Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chaiten Volcano is still unsafe for villagers

Chile's government said on Friday the area surrounding the Chaiten Volcano, which erupted in May for the first time in thousands of years, was still not safe and that a decision regarding the future of the town of Chaiten would be made in coming days.The Volcano, only six miles (10 km) from the town, started spewing ash, gas and molten rock on May 2, forcing the evacuation of about 7,000 residents.

A cloud of debris that soared as high as 20 miles (32 km) into the air was kept aloft by the pressure of constant eruptions for weeks, and even covered towns in neighboring Argentina with volcanic ash."We received the latest report from the Universidad Catolica ... and the only thing I can tell you is that the volcano is exactly as dangerous as it was before," Interior Minister Edmundo Perez-Yoma told reporters.

"We were hoping we might have better news, but unfortunately we don't."The government has not dismissed the possibility of relocating the small town and making the whole area a no-go zone for years to come, but many locals have said they want to return to their homes in Chaiten.

"The volcano is still active," Perez-Yoma said. "Given the latest definitive information, we will be making a decision in the coming days."Chile has the second largest and most active chain of volcanoes in the world after Indonesia.About 90 percent of the town was flooded in May as volcanic ash caused nearby rivers to breach their banks.

Kilauea volcano takes a 3 days break!

The Kilauea volcano on the big island of Hawaii took a three-day break this week from its 26-year eruption.

Scientists said that lava stopped flowing at what is known as the Thanksgiving Eve Breakout on Monday and started up again on Christmas Eve, the Honolulu Advertiser reported Friday.

Jim Kauahikaua, head of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory of the U.S. Geological Survey, said that interruptions have become more common, although they are usually shorter than three days, and that scientists have not determined what causes them. Kilauea continued to emit sulfur gas through two vents and some tephra through one of the vents.

Kauahikaua said that the pauses in lava flow are sometimes -- but not always -- associated with inflation-deflation events when the summit of the volcano reduces in size and then reinflates.
"We've looked but we don't understand the relationship," he said.

Kilauea, one of five shield volcanos on the island of Hawaii, began its current eruption in January 1983. The location of the lava flow shifted a year ago to the Thanksgiving Eve Breakout.

The eruption has added almost 600 acres to the largest of the Hawaiian islands while burying 191 structures and a nine-mile section of highway.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Do volcanoes affect the Tropics temperature?

The Reventador Volcano erupted in November 2008 in Reventador, some 90 kilometres northeast of Quito, Ecuador. Volcanic eruptions have periodically cooled the tropics over at least the last 450 years by spewing out particles that girdle the world at high altitude and reflect sunlight, according to a study released Sunday. Volcanic eruptions have periodically cooled the tropics over at least the last 450 years by spewing out particles that girdle the world at high altitude and reflect sunlight, according to a study released Sunday.

The Reventador Volcano erupted in November 2008 in Reventador, some 90 km northeast of Quito, Ecuador. Volcanic eruptions have periodically cooled the tropics over at least the last 450 years by spewing out particles that girdle the world at high altitude and reflect sunlight, according to a study released Sunday. (AFP/File)The research adds a chunk of regional evidence to earlier work that found major eruptions --such as Krakatoa, Indonesia in 1883 and Huaynaputina, Peru in 1600 --contribute to cooling on a worldwide scale.

A trio of scientists led by Rosanne D'Arrigo of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, looked at ocean temperatures in a belt extending from 30 degrees south across the equator to 30 degrees north. They compiled temperature records reaching back nearly half a millennium from three sources: ice cores, tree rings and coral reefs. They found the longest sustained period of cooling of sea surfaces --to a depth of one metre (3.25 feet) --occurred in the early 1800s following the eruption of Mount Tambora on the Indonesia island of Sumbawa.

Tambora blew its top in 1815 and was the most powerful eruption in recorded history, ejecting about 50 cubic kilometres (12 cubic miles) of magma, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). However, links between volcanic activity and cooler ocean surfaces weakened in the 20th century, apparently as a result of global warming from the burning of fossil fuels, the researchers say.

Another study, also published online in the journal Nature Geoscience, points to a previously unrecognised potential driver of climate change. Intensive, chemical-laden agriculture could trigger the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) from river systems, Henry Wilson and Marguerite Xenopoulos of Trent University in Ontario Canada argue. The researchers examined organic, meaning carbon-bearing, matter that had dissolved in 34 rivers in Ontario. Some of the rivers were pristine and others were heavily polluted by runoff from agricultural chemicals such as fertilisers, insecticides and herbicides.

Pollution from these chemicals meant the organic material was likelier to release its carbon into the atmosphere, the study found. This factor should be taken into account by climate modelers, the study suggested.

Indonesia: Mud volcano drives villagers away from their homes

Her children insist, so every week or two Lilik Kamina takes them back to their abandoned village to look at the mud.

“Hey, Mom, there’s our house, there’s the mango tree,” she said they shout. But there is nothing to see, only an ocean of mud that has buried this village and a dozen more over the past two-and-a-half years.

The mud erupted here during exploratory drilling for natural gas, and it has grown to be one of the largest mud volcanoes ever to have affected a populated area. Unlike other disasters that torment Indonesia — earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis — this one continues with no end in sight, and experts say the flow of mud could go on for many years or decades.

The steaming mud keeps bubbling up, spreading across the countryside, driving people from their homes, burying fields and factories. It has forced the relocation of roads, bridges, a railway line and a major gas pipeline.

As the earth disgorges the mud and the lake of mud grows, the land is sinking by as much as 40 feet a year and could subside to depths of more than 460 feet just one hour’s drive from Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya, according to Richard Davies, a geologist at Durham University in Britain who is an expert on mud volcanoes.

Siti Maimunah, an environmental advocate, said people who lived nearby had begun getting sick, with about 46,000 visiting clinics with respiratory problems since the mud eruption.
Ms. Siti, who is national coordinator for the
Mining Advocacy Network of Indonesia, said the gas that emerged with the mud was toxic and possibly carcinogenic. “We worry that in the next 5 to 10 years people will face a second disaster with health problems,” she said.

Attempts to stem the flow have failed.

These have included a scheme to drop hundreds of giant concrete balls into the mouth of the eruption; the concrete balls simply disappeared without effect. A project to divert some of the mud into the nearby Porong River has raised fears that the buildup of silt on the riverbed could cause severe flooding, possibly in Surabaya itself.

The disaster has become an embarrassment to President
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who faces a new election next year, with groups of displaced people demonstrating in the distant capital, Jakarta.

The drilling company that critics say caused the disaster, Lapindo Brantas, is indirectly owned by the family of one of Indonesia’s richest and most influential men, Aburizal Bakrie, who is a major financial backer of President Yudhoyono and serves in his cabinet as coordinating minister for the people’s welfare.

The victims say compensation has been slow, with only a portion of promised funds delivered to them. Sixty-thousand people have fled their homes and many, like Ms. Lilik, now live in nearby shelters and in a marketplace.

This is a particularly forlorn class of displaced people who mostly fend for themselves because, as victims of what is being called a man-made disaster, they receive little assistance from the government or from international aid agencies.

“So we live without hope,” said Ali Mursjid, 25, who was in college studying to be a teacher before the mud volcano made him destitute. “Nobody is willing to help us.”

His village, Besuki, was only partly buried in mud, and it is now a ghost town of empty houses and hard, cracked mud where children fly kites and shout to hear their voices echo.

The steaming mud erupted from the ground on May 29, 2006, as Lapindo Brantas was drilling near the industrial district of Sidoarjo. Its tunnel pierced a pressurized aquifer 9,000 feet underground.
Experts on mud volcanoes say the drilling and inadequate safeguards in the borehole set off the eruption of water, gas and mud that continues to flow, at about 100,000 cubic meters a day.

Lapindo says that it was itself a victim, blaming vibrations from a major earthquake that struck two days earlier with an epicenter 186 miles away.

After listening to new evidence about the eruption, 74 petroleum geologists attending an October conference in Cape Town concluded that the drilling had been the cause.

“There is no question, the pressures in the well went way beyond what it could tolerate — and it triggered the mud volcano,” said Susila Lusiaga, a drilling engineer who was part of the Indonesian investigation team, according to a report on the conference by Durham University.

The debate over responsibility has severely limited the payments, said Elfian Effendi, executive director of
Greenomics Indonesia, an environmental advocacy group.

After paying out 20 percent of a promised compensation package, Lapindo agreed this month to begin monthly payments equal to $2,500 to 8,000 families it said were eligible. But as part of the Bakrie family holdings, Lapindo has been severely affected by the current economic downturn and some experts question whether the full amount will ever be paid.

Since the first eruption in May 2006, there have been more than 90 others, most of them small but some explosive, said Jim Schiller, a political scientist at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, who has published a study of the disaster.

He described what he called the horror-movie progress of the mud, which continues to burst from the ground at unexpected times and places. “I’ve got pictures of them popping up in people’s living rooms,” he said.

The village of Renokenongo was buried during the biggest of these eruptions, in November 2007, when the weight of sinking earth burst a major natural-gas pipeline, killing 13 workers and sending a fireball into the sky.

Ms. Lilik, 30, who teaches kindergarten, said the visits to the levee by her former village calm her children, Icha Noviyanti, 11, and Fiqhi Izzudin, 5.

“People say it’s not a good idea to take the children there, but I think the opposite,” she said. “I think it’s very important for them to see their home and express their anger. They throw rocks at the mud and shout, ‘Lapindo!’ ”

A CT Scan for a volcano?

On the ground and in the water, an international team of researchers has been collecting imaging data on the Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat to understand the internal structure of the volcano and how and when it erupts."Using land-based measurement, we can see that over the time periods when the magma is erupting, the ground surface deflates into a bowl of subsidence and when the magma is sealed underground, the ground surface inflates like a balloon," says Barry Voight, professor emeritus of geosciences, Penn State.

"The interesting thing is that much more magma is erupting than appears represented by the subsiding bowl." Voight suggests a simple model to explain this discrepancy seen through the various eruptive phases and pauses of the volcano.In 1995, Soufriere Hills volcano began the current series of eruptions and pauses, with each episode lasting from one to three years.

The November 1995 event lasted until March 1998, during which time a thick dome of sticky andesite lava -- a volcanic rock -- grew continuously within the crater, punctuated by occasional and lethal explosions.

From March 1998 until November 1999, there was a pause in above-ground volcanic activity and the lava dome collapsed from its own weight and inactivity. Beginning in December 1999, the second eruptive episode continued until mid-July 2003 followed by a pause until October 2005. The third episode began then and ended in April 2007, followed by a pause, which still continues -- although, according to Voight, "a series of explosions started just a few days ago (early December) and this might mark the onset of the next eruptive period. We will need to wait and see if continuous lava extrusion follows."

The measurements taken during the on-going CALIPSO project, the ground-based phase of this study, uses Global Positioning Systems and strain meters to measure the exact up-and-down and sideways movements of numerous points over the volcano island. However, the volume changes represented by those measurements did not match measured volumes of the actual lava flows during the various eruption episodes, raising an intriguing puzzle.

The SEA CALIPSO project, involving a research consortium directed by Voight and S. Sparks, professor, earth sciences, University of Bristol, UK, used seismic waves caused by underwater air gun explosions at sea to map inside and under the volcano island in the same way as images inside the human body are revealed by a hospital CAT scan."In SEA-CALIPSO, we are using a variety of research tools to image the internal structure of the Earth's crust under the volcano island," says Voight.

"Our knowledge of the deeper structure under any of the Caribbean Islands is very limited and the internal structure of an active volcano is one of the most puzzling questions in the Earth sciences. It is nearly impossible to get direct measurements inside the volcano, so we rely largely on remote sensing methods."The researchers used seismic wave arrivals at over 200 land and sea floor seismometers to give CAT-scan like images of structure to about 5 miles deep.

They were also able to map how the seismic energy bounces off key reflecting layers near the crust-mantle boundary, around 20 miles down. The basalt at those depths forms horizontal layers that partly crystallize and generate residual melts enriched in silica, water and sulfur. These melts rise in pulses to shallower levels, where they define magma chambers of andesite composition – the lava now erupting on Montserrat.

The researchers are able to image the location of these chambers by their pressure centers, which are approximately 6 miles deep and defined by continuously measured GPS surface stations. Reporting in three sessions beginning today (Dec. 19), at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco, CALIPSO researchers discussed many aspects of the project. Voight's model of the Soufriere Hills Volcano accounts for the volume mismatch in erupted magma and ground movement by suggesting an elongated magma chamber beginning below 3 miles and centered about 6 miles beneath the mountain.

This chamber fills with magma, but the magma already in the chamber is rich in water, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide gases, making it very compressible. As the chamber fills, part of the new magma pushes against the chamber walls, elevating the island surface, as detected by GPS; but most of the magma fits into the existing space by squeezing the bubbly resident magma. When the volcano erupts, the magma stuffed into the chamber decompresses and the amount of magma erupted is greater than the amount implied by ground subsidence.

"The magma volume in Montserrat eruptions is much larger than anyone would estimate from the surface deformation, because of the elastic storage of magma in what is effectively a huge magma sponge," says Voight. "Magma is continually fed into the chamber from below at a rate of about two cubic meters per second -- about the volume of a large refrigerator every second."

In the long term, the magma released in the eruptive periods is approximately balanced by the accumulated input during the eruptive episode and the preceding inflation. There is no evident depletion of the chamber, so the eruption could be long lasting.

The CALIPSO and SEA-CALIPSO projects involved a multinational consortium including Penn State, University of Arkansas, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Cornell University, Duke University, University of Auckland (N.Z.), Arizona State University, Bristol University (UK), National Oceanographic Centre (UK), Montserrat Volcano Observatory and Seismic Research Unit, Trinidad.

Researchers on this project include Voight, Sparks, Charles Ammon, Derek Elsworth, Cristina Widiwijayanti, Dannie Hidayat, Roozbeh Foroozan, Victoria Miller, all of Penn State; Glen Mattioli, University of Arkansas; T. Minshull and Michele Paulatto, National Oceanography Centre, and E. Shalev and K. Kenedi, Auckland; Selwyn Sacks, Alan Linde, CIW; and Larry Brown, Cornell.

The National Science Foundation, Natural Environmental Research Council, UK, British Geological Survey and Discovery Channel supported this work.

First human contact with magma

A drilling crew has accidentally become the first humans known to have drilled into magma, which is the melted form of rock that sometimes erupts to the surface as lava.

According to a report in
National Geographic News, the drilling crew cracked through rock layers deep beneath Hawaii and touched magma in its natural environment.

The find was made 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) underground during exploratory drilling for geothermal energy.

The crew hit something unusual during routine operations at the Puna Geothermal Venture, owned by Ormat Technologies, Inc., of Reno, Nevada.

When the workers tried to resume drilling, they discovered that magma had risen about 25 feet (8 meters) up the pipe they”d inserted.

The rock solidified into a clear glassy substance, apparently because it chilled quickly after hitting groundwater.

“This is an unprecedented discovery,” said Bruce Marsh, a volcanologist from
Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, who will be studying the find. ”Normally, volcanologists have to do “postmortem studies” of long-solidified magmas or study active lava during volcanic eruptions,” he said.

But this time, they”d found magma in its natural environment, something Marsh described as nearly as exciting as a paleontologist finding a dinosaur frolicking on a remote island.

Scientists had long known that magma chambers must lie in the vicinity of the drill site.

The drilling was being conducted for an existing geothermal power plant built to harvest heat from the world’’s most active volcanic zone, Kilauea volcano, which has been spewing lava continuously since 1983.

According to Don Thomas, a geochemist from the University of Hawaii’’s Center of the Study of Active Volcanoes, it was just a matter of time until some drilling operation there struck hot magma.
In addition, researchers found that the magma is made of dacite, a type of rock that’’s a precursor to granite, rather than the basalt that forms most of Hawaii.

Volcanologist Marsh is excited by the prospects for further study.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We don”t know where it’’s going to lead, but it’’s a golden opportunity,” he added.

It might even be possible to do experiments inside the magma.

“This could be the first magma observatory in the Earth,” Marsh said. “This is a singular event of first contact with inner Earth, where magma lives,” he added.

With an estimated temperature of 1,050 degrees Celsius, the magma is also valuable as a high-quality heat source for geothermal energy production.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Alaska: Volcanic activity keeps observatory busy

Scientists from Alaska Volcano Observatory and the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks will share details of their research on North Pacific volcanoes, highlighting some of the recent volcanic eruptions in Alaska, at a variety of presentations at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco this week.

Three Alaska volcanoes erupted in midsummer 2008. Cleveland, Okmok and Kasatochi volcanoes, all located in Alaska’s Aleutian Chain, made for a hectic 20th anniversary for the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Geophysical Institute director Roger Smith will discuss the history and achievements of the Alaska Volcano Observatory on Thursday. Smith’s talk will cover the observatory’s first test, which occurred with the 1989 eruption of Redoubt Volcano. The eruption spewed ash to a height of 45,000 feet, jeopardizing a Boeing 747 aircraft that was in range and covering Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula with ash.

Jessica Larsen, a research assistant professor with the Geophysical Institute and the UAF College of Natural Science and Mathematics, will talk on the eruption of Okmok Volcano, located near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Okmok erupted explosively July 12, 2008 considerably changing the surrounding landscape. Larsen will share images from her pre- and post-eruption visits to Okmok during her presentation on Friday.

Smith and Larsen are just two of many presenters from the University of Alaska Fairbanks who will focus on the advances of the Alaska Volcano Observatory and the 2008 eruptions of Cleveland, Okmok and Kasatochi volcanoes. Other talks and poster sessions will focus on AVO instrumentation, volcano seismology, volcanic infrasound, computer simulations of volcanic ash, and more.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory is a joint program between the Geophysical Institute at UAF, the United States Geological Survey, and the State of Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What is the link between champagne and volcanoes?

Earthquakes can set off volcanoes by shaking up molten rock like champagne in a bottle until they explode, a study suggests. The research shows that volcanoes erupt up to four times more often after a large earthquake than they would without the seismic agitation.

The effects of an earthquake can be felt hundreds of miles from the epicentre and are powerful enough to wake dormant volcanoes. However, it can take so long for a surge of molten rock to build up enough pressure to cause an eruption that several months can elapse between the trigger and the volcanic explosion.

The link between volcanoes and earthquakes has long been suspected but the new research has provided the first statistical evidence. Researchers at the University of Oxford identified the champagne effect after analysing records of volcanoes and earthquakes in southern Chile, the region where Charles Darwin first speculated on the likely link in 1835.

The research team found that the pattern of eruptions over the past 150 years showed a noticeable increase for a year after large earthquakes.

The volcano Tupungatito erupted within a year of both the 1906 and 1960 earthquakes, as did Calbuco and Villarrica. Osorno and Puntiagudo both erupted soon after Chile’s 1837 earthquake.
“The most unexpected part of this discovery was the considerable distance from the earthquake rupture where these eruptions took place, and the length of time for which we saw increased volcanic activity,” said Sebastian Watt, one of the researchers.

This suggests that seismic waves, radiating from the earthquake rupture, may trigger an eruption by stirring or shaking the molten rock beneath volcanoes.

“The disturbances that result from this lead to eruption but, because of the time it takes for pressure to build up inside a volcano and for magma to move towards the surface, an eruption may not occur until some months after the earthquake.”

There was a particularly strong effect in the wake of the great Chilean earthquake of 1960, the largest ever recorded with a magnitude of 9.5 on the Richter scale. The estimated death toll varies from 1,655 to 5,700, many of whom died because the quake prompted tsunamis in several countries.

Another of the earthquakes shown to have been followed by a succession of at least six volcanoes was that of 1906. In an average year just one volcano would have been expected.

"This work is important because it shows that the risk of volcanic eruption increases dramatically following large earthquakes in parts of the world, such as Chile, affected by these phenomena.
“Hopefully, our findings could help governments and aid agencies to manage volcanic hazards by showing the need for increased awareness of volcanic activity after large earthquakes.”

A report of the findings is to be published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

The deadliest volcanic eruptions!

Volcanic eruptions are one of the deadliest natural hazards on Earth and can happen with little or no warning. Some of the greatest death tolls in modern human times have occurred as a result of a volcanic eruption. The types of volcanic hazards that are responsible for these deaths range from hazards directly associated to the eruption - such as pyroclastic flows - to hazards indirectly associated to the eruption - such as starvation.

According to an article written by J.-C. Tanguy and others titled, "Victims from volcanic eruptions: a revised database,' and published in the Bulletin of Volcanology and Geothermal Research in 1998, the five deadliest volcanic eruptions and the number of people who were killed as a result are:

Tambora, Indonesia (1815) ~ 60,000

Krakatau, Indonesia (1883) ~ 36,600

Mont Pelee, Martinique (1902) ~ 29,000

Nevado del Ruiz, Columbia (1985) ~ 23,000

Unzen, Japan (1792) ~ 15,000

Combined, these five deadly volcanic eruptions killed approximately 163,600 people and caused worldwide devastation.

The Main Causes of Death from the Volcanic Eruptions

Although each of these eruptions was powerful enough to cause pyroclastic flows, which is one of the deadliest hazards associated with volcanic activity, the main causes of death are, in some cases, surprising. The 1792 volcanic eruption of Unzen Volcano, Japan, did produce pyroclastic flows that killed about 9,500 people near the volcano; but it was the resulting tsunami that claimed the other 5,500 lives farther away.

The 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz, Columbia also produced pyroclastic flows. However, these flows were perceived as non-threatening as they were small and stayed near the summit of the volcano - far away from the villages that resided at the lowest levels of the volcano's flanks. It was not until the night of Novemberr 13, 1985 that this volcano's deadliest hazard was revealed.

As the small pyroclastic flows melted snow at the summit of the volcano, large lahars, or volcanic mudflows, were being produced and making their way as a torrent down the flanks of the volcano. Without any warning, the sleeping town of Armero, Columbia was inundated by boiling hot mudflows and 23,000 people were killed in one night.

Hazards produced by the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelee Volcano on the island of Martinique were opposite to those produced by the Nevado del Ruiz eruption. The Mont Pelee eruption generated massive pyroclastic flows that traveled down the flanks of the volcano and completely destroyed the sea-side town of Saint Pierre. Virtually every single person in this town - about 28,600 people - were burned alive, suffocated or buried alive by this fast-moving ash flow. Only one person survived the destruction - a lone prisoner housed in an underground jail chamber. Lahars killed another 400 people.

The 1883 eruption of Krakatau Volcano, Indonesia, is well-known for its destruction and for the explosion that was heard almost 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away. The Krakatau eruption produced pyroclastic flows and ash falls that killed about 4,600 people; but the deadliest hazard was the tsunami that was created when the flanks of the volcano collapsed into the ocean during the violent explosion. The tsunami was not expected and came as a tragic surprise to villagers living in the low-lying coastal communities surrounding the island volcano.

About 32,000 people were killed by the tsunamis, making the 1883 eruption one of the deadliest in history.

The Deadliest Volcanic Eruption in Recorded History

By far, the deadliest and most destructive volcanic eruption recorded in modern human history is the 1815 eruption of Tambora Volcano, Indonesia. This eruption - the most powerful in recorded history - produced an ash column that ejected enough volcanic material into the atmosphere to change the global climate.

Even a year after the eruption, the Tambora volcanic cloud cooled the atmosphere so much that 1816 was known in Europe and North America as "the year without a summer." About 11,000 people near the volcano died during the eruption from pyroclastic flows and ash falls. The real devastation, however, came with the failure of crops, which led to famine and disease in the region that killed another 49,000 people.

Las Vegas Mirage introduces new face of volcano

This time of year, there's often a chill in the air in Las Vegas, as temperatures some nights dip into the 30s. But starting Monday evening, people making their way down the sidewalk may choose to shed their mittens and caps as they reach the Mirage, where there'll be plenty of heat coming from an erupting "volcano."

Since the hotel's opening in 1989, its mock volcano -- towering over a 3-acre lagoon along Las Vegas Boulevard -- has become a Sin City landmark.

The free attraction has been dormant since February, though, while it underwent a face-lift. And far from just a few tucks here and there, this is a $25-million overall redo.

A motorcycle jump on the brink of '09

Those seeking an even hotter spectacle may want to drop by New Year's Eve. That's the night motorcycle daredevil Robbie Knievel is preparing to jump more than 200 feet across the lagoon as the jets shoot fire and water skyward. Fox TV will broadcast the event live, beginning at 8 p.m., with the jump scheduled for 9 p.m. Knievel is expected to travel 100 mph during the feat, which is to begin on hotel property and end on the Strip.

The stunt will take place 41 years to the day after Robbie's father, Evel Knievel, was seriously injured when he lost control of his bike during a jump over the fountains at Caesars Palace, next door to the Mirage.

-- Jay Jones

The creators of the new volcano, Wet Design in Sun Valley, Calif., have some pretty impressive credentials. Besides designing water features for Disney and Universal, this team also did the stunning, dancing fountains at Bellagio, just a few blocks down the boulevard.

"What Wet does is sort of 'nature under control,' the highly stylized, highly choreographed pieces using water," says Jim Doyle, a company director. "This is the first time we've been able to do it -- and had a client crazy enough to try it -- with flame. That's the big change here, taking a quantum step forward with flame choreography."

Doyle calls this latest creation "a beast." It thrives on a diet of water and natural gas, both of which are fed through a maze of pipes behind the volcano's artificial rock facade.

Submerged in the lagoon are 120 sophisticated flamethrowers that will send jets of fire skyward on cue. Choreographers working on laptops are busy fine-tuning the fountains of flame -- and water too -- so that the software program matches the original music to the movements of the fire and water.

Performed on drums and the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument, the music has a primal beat that's well-suited to a show that replicates the belching of molten lava from deep inside the Earth. The score is performed by Grammy winners Mickey Hart, a former drummer for the Grateful Dead, and Zakir Hussain, a master musician from India.

As the music builds to a crescendo near the close of the 4 1/2 -minute performance, designer Doyle has Daisy, the massive flamethrower that's mounted atop the volcano, ready to leap into action.

"It's an exclamation point for the show," Doyle says of the giant torch, which is twice the size of a previous creation of his in Australia.

"It doesn't [shoot fire] up as much as it does out," he adds. The result is a temperature spike that far surpasses that of any backyard patio heater, turning a chilly winter night into a summer scorcher.
"This one's going to blow you away," says Scott Sibella, president of the Mirage. He adds that the costly attraction is designed to showcase a $110-million makeover of the entire property. It's been completed just in time for the hotel's 20th anniversary celebration.

Sibella says next year's advertising campaign will feature the catch phrase, "Have you seen the new Mirage?"

"Some of our competitors have let their properties go to the wayside," he says. On the other hand, Sibella says that -- when it comes to popularity and revenue -- the Mirage "still does very well for a 19- [or] 20-year-old property."

Jones is a freelance writer.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Volcano due to erupt in Las Vegas by the New Year!

A dormant Las Vegas volcano is expected to begin erupting by the end of December.
The volcano is situated alongside of The Strip, in front of The Mirage resort.

The hourly eruptions during the evening hours are expected to exceed the former eruptions that have enthralled visitors since its first spewing some 12 years ago and lasted until a shutdown early this year. The revitalized volcano will feature massive fireballs that shoot 12 feet above the rim of the volcano, and lava streams that course down the sides and steamily splash into the lagoon at its base. The lagoon will then erupt in flames, coming within feet of the sidewalk in front of the resort that normally will be jammed with spectators.

The Fountains of Bellagio design team WET has been in charge of the overhaul, a portion of the massive upgrading of the resort. Mickey Hart, legendary drummer of the Grateful Dead, and Indian tabla sensation Zakir Hussain, were enlisted by the design team to produce a spectacular production that combines sound, light, music and heat.

The volcano at The Mirage was the first spectacular show that was free to the general public. When it first began erupting, it brought traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard to a standstill. The Mirage is the resort that is credited with being the project that revitalized the Las Vegas resort building boom.


For those who miss the wintertime weather of more northerly locations, a visit to the Bellagio or Sam's Town might bring back memories.

The Conservatory and Botanical Gardens of Bellagio open its winter wonderland makeover on Sunday and remain until January 3. A 32-foot-tall Shasta fir will be the centerpiece, festooned with enormous ornaments and 12,000 LED Christmas lights. There will be 15-foot-tall toy soldiers, flying reindeer, a snowman family, a 7-foot-tall rocking horse, and a gigantic holiday wreath. All of the features will be composed of flowers, plants, leaves, vines, seeds, and nuts.

The Conservatory is on the main floor just beyond the registration counter. It is open 24/7.
Mystic Falls and Park at Sam's Town on the Boulder Strip has been turned into another winter wonderland. A holiday laser and light show is presented at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. daily and snow will fall in the park. The atrium park is open 24/7. It is located in the center of the hotel towers so guests staying at in-facing rooms of the resort can watch the shows from their room.

Many resorts and casinos deck out some of the staff in holiday themes, but none do it better than the Hard Rock. The cheerful red costumes are enough to make Santa forget his duties.

Other seasonal changes affect the shows in town. Many shows are closing down for the second half of December so performers can get a rest and producers can make changes. Most will reopen before the long New Year's Eve weekend. If you are planning a December trip, be sure it won't be dark when you are in town.

Mamma Mia will end a 6-year run when it closes down on Jan. 4 at its present location at Mandalay Bay.

Defending the Caveman has concluded its run at the Golden Nugget, stepping aside for the return of Gordie Brown. Caveman will reopen at the Excalibur Dec.16 to Jan 11.

Danny Gans, often voted the best act in Las Vegas, has closed an 8-plus year gig at The Mirage. He will reopen in the Danny Gans Theater in the Encore.


The featured restaurant at the-soon-to-be-opened Encore will be named Sinatra, after the legendary performer and Las Vegas regular.

An agreement between Steve Wynn, an old friend of Ol' Blue Eyes, and the estate of the performer, will place memorabilia at the restaurant. Included will be Sinatra's only Oscar -- for best male performer in "From Here to Eternity."

The Game Show Network will be filming at The Grand Poker Room at the Golden Nugget Dec. 19 to 21.

Reach Bruce Camenga at

Seismic signals preceding volcanic eruptions have been simulated in lab for the 1st time!

For the first time, seismic signals that precede a volcanic eruption have been simulated and visualized in 3-D under controlled pressure conditions in a laboratory. The ability to conduct such simulations will better equip municipal authorities in volcanic hot spots around the world in knowing when to alert people who live near volcanoes of an impending eruption.

The international research team that conducted the experiments at the University of Toronto published its findings in an article in the journal, Science, on Oct. 10.

Scientists tested fracture properties of basalt rock from Mount Etna, the active volcano found on the island of Sicily in southern Italy. They were able to record the seismic signals that are routinely generated during earthquakes that occur before volcanic eruptions. The seismic (sound) waves recorded by the team were similar to those emitted by a church organ pipe and are ubiquitous in active volcanic regions.

"The holy grail of volcano research is to be able to predict with complete accuracy when and how exactly a volcano will erupt," said Philip Benson, Marie-Curie Research Fellow in Earth Sciences at University College London (UCL), who conducted the experiments in U of T's Rock Fracture Dynamics Facility. "We are not there yet and, frankly, we may never be able to achieve that level of detail. However, being able to simulate the pressure conditions and events in volcanoes greatly assists geophysicists in exploring the scientific basis for volcanic unrest, ultimately helping cities and towns near volcanoes know whether to evacuate or not."

Benson noted that nearly 500 million people live near enough to the Earth's 600 active volcanoes to endure physical and economic harm should a serious eruption occur. "That is why improved understanding of volcanic mechanisms is a central goal in volcano-tectonic research and hazard mitigation."

The international collaborators in the simulation experiments were Sergio Vinciguerra of the National Geophysics and Volcano Institute (INGV) in Rome, Italy; Philip Meredith of the Rock and Ice Physics Laboratory at UCL; and Paul Young, Keck Chair of Seismology and Rock Mechanics at the University of Toronto and the university's vice-president (research).

Young noted that while this particular rock fracture research focused on volcano dynamics, the knowledge generated from investigation into rock fracturing also has direct application in a wide variety of areas, such as mining, construction of buildings and bridges, oil and gas exploration and in earthquakes and other earth sciences phenomena.

Researchers used equipment funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?