Thursday, November 19, 2009

Plane landed on hardened lava

A PLANE has landed on hardened lava after overshooting a runway in eastern Congo, injuring 20 people

Passengers onboard the plane, which was flying from Kinshasa to Goma, warned the crew of heavy clouds before the incident, United Nations-run Radio Okapi reports.

The flight, carrying 117 passengers, was operated by Compagnie Africaine d'Aviation, the Associated Press reports.

Lava has surrounded Goma’s airport since a volcanic eruption in 2002.

A cargo plane hit the hardened lava on the airport runway in 2007, bursting into flames and killing at least eight people.

Congo has experienced more fatal plane crashes than any other African country since 1945, the Aviation Safety Network says.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Families get ready to evacuate Mount Mayon's region as volcanic activity increases

The province of Albay started preparing food packs and emergency equipment, including standby vehicles, on Wednesday, for possible evacuation of some 26,178 families from areas near the Mayon volcano due to the increasing probability of an eruption.

Mayon Volcano had two ash explosions early Wednesday and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said it could recommend raising the alert status on Mayon Volcano to level 3, because of persistent ash explosions that might lead to a hazardous type of eruption.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda has instructed the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office to continue repacking food items for possible preemptive evacuation that could last between one month (as in the case of the August-September 2006 event) to three months (as seen in prior eruptions).

For evacuation are 7,946 families at Alert 3 and 26,178 families at Alert 4.

"I have requested the Joint Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police Task Force Mayon to continually and strictly enforce checkpoints at strategic areas around the volcano to deter residents, particularly orchid gatherers and vegetable farmers, from entering the danger zones."

Cedric Daep, the department head of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO) said the municipal, city and barangay (village) disaster coordinating councils concerned were immediately reactivated and instructed to convene in order to review their contingency plans and master lists of population exposed to risks; conduct sustained social mobilization and community preparedness though barangay assemblies or neighborhood meetings; and to coordinate with the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) through the safety and emergency management office to collect additional early warning and communication equipment."

Daep said he was awaiting word on the preemptive evacuation in Barangay Bañadero in Daraga town, especially those who had been relocated but had returned to the area for their crops.

"The said barangay is about eight kilometers away from the crater but a certain portion of the village is found within the six-kilometer permanent danger zone with around 20 households. The evacuation center in Daraga is ready to accommodate these residents but we are awaiting the report from the Daraga MDCC," Daep said.

The public safety and emergency management office has started distributing 1,000 wireless

public address systems for use by barangay (village) officials in mobilizing neighborhoods for evacuation.

A PDCC advisory issued Wednesday noon instructed the residents, motorists and schoolchildren in the ashfall-affected areas (traditionally southwest areas like Camalig, Guinobatan, Daraga, Legazpi and Sto. Domingo and the newly affected north-northwest areas--including Ligao, Oas, Polangui and Libon) to protect themselves by covering their noses with damp cloth or handkerchief.

Dr. Luis Mendoza, provincial health officer, told residents to use wet towels as protection from the ash or use masks, especially those with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Aside from the ash explosions at 1:58 a.m. and 7:02 a.m. on Wednesday, a visible plume spawned by a sudden ash ejection was reported by motorists traveling along the Malabog-Salvacion Junction in Daraga, Albay at around 12:20 p.m.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Volcanic eruptions in classroom

The volcano was only a few inches tall and its lava was pinkish but the bubbling demonstration was a favorite of many of the fourth-graders attending Science Days at Angelo State University.

“I want to experience volcanoes,” Breanna Motes, a student at McGill Elementary School. “My favorite thing was the volcanoes.”

Joe Satterfield, an ASU Geology Department associate professor, and five graduate students last week demonstrated two types of volcanic eruptions with table-top models to groups of about 30 kids who rotated through the six morning sessions.

“I expect to see some of you back here in eight years,” Satterfield said, taking the opportunity to start recruiting the mostly 10-year-old children.

The decade-old Science Days program brings students from area elementary schools into the halls of ASU’s Cavness Science Building to experience chemistry, biochemistry, biology, geology, physics and math through hands-on experiences, said the program’s organizer, Nick Flynn, associate professor of biochemistry.

“Different departments were doing a very good job independently,” Flynn said. “Physics with its planetarium. Biology has those collections (mammals, plants, reptiles). We just decided to put it all together for a one-day experience.”

About 700 fourth-graders will attend Science Days this month, which began last week and continues today and Thursday. Students from 10 of the 17 San Angelo Independent School District elementaries are scheduled to attend, as are students from Big Lake, Wall, Angelo Catholic School, San Angelo Christian Academy and the San Angelo Christian Home School Association.

McGill student Hallie Walker also said she enjoyed the volcano demonstration in the day’s geology session.

“I also like the one where all the animals were stuffed, the skunk and the armadillo,” she said. “I’m going to be a veterinarian.”

The taxidermy display in the mammal room is impressive. One long wall is hung with more than 22 mounted heads, many of them from exotic animals such as a giraffe head and neck (at least 8 feet tall), a water buffalo and a reindeer. Other walls are covered with horned and antlered skulls, while an elephant skull rests on a metal file cabinet.

Loren Ammeran, an associate professor of biology, let the children a beaver pelt and showed them its identifying tail and teeth. She displayed a preserved black-and-white ruffed lemur.

“Has anyone seen the movie ‘Madagascar’? Madagascar is a real place,” she said, explaining the lemur was a native of that island off the east coast of Africa.

Ammeran, who has participated in Science Days for the past five years, said the children are always excited and full of questions.

“Some of them are very impressive,” she said. “It depends on what they’ve been studying at school, sometimes you hit it dead on.”

The reptile session, held in a crowded basement room smelling of formaldehyde, was not universally popular. Several students said they had to leave the room because of the odor.

Madison Stewart, Hallie’s cousin and also a student at McGill, disagreed.

“I liked the part where they showed the reptiles in the jars,” she said. “It didn’t smell so bad.”

Jason Strickland, the biology graduate student leading the reptile session, kept going with the 25-minute program. After all, for every child who left the room feeling sick, there were a dozen straining to get a closer look at the stubby arms on a giant salamander or a bullfrog big enough to fill a gallon jar.

He carefully uncoiled a snake from another jar.

“Cottonmouths, these are the guys I’m doing my research on so I catch them regularly,” he told the children. “But other snakes are in the river and most aren’t cottonmouths so don’t kill them, just avoid them.”

The Herbarium, a spacious, well-lit room only a floor above the reptile collection, holds the university’s plant collection.

Hollie Laqua, a graduate student for professor Bonnie Amos, the Herbarium’s curator, presided for Science Day, guiding the students in a discussion of such plant survival techniques as bullhorn acacia’s ant-infested spines and poison ivy’s rash-inducing chemical.

Bowie Elementary School student Bethany Gates, after attending only two of the six morning sessions, said she had already learned something from the chemistry discussion in the hands-on session.

“I learned that if you use a pentagon every time you draw a star, there’ll be another pentagon inside it,” she said.

McGill’s Breanna and her classmate, Cassie Bagwell, also said the hands-on session was the best.

“You got to look at eyeballs and cockroaches,” Breanna said.

“And hearts and brains,” Cassie said. “I’m going to be a wildlife veterinarian when I grow up.”

By far the most popular event of Science Days, however, is the afternoon Magic Show put on to demonstrate aspects of chemistry and physics.

Kevin Boudreaux, chemistry instructor and ASU’s resident magician, said the show has been part of the Science Days program since the beginning.

“The kids get a kick out of it, especially when anything burns or blows up,” Boudreaux said.

The program drew screams and standing ovations, especially when “magician’s assistant” Shane Anderson put flame to anything.

“I like to make things go boom,” the computer science major said.

He is minoring in chemistry minor and, along with Tania Estrada, had volunteered to participate in the show.

“We have to specifically choose things that look spectacular but are still safe,” Boudreaux said.

“Don’t want to set off smoke alarms,” Estrada, a biochemistry major, said.

“These are demonstrations that have been around for a while,” Boudreaux said. “Just to keep things interesting, we do new ones periodically, like the elephant toothpaste one. Somebody saw that at an (American Chemical Society) meeting a couple of years ago.”

The auditorium emptied and the children headed in scraggly lines for waiting school buses, marking the end of another ASU Science Day.

“We’re doing six to eight Science Days a year,” organizer Flynn said. “We’re getting into about 10 years, close to 10,000 students. We’re getting students who did Science Days and we’re seeing them again in college.”

Prayers on Mount Mayon slopes to keep it in restive state

An obscure tribal group from Mindanao arrived here over the weekend to hold a religious ritual near the slopes of Mt. Mayon volcano in a bid to invoke spirits to thwart a potential violent volcanic eruption.

Datu Higyaman Naholag-ayan , the tribal governor from Bukidnon who will lead the prayer ritual with 400 tribesmen from various ethnic group will perform the religious rites to stop the 2,450 meters high volcano in Albay from erupting.

Datu HOLag-ayan said the ritual will be held at the famous Cagsawa ruins where remnants of a church belfry stands in a village in Daraga town that was buried by lahar, rocks and other volcanic debris spewed by Mt. Mayon in 1814.

Clad in their ethnic costume, the group intends to hold ritual prayers and offer animal sacrifices to ask unseen spirits to intercede and calm down the restive volcano listed in the world tourism map as the volcano with an almost perfect cone.

He said: “We will offer prayers and sacrifices to ask the hundreds of spirits to stop the volcano from erupting and for the protection of people from calamities brought by volcanic eruptions including typhoons and other natural disasters that may come.”

The ritual will save the people of Albay from the wrath of any disaster be it volcanic eruption or even typhoons, earthquakes and other calamities, he pointed out.

He however, said that the ritual is not an assurance that this would prevent the volcano erupting but this would make the people aware of the danger so that they may be prepared in the event the volcano erupts.

The Datu said he believes that the volcano is no ordinary mountain but is a kingdom where people live and die.

Albay Gov.Joey Salceda will lead thousands of people across the province to witness the colorful religious prayer rituals.

The datu said there are 135 ethnic groups with 12 million members across the country. Bicol has 27,000 tribesmen spread over the provinces of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Albay.

As this developed, Mt. Mayon continues to show signs of restiveness, with 7 quakes jolting the volcano for the past 24 hours.

Mt Mayon alert status remains at Alert Level 2, meaning the volcano is still on a state of unrest as it continue to spew ash with periodic explosions.

Military and police personnel manning the 12 checkpoints surrounding the volcano will enforce the off limits regulation and strictly implement the 6 kilometer radius Permanent Danger Zone and the 7 km. extended danger zone (EDZ) on the southeast flank of the volcano due to the threat from sudden explosions and rockfalls from the upper slopes.

Residents near active river channels and those areas perennially identified as lahar prone in the southeast sector should be on alert during heavy and prolonged rainfall.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mercury has active volcanoes on its surface

NASA's Mercury mission spacecraft, Messenger, is revolutionizing humanity's view of the first rock from the sun. And its primary science mission hasn't even started yet.

During its third and final flyby of Mercury, NASA's Messenger has found minerals on the planet's surface that current models say shouldn't be there in such abundance. And it appears that the planet was volcanically active – explosively so – for far longer than current ideas about its geological history suggest.

The flyby took place Sept. 29. Mission scientists unveiled highlights from the flyby during a press briefing Tuesday afternoon.

Piecing together Mercury's story "is like reading a fine mystery novel by Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie," says Sean Solomon, the mission's lead scientist and a researcher at the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. The effort comes complete with clues that point to the story's denouement, as well as red herrings to throw a reader off track.

Mercury is the smallest of the solar system's eight planets. And it's the oddest among the rocky planets. Its iron core comprises up to 70 percent of the planet's mass, making it the most dense planet in the solar system after Earth.

Iron and titanium surface

Which brings up one of Mercury's red herrings. Previous studies have indicated that the planet's surface is made up mostly of silicate-based minerals. That's been considered odd, since the vast majority of the planet is taken up by an iron-titanium core, notes David Lawrence, another Messenger mission scientist.

Then, during the first Mercury flyby on Jan. 14, 2008, Messenger detected unexpectedly high levels of iron and titanium in surface minerals, he says. Flyby No. 3 provided an opportunity to check those initial results. It found that the first measurements were no fluke; the planet really is covered virtually universally with iron and titanium oxides.

That's more consistent with what you'd expect from a largely metallic planet like Mercury, Dr. Lawrence adds. But it calls current models of the planet's formation into question.

To explain how a largely Ironman planet came to be covered with a largely silicate crust, some scientists had invoked a powerful impact early in the planet's history. This would have knocked away much of the planet's original iron-rich crust, leaving a thinner shell dominated by silicates. But now that the crust appears to be dominated by these metal oxides, the cosmic smackdown theory requires a hard second look. And that's just one of three broad groups of ideas scientists have considered to explain the now-debunked surface silicate.

"This is a pretty exciting result for us," says Lawrence, a geochemist at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, which built and runs the desk-sized Messenger spacecraft.

Volcanic activity

Red Herring No. 2? Previous observations suggested that Mercury became geologically dead very early in its 4.6 billion year history. Not so, according to images for the third flyby. Among the portraits: a 180-mile-wide basin with two concentric rims. The floor below the lowest rim cradles "some of the youngest volcanic floes," says Brett Denevi, an Arizona State University researcher and member of the Messenger science team.

How young? The team estimates that the floes are around a billion years old – suggesting the planet was volcanically active far longer than previously thought. Moreover, features on the plains surrounding the basin suggest explosive eruptions – something that happens when the magma has a high gas content. That observation, in turn, could yield clues about the composition of the planet's interior.

Launched on Aug. 3, 2004, the Messenger spacecraft is expected to begin orbiting Mercury on March 19, 2011. The $446-million mission is expected to last one Earth year. And researchers are eagerly awaiting its arrival.

"We still have a long way to go to understand the full story line" on Mercury, says lead scientist Dr. Solomon.


Click here to read more about the images captured by Messenger spacecraft's first flyby of Mercury.

The continent of Africa could split up as a result of volcanic eruptions

VOLCANIC activity may split the African continent in two owing to a recent geological crack in northeastern Ethiopia, researchers said today.

The 60km split in the desolate Afar region, which was the result of two volcanic eruptions in September 2005, has enabled scientists to further examine the earth's tectonic movements, said a report published in the Geophysical Research Letters.

"The significance of the finding is that a huge magnetic deformation can happen within a few days like in oceans," Atalay Arefe, an Ethiopia-based university professor who was part of the study, said.

Researchers say faults and fissures, which normally occur deep down on the ocean floor, are the main processes by which continents gradually break off from each other.

They cite Africa, which underwent a similar phase when it split from America millions of years ago.

"Normally, such phenomena happens beneath the ocean, which is inaccessible, expensive and very difficult to make experiments. But in Afar, it's quite a natural laboratory for us to carry those out," Prof Atalay said.

Prof Atalay, who was part of an international group of scientists who have been undertaking studies since the eruptions, said the event indicated what was likely to happen in the mainland.
"The ocean's formation is happening slowly, likely to take a few million years. It will stretch from the Afar depression (straddling Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti) down to Mozambique," he said.

The Afar region, known for its salt mines and active volcanoes, is one of the lowest and hottest places on the planet.

Killer tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, a part of history

The massive eruption of the Thera volcano in the Aegean Sea more than 3,000 years ago produced killer waves that raced across hundreds of miles of the Eastern Mediterranean to inundate the area that is now Israel and probably other coastal sites, a team of scientists has found.

The team, writing in the October issue of Geology, said the new evidence suggested that giant tsunamis from the catastrophic eruption hit “coastal sites across the Eastern Mediterranean littoral.” Tsunamis are giant waves that can crash into shore, rearrange the seabed, inundate vast areas of land and carry terrestrial material out to sea.

The region at the time was home to rising civilizations in Crete, Cyprus, Egypt, Phoenicia and Turkey.

For decades, scholars have suggested that the giant eruption, just 70 miles from Crete, might have brought about the mysterious collapse of Minoan civilization at the peak of its glory. The remnants of Thera’s eruption today make up a circular archipelago of volcanic Greek isles known as Santorini.

Thera is thought to have erupted between 1630 and 1550 B.C., or the Late Bronze Age, a time when many human cultures made tools and weapons of bronze. Scholars say the tsunamis and dense clouds of volcanic ash from the eruption had cultural repercussions that rippled across the Eastern Mediterranean for decades, even centuries. The fall of Minoan civilization is usually dated to around 1450 B.C. Geologists judge the eruption as far more violent than the 1883 eruption of the volcanic island of Krakatoa in Indonesia, which killed more than 36,000.

The five tsunami researchers came from Haifa University, in Israel; Hunter College, in New York City; McMaster University, in Canada; and the University of Hawaii.

The team did its excavations off Caesarea, Israel, a coastal town dating from Roman and Byzantine days. The coastal region was only sparsely settled at the time of the Thera eruption, with no identifiable city.

The team sank a half-dozen tubes into the offshore seabed and pulled up sediment cores for analysis. It looked for standard signs of tsunami upheaval, including pumice (the volcanic rock that solidifies from frothy lava), distinctive patterns of microfossils, cultural materials from human dwellings and well-rounded beach pebbles that seldom appear in deeper waters.

Writing in Geology, a journal published by the Geological Society of America, the team reported finding evidence of three tsunamis — two historically documented ones dating to A.D. 115 and 551, and one from the time of the Thera eruption.

The Thera tsunamis, the team wrote, left a signature layer in the seabed of well-rounded pebbles, distinctive patterns of mollusks and characteristic inclusions in rocky fragments all oriented in the same direction.

The disturbed layer, up to 16 inches wide, came from a few feet below the seabed in waters up to 65 feet deep.

“These findings,” the team wrote, “constitute the most comprehensive evidence to date that the tsunami event precipitated by the eruption of Santorini reached the maximum extent of the Eastern Mediterranean.”

The team added that, if the giant waves were big enough to reach Israel, “then presumably other Late Bronze Age coastal sites across the Eastern Mediterranean littoral will likely have been affected as well.”

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