Thursday, September 28, 2006
Mud volcano still affecting Indonesia
Four months ago, a torrent of hot mud from deep beneath the surface of Indonesia's seismically charged Java island began surging from a natural gas exploration site following a drilling accident.
The “mud volcano” pours out some 165,000 cubic yards of mud every day – enough to cover a football field about 75 feet deep. Often spewing out in geyser-like eruptions, the mud has left some 665 acres swamped or abandoned as unsafe, forcing more than 10,000 people from their homes.
Experts say the mud volcano is one of the largest ever recorded on land. Geologists fear the technology may not exist to stop the eruption, saying mud could flow for years or even centuries – or stop on its own at any time.
The mud is believed to come from a reservoir 3½ miles below the surface that has been pressurized by shifts in the crust or by the accumulation of hydrocarbon gases.
The calamity has underscored the patchy safety record of mining companies exploiting the natural resources of this Southeast Asian nation made up of thousands of islands.
Police seized the drilling rig involved in the accident and are investigating whether to bring criminal charges against the principal well owner, PT Lapindo Brantas.
Lapindo, which is linked to the wealthy family of Indonesia's welfare minister, is paying for an ever expanding network of earthen dams to contain the mud, but many people fear the resulting slimy ponds will overflow during the approaching rainy season.
“The volume of mud that is coming out of the hole is not just large, it's enormous,” Earl Hunt Jr., an engineer from Woodward, Okla., said while supervising dredging operations.
“We are running out of room up here, period,” he said. “If they don't pump it to sea or something soon, then there will be more villages lost.”
The government recently gave permission to dump the mud into the sea via a local river. But experts question whether that will get rid of the sludge faster than it gushes from the hole, and environmentalists are opposing the plan as a threat to the marine ecosystem.
The mud, which stands as deep as 16 feet in places, has submerged or washed into houses in four villages. At least 20 factories and many acres of rice fields and prawn farms have been destroyed.
The sludge has repeatedly washed over a major road, closing it for weeks at a time, and now it is threatening a rail line in the industrial area just outside Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city.
The mud, which is not toxic, first appeared several days after a blowout deep in Lapindo's well shaft May 29.
Police claim the company mishandled the accident by failing to cap the hole properly, allowing the mud to surge to the surface from several cracks close to the well.
Independent analysts also have said the company's activities were a factor in the torrent.
“This is a natural disaster induced by drilling activity,” said Andang Bactiar, a consultant for the oil and gas industry who is working with authorities investigating the case. “Somehow, or somewhere, several mistakes occurred that caused the mud to come from the hole.”
The company declined to give its version of what happened or the steps it took to stem the mud, citing possible legal liability. But spokeswoman Yuniwati Teryana said drilling activity had not been proven to be linked to the eruption.
The well is 50 percent owned by Lapindo. Another Indonesian firm, PT Medco E&P Brantas, has a 32 percent stake and Santos Ltd. of Australia holds the remaining 18 percent.
Lapindo has made emergency payments to those who have lost homes and promises to compensate their losses.
But in a country where mistrust of government runs high after decades of dictatorship that ended only in 1998, many people fear the company will try to dodge its responsibilities. The involvement of Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie's family in Lapindo has only added to worries.
“We are just poor people, our rights will be torn up as usual,” one resident, Sukararji, said as he stood on a dam gazing at mud that reaches the second-floor windows of his house. “We are being stepped on like ants.”
After two unsuccessful attempts to stop the flow, Lapindo is digging three shafts alongside the hole, hoping to kill the eruption by pumping in concrete.
Experts are skeptical that will work.
“If they manage to stop it, it will be the first time in the world that it has been done,” said geologist Arif Munsyawar.
Fourpeaked Mountain in Alaska is showing signs of activity!
Peter Cervelli, a geophysicist for the U.S. Geological Survey and the observatory, said it is hard to predict if or when an eruption will occur but "nothing is imminent."
According to the observatory's Web page, an explosive eruption could occur in the coming days to weeks. Volcanic activity could be ash plumes exceeding 33,000 feet above sea level, with lava flows, or it could be nothing.
Even a small eruption can cause floods, debris and mud flows, so the area on remote Cape Douglas is considered hazardous, according to the observatory.
Fourpeaked Mountain is about 80 miles northwest of Kodiak and 220 miles southwest of Anchorage across Cook Inlet.
The observatory is installing seismometers around the mountain, a Web camera and instruments that measure how the ground is moving, Cervelli said. The mountain had not been monitored by instruments.
Observatory staff who flew over Fourpeaked over the weekend reported linear vents running north from the summit. Many were emitting steam and vapors. Near the vents, a glacier was slumping and pieces had sloughed into the vents, Cervelli said.
Staff members detected sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide coming from the vents. Volcanic gases could be smelled far away from the summit.
Ash emission Sept. 17, the abundant volcanic gases, the presence of new vents at the summit and the disruption and floods occurring at and below glaciers suggest new magma at shallow levels beneath the volcano, according to the observatory.
Fourpeaked Volcano is not known to have erupted in the last 10,000 years. However, geological investigations have been limited and ice covers much of the area, the observatory said.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory is a consortium that includes USGS, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute and the state Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Mayon volcano is still on alert!
Mayon Volcano remains at a high level of unrest with fair probability for explosive eruptions. Alert Level 3 remains in effect, which means that the following zones should remain off-limits: the Extended Danger Zone (EDZ), which is the area in the southeast sector up to 7 kilometers from the summit crater, and for all the other areas around the volcano, the 6 kilometer-radius Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ).
New technology to monitor Mount St.Helens' activity!
They hope the technology will one day allow them to predict eruptions."None of these have ever been installed on a volcano like this type of sensor before," said geological engineer Mike Hasting. "So this is breaking new ground.
So it'll be up to the people at places like the cascades volcano observatory to look at the data, and analyze the data, and try and understand what's going on."Nearly a quarter of a million dollars was spent on the equipment.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Can crystals help monitor volcanoes?
The scientists have found that magma's temperature -- already around 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit -- rises by as much as 200 degrees Fahrenheit when it crystallizes while ascending from deep beneath the surface.
The finding is surprising because crystals usually form when a liquid cools.
Katharine Cashman of the University of Oregon and Jon Blundy and Madeleine Humphreys of the University of Bristol say their study could lead to better models that could help scientists predict how a restless volcano will behave.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Current Mount St.Helens' eruption has been lasting two years!
The current eruption has lasted nearly two years.In the first two days of the earthquakes officials weren't even sure if this was an eruption, they just knew they were recording hundreds of earthquakes each day."Within two or three days we started thinking it was leading up to an eruption, but we certainly didn't have a sense that it would last for two years," Moran said. "Even if we'd had known this was going to be a lava dome-building eruption, I don't think anyone would have thought that it would have lasted this long."
But last it has.Lava first reached the crater on Oct. 11, 2004, and hasn't stopped since.In the past two years the volcano has thrust more than 100 million cubic yards of volcanic rock into the crater, eclipsing the 97 million cubic yards it took six years to squeeze out during the 1980s. From the crater floor of 6,279 feet, the latest dome has grown 1,300 feet -- taller than the Empire State Building.
Mount St. Helens.The pace seems to have slowed in the past year, but when it comes to making predictions about the eruption all bets are off, Moran said."I think everyone here is tired of losing bets on it," joked Moran. "It could go on for awhile or it could stop in a month and I don't think it would surprise anyone."And, even at the slower rate of 1 cubic meter a second, the volcano is still producing enough lava to completely fill Lake Sacajawea every five-and-a-half days.
Significantly different from the devastating 1980 eruption, the volcano now is emitting relatively low levels of gas, meaning this eruption is much less likely to be explosive, Moran said.In the past few months there have been more rockfalls and ash plumes from within the crater, but Moran said that's because the material inside the dome is larger and steeper and thus more vulnerable to gravity.The 2004 earthquakes started "out of the blue" and the USGS has proposed placing more monitoring equipment on several volcanos in the region to address that.
Part of the reasoning is that the current eruption has illustrated how quickly dormant volcanoes can "wake up" in just a day or two. If that happens, there isn't enough time to safely transfer more equipment to a suddenly active mountain and scientists are left with whatever equipment is already in place, Moran said.
In addition, scientists want to see if more sensitive equipment might reveal that there are earlier, subtle warning signs before the earthquakes start.For now, though, it's business as usual as scientists continue to chart the volcano's every move."In general, there haven't been any significant changes in the eruption over the last year plus," Moran said.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Mayon's alert level has finally been lowered
This means a diminished probability for a hazardous major eruption,” Phivolcs said in a bulletin.But the institute warned that despite the lowered alert status, “Mayon remains in an eruptive state because lava continues to extrude from the summit crater”.“Such activity makes it possible for pockets of gas-rich magma to be released explosively,” it added.Due to the continuing threat of sudden explosions, Phivolcs stressed that areas within 7km from the summit on Mayon’s southeast sector and a permanent 6km danger zone all around the volcano were still dangerous.
“These areas should remain off-limits,” it said.Residents living in areas outside of the danger zones would not be allowed to go home, local officials said. More than 30,000 people have remained in evacuation centres for more than one month now due to threats of a hazardous eruption.During the past 24 hours, Phivolcs said it has recorded 253 tremor episodes associated with lava chunks detaching from the summit crater and intermittent lava flows at Mayon’s south-east flank.
However, there were no volcanic earthquakes and sulfur dioxide emissions were down to 1,500 tons per day.Mayon volcano, famous for its almost perfect cone, began to spew lava on July 15 in what volcanologists called a “quiet eruption” that attracted foreign and local tourists.The 2,472m volcano has erupted about 50 times since 1616. It last came to life in a series of eruptions in 2001, forcing about 50,000 people to evacuate but causing no casualties.Its most violent eruption was in 1814 when more than 1,200 people were killed and a town was buried in volcanic mud. An eruption in 1993 killed 79 people.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Mayon's eruption closer to the end!
More than 40,000 people were ordered off the lower slopes of the country’s most active and deadly volcano when scientists warned of an imminent eruption following weeks of quiet lava flows that incinerated farmlands.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said in a statement it “is continuously assessing activity and if downward trends are evident in the coming days, then the appropriate recommendation for lowering the alert status shall be made.”
But the institute did not say when the evacuees could return to their homes, which are within an 8-km danger zone of Mayon’s crater.
The civil defense office in Manila said around 30,000 people still remained in temporary evacuation centers, including schoolrooms, more than a month after they were evacuated.
Towering 8,070 ft above Legazpi City, the volcano’s symmetrical dome has been compared to Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji.
Mayon last erupted in 1993, when lava flows killed 68 people and prompted the evacuation of 60,000 people.
The volcano has had 47 eruptions in recorded history, with its most deadly recorded in the 19th century when lava buried the town of Cagsawa, killing an estimated 1,000 people.
Life after a volcano eruption!
Weeks on from the disaster, the smell of burning is still thick in the air. It's an unusual odour, coming from rocks which were molten lava less than a month ago.
Tungurahua means "throat of fire" in the indigenous language, Quechua, but now it looks tranquil. Shrouded in cloud it makes a picturesque backdrop to the green hills and valleys of Ecuador's central Andean region.
But the eruption was all too real for the thousands of people who live and farm over this fertile part of the Andes' central cordillera.
Almost 5,000 people were displaced. Entire villages were swallowed up in ash and rock. Some of those who refused to be evacuated, died.
'This is our land'
Farmer Miguel Morales, 36, lost all his land and his home to Tungurahua.
The volcano blasted lava high into the air.
Only a couple of burnt tree trunks betray that there was ever any vegetation on his plot, which was smothered with tons of volcanic rock and ash.
Sitting on a boulder, still warm from the volcanic crater, he surveys his farm in the hamlet of Juive Grande, which lies directly beneath Tungurahua.
"This is our land, it's our home, but my hope has run out - everything here was burnt and buried," says the father-of-two.
Leaning on his pickaxe, which he has been using to split volcanic rocks to reveal the iridescent patterns inside, he adds: "I don't know how we would survive without my wife's little stall.
"There's nothing left for me to do but gather these stones so that some people may help us by buying something if they want to, for $1 (£0.53) or 25 cents, it's up to them."
Miguel was more prepared than many of his neighbours - he did more than just evacuate his family, he got his animals out as well.
"Thanks to God, I was able to take advantage of the early warning and take my livestock to my mother's house who lives on the other side of the river - I just have some pigs, chickens and guinea pigs.
We don't want to leave our land - we would rather die here.
"Some of my neighbours didn't do the same and they lost all of them, every single one."
Miguel hopes that one day he'll be able to farm his land again. The Ecuadorean authorities say it may be up to five years before the land recovers.
But there have been eruptions before, and, the farmer says, "some of the most fertile land is volcanic".
'Everything was beautiful'.
Apart from being allowed to stay in military barracks in the nearby town of Banos, Miguel and wife Gloria say the only help they have received is from their community.
Miguel's wife and children are selling stones, trying to scrape a living.
"We don't want to move to other land, this is our home, if I can plant just one lettuce, one carrot then I will. We want help here and the government should help us.
"We don't want to leave our land - we would rather die here."
Further across the moonscape that is Miguel's farm, Gloria sits with their two children - Daniela, seven, and Daniel, five.
They have plastic buckets full of volcanic stones.
Gloria, 34, says: "Before the volcano erupted, everything here was beautiful, we had terraces where we'd planted maize, beans, avocadoes - everything was here.
"Now there's nothing but rock and earth. The trees were knocked down, there's nothing - the houses are buried.
"Life is so hard now, but we have to carry on, for them," she says, gesturing to the children. "I will do anything to stop a little one like her from having to work in someone else's house."
It wasn't just the Tungurahua region, named after the volcano, which was affected by the eruption
"I want them to have an education which my husband and I didn't have, when we were children we had to help our parents work," she says.
"We'll sell as many stones as we can until we have enough money for their uniforms and shoes so they can start school next week."
The Ecuadorean government says it will permanently relocate people like the Morales family, who live in villages around the volcano.
But it was slow in helping them. Local media reports say the government merely said "the bank was closed" when explaining the lack of funding.
It wasn't just the Tungurahua region, named after the volcano, which was affected by the eruption.
Winds from the eastern Amazon region of Ecuador blew the volcanic ash as far as the coast, affecting the banana crop.
South of Tungurahua, in the Chimborazo region, crops were blanketed by volcanic ash, which also clogged up roads and rivers, and caused respiratory problems, particularly for the old and very young.
Looking to the future, life for those who live in shadow of Tungurahua looks no less precarious.
The area is still in a state of alert and some volcanologists say the crater is still full of lava and expanding.
They predict what happened on 16 August may just be a precursor to an even larger eruption.
For the Morales family and thousands like them, who live in the shadow of Tungurahua, it still looms menacingly over their lives.
British scientists make great discovery!
The mountain, which exploded dramatically in 1980, became active again two years ago. But using a new technique, scientists believe it is unlikely to result in another major catastrophe.
They have found by studying rocks coming out of a volcano that it is possible to gauge how much pressure the magma under the ground is experiencing.
Low pressure and a thick, sticky magma means that a sudden and violent explosion is unlikely, while high pressure suggests that there is greater risk.
Professor Jon Blundy, of Bristol University, and his former colleague, Dr Madelaine Humphreys, who is now at Cambridge University, studied the chemical content and texture of volcanic rocks from Mount St Helens and Shiveluch in eastern Russia and unveiled the results at the British Association's Festival of Science and in the journal Nature yesterday.
Friday, September 08, 2006
What is triggering volcano eruptions?
By studying volcanic magma, or molten rock, from erupted volcanoes they have determined that it heats itself up as it rises from deep below the surface -- which may provide an important trigger for an eruption.
"We developed a novel technique for understanding what went on prior to two eruptions of two active volcanoes," Professor Jon Blundy of Britain's University of Bristol said at the BA Festival of Science.
"As the magma ascends beneath the volcano prior to an eruption, it crystallises in response to the drop in pressure and gets hotter at the same time," he said via a telephone link from Italy.
The scientists studied eruptions of Mount St. Helens in the United States, which killed 57 people when it erupted in 1980, and Shiveluch on Kamchatka peninsula in far-eastern Siberia.
In research published in the journal Nature, Blundy and his colleagues Madeleine Humphreys and Kathy Cashman of the University of Oregon in the United States showed that the temperature can rise by 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit).
To determine just how hot it gets, the researchers analysed the water content, trace metals and chemical composition of droplets of volcanic liquid, or melt inclusions, encased in crystals in the magma as it makes its way to the surface.
"We analysed a whole suite of these melt inclusions and that basically gives us an accurate record of the depth, the temperature and the proportion of crystals in the magma as it is rising to the surface," Humphreys said.
Scientists usually monitor volcanic activity from the surface but the latest findings provide new clues about what is happening underground before the eruption.
"Aligned to a range of other techniques, ultimately there is the potential to develop a better link between volcano monitoring and tracking moving magma beneath the surface," Blundy said.
Ejected rocks tell a story on volcanic eruptions
Their analysis of tiny glassy features trapped in ejected rocks has provided novel information on how molten material behaves deep underground.
Combined with surface monitoring, such information could warn if a simmering cone is likely to blow its top.
The joint Bristol-Oregon team's work is reported in the journal Nature.
"We can give a range of probable timescales for eruptions and I know that may be unsatisfactory for those living in the shadow of a volcano, but I would hope that in the future we will be able to refine and combine our techniques to reduce the error-bars on those estimates," said Professor Jon Blundy, from Bristol's department for earth sciences.
The team's study looked at a range of material thrown out from the US mountain in the 1980s, and from more recent events at Shiveluch in Russia.
The samples contained small glassy inclusions - minute droplets of once molten material that came up with the rising magma but whose contents remained unaltered.
The scientists probed these tiny volcanic blobs to determine what conditions must have been like deep underground.
The work has established that as a magma rises and the pressure falls, crystallisation occurs. There is also a substantial increase in temperature.
This is quite a surprise, the researchers say, because crystallisation is usually associated with cooling.
"It is the novel twist on this study: that magma, as it rises up, crystallises and gets hotter. That's something which could have been anticipated from thermodynamic ideas but has never previously been shown."
Analysis of the glasses betrays not only the crystal content, pressure and temperature conditions of the rising magma, but also the chemical composition and water content.
Putting all this information together will allow researchers to model better the complex interplay factors that drive eruptions.
Water content in particular is key. Explosive events are fuelled by the escape of water from the liquid rock to form bubbles.
"If the magma is stored at high pressure, it contains quite a lot of water and has the potential to form a lot of bubbles - more bubbles, a more explosive eruption," explained Professor Blundy.
"If the magma is stored at low pressure, it can contain less water - it has less explosive potential."
The droplets record information about conditions undergroundCurrently, volcanologists will monitor active volcanoes from the surface to follow, for example, their earthquake behaviour and the gases they release.
This Bristol-Oregon work opens up the possibility for cross-matching that information with data from any later ejected rocks. This might then permit scientists to know what was occurring in the subterranean world just from looking at surface signals.
"For me that's the most exciting new research development for the next 10 years," said Professor Blundy.
"I'd like to work with those who monitor active volcanoes, look at erupted products and try to link those with monitoring signals that were acquired before that magma was erupted."
Professor Blundy was explaining his work here at the British Association's Science Festival. His co-researchers were Dr Madeleine Humphreys, formerly of Bristol University; and Katharine Cashman from the University of Oregon, Eugene.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Ecuador will get help from WFP for victims of eruption
On 18 August, the Government of Ecuador called for international assistance to meet the immediate needs of the affected population.
Although the National Geophysical Institute of Ecuador reported a decrease in volcanic activity, the risk of further eruptions remains.
This eruption produced massive clouds of ash approximately 8,000 metres high, as well as gas, lava and pyroclastic flows.
Ash clouds moved to surrounding areas to a distance of 550 km, causing extensive damage, killing five people, causing severe burns to 50 people and other injuries to a further 40.
An assessment carried out by the Government and the United Nations estimated that 25,000 people who were evacuated to temporary shelters or went to stay with relatives or friends need further food assistance following the loss of houses, crops and livestock, after depletion of rations provided by the Government.
People living in the volcano area are among the poorest in Ecuador.
“The food assistance provided by WFP will allow people to use their remaining resources to help them rehabilitate their lives and rebuild their communities”, said Helmut Rauch, WFP Ecuador Representative.
A total of 282 metric tons of food will be distributed among families located in temporary shelters and in affected villages in the provinces of Tungurahua, Chimborazo and Bolivar over the next three months, in close collaboration with the Civil Defence, Red Cross, the Ministry of Social Welfare, the Ministry of Agriculture and international NGOs.
Helmut Rauch WFP EcuadorTel. +593 firstname.lastname@example.org
Alejandro López Chicheri WFP/Latin America and the Caribbean Tel. +507-317-3900 Cel. +507-6675-06170 email@example.com
Ecuador's volcano eruption, a sad story for everyone involved, including children!
UNICEF took immediate action in response to the crisis, setting up operation centres in affected communities and training volunteers to provide psychosocial assistance for traumatized children.
Angel Menendez, 10, and Juanita Pitaxi, 13, lived in Bilbao, which was engulfed by the blast. They witnessed the destruction of their community and are now staying with hundreds of other children in scattered camps around the area.
Ten-year-old Angel remembers having dinner with his family when a loud noise made him rigid with fear. From the volcano, burning rocks and columns of smoke and ash erupted into the air. "The noise was like a gunshot and I told my brother we were sure to burn," he says.
Terrified neighbours ran from their homes and in the rush to safety Angel didn't even have time to collect a toy. He and his family found shelter at Cotalo, but he only sees his mother at night because she spends her days trying to get news from their village.
He is anxious about his home and farm animals they were forced to abandon. "I miss them very much and I don't know if I'll ever see them again. They have no food or water," he says.
Juanita's home is buried under a pile of ash. The volcano destroyed everything her family owned – their land, the crops and their animals. It also killed her grandfather.
"My granddaddy Lucho didn't want to leave the house," she says. "He said that he had worked his entire life with granny Maria and that it took all his life to get what we have. He would get up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows and after that, take breakfast before going out into the fields.
"He would come back in the evening to tell us how happy he was with the crops and he would figure out how much corn he was going to harvest."
UNICEF has set up a play corner at the shelters where Juanita and Angel and other children can use toys and drawing materials to help express the trauma they have experienced. Volunteer psychologists are on hand to help them cope.
The children worry about the future. But with a high risk of further eruptions from Tungurahua, there's little chance of returning home just yet.