Friday, September 28, 2007

Augustine volcano displays signs of activity in Alaska

As Yogi Berra said, it's a case of dj vu all over again. Last Saturday, after a week of unusual earthquake activity near Augustine Volcano, the Alaska Volcano Observatory raised the volcano alert level to advisory and the aviation color code to yellow for Homer's local volcano, about 75 miles to the southwest.

The warning levels for Augustine were lowered to normal and green in August 2006 after months of activity, including a big throat-clearing blast on Jan. 11, 2006. The warning level was last increased from green to yellow in September 2005 after earthquakes magnitude 1 or more increased from four-to-eight a day to 20-to-35 a day.

Augustine is rumbling far less than two years ago.

"While significant, the current earthquake activity is much less energetic than that which immediately preceded the explosive events in January 2006," the Alaska Volcano Observatory said in a Sept. 22 information release.

AVO scientists have been monitoring Augustine with numerous seismometers, geographic positioning satellite instruments and even Web cams since the 2005-2006 activity.

After the big January 2006 eruptions, a spine of rock extruded from the summit.

"It's possible we're looking at a last little bit of magma coming out," said Stephanie Prejean, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Volcano Observatory, in Anchorage.

GPS instruments on the volcano haven't shown any deformation or ground swelling. That lack of ground movement supports a theory that something bigger will not happen, Prejean said. However, there is an increased danger of rockfalls and avalanches on the volcano, which is why AVO issued the warning.

Augustine is the most active volcano in the Cook Inlet region, with historic eruptions in 2006, 1986, 1976, 1963-64, 1935, 1883 and 1812. The recent micro earthquakes are not unusual.

"It's not unexpected in the context of Augustine's activity in the past," Prejean said.

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Another volcano eruption for New Zealand

New Zealand's Mount Ruapehu volcano began a sudden eruption Tuesday, spewing mud down a ski slope and forcing police to close nearby roads, officials said.

The minor eruption Tuesday evening on central North Island sent two mud flows, or lahars, down the mountain's slopes, including the Whakapapa ski field, local district council spokesman Paul Wheatcroft said.

The lahar temporarily trapped a snow groomer, and two other ski field workers suffered minor injuries, he said.

Mountain huts may have to be evacuated, Wheatcroft told National Radio, but "at this stage it is not a civil defense emergency."

Vulcanologist Craig Miller said the eruption was "level 2, minor eruptive activity" and the lahars were a "lot smaller" than one earlier this year which released millions of liters (gallons) of water from the mountain's crater lake.

He said roads and rail tracks near the mountain had been closed by police until further notice.
Miller said the eruption had occurred without any warning.

"Looking at our seismic instruments it was ... from nothing to full (eruption) in the space of a minute," he said, adding that such occurrences are "reasonably rare."

Mount St.Helens is still showing signs of activity

Washington's Mount St. Helens continues to erupt after rumbling to life three years ago following an 18-year lull.

"It's been an amazing run," said Seth Moran, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Cascades Volcano Observatory.

Mount St. Helens' seismic activity has slowed since hundreds of small earthquakes signaled its return to life three years ago Sunday, but it shows no sign of stopping any time soon, Moran told the Portland Oregonian in a story published Monday.

Moran and other scientists are monitoring nearby Mount Rainier and other potentially dangerous Cascade volcanoes as they apply lessons learned from Mount St. Helens.

"We have to be prepared for what these volcanoes can do," Moran said. "You want to be ahead of the game by being able to detect even small changes."

On May 18, 1980, St. Helens erupted in a blast that killed 57 people and blew 1,314 feet off its top.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Can Global Warming trigger volcano eruptions?

British scientists are warning of another possible side effect of climate change: a surge of dangerous volcanic eruptions.

Researchers say the melting of polar ice sheets from global warming and the resulting stress placed on the earth's crust from rising sea levels will increase eruptions in the years to come.
University College London climate expert Dr Bill McGuire says there could also be an increase in undersea earthquakes and tsunamis.

"There is already evidence for earthquakes in Alaska being triggered by unloading by ice," he said.

"Also evidence of this volcano Pavlof in Alaska erupting in the winter when sea levels rise slightly due to weather conditions, just 30 centimetres."

"So, if we see one to two metres of sea level rise this century, accompanied by mass wasting of the glaciers in the polar region, so we can expect a response by the crust within the next few decades."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Volcano eruption survivor

A Brunswick County man escaped a village about 30 miles south of an erupting volcano in Alaska on Friday. Joe Marshall, of Sunset Harbor, boarded a plane from the small village of King Cove as a bubbling mountain of lava puffed a cloud of ash nearby. He had landed safely in Cold Bay by 3:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and was planning to fly to Anchorage to meet his wife.

“He said he had no idea how close he was to the volcano when taking off at King Cove. They flew over a hill and – whooah – there it was, percolating. And the pilot made a dash for Cold Bay, where he has safely landed,” Marshall’s wife, Roxye Marshall, wrote in an e-mail. Experts predict this eruption, which began Aug. 15, will follow the path of the last one in 1996, which consisted of several months of ash explosions, lava-fountaining and lava flow production.

Ash clouds rose as high as 30,000 feet but mostly stayed below 20,000, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory. King Cove and other nearby inhabited communities are too far from the volcano to be affected by the lava. The observatory is expecting light ash fall to be the only ground effect.Marshall, who practices dentistry for the Alaskan Native Medical Center, was doing field work in King Cove, a village of about 800 people, when the volcano started exhibiting seismic activity.

So he made plans to get away from the threat of ash fall that can halt air traffic and cause mechanical equipment to fail. “It’s really amping up right now, so I’m really hoping we can get out of here before it blows,” he said by phone Thursday as he was making arrangements to leave. The couple – both members of the Brunswick County Search and Rescue Team – are in Alaska quite often.

When Joe is not in Anchorage, he travels around Alaska, doing dentistry in the field, like this time in King Cove. Roxye was at a ski resort in Girdwood, a small town outside Anchorage, certifying a dog for avalanche work. She said the steep mountains surrounding this town make it vulnerable to avalanches. Although he was eager to leave King Cove, this was not a new experience for Marshall, who formerly worked full time in Alaska.

“You’re used to it out here,” he said, noting he once before barely escaped a volcano eruption in a town of 75 people. He said the ash fall is so abrasive it can deteriorate car parts. He and his co-workers covered equipment in the clinic with plastic before fleeing King Cove. For more information about the volcano, visit www.avo.

Hawaii: What if lava reached the road?

Hawaii County officials are planning for the possibility, as yet remote, that lava from Kilauea Volcano will cross Highway 130, cutting off access to a number of Puna communities.

"I'm trying not to freak out," said County Councilwoman Emily Naeole, whose Makuu Hawaiian Homes residence stands in a possible lava path.

Right now the flows, 12 miles from the highway, consist of chunky aa, which moves slowly, but the possibility remains that they could turn to more fluid and fast-moving pahoehoe.

"Kilauea Volcano has never had a long-lived continuous eruption from a single vent that produced only aa flows," says volcano scientist Jim Kauahikaua.

If the road is cut, one alternative would be to bulldoze a connection to Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which would make the Puna-Hilo commute 125 miles, up from 36.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Mount Etna is active again!

It was a spectacular display of nature in Italy yesterday as Mount Etna erupted, sending a fountain of lava down the sides of the Sicilian volcano.

The eruption sent flames close to 1,000 feet into the air.

Officials say the lava flow is not endangering villages located on the slopes.

Mount Etna is Europe's largest and most active volcano.

It erupts every few months.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Volcano eruption in the Galapagos Islands

A volcano has erupted on uninhabited Fernandina Island, at the far west of Ecuador's Galapagos Island chain, Ecuador's Geophysics Institute reported Wednesday.

The National Galapagos Park authorities said the eruption began at 4:50 p.m. on Tuesday following a 5.2-degree Richter Scale earthquake in the Beagle sector of Isabella island on the western flank of the volcano Darwin.

The authorities planned a flight over the island to see if the eruption is a crack or comes from the crater.

Director Hugo Yepez said the Galapagos has experienced explosive eruptions, with lava flow lasting around a week.

The Galapagos, located in the Pacific Ocean, 624 miles from the Ecuadorian coast, mainly of volcanic origin, is listed as a cultural heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Fernandina is the tallest island in the archipelago with 1,494 meters above sea level. The last eruption happened in May 2005, leaving a large amount of lava down its southeastern flank.

Scientists work on system that could predict volcano eruptions

The work is funded by nearly £400K from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), bringing the team's recent research funding to just over £1 million, following a £700K sub-contract from ERA Technology Limited for new work on military security.

The unmanned monitoring instrument, to be trialled at Montserrat in the West Indies, will be developed by the Millimetre Wave and High-Field ESR Group in the School of Physics and Astronomy. The new volcano radar project builds on the success of the Group's previous NERC funded project which developed the unique portable volcano mapping instrument 'AVTIS' (All-weather Volcano Topography Imaging Sensor).

AVTIS uses millimetre waves to see through the smoke, gas and cloud that frequently cover volcanoes for months at a time to measure the size, shape and temperature of a growing volcanic lava dome. The Scots team will continue to work with a team of volcanologists from the Universities of Reading and Lancaster and the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) on the new AVTIS project, with the aim of helping MVO provide round the clock coverage of volcanic activity.

Dr David Macfarlane, lead scientist on the project explained, "AVTIS was the first millimetre wave instrument to ever be used on a volcano, proving the concept that a small battery powered radar could be used to map the lava dome from distances of up to six kilometres. We worked on the only active UK volcano, the lava dome at the Soufrière Hills in Montserrat.

This type of volcano can change pretty quickly and the local observatory needs to know what is happening up on the mountain on a daily, if not hourly, basis. AVTIS measured the 3D shape of the lava dome, showing 60 metres growth over a ten day interval as well as gathering thermal images of the dome through thick cloud. It is the all-weather capability that sets this technology apart, allowing us to monitor the volcano from a safe distance all of the time".

He added, "The first instrument had to be manned, using a laptop computer to control the scanning, and could only operate for about eight hours before the batteries ran out. This new funding will allow us to build an unmanned version that lives on the volcano crater rim with its own power supply, beaming the radar images and data back to the observatory every few minutes using WiFi technology. With constant coverage of the evolving lava dome we aim to capture the all of the significant activity leading up to an eruption and eventually we hope to be able to help predict where and when the volcano might explode.

In Montserrat, where we'll trial the instrument, people are continuing to be evacuated from their homes as the volcano continues to grow and becomes ever more dangerous so there is a real need for this technology". Dr Duncan Robertson, also of the Millimetre Wave and High-Field ESR Group said, "We're absolutely delighted to have won this funding which will allow us to expand significantly our activities in electromagnetics research.

The awards reflect our continuing capability to deliver state-of-the-art instruments for tackling novel measurement problems". Dr Graham Smith, group leader added, "Much of this has been made possible by leveraging expertise and technology developed during our other successful research projects, in particular the £2.6m HIPER Basic Technology project, building a next-generation, ultrafast, millimetre wave spectrometer used for probing electron structure, particularly in chemical and biological samples". Source: University of St Andrews

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Vanuatu volcano erupts, entertaining tourists

The pre-departure briefing and instructions were quite frightening.

"Don't panic when blasts (especially the first one) go off. Don't try to run when debris fly in the air – just be calm and watch so you can dodge the red-hot molten rocks as they fly towards you. And, make sure your body is covered completely in clothes to shield your skin from smoke and ash, and wear your sunglasses."

No, these were not instructions for a trip to Baghdad. They were from our tour guide moments before we set off in a four-wheel drive vehicle for another potentially deadly spot on the other side of the world from Iraq – the very active Yasur volcano on the island of Tana in Vanuatu, about 45 minutes by air from the capital Port Vila.

Located in the midst of lush green mountainous forests, it is hard to imagine how nature's fury can exist in such a peaceful, calm place.

The island of Tana is one of three main southern islands of Vanuatu. Despite its relative isolation, it is increasingly becoming a hot spot for adventure tourists from around the world, thanks mainly to Mount Yasur and its fiery underbelly.

Local tribesmen believe the spirits of their ancestors live right in the crater.

Famed as the world's most accessible volcano, visitors can be driven in a four-wheel drive vehicle to as close as 150 metres from the crater. A short 10-minute walk, and they are right on the edge of the 100-metre deep crater, which is about 300 metres wide.

Daring adventurers can even walk the entire perimeter to get the most out of the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Standing a metre or two from the unprotected edge of the crater can be frightening. Huge explosions from deep inside the crater frequently shake the ground and can scare even the most hardened war veteran.

The explosions are immediately followed by debris that shoot high into the air but settle back into the crater. On a rough count, I noticed there were no more than five minutes between explosions.
Mount Yasur boasts the world's only "volcano post", where visitors can mail letters and postcards to friends and loved ones in a box provided by Vanuatu Post. I mailed a post card there and it took 10 days to arrive in Sydney.

On the day I visited, the danger level was two. Like fire danger signs in Australia's national parks and bushlands, the public is warned in advance with a system that rates the likely danger from one to five.

If it is rated three or higher, there is the likelihood that the red-hot rocks can fly to as far as the edge of the crater and far beyond, and that can be deadly. They kill, almost instantly if they hit.

On such days, visits are not allowed. Ironically, it is the magnificent fireworks displays which accompany huge explosions that attract many tourists, especially if visits are made at dusk.
And you can take home a memento – one of the hot volcanic rocks (a cooled one, of course) that had emerged from the crater during eruptions.

Vanuatu is a real haven for adventure tourists. Quite apart from the volcano, visitors can indulge in snorkelling, wreck diving, traditional bungy jumps, and many more.

If adventure is not your fare, the pristine islands are just great for a plain relaxing holiday, especially since instability in several Pacific island countries is challenging many Australians to look for a stable, peaceful neighbouring country to enjoy their holidays.

Vanuatu seems to be benefiting from conflict in the region. Political problems in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Bali have seen Vanuatu registering huge increases in tourist arrivals this year.

But try mentioning this to Vanuatu's Tourism Minister James Bule and Linda Kalpoi, General Manager of the Vanuatu Tourism Office, and they will instantly dismiss this line of reasoning. They particularly deny that Fiji's problems are helping in the growth of Vanuatu's tourism industry.

"We do our own thing," Mr Bule told me in his Port Vila office. "We promote the attractions of Vanuatu to potential overseas tourists. Our attractions speak for themselves – the natural beauty of our islands, our clean, white, sandy beaches, and the friendliness of our people are what is helping drive our tourism industry forward."

His country is fast catching up with Fiji, boasting highly-rated resorts, hotels and a completely different world many Australians would be happy to experience.

"We're always happy to share our history and our ancient way of life, including the fact that our people were once cannibals", the tour guide at a traditional village said.

The people of Vanuatu are friendly, hold their traditional way of life in high esteem, and are always happy to put on their famed singing and dancing performances for tourists.

But as they say in tourism parlance, "you'll never never know if you never never go".


For volcano trip on Tana island, pack comfortable clothing and walking shoes, long-sleeved shirts, a hat and a pair of sunglasses.


Pacific Blue Airways and Air Vanuatu have daily flights from Sydney and/or Brisbane to Port Vila.
The writer was a guest of Starwood Hotels, staying at Le Meridien Port Vila Resort and Casino, and flying Pacific Blue.

Deadly volcano eruption in Ethiopia

A volcanic eruption in northeastern Ethiopia killed five people and displaced more than 2000 others, state media reported on Wednesday.

The volcano in the Afar region started spewing lava on 12 August and the eruption lasted for three days. Although the activity has since subsided, locals are still advised to leave the area.

"The volcano has dried and polluted local rivers that has displaced over 2000 people along with their cattle," said Hassan Mohammed, head of the region's disaster prevention agency, cited by the Ethiopian News Agency.

The eruption site is located south of Mount Arteale — which was believed to be Ethiopia's only active volcano — according to the UN humanitarian agency which had sent a team to the region.
Mount Arteale's eruption two years ago caused the displacement of more than 50000 Afar nomads and deaths of hundreds of livestock.

American geologists creates a safety plan to deal with volcano eruptions in Ecuador

Robert Buchwaldt, Ph.D., Washington University lecturer in earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, is the only American who sits on an international committee that is seeking ways to address the volcanic threat in Ecuador, especially in Quito, a city of five million nestled against a volcano, Guagua Pichincha, that erupted just two years ago.

Buchwaldt, a couple of German scientists and a mixture of Ecuadorian politicians and citizens comprise the committee, which is called the Ecuadorian Volcanic Hazard Assessment Group. Its task is to develop an emergency plan in case of an eruption, which could happen again soon because magma temperatures are rising, according to Buchwaldt. “Dealing with the threat of a volcano is not an uncommon problem,” Buchwaldt said. “In North America, we have Seattle, which is adjacent to Mount St. Helens and two other volcanoes. They have a plan. We’re trying to implement one in Quito, but the Latin American culture is different.”

Money and communications problems A key problem is wealth, or the lack thereof in Ecuador. “America is a First World country, but Ecuador is Third World, so financial support is not strong. Setting up seismometers is an expensive process. Hundreds will be needed, but currently there are only two near Quito set up by German researchers.” Ecuador, roughly the size of Nevada, has a whopping 270 volcanoes, twenty of which are active, the most active being Tungurahua,, with 70 eruptions over the past 3,000 years. Buchwaldt said a second major problem is communications. “As scientists , we need to avoid the academic gobbledygook,” he said.

“The politicians, though, tend to dummy things down. We’re seeking a communications platform that will enable us to communicate between different fields. “What happens when you get a volcanic eruption, you have excited scientists because it means data,. But data mean nothing to a normal citizen sitting there while a one-mile pyroclastic flow starts streaming by .”

A pyroclastic flow is a very violent, destructive, gas-rich and fast-moving mass of rock flow from a volcanic vent. Imagine opening up a cola bottle and seeing the white flow of foam that accompanies that – the foam is an indication of gas separating, and that is what you have with the pyroclastic flow.

Buchwaldt said that the committee has plans in effect for public meetings that will educate the citizenry and government officials, explain the dangers and develop escape plans for Quito and other communities. He made a presentation on projects there and the committee’s work at Goldschmidt Conference 2007, held from Aug. 20-24, in Cologne, Germany. Buchwaldt is just beginning research in Ecuador, and he has projects in Madagascar and Cameroon.

His main interests are geochronology, petrology, and geochemistry. “I’m interested in using well-established methods to understand the dynamics of systems, especially Earth systems,” he said. “Volcanoes interest me greatly because they are very dynamic,” Resemblance to western Washington state He said that western Washington state and Ecuador are similar in that they each are situated along a major subduction zone. A collective zone occurs throughout the Pacific Ocean and is called the Ring of Fire.

Most of the volcanism on the planet occurs around these subduction zones. Volcanoes produced in subduction zones have different magmas than those produced in hot spot areas, such as in Hawaii, for instance. In subduction zones, water is brought down into the mantle where it gets dissolved in the magma and therefore creates a gas-rich magma that produces a very explosive situation. In hot spot volcanoes, water is not involved, so the magma is more viscous and thus flows more easily.

Buchwaldt is looking at the chemistry of different magma deposits to see how different volcanoes evolve and determine the evolution of different volcanoes as well as the kinds of dynamic processes involved in volcanic eruptions. He also is using Geospatial Information Systems technology to detect the dominant flow patterns in the area with the goal of classifying different regions in terms of the severity of their volcanic potential. What he finds will add to the geological record of Ecuador and the general knowledge base of volcanoes.

But his findings also will help Ecuadorians plan city buildings and emergency buildings and escape routes to avoid future volcanic destruction. During Spring Break 2007, Buchwaldt took 30 members of his Washington University geosciences class to a field trip in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands to study the differences in volcanoes. “It was an extremely interesting opportunity for students to actually see real geology, at times as it was happening,” he said.

A geologist needs to be outside looking at rocks and minerals. One of the memorable things was standing on a pyroclastic flow that had come down just two months before , and that flow was atop the foundation of a house it had over-run.

“It’s kind of scary when you actually stand on a volcano and you feel the rumbling of the volcano mountain when the magma comes up and you see ash coming up at the top of the volcano. We were truly seeing the surface expression of this dynamic planet we’re living on.”

Alaska: Volcano eruption is near!

One of Alaska‘s most active volcanoes could be working toward a massive eruption that could affect air travel but was not expected to threaten any of the towns in the area, scientists said Thursday.

The volcano is below the path of hundreds of daily international flight paths, and an explosive eruption could interrupt those operations, said Steve McNutt, a volcano seismologist with the observatory. Volcanic ash can enter an engine and make it seize up, he said.

McNutt said seismic activity is high at the 8,262-foot volcano, with about one tremor recorded every minute. Lahars — mudslides caused when lava melts snow on the peak — have triggered some seismic activity, as well, he said.

He said hazards the volcano could present included light ash fall on nearby communities, mud flows, lava flows and hot debris avalanching on the volcano‘s flanks.

Josh Gould, co-owner of King Cove grocer John Gould & Sons Co. Inc., said people in town were preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. Sales of basic staples are up, he said, but there‘s no danger of running out of products like water, bread and milk.

Seismic activity was first picked up at the volcano Tuesday. Eyewitnesses aboard a fishing boat in the area Wednesday reported glowing lava on the volcano‘s southeast flank. Pilots have reported a weak plume of ash drifting 5 miles to the southwest and likely below 20,000 feet.

Pavlof, which has had about 40 eruptions since record keeping began in the area in the 1760s, is among the most closely monitored volcanoes in the state, with permanent monitoring equipment installed nearby.

A series of ash explosions and lava eruptions took place for several months after the last eruption. Ash clouds reached as high as 30,000 feet at the time. During a 1986 eruption, Pavlof spewed ash as high as 49,000 feet.

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