlines cancelled or rerouted flights.

Augustine's eruptions grew in intensity on January 13 and 14. After a lull on Sunday and Monday, the volcano erupted again on Tuesday, sending an ash plume 8.5 miles (14 kilometers) into the air—the tallest plume yet in this recent bout of activity.

Yesterday the Alaska Volcano Observatory cautioned in an advisory that "it is likely, but not certain, that more explosive eruptions will occur."

The observatory is a run by the USGS, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.

Catch Up

Using the existing equipment on Augustine, scientists were able to detect a level of significant unrest by mid-July. However, the equipment is not sophisticated enough for detailed studies of the mountain, Ewert says.

The scramble to get more advanced equipment in place on Augustine is exactly the sort of challenge the USGS would like to avoid in the future. It is particularly difficult, for example, to deploy new equipment on Augustine now, when daylight is scarce and snow and ice is especially thick.
"We are playing catch-up with Augustine at this point, and, in fact, it's the middle of winter and it's really hard work out there," Ewert said.

Could lack of snow wake up Mt. Fuji in Japan?

A lack of winter snow on Japan's famed Mount Fuji has sparked speculation that the volcano could erupt for the first time in three centuries. But experts denied any link between snow and seismic activity. Much of Japan has had record snowfall in the last month, but recent photographs of the usually snowcapped Mount Fuji show its slopes looking bare. "A lot of snow fell on Mount Fuji, but it was blown off by strong winds," a city official in Fujiyoshida near Mount Fuji said. Some tabloids have taken the snowless peak as a sign that an eruption was imminent.

The nearly conical Fuji is classified as a dormant volcano since it last erupted in 1707, but the government was rattled in November 2000 when the number of small earthquakes shaking the peak jumped to more than 200 from a monthly average of around 20. Japan, which lies at the intersection of several tectonic plates, is regularly rattled by tremors of varying strength, with volcanic eruptions not infrequent.

Augustine volcano on red alert...again!

Mt. Augustine that began its eruptions last Friday was moved, Wednesday, from level orange back to level red by the Southwest Volcano Research Centre. An explosive eruption was reported to have begun Wednesday at 0758 AST and to have ended at 0803 AST.

Located approximately 180 miles from Anchorage, Mt. Augustine continues to belch ash and steam cloud plumes. At 13.7 km-high, USGS geologist Michelle Coombs said this latest eruption was “a little more energetic” than the last eight. The Mt. Augustine “live-cam” can be accessed at:

Dream vacation for volcano lovers!

In 2006, Unicorn Tours ( -- a Costa Rican company with outstanding service -- offers a brand new vacation line-up. There are several possible types of tours according to the needs and requirements of the customer. Each of the tours involves a full discovery of special types of adventures such as visiting volcanoes, jungles, beaches or getting acquainted with gems of Costa Rica.

Adventurers may try ’World of Volcanoes Tour’ within 11 days of a geographic exploration and interesting trip. Costa Rica has a lot of volcanoes, some are active even today.The conical Volcan Arenal is the youngest stratovolcano in Costa Rica and one of its most active. Its lava flows and activity have been constant, and on virtually any day you can see smoking cinder blocks tumbling down the steep slope from the crater, or at night watch a fiery cascade of lava spewing from the crater. Volcano Poas National Park is one of the most visited in Costa Rica, because of its proximity to San Jose and because of the luxuriant forest that surrounds the two craters.

Its deep blue waters contrast with the dense tropical forest, making it the perfect spot for the stereotypical Indian sacrifice -- throwing a young maiden into the mouth of a crater or a lagoon.

The volcano has had a long history of eruptions, going back as much as 11 million years. Its geyser-like eruptions of muddy water and steam, have given it the reputation as the world’s largest geyser.Perhaps the ’Fun, Leisure and Beach’ tour is the most comprehensive one of the four tours. Though its main purpose is recreation and relaxing, also covers cultural and geographical explorations and includes the visiting of Poas, La Paz Waterfall, Arenal, Monteverde, Tamarindo Beach as well.

Fishing, surfing, boating, sightseeing, shopping, excellent dining, jungle tours, canopy tours, horseback riding, and nightlife, are just a few of the many things to do on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. So it is worth taking the opportunity of reaching places where no one else walked before, in addition, at a pretty low price.

Augustine volcano in Alaska erupts!

On Friday, January 13, a volcano in Alaska’s Cook Inlet erupted, sending gritty, gray clouds of ash and hot gas more than six miles into the sub-zero sky. The main series of eruptions, which featured small earthquakes and rock and ash flows, continued less than an hour into Saturday morning, according to the official report from the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

A total of eight distinct eruptions have occurred since twilight Friday morning. Augustine, an uninhabited volcanic island 180 miles southwest of Anchorage, is the most active volcano in the Cook Inlet, having erupted seven times in the past 200 years. According to volcanologist Mike Doukas, who is currently stationed at the Alaska Volcano Observatory, Augustine had been quiet since its last eruption, in 1986.

But about a year ago, seismic activity started to gradually increase, picking up significantly in the last two months, and the 4,134-foot volcano began to appear “restless.” On Wednesday, January 11, small earthquakes—each registering below a 1 on the Richter scale—made both Augustine’s terra infirma and the needles on the observatory’s seismographs quiver.

From that point on, it was almost assured that an eruption would occur within days. According to the Anchorage Daily News, schools in settlements on the Kenai Peninsula were closed, and some Alaskan Airlines flights were cancelled due to the quantity of airborne debris.

Thanks to the remoteness of the island, and the relatively moderate nature of the eruptions thus far, no one has been reported injured. The greatest fear is that prevailing winds, which have blown lightly in an easterly direction towards Kenai since the eruptions began, could pick up and shuttle more ashy air to populated areas. However, after Friday’s and Saturday morning’s fireworks, the rest of the weekend was quiet. “Everything’s calmed down,” Doukas said.

On Sunday, scientists downgraded the activity level from code red to code orange. Code orange indicates that seismic activity remains above normal and an eruption could occur at any time, but high-flying aircraft are not considered at risk, according to volcanologist Dave Schneider. Code red means that an eruption is in progress or could happen imminently. Despite the color-coded warnings and the apparent cessation in activity, scientists and local schoolchildren are wondering what’s still to come. Test-avoiders in the latter group, now at semester’s end, are keeping their fingers crossed. “The show’s just opened,” said Doukas.

“It’s likely that we’ll see more activity, but we just can’t tell yet. Sometimes a volcano can go ‘Pop! Fooled you,’ and other times it can erupt for weeks at a time. Whether it’s one or the other, we don’t yet know. We’re waiting and watching, just like everyone else.” In Anchorage, there's been a rush on air-filtration masks—now almost all sold out—reminiscent of the rush for survival gear on the eve of Y2K. There’s even been a run on pantyhose, which can also be used to filter air.

But in Homer, Alaska, a hundred miles closer to Augustine, where fresh snow is covered with a thin layer of ash, most hardware stores are still stocked, despite strong sales. “We saw it coming,” the proprietor of Homer Independent Hardware said. “If there’s one thing you can count on from a volcanic eruption, it’s mask sales.”

Unique volcanic eruptions in Iceland!

The terrain in southern Iceland is as gritty as burned toast, pockmarked by glacial craters and sprinkled with boulders that can be as big as dump trucks. Keep driving, and you come upon fields of bumpy lava blanketed with moss. Hot air rises off the blackened plains like distant fumes.

An Icelandic volcano that erupted in November 2004.

These flood plains, known as sandar, extend some 800 square miles. Parts of the southern coast were formed some 9,000 years ago, when meltwater spilled out from under Iceland's cloak of glacial ice and galloped forward in violent surges called jokulhlaups, or glacial outburst floods. But jokulhlaups (pronounced YOKE-uhl-howps) are no geologic remnant of the distant past. They occur with almost predictable regularity today, and they may pose great risks to life and property in Iceland.

Glacial floods occur in many regions of the world where mountaintop glaciers sit on top of volcanic regions, as they do here. Fluids, gases and steam from active volcanoes continuously melt the overlying ice, creating pools of water sandwiched by glacial ice. Some of this water drains off at intervals, at times trickling out and other times leading to floods.

But the most potent type of glacial flood is caused by an erupting volcano. Glacial ice cloaks 10 percent of Iceland, a country that straddles the mid-Atlantic ridge and is a simmering cauldron of geothermal and volcanic activity.

Nearly 60 percent of volcanic eruptions in Iceland occur beneath glacial ice.

That is what worries scientists. Katla, one of Iceland's most notorious volcanoes, has erupted five times since 1721, at intervals ranging from 34 to 78 years. The last one was in 1918, so an eruption may be overdue.

"Basically everything you see to the east of Reykjavik is a wall of mountains formed in eruptions under glaciers," said Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, a professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland, who added, "Katla has been showing signs of unrest over the last few years."

To head off catastrophe, geologists and civil engineers here have developed an extensive, exquisitely sensitive monitoring system intended to provide early warnings of floods. It has issued 16 accurate forecasts since 2001, though it has yet to contend with a major eruption.

When the birth pains of an eruption begin, pressurized magma oozes toward the surface of the volcano, leaving boiling groundwater in its path. Glacial ice acts as a lid on a giant pressure cooker: the thicker the ice, the more force with which it presses back against the erupting lava.
When a volcano erupts, magma as hot as 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit meets ice and boiling water, sending vast plumes of steam and rock particles rocketing upward in what Matthew J. Roberts, a glaciologist with the Icelandic Meteorological Office, compares to a classic mushroom cloud.

That is not all. Steam combines with tiny particles raining out of the eruption to create high static charges, causing lightning strikes several times a second. The 1918 eruption of Katla is said to have killed hundreds of heads of livestock grazing nearby - by electrocution.

Then come the jokulhlaups. "An eruption beneath a thick glacier often leads to a hazardous glacial flood that can begin within minutes to several hours after the eruption has started," Dr. Roberts said.

Floods after a volcanic eruption are a mixture of water, ash, mud and ice; they tend to leave the surrounding countryside covered in ash.

Records from floods in the 1800's indicate that icebergs of Titanic proportions were seen drifting near farmhouses. And one flood is thought to have heaved ice blocks for miles. Geologists are still uncovering this ice, which was buried by so much insulating debris that it is still there more than 150 years later.

In 1996, an eruption beneath the Vatnajokull ice cap, Europe's largest ice mass, led to a jokulhlaup that forced sediment, meltwater and ice out along the 12-mile stretch of the glacier's edge. The flow of water out of the glacier created a river to rival the Amazon in size, at least for a few minutes. It demolished a bridge and added almost three square miles to the area of Iceland. (The flood did not reach nearby settlements, and no one was killed or injured.)

The seismic monitoring system developed in the past few years consists of a network of instruments strung along the countryside like Christmas lights. The devices are similar to those used for monitoring volcanoes like Mount St. Helens, in Washington, but because Iceland is relatively small, the network is densely concentrated.

Unlike conventional seismometers, which detect tremors greater than a magnitude of 1, Iceland's have been fine-tuned to measure magnitudes of minus 1 or even lower.

These micro-earthquakes are thought to result from fractures only 100 feet long or so; the fault lines of earthquakes felt by humans tend to be 10 times as long. "But it's these very tiny cracks which are often the sign of something larger," Dr. Roberts said.

Once an eruption is under way - a process that takes place over days or weeks - meltwater spreads out like a sheet between the underlying rock and the base of the glacier. The pressure causes ice to fracture in an "ice quake" within the glacier.

Using the new seismometers to determine the quake's location, scientists can plot the movement of water.

In addition to the threat from flooding, volcanic meltwater often contains a toxic chemical cocktail that can cause breathing difficulties when the water rises to the surface. Last July, such a flood originated from an ice caldron underneath the western flank of Vatnajokull. "The floodwater was very rich in hydrogen sulfide, to the extent that a strange haze could be seen above the water surface on the river," Dr. Roberts said.

But this toxicity is also providing scientists with real-time monitoring of the likelihood of flooding; if the water has interacted with a geothermal system, it will carry an assortment of ions and give off a higher electrical conductivity. That, too, can be measured.

From the air, scientists can monitor the ice surface to keep track of accumulating meltwater under the glaciers. Increased melting is visible from the air in the form of a "melt pit," or ice caldron; the caldron's growth indicates how much heat is being released from the volcano.

Katla is situated precariously behind the village of Vik, roughly 16 miles away. In the last few years, the volcano grew more seismically active, began inflating in the magma chamber and showed increased geothermal activity.

At the end of 2004, it became quieter again. But the authorities here are taking no chances. In May, the Icelandic Civil Protection Department plans to conduct a large-scale evacuation drill in a region to the west where a jokulhlaup might engulf inhabited areas.

In the meantime, each new field season offers a natural laboratory of visible change for scientists like Andrew Russell, a glacial geologist from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in Britain, who headed out to the sandur last summer in a caravan of Land Rovers and cargo trailers with volunteers from the organization Earthwatch.

On that expedition, Dr. Russell pointed to an area about halfway up Skaftafellsjokull ("jokull" means glacier) where a fresh scab of glacier had just broken off after a small ice avalanche, revealing virgin layers of ancient ice and sediment.

At another field site, Dr. Russell pointed out a "kettle hole" - a pit formed when buried ice melts away. This one was filled with dangerous quicksand.

This year, his team may need to take inflatable rafts to cross a lake of meltwater where a glacier stood just a few years ago. Still, he is happy to get fresh access to river sediments that are deposited inside tunnels within the glacial ice.

"We can see some of these melting out beautifully at the moment," he said. "You get a real feel for the forces that are in operation."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Five eruptions in Alaska!

Five significant eruptions of Augustine Volcano sent ash clouds miles into the air and closed schools on the southern Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.

But experts said Friday's eruptions were not expected to pile up dangerous ash in communities.

The eruptions disrupted scheduled flights when Alaska Airlines announced it would not fly to Anchorage and Fairbanks. Alaska Airlines announced it had cancelled 28 flights scheduled. The state ferry Kennicott's Friday evening sailing from Kodiak to Homer was also cancelled.

The mountain, on an isolated and uninhabited island about 180 miles south of Anchorage, first erupted for 44 minutes, sending a plume 34,000 feet high, more than six miles.

A second eruption followed but lasted only four-and-a-half minutes. The Alaska Volcano Observatory said it sent up a plume at least 30,000ft high. One pilot's report put the plume at 52,000ft or nearly 10 miles.

Pilots reported lightning in the plume, said observatory spokeswoman Jennifer Adleman. Lightning is created in ash plumes when particles rub together and generate a static charge.

The volcano erupted again with a plume again reported over 30,000 feet. Seismic data indicated volcanic mudflows were probably moving down the flanks of the mountain. A fourth eruption occurred about 4.40pm and lasted for four minutes. The National Weather Service said the plume was nearly six miles high, and was heading south east towards the Barren Islands, north of Kodiak.
The fifth eruption was reported just before 7pm, with the plume reaching about 30,000 feet, and the observatory received reports of some ash falling in the community of Homer.

Similar short-lived explosive activity is expected to continue over the next several days or weeks, Adleman said, and additional eruptions could occur with little or no warning.

Friday's eruptions followed two eruptions early on Wednesday.

Indonesia, currently a hot zone!

Head of the Volcanological and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center(PVMBG) Yousana OP Siagian said at least 10 volcanoes in Indonesia have been declared to be in alert status."PVMBG office will continue its coordination with volcanoes-monitoring posts in the country in a bid to watch their activities," he said as contacted by Antara through a phone call here on Friday, Kazinform cites ANTARA.

Yousana said the ten volcanoes in second level alertness status are Mount Merapi and Mount Talang in West Sumatra, Mount Anak Krakatau in Lampung, Mount Semeru in East Java, Mount Kerinci in Jambi, Mount Egon in Flores, Mount Lokon Soputan in North Sulawesi and Mount Dukono in Halmahera.In the meantime, a volcano in third level alertness is Mount Karang Etang in North Sulawesi.

To anticipate a natural disaster caused by a volcano, the PVMBG office has established coordination with the respective provincial administrations."With regard to the volcanic activity of Mount Semeru, it is learned that it has specific characteristics because of its high frequency of minor eruptions," he said.However, he further added that the small eruptions of Mount Semeru would not jeopardize the people living on the slopes of the mountain because the distance between the danger areas and their homes is quite great.

Therefore, he asked the people living in the foot of Mount Semeru not to worry and panic following the small eruptions.Earlier, it was reported that many hectares of tomato, chilli and cabbage in some areas of Lumajang district and Malang were totally destroyed by rains of dust from Mount Semeru in the past few days, causing many farmers to harvest their crops earlier.T

he rain of dust from the highest volcano in Java in the past few days had affected the local farmers, because hundreds of hectares of their crops were damaged.The most affected areas are those on the slopes of Mount Semeru such as Tempusari, Pronojiwo, Candipuro, Tempeh and Senduro.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Volcanic danger level downgraded in Alaska

The intensity of Augustine Volcano's seismic rumblings on Thursday fell to pre-eruption levels a day after two brief explosions spewed ash five miles into the skies over Cook Inlet, but scientists still anticipate another eruption.

The diminishing earthquakes Thursday caused the Alaska Volcano Observatory to cautiously downgrade the volcano to code orange from code red. Orange means the volcano is restless and could likely erupt. Red, the highest alert level, is used when a volcano is erupting.

Scientists are still keeping a round-the-clock watch on the fitful stratovolcano, whose past eruptions have choked the skies with ash and disrupted the state's major air routes.

"We expect this to pick up in the next day or two and show us something else," said Rick Wessels, a vulcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Observatory scientists hovered over Augustine's snowy summit in a helicopter Thursday measuring temperature levels to gauge whether magma had risen to the surface.

Another group planned a flyover to measure sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide concentrations in the air above Augustine. An increase in these magmatic gases could indicate a coming eruption, said Game McGimsey, a vulcanologist with the geological survey.

They will also repair a seismic station on the volcano's uninhabited island, and check for ash in collection buckets near the volcano's base.

The 4,134-foot volcano, which is nearly 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, last erupted in 1986. Ash from a seven-mile-high column drifted over the state's most populous city and forced flights to avoid the skies over Cook Inlet.

If the volcano follows a pattern similar to 1976 and 1986 eruptions, seismic activity would increase before similar or larger explosive events, according to the observatory. However, it's possible that an explosive eruption could occur with little or no warning, the observatory said.

Augustine volcano displays small eruptions

A pair of small eruptions that blew ash six miles high above Augustine Island Wednesday were probably just the warm up for bigger explosions to come, scientists say.

The pre-dawn eruptions, following weeks of growing anticipation, sent nervous Alaskans scrambling to stores for face masks and auto air filters. Local airlines played it safe, waiting for daylight and a view of any ash cloud before dispatching some flights. In the end, no ash fell on settled areas around Cook Inlet.

After a morning of quiet, however, tremors began building again on the island Wednesday afternoon, suggesting more activity on the way.

Scientists with the Alaska Volcano Observatory expect the climax of the eruption cycle is still ahead. They say Augustine Volcano is behaving similarly to its eruptions in 1976 and 1986, which peaked with explosions that belched ash steadily for hours.

By contrast, Wednesday's two initial bursts, at 4:44 a.m. and 5:13 a.m., lasted only a few minutes each.

Such explosions are usually triggered by a build-up of gas that accompanies rising magma inside the volcano, said Tina Neal, a U.S. Geological Survey geologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory. The pattern of seismic swarms in recent weeks suggests a large magma body that would probably not be finished with its work after those two small bursts, she said.

"We still could see something bigger. I think most of us expect it at this point," Neal said.
The ash plume drifted away from the volcano like a smoke signal, and headed north over the unsettled western side of Cook Inlet, according to the National Weather Service. At high elevations, the dispersing cloud drifted east toward the Kenai Peninsula.

Overcast weather limited reports. The volcano observatory said it had received reports of a brown haze over the middle of Cook Inlet Wednesday afternoon. An ash cloud was also reported moving slowly west from the island.

Scientists who flew over the island in the afternoon saw a pure white steam cloud rising from the summit. They also reported seeing new mudflows streaking the snow on the mountain's lower flanks. The mudflows – made up of melted snow and ash – did not descend below 500 feet elevation and posed no risk of triggering waves, scientists said. A webcam mounted on the island provided daytime photos of those mudslides over the Internet.

"It's very exciting," said Michele Coombs, a research geologist with the USGS as she prepared to leave for the flight. She said scientists at the observatory were trying to contain their enthusiasm and pace themselves because the eruption could go on for weeks or months.

The 4,134-foot volcano is 75 miles southwest from Homer and about 180 miles from Anchorage. Augustine is one of the most heavily instrumented volcanoes in Alaska, with 14 seismometers now on the island thanks to recent visits by scientists.

A buildup of seismic signals from the island started around 4 p.m. Tuesday, and by 9 p.m. the alert code was upgraded by the observatory from yellow to orange. It hit code red Wednesday morning with the first explosion, which registered as magnitude 2.6.

The overnight buildup was "beautifully displayed" on a digital graph picking up the island's seismometers, said Neal. "I think this will be showing up in textbooks," she said Wednesday.
That digital graph was also showing up on computer screens hooked to the Internet, including some in Nanwalek, a small village on the lower Kenai Peninsula that was hit by a tsunami after an 1883 eruption of Augustine. That tsunami was triggered by a major landslide, something that occurs only rarely during Augustine eruptions. But it keeps villagers' attention on the island that looms across the water.

Nanwalek residents noticed the uptick in tremors Tuesday afternoon and were watching closely when the alert code was increased to orange, said village second chief James Kvasnikoff.
"The rest of the community got pretty nervous about that," he said. Nanwalek has held several emergency preparedness meetings in recent weeks, he said.

In Homer, shoppers were grabbing items to protect their lungs and their cars. "Particle masks and panty hose, those are the items of the day," said Scott Ulmer, owner of Ulmer's Drug and Hardware, who had stocked up on those items in response to early warnings.

After the mountain blew, officials said some light ash might reach the Kenai Peninsula. There were no confirmed reports, however. An early-morning report of ash falling in Clam Gulch proved untrue, said Scott Walden, emergency management coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough. State troopers dispatched to Clam Gulch traced the reports to ice fog and someone who smelled sulfur in the air, he said.

There was also some early confusion over media reports that ash was headed south for Kodiak. The reports were apparently the result of a National Weather Service ash fall advisory issued for the Kodiak area, a district that includes Augustine Island to the north.

Augustine's past eruptions have gone on several months. The 1976 event included clusters of eruptions lasting several days each over a three-month period. Heavy ash fall and early darkness shut down traffic in Homer during one eruption. Two F-4E Phantom jets that flew through ash clouds ended up with sandblasted canopies and exteriors, according to observatory records.
The 1986 eruption started in late March and continued until August. At one point it sent a column of ash seven miles high, which drifted over Anchorage and kept flights out of the skies over Cook Inlet. Ash fall in Anchorage shut down many businesses one day, while power companies called for reduced consumption to protect turbines from the ash.

Ash fall also hit Anchorage during recent eruptions from two other Cook Inlet volcanoes, Redoubt in 1989-90 and Spurr in 1992. The explosive phases of Spurr's 1992 eruption lasted three to four hours each, at one point shutting down Anchorage International Airport.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Can super volcanic eruptions be desastrous?

The underwater volcanoes are increasing exponentially. The harmonic tremors are also on a steep rise. A 74,000 year cycle of devastating super volcano nears as we approach 2012. The December 2004 Tsunami epicenter points towards a possible site for the super volcano.

According to some geologists, it is possible that the recent Tsunami is precursor to a massive shift in tectonic plates and a super volcanic eruption in that area dwarfing what happened even 74,000 years back.

The year 2012 is specially mentioned in many ancient civilizations as something to be scared about. Many believe that will the year when human civilizations will be threatened. It is the year some say when the whole human civilization will change forever.

74,000 years back a massive volcano in Sumatra filled the earth’s atmosphere with dark cloud for years. The event reduced the world temperature by 8 to 10 degrees Celsius. Close to 80% of the living beings including humans were dead on the earth. According legends among Indonesia tribes, the calamity was accompanied.

The super eruptions can cause massive calamity devastating all vegetations and farming in the earth causing massive starvation and hunger.

According to some geologists, the next one is due around 2012 based on that 74,000-year cycle. Many are pointing towards Yellow Stone National Park in America where Earth’s crust is wafer thin in geological scale.

Mount St. Helens has started erupting. The Geological calm of the world is extremely disturbed. Tsunamis, Landslides, Minor earthquakes in tune of thousands are shaking the whole world’s tectonic plates.

Most countries are reporting unusual weather patterns and excessive major and minor quakes. In many parts of the world lakes are losing their water and manifesting a sinkhole. Mud volcanoes and geysers in Yellow Stone National Park are manifesting excessive temperature rise and increased frequencies of eruptions.

In search of volcanic history

Scientists plan to drill a hole in part of the Auckland domain, to find out more about volcanic activity in the region.

Geologists from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences and the University of Auckland will spend the next two days drilling 30 metres under the domain's playing fields.

The co-ordinator of the project, Graham Leonard, says Auckland's volcanic field is about 250,000 years old, and the domain volcano is one of the oldest.

He says layers of ash are preserved in what used to be the volcano's crater, which contain information about the size and timing of many pre-historic eruptions.

Drill-cores from other volcanic craters around the region have already been analysed Leonard says.

Augustine volcano, no volcanic eruption yet!

Scientists detected an increase in sulfur dioxide gas emanating from the peak of Augustine Volcano this week, where seismic disturbances picked up again slightly after falling off last week. But there were no indications of the island volcano building toward an eruption any time soon.

Several days of clear weather were a boon to scientists with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, who were able to reach the island to install additional seismic stations and ash collection systems as well as photograph new thermal images. The clear weather brought dramatic vistas of the vigorously steaming mountain, 75 miles to the southwest of Homer.

The Homer police and fire departments fielded scores of phone calls about a possible eruption Thursday, after winds died down and the steam plume rose away from the mountain. Some of those calls may have been prompted by the sound of the town's tsunami warning siren, which is tested at noon on the first Thursday of every month.

"That probably didn't help," said Homer fire chief Bob Painter.

The 4,134-foot conical volcano has been rumbling since November and the alert level remains at Code Yellow, according to U.S. Geological Survey scientists with the volcano observatory.

The sulfur dioxide gas, an indicator of rising magma, was last measured Dec. 20.

Infra-red photographs showing heat sources on the summit detected no significant changes since late December, scientists said. One prominent fumarole had stopped steaming and another had started, but such changes are to be expected as the mountain experiences underground earthquakes, they said.

Based on past eruptions of Augustine, particularly in 1976 and 1986, scientists expect to see a sharp increase in seismic activity on the volcano before a major explosive eruption.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Volcano watch: Augustine

With less than 50 miles separating him from Augustine, Mitch Coe was concerned when he noticed an increase in steam rising from the 4,134-foot volcano Monday.

“It sure looked like it was raising hell all morning until about 11 a.m.,” Coe, the 12-year winter caretaker and general manager of Koksetna Wilderness Lodge, near Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, told the Homer News. “It seems to have settled down, but I would say (the steam) was rising 10,000 to 12,000 feet. The mountains are high on either side of me here and it looked like it was another 5,000 to 6,000 feet above that. I’m a trained weather observer with the FAA and I understand this stuff.”

Adding to Coe’s concern was a light wind that was blowing out of the southeast, potentially putting him in the path of any steam or ash that might spew from the volcano.

“One plume would go away and then, oh, maybe a half hour later, another would come up,” he said. “And these ain’t weather clouds. I know what I’m talking about when it comes to that.”

Michelle Coombs, a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist for the Alaska Volcano Observatory, had a possible explanation for Coe’s observations.

“From a seismic perspective, there was a little increase in activity last night, but it’s quiet today,” Coombs said Monday afternoon. “To our knowledge, there may be increased steaming after that little activity, but É there is nothing indicating that it will erupt in the near future.”

Augustine’s past eruptions give scientists a benchmark against which to measure the volcano’s current activity, but not enough to know exactly what it will do or when.

“Augustine is nice because it has erupted recently, 1976 and 1986, but even then, these things are so variable,” Coombs said. “When things get closer, if they do get closer, when seismic activity gets much, much stronger than it is now, then we will make more of an effort to say it might happen within 24 hours, but that’s at a much, much higher level than we see how.”

With clear weather Wednesday, scientists went by helicopter to Augustine to install more seismometers, a time-lapse camera and ash collection buckets and to do thermal imaging, said Rick Wessels, a USGS geophysicist. They hoped to also take gas measurements of the plume. High winds tend to send the plume down the flank of the volcano and over the water, making measurements difficult. Analysis is inconclusive of ash collected earlier to determine if it was recent or from earlier eruptions, Wessels said.

Augustine isn’t the first volcano with which Coe has rubbed elbows. Early on the morning of May 18, 1980, he and some friends were looking forward to spending that Sunday doing a little steelhead fishing in Washington’s Toutle River. Their plans suddenly changed when, at 8:32 a.m., Mount St. Helens violently erupted, accompanied by an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale.

“We didn’t know what the hell was happening,” Coe said. “We thought it was a nuclear bomb that went off in Seattle.”

The fishing party quickly repacked everything into the three pickups in which they were traveling and began the long drive back toward the cattle ranch Coe owned.

“It took us 34 hours to drive 130 miles,” he said of delays caused by ash fall so heavy that it blocked the sun and made visibility so poor they sometimes had to walk in front of the vehicles to find the road. “We stopped in the first town we got to and bought every pair of panty hose and nylons that we could find to wrap around the air breathers and radiators.”

Once he reached home, Coe moved his cows and horses into his barn and kept them there for three days. Mount St. Helens’ eruption lasted nine hours. By the time ash stopped falling, it had reached a depth of eight to 10 inches at Coe’s ranch.

Recalling that incident, Coe said, “It wasn’t pretty.”

With one eye on his steaming neighbor, he added, “I’ve got my maps out and took some measurements. I’m about 34, 35 miles from Augustine.”

Victims of volcano on Vanuatu are going home!

Hundreds of Ambaens forced out of their homes at the height of the Mount Manaro volcanic eruptions have started returning home.

Ambae Councillor Ken Vuvu says displaced people living in evacuation centres located in the east and north east have begun returning home over the Christmas and New Year period.

Vanuatu Daily Post reports that five truckloads transporting people back to Lolowai.

From Lolowai, villagers are picked up by private vehicles and water taxis and taken back to their villages.

Councillor Vuvu says the displaced villagers understood they had to leave the evacuation centres before school reopens at the end of the month.

Mount St.Helen is still active

For more than a year, Mount St. Helens has been oozing lava into its crater at the rate of roughly a large dump-truck load — 10 cubic yards — every three seconds.

With the sticky molten rock comes a steady drumfire of small earthquakes.

The movement of lava up through the Southwest Washington volcano is "like a sticky piston trying to rise in a rusty cylinder," U.S. Geological Survey geologist Dave Sherrod said last week in a telephone interview from the agency's Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash.
"These quakes are very small — we think they're associated with that sticking and slipping as the ground is deformed and relaxes."

The mountain is about 50 miles north of Vancouver and 100 miles south of Seattle.
St. Helens' violent May 18, 1980, eruption blasted 3.7 billion cubic yards of ash and debris off the top of the mountain. A torrent of scalding mud poured down the north fork of the Toutle River.
Fifty-seven people died in the blast, which left a gaping crater in place of the perfect, snowclad cone that had marked the original 9,677-foot peak known as "America's Mount Fuji."

St. Helens — now 8,325 feet — rumbled for six more years, extruding 97 million cubic yards of lava onto the crater floor in a series of 22 eruptions that built a 876-foot dome. The volcano fell silent in 1986.

Then in September 2004, the drumfire of low-level quakes began — occasionally spiking above magnitude 3, but generally ranging between magnitude 1 and 2. In the past 15 months, the mountain has squeezed out about 102 million cubic yards of lava.

Winter weather has prevented aerial monitoring of the crater since Oct. 24, "but we know what the rate has been. It's been relentless," Sherrod said, noting geologists also can rely on a network of remote monitoring equipment to tell them what's happening.

"One view of this eruption is that we're at the end of the eruption that began in 1980," he added. "If it hadn't been so cataclysmic ... it might instead have gone through 30 or 40 years of domebuilding and small explosions."

All the recent activity has remained within the crater, though scientists — keenly aware of the potential damage that silica-laced ash can pose to jet engines — monitor St. Helens closely for plumes of smoke and ash that can go as high as 30,000 feet.

"We haven't had that kind of plume since March 8, which is either a blessing or it leads us into complacency," Sherrod said, adding quickly, "We avoid complacency."

"This dome collapses and grows and collapses and grows. It changes its location. ... It can't seem to maintain its height at much more than it is now [about 1,300 feet]. Then it kind of shoves the sandpile aside and starts over."

It's not entirely clear where the lava is coming from. If it were being generated by the mountain, scientists would expect to see changes in the mountain's shape, with its sides compressing as lava is spewed out.

At the current rate of extrusion, "three or four months would have been enough time to exhaust what was standing in the conduit. ... The volume is greater than anything that could be standing in a narrow 3-mile pipe," Sherrod said.

That suggests resupply from greater depths, which normally would generate certain gases and deep earthquakes. Neither is being detected.

"That's one of the head-scratchers, I guess," Sherrod said.

St. Helens' unremitting, months-long pace is not common, he said. "It's not a characteristic feature of volcanism."

The mountain is the youngest and most restless of the Cascade volcanoes.

"Most of what we see today is 4,000 years old," Sherrod said. By comparison, Mount Hood is 30,000 to 50,000 years old. Parts of Mount Rainier date 200,000 years.

Changes noticed about Mauna Loa volcano

Earthquakes at Mauna Loa sharply declined during 2005, leading geophysicists to believe the world's largest volcano is less likely to erupt than they earlier thought.

Scientists recorded about 2,000 earthquakes at Mauna Loa on the Big Island in 2004. Many of the temblors were deep, long-period events suggesting magma was rising.

But the seismic activity backed off at the beginning of last year. Last January, scientists recorded 34 earthquakes, a sharp decline from 365 the previous month.

"Last December (2004), most people were predicting an eruption soon. The story 12 months later is completely different," said geophysicist Mike Poland of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. "Relative to last year, I'd say we are further from an eruption."

The 13,677-foot high volcano has erupted 33 times since its first well-documented event in 1843. In 1984, lava from the eruption came within four miles of Hilo.

Another eruption could devastate nearby communities.

"We're kind of worried. We live right by a big rift that's been active before and it can happen again," said Ken Wicks of Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, a rural subdivision on the southwest side of the Big Island. The area could be in the path of lava from an eruption in Mauna Loa's southwest rift zone.

"It's always in the back of our mind. We never forget it. It is a reality," said Wicks, who is president of the Ocean View Chamber of Commerce.

The observatory last year boosted its ability to monitor the mountain when it installed instruments at the summit to record the sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide concentrations in vapors the volcano emitted.

The equipment transmits the data to the observatory every 10 minutes. Before, the lab had to fly helicopters over the mountain every few months to obtain the same information.

The facility also placed a panoramic camera at the summit to help it verify reports of eruptions and other substantial changes at the volcano's crater.

"We're always looking for ways to determine when magma is going to go out into a rift zone," said Jim Kauahikaua, the observatory's scientist-in-charge.

Mauna Loa's neighbor, Kilauea, continued to be very active in 2005, spewing out an average of 500,000 cubic yards of lava per day.

Lava flows from Kilauea have consumed 189 buildings and added about 600 acres to the Big Island since 1983.

Both Mauna Loa and Kilauea are part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Augustine volcano's active behavior is still monitored in Alaska

Over the past few weeks we've been bringing you updates on Augustine Volcano. But CBS 11 Skytracker Meteorologist, Angela Hutti, wanted to go more in depth. She went to the Alaska Volcano Observatory to learn more about what's rumbling inside the earth.

Historically, Augustine Volcano is the most active volcano in the Cook Inlet region. And now AVO scientists have stepped up observation of the giant due to the return of elevated activity.

During December, several small steam explosions and venting sulfur dioxide has been recorded at Augustine Volcano, located in the lower Cook Inlet. But earthquakes there are a real sign of trouble. They are at levels not seen since the last eruption in 1986.

“The rates of earthquake activity is what's really got our attention. We're seeing as many as 30, 40, 50 earthquakes a day. We're averaging several hundred earthquakes a week at Augustine,” said Dr. John Power, AVO geophysicist.

Thermal imaging of the summit area using FLIR, or a Forward Looking Infrared Radiometer, confirmed the presence of new, high-temperature fumeroles, or steam vents high on the volcano.
“This is the new fumerole that's developed on the south side. This is the hottest temperature we've been able to measure at this point. This new area here has begun to fume rather vigorously. And then, we have this older fumerole, the Northeast Moat fumerole we call it, which has been inactive for years, but has recently begun to also steam quite vigorously,” said Power.

All these observations suggest that new magma may be present beneath Augustine. Based on past eruptions, there would be a sharp increase in earthquake activity prior to a significant eruption. At this time, seismicity levels are still well below that observed just before the '86 eruption.

AVO scientists will continue to closely monitor the active volcano. Overflights and field visits will continue as long as weather and daylight allow.

Mount St.Helen's volcano still showing signs of activity

For more than a year now, Mount St. Helens has been oozing lava into its crater at the rate of roughly a large dump truck load — 10 cubic yards — every three seconds. With the sticky molten rock comes a steady drumfire of small earthquakes.

The movement of lava up through the southwest Washington volcano is "like a sticky piston trying to rise in a rusty cylinder," U.S. Geological Survey U.S. Geological Survey geologist Dave Sherrod said Thursday in a telephone interview from the agency‘s Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash.

The mountain is about 50 miles north of Vancouver and 100 miles south of Seattle.

St. Helens — now 8,325 feet — rumbled for another six years, extruding 97 million cubic yards of lava onto the crater floor in a series of 22 eruptions that built a 876-foot dome. The volcano fell silent in 1986.

Winter weather has prevented aerial monitoring of the crater since Oct. 24, "but we know what the rate has been. It‘s been relentless," Sherrod said, noting geologists can also rely on a network of remote monitoring equipment to tell them what‘s happening.

All the recent activity has remained within the crater, though scientists — keenly aware of the potential damage that silica-laced ash can pose to jet engines — monitor St. Helens closely for plumes of smoke and ash that can go as high as 30,000 feet.

"This dome collapses and grows and collapses and grows. It changes its location ... it can‘t seem to maintain its height at much more than it is now " — about 1,300 feet. "Then it kind of shoves the sandpile aside and starts over."

At the current rate of extrusion, "three or four months would have been enough time to exhaust what was standing in the conduit. ... The volume is greater than anything that could be standing in a narrow 3-mile pipe," Sherrod said.

"That‘s one of the headscratchers, I guess," Sherrod said.

The mountain is the youngest and most restless of the Cascade volcanos. "Most of what we see today is 4,000 years old," Sherrod said. By comparison, Oregon‘s Mount Hood is 30,000 to 50,000 years old. Parts of Mount Rainier in Washington date back 200,000 years.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Popocatepetl volcano erupts in Mexico!

Mexico's giant Popocatepetl volcano threw up an ash column almost 2 miles high and spat glowing rocks down its snow-clad slopes on Sunday, but nearby towns were not affected, officials said.
Popocatepetl, whose name means "smoking mountain" in the Nahuatl Indian language spoken by the Aztecs, spewed out the huge plume of ash and rocks in a three-minute exhalation.

"The recent activity is within the expected scenarios and there is no evidence of a major risk in the following days," said the disaster prevention center Conapred.

"No reports of ash fall have been received."

Sunday's activity was the latest in a recent series of disturbances which started December 1, when the 17,887 foot (5,452 meter) volcano showered ash on the nearby town of Amecameca.

Popocatepetl, which on clear days can be seen from Mexico City, 40 miles away and home to some 18 million people, reawakened in 1994 after decades of inactivity.

It has sparked to life several times since then, most notably in 2000 when it tossed red-hot rocks far above its crater in a series of explosions. Tens of thousands of people living nearby were evacuated at that time.

Scientists say the volcano's last major eruption was more than 1000 years ago, while the Valley of Mexico's pre-Hispanic Aztec residents recorded minor eruptions.

The volcano becomes more active during the cooler Mexican winter months as more ice expands and causes fissures in solidified lava in the crater, allowing smoke, ash or molten lava to spew out.

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