Katla Threatens, Krakatau Blows

So I’m back  after a nasty hard disk failure, sorry for the absence, but a six year old Mac Mini can be a testy machine at times. These things happen.

Word has it that Katla is working up to an eruption, and may have already produced a sub-glacial eruption during the summer. Seismic activity at Katla seems to have been on the rise of late, spiking significantly over the last two days.

Tremor at Katla

Of course a major eruption of Katla poses the risk of lahars and flooding (because it’s covered with a glacier), as well as ash hazards to air traffic, but we don’t know that it will erupt, or if it does how big an eruption it will be. It’s just showing signs that it might be getting ready to erupt. Unfortunately the KatlaCam is down again this morning, so we can’t catch it in the act if it does erupt.

Katla has a far bigger magma chamber than does Eyjafjallajökull (which I can’t pronounce either) I’m told it’s magma chamber is ten times the size. Iceland’s volcanoes are capable of some pretty serious eruptions, the worst of them in historic times being the 1783 Fires of Skaftá at Lakagígar which lasted two years and killed a quarter of Iceland’s population by means of indirect effects. That eruption is said to have erupted the largest quantity of lava from a single eruption in historic times.


While Katla threatens to erupt Krakatau has just gone ahead and done it, not messing around in the least. Those monitoring the volcano have recorded between 6000 and 7000 volcanic quakes per day since the weekend, a big jump over the normal 200 or so,  which has inspired officials there to declare a 2km exclusion zone around the volcano, and advising that no one climb up to the crater to look in, which seems a no-brainer to me.

Krakatau seems to be entering a new eruptive phase and scientists there are trying to figure out the type and potential scale of the eruption. Given the drastic increase in volcanic quakes under the mountain it would indeed seem that it is entering a new eruptive phase in it’s pyroclastic cone-building stage.

Krakatau erupts in November of 2010

This latest eruption produced an ash column of about 3000 ft., larger than it’s  eruptions of previous years, and following a huge increase in seismic activity but this should not be taken to mean a major eruption is on the way.

Merapi produced an enormous eruption even when it’s seismic activity was quite low, and so that cannot be taken as an indicator of the scale of an impending eruption.

You may note that I do not refer to this volcano as “Anak” Krakatau, and that is because I do not regard it as the “child” of Krakatau. To me it’s Krakatau, plain and simple. Same magma chamber, same vent, new cone is all. It’s Krakatau’s newest incarnation, and I expect that it will in time go the way of all previous incarnations of Krakatau.

That is to say it will at some point produce another cataclysmic eruption and blow itself to bits, spreading destruction around the Sunda strait once again as it has done repeatedly in the past. I don’t expect this to happen anytime soon, but after it has built itself up to something like it’s previous size, perhaps creating another volcanic complex having multiple vents. Krakatau is known to have erupted in 416 AD, and again in 535 AD. So I have to think that sometime in the next 250 years or so it will repeat it’s 1883 performance.


Sheveluch has erupted again, producing an  8-10km ash cloud. No on is in danger from the eruption and no ashfall has been reported in the surrounding settlements. Sheveluch last erupted in May of 2009 and has been continually degassing and oozing lava since. Satellites observations have detected a “thermal anomaly” and a brightly incandescent lava dome.

Active Volcano Working Group:

Whilst digging around the web for news of the world’s volcanoes I came across a couple who are in love with volcanoes and spend their time photographing active volcanoes. Remind you of anyone?

Steve O'Meara at Kilauea

Donna and Steve O’Meara are the happy couple, and they certainly do remind me of Maurice and Katia Krafft. I fervently hope they do not meet the same fate, and wish them all the best in their pursuit. Back in 1973 I was at Kilauea, and looking at something very much like this, from about the same distance as Steve is from here on the right.

It gets pretty hot there in places. When I was there back then there was a lodge overlooking the volcano, which it has since consumed. Donna and Steve have taken some marvelous photos of volcanoes, and like the Kraffts have undertaken the mission of saving the lives of those living close to volcanoes.

Steve has a theory that volcanic eruptions can be predicted using the cycle of the moon, and plans to create color coded calendars for high and low volcanic activity. I’m not sure how that will work out, but it sounds like an interesting theory. I’ll see if I can figure out the moon cycle for some recorded eruptions and see if there might be anything to that. August 27th 1883 might be a good date to start with.

Like the Kraffts the O’meara’s are acutely aware of the dangers of what they are doing. Says Steve, “It is dangerous and we are always cautious, you have to be — one moment of stupidity could cost you your life.”

Well you don’t even have to be stupid. Volcanoes are notoriously unpredictable, and even the best laid plans can have fatal results. Again, I wish these two the very best of luck and pray for their safety.

Posted in Iceland, Indonesia, Katla volcano, Krakatau, Volcanology | Leave a comment

Kamchatka, Canaries, and Seismo-Art

For the most part the volcanoes of the world are not really ringing my bell lately. Tambora, my favorite, has not done anything interesting at all beyond it’s rumblings throughout August, or at least we have not heard anything if it has. Popo continues to puff, with a  plume of steam and gas lazily rising out of it’s crater this morning on the PopoCam, and the Colombian volcanoes of the Ruiz-Tolima massif seem relatively quiet after much disconcerting noise and seismicity earlier in the month.

Kizimen with ash plume

About the only volcanoes doing anything would seem to be those on the Kamchatka peninsula. Kizimen was showing high levels of  activity on the 23rd according to KVERT, with 1400 to 1600 volcanic quakes per day, and ash plumes up to 32,000 feet were expected any time. A “thermal anomaly” (hot lava) was observed on the flanks of the volcano all week.

Sheveluch has been erupting both explosively and extrusively of late, although it’s seismic activity has been more moderate than that of Kizimen. Moderate gas fumaroles have been observed, as well as the aforementioned “thermal anomaly.” I’m not sure how hot lava on the flanks of an active volcano is considered to be an anomaly.

Karymsky volcano, Kamchatka

Karymsky was producing explosions at last report, and registering moderate seismic activity. Karymsky, an un-vegetated stratovolcano which looks a bit like something drawn by Dr. Suess here to the left, is the most active volcano on the eastern Kamchatka peninsula and has frequently put on some spectacular shows of eruptive episodes.

Mt. Cleveland continues to ooze, and may have actually erupted, but we don’t know because of heavy cloud cover. There are no instruments at Cleveland, so we are left with aerial and satellite observations.

Meanwhile, back in the Canary Islands concern continues to mount over the elevated seismicity there and frequency of small quakes, the largest so far having been a magnitude 3.4, and the volcanic risk alert there has been raised to yellow amid swirling rumors that an eruption of El Hierro volcano would lead to a giant tsunami.

This sort of speculation is a leftover from the panic deliberately engineered years back about the possibility of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma sliding into the ocean and generating a mega-tsunami that would wipe out the east coast of the U.S. That turned out  to be no more possible than the current wild speculation.

Lava field at El Hierro

El Hierro is a shield volcano, a type that generally produces effusive eruptions of slowly spreading lava flows as seen here, together with occasional lava fountains, and not likely to produce anything like a plinian eruption. The small quakes now registering are becoming progressively deeper, and were an eruption coming up one would expect them to be progressively shallower.

Moving right along:

Until I started this blog I had no idea how many people monitor seismographs around the world. I hadn’t thought it to be anything like the number that has become apparent since then. I have to wonder how many of them have been able to get accurate and valid information about what they are seeing on those seismographs, as some very odd things show up on them at times. I’d certainly appreciate input on some of those things.

This morning while looking at Cerro Machin in Columbia I see something that could almost be a kind of digital post-modern art piece, and might even make a neat wallpaper strip around the top of the walls.

This gives me an idea for a new product to market. I’m sure it would sell better than crop-circle carpeting that changes patterns overnight. I’m not at all sure what generated this on the seismograph there, but the previous readings seemed to be showing some kind of dysfunction with the instrument. Such malfunctions are not uncommon with seismographs which have to be set up in quite demanding places, and use radio links to transmit their data amid radio noisy environments.

The Aleutians seem to be a particularly troublesome environment for online seismographs, where they have to be set up at great expense on remote uninhabited islands with severe weather and high winds and serviced by crews who can only get to them by boat in sometimes dangerous seas. These stations are most often powered by solar panels which can ice over, reducing their power considerably, and generating rather odd readings as a result, and there are other power issues which might produce this result.

This might well be one of them:

Actually I like this one better for the wall-top border strip.

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A Curious Thing…

After the shutdown of the Columbian online helicorders this week, I am now finding that all the online seismographs surrounding the Yellowstone Park area were stopped from updating online early this morning, and no more data is coming out of them. Some of the seismographs inside the caldera were updating after that, but it’s difficult to make anything of what they are saying.

YNR 09-24-11

On the YNR seismograph at Norris we see what looks like continuous and uniform tremor, but I can’t quite believe that’s really seismic activity. I’m thinking it might be radio noise walking all over the radio link for the seismograph, or some kind of unusually prolonged hydrothermal tremor. I’m really not sure what to make of it. More to the point, I’m not sure why they left seismographs updating online within the park after shutting down all those outside the park.

Yellowstone YMR 9-24-11

Not far away at the Madison River station we see the activity picking up well before it usually does during the day, that being around 5:00 pm most days. Again, I’m not sure what to make of it, other than increased hydrothermal activity, which would tend to indicate increased heat, from increased magma, and I’d really rather not go there. So what I’m seeing today is rather curious. All the seismographs outside the park shut down on the web, and this going on inside the park. It seems as the days pass more and more seismographs become inaccessible online for some reason. I can’t really imagine why all of a sudden the helicorders at Red Lodge, Pinedale, Bozeman, Missoula, among others, would stop updating early this morning.

Just now trying to get to the MSO SPZ US seismograph at Missoula I get this:

The last time I heard of this happening was in 2009, after there had been some very worrisome seismic activity and ground uplift at Yellowstone, and USGS took down all the seismographs for the region on the web. Last night as I was looking at them there were large pieces of data missing, as though it had been edited out.

If anyone knows anything about this please do tell.

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Seismo-Blackout Columbia

It would seem that seismic data has stopped coming out of Columbia, at least for the Ruiz-Tolima massif. Several of the seismographs at Ruiz ceased updating online on the 20th, and shortly before midnight on the 21st  the rest of them at the Ruiz-Tolima massif quit altogether, at Cerro Machin, Cerro Bravo, and Nevado del Ruiz. This has seriously impacted my morning seismofix.

Cerro Machin volcano, Columbia

I am not able to find out the reason for this, but I’m still digging and I hope those seismographs come back online soon. It might be that they are having equipment problems, perhaps routers had to be moved or reconfigured, there was some quite serious seismicity at Cerro Machin on the 13th that shook things up a lot, and that may have something to do with it. The helicorders at Galeras are still updating online, and that volcano is very quiet.

Ruiz, Machin, and Bravo where the most entertaining and interesting things a going this week, and now I can’t even see their charts. No webcams that I know of there either. Data stopped being updated on Merapi back on August 8th and has not resumed. That was the only Indonesian volcano with online webicorders that I knew of.

Now I am left with Cascadia, the Aleutians, Iceland, and Yellowstone, none of which is doing anything interesting, and then there is Tambora, which seems to have stabilized according to the most recent report I can find, although it’s alert status has not as yet been lowered. Two people climbed to the summit three days ago, ignoring official channels to do so, and said that visually everything seems okay, although they did feel some tremors. We can always count on someone to ignore official channels where volcanoes are concerned.

Mt. St. Helens continues to twitch, there having been several small volcanic quakes there overnight recorded on the VALT station near the lava dome. These recorded before midnight were followed by more afterwards.

Mt. Etna in Italy has been putting on a show, reportedly it’s 14th paroxysm occurred at it’s new Southeast crater, and while clouds obscured the volcano visually it’s being said that it’s seismographs showed it to be undergoing a major eruptive episode with seismic activity as 30 times normal background levels. Sorry I missed that here, I was focused elsewhere.

Arial view of Etna summit, showing SE crater and ash plume

I had not found seismographs for Etna until this morning, my Italian not being all that good, (I can sorta read it and figure out what it says) and those I’ve found show nothing beyond background seismicity this morning, so I guess the show at Etna is over for now.

Until recently Etna was regarded as mainly an effusive volcano, producing running lava flows for the most part, but recent studies indicate it is capable of highly explosive plinian eruptions, and indeed it did produce one of those in 122 BC. Since the late 1970’s Etna has demonstrated an ability to produce explosive summit eruptions which it displayed dramatically from 1995 to 2001 with over a hundred lava fountains (paroxysms) and high ash plumes.


It might be that we see some action from Mt. St. Helens, the quakes under the lava dome last night have become continuous tremor there at the VALT broadband station in front of the lava dome. This has continued for over 40 minutes so far. I’ll be updating as I watch this.

VALT continuous tremor 09-23-11


After over two hours of continuous volcanic tremor under Mt. St. Helens this morning things seem to have grown quiet again. I’ll keep watching. This may indicate rising magma and it might well start up again at any time.

Mt. St. Helens is composed mostly of dacite making up a glassy rhyolitic matrix containing amphibole and plagioclase phenocrysts (Whittington, 530).  The dacite that Mt.St. Helens is composed of is hydrous.  Hydrous dacite cools at a rate that results in increased crystal fraction, decreased temperature, and massive volatile loss.  This results in a very low viscosity magma that causes violent, explosive eruptions.


Posted in Columbia, Galeras volcano, Mt. St. Helens, Nevado del Ruiz, Tambora, Uncategorized, Volcanology, Yellowstone | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ruiz Rattles, St. Helens Twitches, Cleveland Oozes…

I had thought that Columbia’s volcanoes were not yet done, and it would seem that they are not. Yesterday and this morning there has been strong seismic activity beneath the Ruiz-Tolima massif showing up on the seismographs for Ruiz, Machin, and Cerro Bravo.

Nevado del Ruiz

Ruiz Sept 20 OLL SHZ OM day quake

This event showed at all three volcanoes yesterday, although strongest at Ruiz, and has been followed by enough seismicity to show that things are not at peace under the Ruiz-Tolima massif. I really wish I had a good picture of the magmatic system there  as a context for what I see on the seismographs at each of the volcanoes.

Cerro Machin 09-20-11 2nd quake

A second quake followed the event shown above, and was strongest at Cerro Machin, which shows relatively quiet this morning, but of course that could change at any time. There have been some moderate rumblings at Ecuador’s Antisana volcano this morning, and last night at Reventador, but nothing to be overly concerned about as yet.

Monday I was cheered to see the return of the VALT broadband seismograph at Mt. St. Helens, and it came back online not long before an event was recorded there in front of the lava dome and that was followed by second event this morning of about the same size.

Welcome back VALT, Monday Sept. 19th.

So it would appear that St. Helens is still active and things are still going on under that lava dome. Nothing to get too excited about as yet, but it is interesting to watch.

VALT this morning, Sept. 21st

There is no news out of Indonesia that I can dig up this morning, Tambora is what I’d like to hear about, and I’ve heard there are now some western journalists there posting some scary hyped stories about it, which I don’t take at all  seriously because had Tambora done anything exciting or interesting we certainly would have heard a lot more than they have posted about it. They flew down there, so I guess they have to post something. The last update we have from there was on the 9th from Badan Geologi, and it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

Cleveland Volcano

Alaska’s beautifully symmetrical Cleveland volcano continues it’s activity such as that is, and is now reported to be “oozing” lava down it’s flanks as it’s lava dome, which already filled the crater, continues to grow. Of course if that lava dome becomes unstable and collapses we could see an eruption, perhaps on the order of the 2006 eruption, but nothing seriously plinian should be expected. Ash plume hazards for aircraft may occur, and we might get some pretty neat pictures. Cleveland has oozed before this, that being the “thermal anomaly” mentioned in the press. It’s the sophisticated way of saying there’s hot lava coming out of the crater. Write that down, there may be a quiz later.

Yellowstone appears quiet this morning after a few small events on the YPK seismograph at the east end of the caldera yesterday, and not much is registering at Red Lodge east of the park either, which is a good thing.

Popocatépetl has resumed puffing, and more PopoPuffs are appearing on the PopoCam this morinng after two days of relative quiet. There seems to be stronger output from the volcano now than in the recent past.

Popo Puffs this morning on the PopoCam

I’ll be updating this post throughout the day should anything interesting occur.

Posted in Columbia, Indonesia, Nevado del Ruiz, Popocatepetl, Tambora, Uncategorized, Volcanology, Yellowstone | Leave a comment

Maurice and Katia, A Love Story

Among we who are fascinated with volcanoes there are very few of us so enamored of  them that we would willingly climb right up the edge of an erupting crater just to take pictures of of the eruption. In volcanology as in other areas of human endeavor it takes all kinds, and all kinds are usually supplied. If there were a volcanology Hall of Fame the most prominent in it would be Maurice and Katia Krafft. Both were fascinated by the sheer power and beauty of volcanic eruptions and anywhere a volcano was exploding you would find the Kraffts.

Maurice and Katia Krafft, all smiles

Maurice was fascinated with volcanoes from an early age, totally in love with them to the point where if one was erupting he had to be there, and not to watch from a distance, but from the edge of the crater if he could. In one interview he said, “I would like to die in a volcano, and unfortunately the probability for me to die in a volcano is quite low.”

Not a guy I would have dated, trust me, but Maurice did find his soul-mate in Katia, who decided at the tender age of 14 to become a volcanologist being just as enraptured with volcanoes as Maurice. “They are so powerful, so beautiful” she said, “so you just can fall in love with it.” The two met at the university of Strasbourg, and not long afterward they set off with the funds they had saved up to document eruptions in photographs and film, two powerful personalities united in their love for volcanism and eruptions. Their devotion to each other and their mutual passion is strongly evident in photos of the two of them together.

Maurice and Katia, the devoted couple

They headed for Stromboli right away and upon completing their work there found that lots of people were interested in what they were documenting, not the least of which were those public officials who had to deal with threatening volcanoes, and who, upon seeing their footage, gave them complete co-operation. They showed their footage of the aftermath of the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz to Phillipine president Corazon Aquino and convinced her to have the entire area around Mt. Pinatubo evacuated before it’s eruption. In this they certainly saved hundreds if not thousands of lives.

Katia Krafft at work

The Kraffts were absolutely fearless when it came to volcanoes, their passion for which completely overrode all sense of their own mortality.   They were the first to arrive at any active volcano and would frequently get within just a few feet of a lava flow. They were both keenly aware that the volcanoes that so fascinated them could kill them at any instant.

There are only about 1000 volcanologists in the world, and among them was a small subset of about 50 people, including the Kraffts, designated The Active Volcano Working Group. These were the people who would get right up close to an eruption.

Five of their friends doing the same work were killed at it over five years and that’s 10% of all those doing that work. What they were doing was more important to them than their own lives, their passion for their work completely overshadowing all other considerations. Not many of us can conceive of that kind of dedication to anything, and most of us would flee an erupting volcano with all possible speed. Not Katia and Maurice, they would be going just as fast the other way.

At one time Maurice said that one of his dreams was to ride in boat of some kind down a lava flow. He was sure it was possible somehow because, he said “lava is only about 1000 degrees Celsius.” Talk about positive thinking. For over 20 years they documented hundreds if not thousands of erupting volcanoes around the world, producing over 300 hours of film footage, thousands of still photos, and a host of books. Maurice once told an interviewer that all the best stuff was missed on film, because all he could do was stand and stare, transfixed, at it.

Katia, Maurice, and team members at Unzen shortly before the move to the plateau

Not long after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 the Kraffts left for Japan, where Mt. Unzen was erupting. In an interview there Maurice casually told the press, ” I am never afraid, because I have seen so much eruptions in 23 years that even if I die tomorrow I don’t care.” Not long after this Maurice, Katia and 41 others got into their vehicles and drove off to a low plateau about two miles from the summit of Unzen where they felt they could safely observe and document the eruption. It was to prove a fatal miscalculation. Not long after the team had set up something triggered a pyroclastic flow far larger than any that had so far occurred and it swept down the flanks of Unzen into a valley that funneled it ‘s superheated cloud of gases, rock, and ash straight at the Krafft team’s position.

Unzen pyroclastic flow 1991

By the time this film sequence was being shot Maurice, Katia, and their 41 team members were already dead, engulfed by an 800 degree centigrade  pyroclastic surge that swept up and over the low plateau they had set up on. All were killed instantly. The stunning and tragic loss of volcanology’s best was reported on the web page of the Global Volcanism Program:

Volcanology has lost three of its most valuable professionals and our network has lost three of our most faithful contributors. Maurice and Katia Krafft, 45 and 44, were natives of Alsace who blended art and science in unique ways. They were famous not only for their superb photography and books, but for the enthusiasm and humor that made friends for them throughout the world. Always a close team, they were scholarly, selective collectors of volcanological literature and art. They had recently compiled guidebooks to the Comores and Zaire, a history of volcanology, a beautiful book of still photographs, and an informative IAVCEI video on volcanic hazards.

Maurice and Katia left this world doing what they most loved, together in the passion that united them in this life and beyond.

Posted in Krafft, Unzen Volcano, Volcanology | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Volcano Patrol Sept. 19th

The most recent news out of Indonesia I’ve been able to find is that Semeru volcano (really a quite beautiful volcano) is erupting 3-4 times a day, and there is a growing lava dome in the crater. Activity at Semeru is said to be accelerating. This could get interesting, I just wish news of Indonesian volcanoes were more timely and accessible.

Semeru volcano. Ain't it just gorgeous?

The last I heard of Tambora is that villagers had left areas thought to be dangerous there using the recently established evacuation routes and were afraid to go back home. It might be that activity has become elevated there, but news is hard to come by.

Gede Suantika of the government Center for Volcanology said that activity started picking up in April when volcanic quakes increased to over 200 a month from about 5 per month, and Tambora began sending ash plumes 4,600 feet into the air, something it’s not been seen to do before this. Yeah, that would have gotten my attention too.

Apparently hundreds of people had evacuated the slopes of Tambora going to live with relatives elsewhere on Sumbawa Island. Having been raised on tales of what Tambora did in 1815 they were reluctant to go back home, but are starting to trickle back into their communities there at the urging of the local chief who wants them to harvest their crops and get their kids back into school. Can’t say as I blame them. It’s doubtful that anything like the 1815 eruption is due again but I wouldn’t risk it either, it doesn’t take a VEI 7 eruption to ruin your whole day.

I’ve been trying to find out what might be going on at Merapi, but the webicorders there are still displaying the data from August 8th, so nothing current to report, and that’s all I can find out about Indonesian volcanoes so far today.

Steaming crater at Cleveland volcano

Cleveland volcano is still commanding attention, and a new picture of the lava dome has been taken. It fills the crater now, and you can see that here. The thermal anomaly persists at Cleveland and an explosive eruption might occur at any time with no warning. AVO has no instruments on the volcano and can’t tell what it’s going to do until it does it. Quakes have continued to occur there in the Fox Islands, in the same area of the subduction zone all the others hit during The last six weeks. I’m not at all sure what the connection with Cleveland might be, if any, but it is interesting. Two more quakes hit there today, a 5.8 and a 5.4.

Yellowstone YPK station 9-19-11

Yellowstone continues to be interesting for me, this event  turned up on the YPK station inside the park. It’s not all quiet at that station on the east end of the caldera, and after what I saw there on the 12th just after midnight I’m keeping a close eye on the east end of the park as well as the seismographs at Red Lodge to the east of the park. The YMR station continues to display it’s daily cycle of seismicity, and at the MCID station at the western end of the caldera I see this very interesting sine wave form on the seismograph.

I’ve seen that before, most recently after the Vancouver quake on the St. Helens seismographs. It also appears on the YLA station and the YSB station to a lesser degree. I haven’t seen this very often, and I’m very much wanting to know what it means. It seems like a long wave and slow harmonic to me, and might be a slow movement of magma. At any rate it’s very interesting.

South America seems quiet still, and I don’t mind saying I feel a little let down by the volcanoes there. For a while there it really looked like something was going to happen.

If anything interesting does happen today I’ll update here.


As I said I’d be I’m watching Yellowstone, and the following appears at the Red Lodge site RLMT SPZ US:

Increasing tremor at RLMT SPZ US, Red Lodge MT, east of Yellowstone Caldera

You may remember that Red Lodge is where we saw the rather interesting event of the 12th just after midnight recorded strongest there about 70 miles east of Yellowstone, after which we continue to see other interesting seismicity, between Yellowstone’s eastern fracture zone and Red Lodge. That interesting event looked like this:

Long period event, increasing magmatic pressure

There was a second event following that recorded at Red Lodge:

Two days later this was followed by:

…. and the next day by:

Red Lodge RLMT LPZ US 09-15-11

…followed on the 16th at Yellowstone’s YPK station by…

…and on the 17th by this:

RLMT LPZ US 09-17-11 accelerating tremor

I thought I’d recap with a chronology because this is all so very interesting to me, and it might be interesting to others as well.


Posted in earthquake, super volcano, Tambora, Uncategorized, Volcanology, Yellowstone | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


As much as I’d like a plinian eruption at some remote volcano to write about, that’s just not happening today. The planet has been seismically quite interesting of over the last couple weeks, with some volcanoes getting our attention, like Cerro Machin and Ruiz in Columbia, Katla in Iceland as well as Tambora in Indonesia, but so far nothing really exciting has happened at any of them. Volcanoes do things in their own good geologic time. Popo was puffing a lot until yesterday, when the PopoCam showed it doing pretty much nothing, and the KatlaCam seems to be down right now, so we can’t watch that.


A few days ago my attention was called to activity at Yellowstone, when one of my readers here pointed out activity at the Madison River seismograph there about which he may have been a bit alarmed.

Well I have to admit that while dividing my time between all the world’s volcanoes I’d not been paying a lot of attention to Yellowstone, that is until an unusual event in that area got my attention, but since then I’ve watched the YMR station, and the activity there seen by my erstwhile corespondent would seem to by cyclical, occurring at about the same time every day for the same length of time each day, which is not surprising as the area contains three geyser basins, among which is Old Faithful, well known for it’s cycle of gushers.

Whether or not the current seismic activity shown there on the YMR station is more than normal or elevated I can’t say as I’d not been monitoring that particular station on a regular basis until recently. There is a domed fracture zone there, and there have been signs of increased pressure and probably ground uplift in the park as well, but nothing to suggest an approaching eruption. I’d very much like to see InSAR data for the last couple weeks, but the newest of that I can find online is over ten years old.


News from remote places in Indonesia, such as Sumbawa, comes slowly and there are no web accessible seismographs at Tambora, or webcams, so we have to wait for local authorities there to update us. All I’ve able to find on Tambora is that it’s at the second highest alert level, and evacuation routes have been established. I’ve been asked if I knew of any webcams there, and gosh I really wish I did. The last update from there was on the 9th at Badan Geologi, but I’m sure that if Tambora does something interesting we will know about it in short order.


After the quake on the 9th I was watching Rainier and St. Helens for signs that they felt it, and they did seem to. The quake registered on the seismographs at each, and afterward I saw some activity that I’d not seen before. I’ve not seen it since there, but something very like it occurred at St. Helens not long after that.  At Rainer and St. Helens both it showed on only one station, and then went away. Well good. Some think it might have been wind, or glacial activity, and it might well have been. I did see some larger than usual blips on the radar after the 9th, but nothing to be overly concerned about.

St. Helens

There is work going on at St. Helens and a couple of the stations in the crater are down there, VALT and NED which are up near the lava dome are offline for now, and I am told:

“A tree snafu is causing a delay in finalizing of the new CVO microwave link
to MSH, so VALT, STD.BH*, NED, and SUG will be offline for another 24 hours
or so. Details below…..”
All should be well soon.

That was on the 14th, so I guess they are still working on things there, including the moving and reconfiguring of the router. Many thanks to Bill Steele for the update.

The June Lake seismo at St. Helens has been showing some very odd traces over the last month, that don’t look at all like seismic activity:

JUN seismo-weirdness

I’ve seen this same thing before on seismographs, but I’m not at all sure what it is or what causes it, I can only guess. I’ve written around asking about it, but so far all I’ve been told is that maybe there’s some kind of malfunction causing these kinds of readings. If anyone knows more please do tell.


I’ve learned not to trust what I see on the seismographs at Vesuvius at all. Over the last year it’s become apparent that the OVO V and BKE V stations there are plagued with radio noise and telemetry issues, and what is put out online as seismic data from there is very unreliable, being polluted with radio noise to a great extent. I’ve written them there about this numerous times but have never heard a thing back.

Vesuvius BKE V Sept 18 2011

You may notice that the “events” shown here all look pretty much the same, and I’m pretty sure it’s because they are all the same routine radio traffic in the area, probably some periodic automated transmission, and being picked up and put on on the web as seismic data, which it’s clearly not. This has been going on a very long time, and writing them gets me nothing at all back. There are six seismographs available online at Vesuvius Observatory, but I don’t trust the two on the volcano itself because of this issue.

SGG V Sept 18 2011 quake

On the SGG V seismograph there for yesterday, which I’ve not observed radio noise on, we see this seemingly significant event, but I don’t see anything about it anywhere else, so I’m really not sure what to make of it. The SGG V station is about 15 miles north of Vesuvius near Caserta. Since the trace of the event is trimmed here the magnitude is hard to tell. You may recall that the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius followed 12 years after a major quake in Italy, which is why seeing this gets my attention, but again, nothing anywhere else about it. We don’t see a separate P wave here, so if it is an actual quake it was right near that seismograph station, though it might not have been anything given the reliability of what’s online for data from there. Don’t bother writing them, they will just ignore you.


In general seismographs in the Aleutians are troubled by telemetry issues and radio noise much as are those in Italy, although, unlike Italy, you actually can write them and get some information back and they will actually tell you so. Over the last week or so the seismos at the far west end of the Aleutian arc have been down, which shouldn’t be surprising considering conditions there. High winds, serious seasonal cold, and rugged terrain make that a very challenging place to work and monitor volcanoes in.

Redoubt 09-18-11

Gareloi, Tanaga, Kanaga, and Great Sitkin seismographs were offline for a while, and while their displays are back up they show no data as yet. We do see data for Redoubt, which while currently asleep is snoring a bit loud.

High winds in the Aleutians very often obscure seismic data from there, this has been particularly true of Gareloi in the past, but you can usually tell what’s wind and what’s not there. Iliamna shows what appears to be radio noise, perhaps from air traffic, and many breaks in the data displayed from there.


Nevado del Ruiz still has some activity going on and might yet become more active. There was quite a lot of seismic activity there in the Ruiz-Tolima massif last week with some quite serious seismicity at Cerro Machin, which was reported to be roaring and shaking the area. Activity at Machin subsided somewhat after that, but I don’t think it’s done yet, this morning we find this:

Cerro Machin 09-18-11

So Machin is still rumbling inside, although not so much as earlier. Galeras seems very quiet as it has been for a long time now. Cerro Bravo is shaking a bit this morning:

Cerro Bravo CERN SHM OM 09-18-11

Updates will be added here if anything interesting develops.

Posted in Columbia, Galeras volcano, Nevado del Ruiz, Redoubt volcano, Tambora, Uncategorized, Volcanology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cornfield Volcano

I’ve always wanted to own my very own volcano, I think it would be very chic for a volcanogeek to have her own volcano, but I doubt I’ll ever have the means to acquire one, all the best ones have already been snapped up, and new volcanoes don’t come along all that often, but it does happen occasionally, and if you are very lucky one might just pop up on your land. It’s happened before.

Some time before I came into the world, back when the world was young and green and wild poodles roamed the earth,  a farmer in Mexico, Dionisio Pulido, was tending his crops one fine day when a fissure opened in the ground, and hot stuff came shooting up out of it as he, his wife, and son watched in amazement.

I’m pretty sure a volcano was not on Dionisio’s list of wants and needs, and it really didn’t improve his property value or do much for his crops. He really didn’t ask for this at all, and I’m quite sure Dionisio, not being a volcanogeek,  lacked the ability to appreciate his good fortune.

Parícutin in the cornfield

As new volcanoes are wont to do this one grew pretty fast and in no time at all Dionisio had a very handsome scoria cone in his field, replete with ash column and tremors. What a lucky guy! Personally I’d have been very proud of my new volcano. You can’t get these at Walmart and nobody anywhere can install them. Back then they didn’t even have Walmarts.

In about a week the infant volcano, now dubbed Paricutin after a nearby village, was five stories tall and in a month could be seen from far around, so Dionisio really couldn’t sell tickets to see it, nor had it made itself overly popular with the locals after having buried the town it was named after in ash and lava as well as the town of San Juan Parangaricutiro. This resulted in some pretty bad press for the newcomer.

At that time young volcanoes were very much misunderstood, and Paricutin was just  being it’s baby self, growing as it should through it’s pyroclastic cone building stage, which only lasted about a year. At the end of that year Dionisio had himself a fine strapping 1100 foot volcano, and still did not appreciate his marvelous good fortune. The omelet making analogy never occurred to him, but he was, after all, somewhat a victim of the times he lived in.

Paricutin. Photograph by K. Segerstrom, U.S. Geological Survey, September 30, 1948.

Had this happened today he could have had tourism all over it, and made a bundle on it. As it was, he lost a lot of space to grow his corn in, and the neighbors were particularly unhappy. At least he didn’t get sued for having a volcano without an environmental impact survey.

Whatever the locals thought of Paricutin there were those capable of appreciating it. USGS got there as soon as they could and made the most of the very rare opportunity to see the birth of a new volcano, getting all the data they possibly could. The cone continued to grow for another 8 years, adding another 290 ft. and in the process providing quite a bit of entertainment, mostly in the form of effusive eruptions, but occasionally producing violently explosive eruptions in the last stage of it’s cone building phase. No one was directly killed by these eruptions, but three people were killed by the lightning associated with them.

Paricutin area cones

After 1952 Paricutin fell silent, and it’s been quiet ever since. It is not expected to erupt again as it is considered to be what is called a monogenetic volcano, that being one that builds a cone and then just quits on us. If you look around the area there you will see other such cones from much earlier times. This really should have been a clue for the locals, but they knew very little of such things, and were primarily interested in raising crops, and probably thought nothing of all those cones in the area. I wish I’d have been there, but it was before my time. It might happen again there, someday, it’s certainly happened many times before there. Maybe next time I can hop a plane if I’m still around.

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Yellowstone Activity

I find myself somewhat pressed to mention here that seismic activity at Yellowstone has been somewhat more than normal of late. This seemed to begin with a large long period event 4 days ago on the 11th, and it seems to have progressed from there to a point of greater than usual seismic activity, which today seems a bit pronounced. The event of the 11th is seen here:

Events of this type show building pressure, and as this type event goes it’s a pretty big one. This was recorded strongest 70 miles northeast of Yellowstone, at Red Lodge Montana, but also showed up elsewhere, north of the park. That was four days ago. Today more unusual seismic activity is showing up at seismograph stations within the park.

The park station closest to the Red Lodge seismograph is the YPK station easternmost in the park, and on that one this evening we see:

Yellowstone YPK 9-15-11

This was before the 4.3 quake in Alaska that showed up all over the place. It was a mag 2.4 quake at the east end of the park. Okay, that’s where the long period event was, in that overpressured and saturated fracture zone. This is not worrisome by itself, but elsewhere, at the YMR station on the west side of the park we see continuous and sustained tremor.

Yellowstone YMR 9-15-11

I’ve really not seen that at Yellowstone before, and coming after the long period event of the 11th it concerns me. This tremor seems localized to the west side of the park and appears to a lesser degree at the YFT station to the south, which also caught the event on the YPK station. This is more seismicity than I am used to seeing there. We do not as yet see repeated long period events and certainly not of the size and magnitude of the one seen on Sept. 11th, but the situation bears watching in my estimation.


I find that the YMR station recording the seismic activity shown above is located close to three hydrothermal features at the park, those being the Lower Geyser Basin, the Midway Geyser Basin, and the Upper Geyser Basin. So, the activity we see above at the YMR station might very well be hydrothermal in nature. Still it is pronounced activity and greater than usual. It might be a symptom of rising magma but it’s just too early to say at this point. It’s also perhaps worth noting the YMR and YMT seismographs are right near a fracture zone in the caldera, which also would seem to be under pressure.

I’d really like to have current InSAR data for ground uplift there, but they don’t just pass that out to everyone and it’s not a daily thing you can find on the web with the weather reports.

Friday update:

One of the little inconveniences of monitoring seismographs for a given area popped up last night. While I was following the seismographs outside Yellowstone for indications of what might be going on around there a 7.3 quake hit in the south Pacific and scribbled all over the seismographs everywhere. This followed a 3.7 in the Aleutians that went on for quite a while, and also messed things up.

Drat! Would that I could write to the Bureau of Earthquake management and have them reschedule those things. Unfortunately we do not as yet have an earthquake czar, and quakes continue to occur as they please.

Things appear seismically quiet at Yellowstone this morning both inside and outside the park, which is nice. It may get noisy again there over the coming days, but for now it appears relatively peaceful at the world’s best known super-volcano. This is a good thing.

I’ll continue to monitor what’s going on there as best I can, and I know others reading here will be doing the same.

Looking at the Pacific Northwest I see that things are also quieter there, with Rainier having gotten quieter overnight, showing it’s usual minor background seismicity again. Nothing exciting at St. Helens this morning either.


Seismic activity seems to be resuming in the area of the hydrothermal basins at Yellowstone with the YMR station there showing us this:

YMR 9-16-11 (1)

I’m guessing this is hydrothermal activity localized to the geyser basins near the station there. At the far east end of the park the YPK station shows just one little blip for the day, and other stations around YMR show nothing much. Seismographs outside the park at Bozeman, Pinedale, Red Lodge, and Missoula are totally quiet.


I will be updating this post as events progress, keep checking back.

Posted in earthquake, super volcano, Uncategorized, Volcanology, Yellowstone | 1 Comment

Watching Rainier

After the magnitude  6.4 quake that struck just off Vancouver Island Sept. 9th, I was asked what volcanoes I would be watching because of that. I had just posted an article here on the Earthquake-Volcano Connection in which I outlined the long-term effects of earthquakes on the magmatic systems of volcanoes.

I was asked if I would be watching Mt. St. Helens after that quake, and said yes, and that I would also be watching Mt. Rainier, and so I have. This morning a second quake (4.1) occurred very near where that 6.4 hit on the 9th, and so I’m watching Rainier and St. Helens all the more intently.

Rainier, as long as I’ve been watching it, has been a relatively quiet volcano, with background seismicity including many small type A events and glacial activity showing up for the most part, however since the Vancouver quake on the 9th there have been a few larger than normal seismic events there that might be worth mentioning.

Ranier 09-15 STAR SHZ UH

A magnitude 2.4 quake was recorded on the 13th under Rainier, and a 1.5 on the 14th. This morning  we see this event on the right.

In general and overall Rainier has been a bit more internally noisy of late, so it’s magmatic systems definitely did ‘feel’ that quake on the 9th, and the energy transmitted by that quake may be having some effects at Rainier. Not to say that anything bad is about to happen there, but the increased seismicity there since the 9th seems to show that earthquakes do influence the magma chambers and magmatic systems of volcanoes at a distance.

STAR SHZ UH Sept 9 Vancouver quake

The Sept. 9th quake registered strongly on the STAR seismograph high on the west flank of Rainier as shown here. Since then things seem to have picked up there somewhat. On Sept. 12th the RCM station at Rainier registered some increasing seismic noise there which I found noteworthy.

Rainier RCM 09-12 increasing activity

This record from Sept. 12th  starts out with what for Rainier is quite normal background seismicity, and then gets noisy for quite a while. This noise continued for the next six hours and is something I’ve never seen there as long as I’ve been monitoring Rainier, which has been quite a long time. It quieted down the following day, but has started up again this morning. I had thought to check and see if it might be glacier movement, but can find no news items about glacial activity at Rainier, nor anyone I could write to and find out from. I think that had a glacier been moving down the flanks of Rainier for six straight hours on the 12th it would have been noted and something said somewhere online, but I see nothing about it, and the seismic activity for the 12th is far in excess of any glacial activity I’ve seen show up there.

So at least on the Seismographs there Rainier is more noisy these last few days, and has gotten my attention. After the second quake at Vancouver Rainier will be all the more interesting for me.

Later that same day…

After this morning’s seismic noise at the RCM station at Rainier we see the following:

Rainier RCM 09-15 tremor

I’m thinking this is probably not wind. At the STAR station on the other side of the volcano we see:

Ranier 09-15 STAR SHZ UH (2)

Well… that’s probably not wind either.

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Columbia Calms Down, Yellowstone Still Interesting

Activity at the Nevado del Ruiz and Cerro Machin volcanoes in Columbia seems to have subsided somewhat on the seismographs there, which, I’m sure, is something of a relief to those monitoring the situation locally. This does not mean those volcanoes are all done and will go back to sleep, they could easily resume their former seismicity and we may yet see an eruption, but things have quieted down for the time being.

Yellowstone, on the other hand, remains interesting. After the long period event reported here two days ago more seismicity has occurred and seems localized to the northeast of the caldera, in the area of the previously mentioned saturated and over-pressured fracture zone.

RLMT Red Lodge MT event, Sept. 14

A pronounced seismic event appeared on the RLMT seismograph, at Red Lodge MT, and appeared far weaker on other seismographs outside Yellowstone, leading me to believe it was very close to the RLMT station or right on top of it. At the BOZ (Bozeman) seismograph for the same time period the event appears much less pronounced.

The same event as it registered at Bozeman MT

This event also did not show up on seismographs inside the park at anything like the magnitude shown here. This event at Red Lodge was followed this morning by tremor as seen after the larger event in the first graphic, and that is continuing as I write this. This event also appeared strongest at Red Lodge, which you will recall is about 70 miles northeast of the Yellowstone caldera. The long period event of the 12th also appeared strongest there. Between Red Lodge and that caldera lies the aforementioned saturated and over-pressured fracture zone. So all of this would seem to be pointing there.

Yellowstone fracture zones

Here to the right we can see that fracture zone at the northeast end of the caldera. What does all this mean? Probably magma intrusion of some manner under that fracture zone. Does it mean an eruption is coming? Not necessarily, this kind of thing can stop as quickly as it started, and such events can have hydrothermal causes as well as magmatic. Also bear in mind that the magma is about five miles down. Might it be working it’s way up to the surface? Gosh I really don’t know. It’s possible, but I can’t say that here because I don’t have the resources and knowledge of YVO, and it would be irresponsible to make such a statement without that. All I can say at this point is that this is all quite interesting. What is actually going on underground there would most likely have to be determined by means of seismic tomography, using the shock waves of quakes in the area to get an idea of what the magma chamber is doing there.

Seismographs within Yellowstone park did not register the same events anywhere near as strong as those outside the park. I’m guessing that their sensitivity is adjusted down so as to monitor closer events within the caldera, and not pick up irrelevant quakes at a distance. The closest one would be the YPK station at the far east end of the caldera, and that one showed this:

It does look somewhat like another long period event, with the characteristic slow onset and long decline. Interesting, but not enough to draw conclusions from. It’s important to remember that Yellowstone is what is termed a “restless caldera” meaning that it spends it’s geologic time uplifting and subsiding. INSAR data over time has shown ground uplift followed by subsidence there, and while the activity at Yellowstone over the last couple days is quite interesting it does not mean an eruption is in the offing.

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Canary Islands Seismicity

It has been brought to my attention that there has been elevated seismicity on the island of El Hierro in the Canary Islands, the bearer of that news transmitting with it considerable alarm over what might happen there, suggesting it might equal a super-eruption of Yellowstone. Well we never know what might happen, but  we do know that flying into a panic will in no way serve us, and personally I do not care to engage in scare-mongering.

So I went looking for facts. It has been reported by according to the Instituto Geografico Nacional (IGN), that over the past 5 weeks over 4200 small quakes have occurred at El Hierro, most of them under magnitude 1, and the largest of them being magnitude 3.5 on August 22nd. That’s the newest information I could find about the quake swarm there.

Here is a map of the island showing the quakes mapped up until the end of August, or thereabouts, (click for larger image) First off, a swarm of small quakes on a small island in the Atlantic does not a global catastrophe make.

The Hierro shield volcano on the island  is truncated by a large NW-facing escarpment formed as a result of gravitational collapse of El Golfo volcano about 130,000 years ago. Hierro contains the greatest concentration of young vents in the Canary Islands. Uncertainty surrounds the report of an historical eruption in 1793, and a small eruption, during the 18th century, produced a lava flow from a cinder cone on the NW side of El Golfo.

It may be that the recent upswing in seismicity there is a precursor to renewed volcanic activity and might indicate rising magma. Worst case, the old El Golfo vent might open up again and build a new cone over time. Understandably officials there are nervous and uncertain where this is going, and the Canary Islands government has convened meetings to discuss it. The Instituto Volcanologico de Canarias has also reported a 1cm inflation over part of the island’s volcano following on from GPS analysis. That would be on the east end of the island seen above.

It is claimed on one website that a massive landslide originating in the area of the quakes gave rise to a 100 meter tsunami 50,000 years ago, but I have been able to find no other information on that. If it did happen that land has already slid, so I’m not going to trouble myself about it.

Certainly, the alarm over the quake swarm at El Hierro ties in with the big scare that was going around online some years ago over claims that giant volcanic mountain Cumbre Vieja on La Palma, also in the Canary Islands, was going collapse and slide into the ocean generating a giant tsunami that would race across the Atlantic at over 600 mph and hit the east coast of the U.S.

These claims were shown to be nothing more than shabby attempts at sensationalistic scare-mongering by certain “scientists” seeking to stimulate funding for their own research projects on which they might have lived very well indeed. Not the last time that’s been tried, and the recent seismic activity at El Hierro seems to have revived that scare to some extent among those still waiting for the big disaster from the Canary Islands.

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Cerro Machin in Columbia

Over the month of August Cerro Machin volcano in Columbia has seen increasing seismicity and local reports there tell of the volcano ‘roaring’ which has not gone over well there with the locals as it is worrisome and may lead to significant unpleasantness and post-eruption cognitive dissonance.

This morning I checked the seismographs there and see this at station CIMA SHZ OM:

That’s some serious seismicity. ElnuevoDia tells us:

The volcano Cerro Machin ‘roared’ and rocked the districts of Tapias, billets and the municipality of Cajamarca.

The tremors have occurred since last Wednesday, recording a slight increase in seismic activity and presenting maximum tremor of 2.6 on the Richter scale on Thursday at 8:55 pm, according to the Volcano Observatory and Seismological Manizales.

Cerro Machin volcano, Columbia

The epicenter of the quake was located to the southwest of the main dome in an area known as Moral, four to five kilometers deep.

“At about 9:00 pm and shook hard this morning (yesterday) was reintroduced an earthquake, at about 5:00 am. He has been upset, roars and trembles. He had been quiet, but the volcano again began to shake, “said Luis Vargas, a farmer who lives a few meters from the dome of the volcano Cerro Machin.

Meanwhile, Rigoberto Hernandez, who lives in the camp industry, Tapia said: “Yesterday (Thursday) felt three tremors, one at 2:00 in the afternoon, another at 3:00 and night, which was very strong, and roar was heard on earth. Alarms have to announce an emergency are not working well, because when the power goes out and returns are activated alone. That’s why people and makes them little heed. “

Cerro Machin last erupted about 800 years ago, and it seems like it’s getting ready to do it again. Machin is a smallish volcano at the south end of the Ruiz-Tolima massif near the city of Ibagué. It’s 3500 ft. wide caldera has three dacitic lava domes in it. It has been determined that during it’s previous eruptions it produced pyroclastic flows that traveled as far as 40 km from the volcano. If Machin does that again the city of Ibagué is within easy reach, and as we know pyroclastic flows are a very nasty business.

Nevado del Ruiz is also more active of late, as I mentioned last week here, and a look at the seismograph at station OLLN SHN OM there shows us this:

Seismic ativity at Nevado del Ruiz Sept. 12

So things are lively there in Columbia, and we might expect an eruption down the road.

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What Happens at Yellowstone

I’m not sure what to make of it, but while getting my seismofix this morning I came across a quake on the Red Lodge Montana seismograph that didn’t turn up in Google Earth’s very nice USGS plug-in at all. Red Lodge is about 70 miles northeast of Yellowstone. The same event turned up on the seismographs  at Bozeman Mt. and Pinedale Mt.

First impression was that it doesn’t look like your standard earthquake so much as it looks like a monochromatic B type event. It looks like resonance. Moreover we do not see a P wave at all here, and as B type events go this is a big fat one. Note the slow onset and smooth waveform diminishing slowly.

I wrote about that earlier in my post here about the Long Period Event, which is the signature of a pressurizing volcano, but let’s not jump to conclusions just yet, this is interesting so far, and that’s all. If we see more of these and increasing in frequency we might have reason for concern.

Yellowstone magma plume

There is a magma chamber under Yellowstone, that’s no secret, and it’s thought there is a large plume of magma ascending from about 400 miles down in that region as well. It’s believed to look something like this on the right.

What might this mornings event mean in this context? Well, it might be an expansion of the magma chamber in an area east of Yellowstone. It’s really too soon to say. At any rate, as much as I like the USGS plug-in for Google Earth, not everything shows up on it.


I remembered that the Yellowstone hot spot has been moving northeast over the last 15 million years, with caldera forming eruptions every so often, the last being 640,000 years ago in what is now Yellowstone National Park.

The progression of this hot spot from southwest to northeast is shown here, and I think it safe to assume that it has continued moving over the last 640,000 years in the same direction, which would fit in well with this morning’s event, which was recorded most strongly east of the park, at Red Lodge, 70 miles northeast. Makes sense to me anyway. During the last eruption at Yellowstone 15 kilometers of the Galatin mountain range disappeared into the caldera. Gone. Mountain ranges are not immune to super-eruptions.

This morning’s event registered most strongly near the Absorcas northeast of the Yellowstone caldera, right about where we see a saturated and over-pressured fracture zone here on the right. Ah! I find this marvelously interesting! I found this wonderful graphic at the Yellowstone Teton Epicenter page and it does seem to tie right in with what happened this morning. If you were looking for a long period event anywhere around there this is right were you would expect it. I so love finding this stuff out!


Since yesterday’s event noted above a smaller event has appeared on the seismograph at Red Lodge and elsewhere. Tremor is evident, and seems strongest at the Pinedale BW06 station.

BW06 Pindale 09-13 tremor

This is not the type of event seen yesterday morning, and neither event should be taken to mean that an eruption is coming up at Yellowstone. I’ve been asked what yesterday’s event means and whether it is normal. It was the first time I’d seen that type of event in the Yellowstone area, so I have to say no, it’s not the run of the mill type event. Equally, it may well be a one-off event. Long period events like that happen when magma under pressure runs out of room to expand into and produces resonant vibrations in the surrounding geologic structure. That’s really all we can say at this point.

The YPK station, easternmost in Yellowstone records the following just after midnight:

For Yellowstone this is not significant, it’s a seismically active area, but I’ll be watching it closely after that long period event yesterday morning.

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The Calm Before the Calm

Thus far it’s been a pretty slow morning, not much to get excited about, but that can change at any time. I’m really hoping it does.

Following yesterday’s 6.4 quake off the coast of Vancouver I’ve been watching the seismographs at St. Helens, Rainier, and around the Pacific Northwest, and see nothing of import as yet. Normal background seismicity prevails. Galeras in Columbia is pretty quiet this morning. There was a 4.7 quake amid that recent cluster of quakes in the Fox Islands just now, following a 3.3 last night, and there will likely be more.

Katla in Iceland continues to tremble, but as yet no signs of eruption and it looks quite serene on the webcam. There was a jolt on this morning’s seismograph there though. Popo in Mexico has a slight vapor above it’s crater last I looked, and I can’t find a webicorder for it so I wait. I’ve seen no news of new activity there. It’s a slow morning.

Tambora may be relaxing a bit, ‘smoke’ has not been observed above the crater since the 5th. The newest information I can find is from the 7th, when 6 shallow volcanic quakes were recorded, those having been ongoing since August 30th. I sure do wish I could get at the seismographs there! Tambora remains at level 3 alert, and may well yet do something interesting.

I checked Merapi this morning, nothing serious happening there, but elsewhere gunung (volcano) Dukono, on Indonesia’s Halmahera Island, has increased activity of late, it’s alert level having been raised on Sept. 6 and 2km exclusion zone has been established around the base of the volcano. Dukono is in a pretty remote place, so news doesn’t come out that often. It produced ash plumes in January of 09, and seems to have been waking up again this last month. On the 6th it produced an ash cloud 800 meters into the sky, and the observation post there says they have recorded dozens of volcanic quakes per day. Explosions were heard on August 11th.

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The Earthquake-Volcano Connection

Most of us who follow volcanoes over time have been asked at some point if there is a connection between earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, that is to say, can an earthquake set off an eruption at a volcano? I’ve recently been asked this question again, and I will reply with a firm yes.

Obligatory picture of a volcano

Now I know that some of you may be skeptical, and some are asking “Why should we believe a woman who puts mayonnaise on hot dogs?” Leaving aside whether that’s a fair question or not, let’s move on to what’s happened recently, and then look at the past.

The most striking evidence of the link between earthquakes and volcanoes is readily apparent in Google Earth as we look at the subduction zones of the Pacific, which have volcanoes all along them. It’s pretty hard to miss the co-relation. Subduction zones are noted for lots and lots of earthquakes, and not coincidentally lots and lots of volcanoes.

If you have been reading here, and elsewhere in such circles, you know that their has been a recent series of earthquakes in the Fox Islands of the Aleutian arc, not far from the also recently active Cleveland volcano. You also know that a 5.5 earthquake struck yesterday just off the east coast of Kamchatka, where three volcanoes are currently active.

I think it very logical that there should be interplay between earthquake activity and volcanic activity, and it should not surprise us at all that one affects the other, albeit somewhat indirectly and over periods of time. In the course of monitoring both earthquakes and volcanoes I sometimes happen upon some interesting interplay between the two, and that happened August 24th after the 6.6 quake hit northern Sumatra near Toba.

Quake in Sumatra from Columbia

I also monitor the seismographs at Galeras in southern Columbia far far away, and saw the quake in Sumatra appear on seismograph station CR2R SHZ OP. That the quake showed up there is not my point, what happened after that is. Large quakes send shock waves all over the planet beneath the lithosphere, and they affect magmatic systems the world over to a lesser or greater extent depending on the state of each one and it’s distance from the quake. What I saw in Columbia after the quake in Sumatra was interesting.

Over the next few days the seismographs at Galeras showed activity I’d not seen there before the quake in Indonesia, and it’s still going on to some extent. Galeras shows no signs of erupting, but it’s magmatic system has clearly been affected and was responding to the shock waves of that quake.

Galeras CUVZ OP Sept 05

This was on Sept. 5th, and it’s still going on. Activity at Ruiz in Columbia has also picked up since then as I reported here earlier this week. Elsewhere I’d seen the Mt. St. Helens magmatic system respond to a distant quake on Sept. 2nd.

The blue trace is the quake being picked up, and immediately following that we see the energy of those shock waves, approximating a long sine curve, in an oscillation of decreasing amplitude over 30 minutes or so reflecting around the magmatic system beneath St. Helens.

It is a well known fact that 12 years before the 79 AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius there was a large and quite destructive earthquake in Italy northeast of the volcano. Research has also shown that every major eruption of Vesuvius was preceded by a significant earthquake some years in advance. More recently Merapi in Indonesia became significantly more active following two 6 point quakes there in 2006, and later erupted.

This is not to say that an earthquake today is going to immediately set off a volcano nearby, or anywhere else, but rather that the shock waves of a quake can affect changes in the stability of magmatic systems at a distance, by inducing gas bubble formation in magma or changes in it’s density and viscosity, and that those changes can result in an eruption over time.

Changes in the pressure of a magmatic system can either increase or reduce the pressures on the ground above it, and magma chambers under volcanoes. Either change can destabilize it and stimulate magma intrusions or weaken the geologic structures in and around volcanoes. Unfortunately we cannot monitor those changes as they happen, and even seismic tomography cannot tell us whether earthquake induced changes in particular magmatic system might produce a volcanic eruption, but the correlation between earthquakes and volcanic activity is clear.

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Lewotobi Volcano Indonesia

The Lewotobi volcano on the Flores Island of Indonesia has become more active over recent weeks, and a 1 km exclusion zone has been declared around the crater. Lewotobi (husband and wife) is a twin volcano complex consisting of Lewotobi Lakilaki and Lewotobi Perempuan stratovolcanoes.

Over the last two centuries Lewotobi Lakilaki has been frequently active while Lewotobi Perempuan has only erupted twice in historic times. Lava domes have grown in the craters of both.

Plumes of “smoke” were reported above the summit craters in late August and seismicity has increased. The alert level has been raised based on the seismic data.


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Cleveland Volcano Back in Action

Earlier I reported on Cleveland volcano, situated on Chuginadak island in the Aleutians, which had it’s alert status raised to orange, (watch). It quieted down some after that, it’s alert status was lowered, and all seemed peaceful for a few days until now, and it’s back in action following a swarm of earthquakes in the immediate region.

Earthquakes this week in the Fox Islands near Cleveland Volcano

In this picture Cleveland volcano is second from the top and we can see the localized earthquake swarm just north of the subduction zone. (Click for larger view)

Cleveland’s lava dome has been steadily growing, from 262 ft. Aug. 30th, to 394 ft. currently, filling the floor of the crater,  and as we know that’s likely to increase pressure in volcano’s main vent to the point of explosive eruption, or at least lava flows onto the flanks of the volcano.

In the coming days we may expect small explosions, and perhaps ash plumes up to 20,000 ft. AVO is not connecting the resumed activity at Cleveland with the nearby 6.8 quake and it’s numerous aftershocks but I don’t think this is coincidental at all. Strong thermal anomalies have been observed on Cleveland since the status downgrade and the clearing of cloud cover, after which better satellite observations of the volcano were possible. I sure do wish I could get at those satellites and their data, but I guess that’s not available to the public.

Just as an aside here, a cluster of earthquakes have occurred over the last three days off east coast of Honshu Japan. I read somewhere online that someone was warning of a massive earthquake in store for Tokyo. The recent quakes are centered about 170 miles northeast of Tokyo, but none of them are greater than magnitude 5.2… so far.

I’m not sure where this fellow warning of the megaquake got his information but predicting earthquakes is a very tricky business that no one has mastered as yet. Still I’ll be monitoring seismic activity there.

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Kamchatka Rocks!

One of the places in this world I would most love to live is Russia’s astoundingly beautiful Kamchatka peninsula. Few places on earth can compare with it’s primeval beauty and dramatic geography, and better still it’s loaded with volcanoes! Currently three of them are quite active, and they are also quite beautiful.

A local resident of Kamchatka goes for a dip. Don't you want to move there? I do!

Our currently active volcanoes on the peninsula are Karymsky, Kizimen, and Sheveluch. The Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT) tells us that Kizimen has been very active, with continuously increasing seismic activity of increasing magnitude with over 1000 seismic events daily.

The beautiful Kizimen volcano in all it's glory (click for full size image)

Strong ash explosions up to 32,000 ft. are expected any time. Fumarole activity has been strong and sustained, and a lava flow continues down the eastern flank of the volcano. Satellites have noted a large thermal anomaly all over the volcano this week, together with a 37 mile gas and steam plume. A new and quite long fissure was noted at the top of the volcano just this week via video surveillance. .

Karymsky volcano, Kamchatka. Click for full size view.

Moving on to our next attraction, Karymsky is perhaps less active, but certainly doing enough to get our attention, with moderate harmonic tremor and ash plumes up to 9,000 ft. all week. Satellites have observed a strong thermal anomaly over the volcano, Karymsky could affect international air traffic and low flying aircraft in the area. Karymsky is a quite dramatically formed volcano that appears to have built up rather quickly. Construction of the Karymsky stratovolcano began about 2000 years ago, and has been erupting frequently over the last 500 years, after a quiet period of about 2300 years. That Karymsky has been continuously active is evidenced by it’s completely un-vegetated cone, covered with lava flows under 200 years old.

Sheveluch volcano (click for full size view)

Next up is Sheveluch, which is undergoing continuing moderate seismic activity and produced ash plumes up to 28,000 ft on August 28th. Moderate fumarole activity has been observed as well, with a thermal anomaly having been observed by satellite on Aug. 26, 28, 29, and 31. I would very much like to get at the thermal data from those satellites but as yet I’ve not been able to hunt it down online.

Sheveluch is the most vigorous andesitic volcano on the Kamchatka peninsula and has produced at least 60 large Holocene eruptions. Frequent collapses of the many lava dome complexes on it’s flanks  have resulted in large avalanches of debris and pyroclastic flows. I suspect that the activity of these three volcanoes of late is in some way connected with the recent swarm of earthquakes in the Fox Islands of Aleutian arc near the Cleveland volcano.

Today there was a magnitude 5.2 quake just off the east coast of Kamchatka.

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Unrest at Katla

Iceland’s Katla volcano has been showing increasing signs of unrest over the last weeks, to include swarms of small earthquakes occurring every ten minutes or so, and it may be that the volcano is working up to an eruption. Katla is perhaps the most dangerous volcano in Iceland and so is being watched very closely. The danger Katla poses is not so much from pyroclastic flows and ash as from flooding and lahars.

Katla volcano

The largest earthquakes have been magnitude 3.2, one of these last Thursday. It is hoped that the increased seismic activity at Katla will gradually subside, but of course it might not. Scientists are uncertain whether the recent quakes are being caused by magma intrusion, but it does seem likely given the recently observed harmonic tremor there, a prime indicator of magma movement. Earthquakes are not unusual at Katla, but the recent swarms of them are.

Harmonic tremor at Katla volcano. This is not good.

Katla is situated in the south of Iceland beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier (no, I can’t pronounce that either) which of course tends to melt from Katla’s heat and flood surrounding areas prompting rapid evacuations. Katla last erupted in 1918.

Last year’s eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano forced hundreds of people to be evacuated and paralyzed international air travel for weeks because of a hovering ash cloud. And history has shown that when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupts Katla  isn’t far behind. In the past 1,000 years, all three known eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull have triggered subsequent Katla eruptions.

The 1918 eruption of Katla

Katla produced VEI 5 eruptions in 1721 and 1755, those being the size of the Mt. St. Helens eruption of 1980. Should this happen again Iceland could be in for some quite serious trouble and air traffic would be seriously impacted in the north Atlantic.

In other news another quake in the Banda Sea struck this morning, the 5th since the end of August, this one being a magnitude 4.3. The Banda Sea is a geologically complex zone around which are several volcanoes which I will be watching for activity. Moving right along the Ranakah volcano on the Indonesian island of Flores is showing increased activity and the alert level has been raised for the volcano. Ranakah has several vents the newest of which, dubbed Anak Ranakah, has a lava dome in it (never a good sign) and authorities are concerned that a partial collapse of the dome could generate pyroclastic flows, which would be a bad thing.

Rahakah volcano on Flores Island Indonesia

Raised alert levels at Rahakah pose the risk of inducing an influx of the curious unclear on the concept of an “attractive nuisance.”

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Nevado Del Ruiz Active

During the month of August Nevado Del Ruiz volcano in Columbia was showing abundant signs of life and it’s status has been raised to yellow (3) as it continues to exhibit changes in activity. There are no web-accessible seismographs on Ruiz so we have to depend on what comes out of Columbia for our information.

Ruiz is best known for it’s 1985 eruption which produced the lahars that wiped out the towns of Armero and Chinchina killing more than 24,000 people

Activity at Ruiz during August included 1091 seismic events, 399 of which had to do with breaking rock in the active crater and to the southeast. 692 quakes recorded during August were associated the the movement of magma within and beneath the volcanic edifice, and there were minor signals associated with small phreatic explosions.

On August 21st a 900 meter column of gas was observed. No deformation of the mountain has been detected. Ruiz is fully instrumented with seismographs, inclinometers, and magnetometers. I’ll try to keep you updated on this one, but I really have to dig for information on Ruiz.

Cerro Machin Volcano is also at yellow (3) status for changes in volcanic activity.

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Toba: Could It Happen Again?

Recent seismic events in the vicinity of the Toba supervolcano have given rise to a great deal of speculation, much of it apocalyptic. Yesterday I watched a magnitude 6.6 quake in progress 30 miles west of the Toba site, and reported that here in an update. There was a previous quake to the south of that on August 31st measuring 5.1.

The Sept. 5th magnitude 6.6 quake 30 miles west of Toba

Looking around the web since then I find many posts claiming that the end is near, it’s going to blow, we are all doomed, the quake was caused by aliens, etc, etc, etc… Unfortunately that’s all pretty standard where volcanoes and earthquakes are involved, but let’s just calm down here a little folks.

While no living person has ever seen a super-eruption (or we would certainly have heard about it)  we do have a fair idea what to expect in the way of precursors to such an event, and we are not as yet seeing them with regard to Toba. Those precursors would include swarms of earthquakes in the immediate vicinity of Toba, ground uplift in and around the Toba site, and the temperature of Lake Toba rising steadily. None of this has been seen.

North Sumatra, like the rest of Indonesia, is a seismically active zone, and the recent quakes there are hardly unusual. It’s a subduction zone folks, and that’s just what happens in subduction zones.

Here to the right we see all recorded magnitude 7 and above quakes in the region surrounding Toba since the year 1900. You will note that despite all these over the last century Toba has not erupted, and these are just the big ones. Yesterday’s 6.6 quake would not even show up here.

So will Toba erupt again? Very probably. Will it erupt in our lifetimes? Very probably not. It certainly could, but we currently see no indication that it is getting ready to do so. One or two nearby quakes in a subduction zone do not a super-eruption make.

INSAR data of ground deformation on an active volcano

Probably the earliest indication we could see of something building toward an eruption would be provided by L band  INSAR data showing ground deformation around Toba. INSAR, or Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, has been used to map ground uplift and deformation in Yellowstone, and was recently used in Indonesia to monitor Mt. Ibu’s progress toward it’s recent eruption, and we may be quite sure that Toba is being looked at as well. So let’s just chill people.

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Indonesia Heats Up


As I write this at 2:21 pm Florida time an earthquake is ongoing in northern Sumatra with a preliminary magnitude of 6.6 and 30 miles west of the Toba supervolcano caldera. This just after a 5.1 quake further south August 31st. We sure wouldn’t want that one to start up again.

Indonesia is one of the most volcanic places in the world and became even more so over this last summer. There are 127 volcanoes in Indonesia, and currently 18 of them have become much more active, with five of those having been recently upgraded in alert status, those being Mount Lokon, Soputan, and Karangetang in North Sulawesi, Mount Ibu in North Maluku, and Mount Papandayan in West Java.

Mt. Soputan venting in the distance

Soputan is one of Indonesia’s more active volcanoes and last July erupted forcibly sending ash 5000 meters into the air shutting down the local airport. Karengetang has not been so outspoken of late, but it’s alert level was raised to 3 just the same last month. It erupted last March producing pyroclastic flows.

Active fumaroles at one of Papandyan's craters

Papandayan in west Java is also on the watch list, and authorities have warned people to stay away, banning tourists from the area, not so much because it’s expected to erupt soon but because of dangerous hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide gas levels, but determined tourists have ignored such warnings in the past, and it will not surprise me if they do so again.

Lokon volcano on the northern tip of Sulawesi erupted in July and again in mid-August, and evacuations were necessary. Daijiworld news on August 29th tells us:

Mount Lokon erupted as many as 12 times on Sunday, but it only erupted once on Monday at around 10.35 a.m. local time, spewing out volcanic materials about 250 meters (820 feet) high, volcano monitoring post staff member Jemmy Runtuwene told the Antara news agency.

On Sunday, monitoring staff recorded 65 deep volcanic earthquakes and 93 shallow earthquakes. During the first six hours of Monday, only seven earthquakes were registered in the area near the volcano.”

Mt. Lokon, on Sulawesi sends up ash

Another Indonesian volcano that has become more active over the last few months is the infamous Mt. Tambora, responsible for the biggest eruption in recorded history, and the most deaths as well, by some estimates as many as 92,000 globally. Sumbawa residents living at the base of the volcano are not taking warnings seriously.

Elsewhere in Indonesia Mt. Ibu in West Halmahera regency has been emitting thick smoke, causing its alarm status to be raised on Sunday with increased seismic activity over the last two weeks, many tremors having been recorded. There is a very obvious lava dome in the crater of Ibu, never a good sign. This one bears watching.

Lava dome in the crater of Mt. Ibu

The region is not just more active volcanically of late, but seismically as well, with significant quakes in the Banda Sea and the subduction zone between Vanuatu and New Caledonia where a 7.0 quake was registered Sept. 3rd not far from the Gemini Seamount.

The magnitude 6.8 quake in the Banda Sea on August 30 was followed by three more, a 4.8 the same day and a 4.4 and 4.3 two days later. A magnitude 4.3 quake rattled Jakarta also on August 30th, a 4.6 hit just south of the Indonesian subduction zone on Sept. 1st, a 6.1 hit the island of Simeulue just south of west Sumatra August 31st.

So Indonesia is hopping and has become quite interesting for me, and I’m sure others as well. I’ll be updating as news becomes available.

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Of Volcanoes and Politics

Thinking people the world over are rightfully apprehensive when approached by those from the government who are “here to help.” Very often their “help” is a flat-out disaster, and nowhere was that more true than on the island of Martinique in 1908. The island is home to Mt. Pele, a typical basaltic-andesitic Holocene stratovolcano resulting from a typical subduction zone formed by the Lesser Antilles arc. Nothing remarkable in that.

Mt. Pele rises above the town of St. Pierre

The picturesque town of St. Pierre was founded in 1635 by the French trader and adventurer Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc, and was considered to be the Paris of the Caribbean at the time. It was the cultural capital of the island. We can be quite sure that Pierre the adventurer thought little of that mountain to the left at the time. Nor did the population until sometime later, but it would eventually get their attention in a rather large way.

Martinique was actually not the best place to set up housekeeping, and not just because of Mt. Pele. Most Atlantic hurricanes that start up off the west coast of Africa head right for the Lesser Antilles, and the Great Hurricane of 1780 hit Martinique with a 25 foot storm surge, inundating the city of  St. Pierre, destroying all the houses,  and killing  9000 inhabitants. After that you would think folks would get a clue, but no. Not to be deterred they rebuilt and just kept right on. It would prove to be an unwise move.

Now volcanoes usually give us ample advance warning that they are up to something and might just wipe us out in huge numbers and in horrifying ways, and we usually ignore those warnings totally. There are many historical examples of this, and it’s going on again today as Mt. Tambora heats up.

This isn't Mt. Pele, I just put it in here because it's cool.

Mt. Pele gave plenty of warning, years in advance, but no one was listening, or paying attention. In 1792 and 1851 there were phreatic explosions that should have put the island’s inhabitants on notice, but no, they ignored that.

Native Caribs had long known Pele to be a “fire mountain” but why would sophisticated and modern French settlers listen to the local primitives? In early April of 1902 it was noticed that there were sulfurous fumaroles gushing gas near the summit of Pele but this rather strong hint was disregarded. This had started and stopped in the past. No biggie.

Another hint was to follow. On April 23rd Pele dusted St. Pierre with a light coating of cinders and ash and nudged the city with a series of sharp underground shocks. Had I been there I’d have thought, “Ummm… this could be bad…” but again, people went about business as usual.

Gosh Marcell, what do you think it means???

Two days later Pele ejected a large cloud of rock and ash, causing some damage, but not enough to be meaningful to the locals. “Move along folks, nothing to see here.”

(Personally I’d have hopped a freighter long before this point.)

While almost everyone was ignoring the volcano there were some interested in what it was doing, and on April 27, a small group of them, including a school teacher, climbed to the mountaintop to find Étang Sec crater filled with water, forming a lake 590 ft. across. There was a 50 ft. high lava dome built up on one side, feeding the lake with a steady stream of boiling water.

Sounds resembling a cauldron with boiling water were heard from deep underground. The strong smell of sulfur was all over the city four miles away from the volcano, causing discomfort to people and horses. They still just did not get it.

Three days later the rivers Roxelane and Rivière des Pères swelled, carrying boulders and trees down from the mountaintop. The villages of Prêcheur and Sainte-Philomène were receiving a steady stream of ash. At 11:30 p.m. on May 2, the mountain produced loud explosions, earthquakes, and a massive pillar of dense black smoke. Ashes and fine-grained pumice covered the entire northern half of the island. The detonations continued in 5-6 hour intervals.

The response from the local newspaper was swift and decisive. They canceled the scheduled picnic on the volcano.

Farm animals had started dying from hunger and thirst, as their sources of water and food were contaminated with ash, and at this point many were considering just getting the hell out of there, which brings us to the political side our our story.

Governor Louis Mouttet

Martinique’s dapper French governor, Louis Mouttet, was facing an election on May 11th, and of course his paramount priority was not the welfare of his constituents, but that of staying in power, and if the people abandoned the island who would there be to vote for him? He had to do something to calm the populace and get them to stay put. He immediately launched efforts to do just that. As it turned out voter turnout was rather bad anyway.

Louis had been told by those who had climbed the volcano what they had seen at the summit, and being the astute politician he was he issued the following public service announcement.

“There is nothing in the activity of Mt. Pelée that warrants a departure from St. Pierre, the safety of St. Pierre is completely assured.”

This might not have comforted everyone, but no matter, the only people who had the money to get off the island were Mouttet’s wealthy political chums in his Progressive party, most of whom drank the Kool-Aid.

Still, some residents left the city for Fort-de-France. This prompted Governor Mouttet to send in troops to patrol the road to Fort-de-France, with orders to turn back refugees who were trying to leave.

At Mouttet’s behest the local paper printed soothing articles, declaring St. Pierre the safest place on the island to be, and so throngs of people from the countryside flooded into St. Pierre swelling it’s population to about 28,000. More votes for Louis, hooray!

Well… perhaps not. What Louis and his chums had overlooked, among many other things, was a large V shaped notch cut through the cliffs around the summit, like a colossal gun-sight pointed right at the city of St. Pierre, as though fate had drawn a bead on it.

Just before 8:00 in the morning on May 8th Pele erupted explosively with a deafening roar, and a pyroclastic surge of superheated rock, gas, and ash came cascading down the flanks of the volcano at over 100 mph from out of that giant V shaped notch in the crater. In less than 60 seconds it hit St. Pierre with devastating force, incinerating 28,000 people  in a flash as it rolled over the city, and producing a scene only equaled since by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Mt. Pelee. From Heilprin, 1908

Voter turnout suffered tremendously as a direct result. Suffice to say that Louis Mouttet did not get his votes, or survive the eruption, the pyroclastic surge from which was actually photographed here on the right as it engulfed the city of St. Pierre. There were only two survivors. One of them, Leon Compere-Leandre gave this account of his experience:

“I felt a terrible wind blowing, the earth began to tremble, and the sky suddenly became dark. I turned to go into the house, with great difficuly climbed the three or four steps that separated me from my room, and felt my arms and legs burning, also my body. I dropped upon a table. At this moment four others sought refuge in my room, crying and writhing with pain, although their garmets showed no sign of having been touched by flame. At the end of 10 minutes one of these, the young Delavaud girl, aged about 10 years, fell dead; the others left.

The remains of St. Pierre

I got up and went to another room, where I found the father Delavaud, still clothed and lying on the bed, dead. He was purple and inflated, but the clothing was intact. Crazed and almost overcome, I threw myself on a bed, inert and awaiting death. My senses returned to me in perhaps an hour, when I beheld the roof burning. With sufficient strength left, my legs bleeding and covered with burns, I ran to Fonds-Sait-Denis, six kilometers from St. Pierre.”

As I write this we have an election coming up here in America. The politicians will make many claims and promises as they campaign, offering us hope for the future and assuring us of their noble and lofty goals from which we are all to benefit under their benign reign of beneficence and prosperity. How has that worked out for us so far?

The people of St. Pierre were sold hope, and they got change.

Think about it…

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Tambora update

It’s kinda hard to get any information out of Indonesia directly, and I have to dig for what their volcanoes are doing because those guys don’t let us see their seismographs, except for 4 on Merapi. I’ve been digging hard for information on what Tambora is doing because it’s recently become much more active than it has been. I just found an excellent zoomed in satellite picture of the crater taken very recently, and it’s very revealing.

Here we clearly see active gas fumaroles around the upper inside slopes of the crater spewing thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and water vapor. Those gases come from magma. We could not ask for any clearer indication of rising magma under a volcano at this stage, and the appearance of a lava dome in the floor of the crater is very likely to come next.

I had originally thought that the water in the crater floor was boiling off, because of the reports of dense vapor appearing over the edge of the crater as seen from the village at the base of the volcano, but as we see here that dense vapor is gas and steam emanating from active fumaroles.

The Jakarta Globe gives us this report:

Dompu, West Nusa Tenggara. Residents who have spent most of their lives living on the slopes of Indonesia’s infamous Mount Tambora volcano are unfazed by the rumblings they are increasingly feeling from underneath the earth and warnings from the authorities.

The status of Tambora, responsible for by far the deadliest eruption in human history, was raised at 11 a.m. on Tuesday to the second-highest alert status.

Stay tuned volcanogeeks!

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St. Helens Rumbles

We all remember what Mt. St. Helens did back in 1980, it’s eruption blew out the entire north flank of the mountain in a spectacular lateral eruption blasting pyroclastic flows out over hundreds of square miles of forest and sending lahars 50 miles out reaching the Columbia River. 57 people were killed in the eruption.

St. Helens isn’t done, of that you can be sure, and it’s lava dome continues to build as magma under pressure intrudes into crevices beneath it. A lava dome is a dead give-away that a volcano is active and planning something unsavory. Below we see the lava dome formed in the breached crater of St. Helens.

St. Helens Lava Dome

Yesterday on the VALT seismograph station there appeared traces of activity that tell us St. Helens is very much awake and active. The VALT station is a broadband seismograph that sits just in front of that lava dome, and is one of several seismograph stations on and around the mountain. St. Helens is one of the volcanoes I like to keep an eye on and I check her seismographs every day.

This morning while having my coffee and getting my seismofix I came across elevated activity at St. Helens on the VALT station’s record from late yesterday. This happened after I’d checked it earlier, so I didn’t see it until this morning.

Even non-seismogeeks can see that this is telling us something. I don’t mean to be alarmist at all here, and this is not a precursor to another VEI 5 eruption by any means, but it does tell us that the magma chamber under St. Helens is under pressure, and it’s that pressurized magmatic system that is building the lava dome in the breached crater there.

That little blue triangle at top is the VALT broadband seismograph station, the other two in the crater there are short period stations. The lava dome is quite obvious in this picture. It’s growing and got a good push yesterday. We might expect some limited venting of gases and ash in the near future if this keeps up or increases, which it might well do. Lava domes have a way of functioning as a plug in a volcano under which pressure builds to the point of eruption, and that might well happen too, although I don’t expect it to be anything on the order of the 1980 eruption, or any time soon, but I’ll be watching the seismographs there just the same because this is just fascinating stuff!

And just now, checking back on St. Helens I see this:

That blue trace is most likely the magnitude 6.8 quake that hit the Aleutians this morning while I was writing this, and just after it we see a long harmonic, which I’m going to hazard a guess is the shock waves from it passing through the magma chamber under St. Helens. It suggests magma rocking around in the chamber to me, but I could be wrong.

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Volcanic Awakenings

Our planet’s lithosphere is never quiet for very long, and there’s nearly always something going on with earth’s top layer. Today is no exception, and while Alaska’s Cleveland volcano has calmed down some, having been downgraded to yellow alert status by AVO, elsewhere in the world volcanoes are waking up and reminding us they are not extinct by any measure.

In Mexico Popocatepetl has been notifying locals this week that it’s not to be ignored with four loud explosions on Tuesday, rockfalls, ash, and water flowing down it’s flanks. Gosh, this could be bad. Popo, as we volcanogeeks call it, is immediately southwest of Mexico City, which has a rather large population I hear, and so this might just concern them a bit.

Popocatepetl doing it's thing

My Dad lives in Oaxaca, 175 miles southeast of Popo, so he’s not likely to be affected by it unless it erupts massively and ash falls there in Oaxaca. There are likely to be more explosions from Popo over the next few days, which doesn’t really indicate a significant eruption at this point, but I sure would like access to the seismographs there so I could follow this as closely as I would so much like to.

Ya know, webicorders are a joy for me, I just love pouring over seismograms for hours on end, (well gosh, don’t we all?) and having immediate access to seismic data from active volcanoes is just about the best thing in life for me. I will of course be scouring the web today for any data on Popo that I can find, and will update this post with any goodies I come up with. Moving right along…

Any of you who may have followed my blog here (unlikely as that may be) know that Tambora is my very favorite volcano in the whole world, and for very good reasons. Frankly I wish I could start up the Tambora Fan Club and have T-shirts and caps made up. Most people have never heard of it and are far more interested in Dancing with the Stars, Survivor, and American Idol, but Tambora may be getting ready to grab our attention again.

The crater of Tambora, five miles across, as seen from orbit

Over the last five months Tambora has been observed becoming more active seismically and visually. Ground-based observers at an observation post in Tambora village noted dense white plumes rising 50-75 m above the caldera rim during April and June, but no plumes during May or July. This month (August) dense white plumes rose 20 m above the caldera rim. This is not insignificant.

In 1815 this volcano produced the largest eruption in recorded history, a VEI 7, resulting the the global “year without a summer”, blowing off the top 4000 feet of the mountain, and blasting 36 cubic miles of rock and ash into the stratosphere. As eruptions go that’s a pretty tough act to follow. VEI 7 is one notch short of a super-eruption.

There has been quite a bit of seismic activity in the region there of late, with a 6.8 quake in the Banda Sea this week and three others of lesser magnitude along the subduction zone of the Solomon Islands, which may be in some way related to Tambora’s increased activity of late. I’m guessing at this point that the dense white plumes being seen indicate a big increase hydrothermal activity, which of course means that magma has moved closer to surface in the floor of the crater and it’s boiling off the water in there. Things are heating up at Tambora and next we can look for a lava dome to be pushed up in the crater.

Looking out into Tambora's crater

Here we can see water in the crater, and that’s what’s boiling out right now. (By the way, there are no bass in that lake.)

Again at Tambora there are no seismographs available to me on the web, which I find enormously frustrating in this case because it’s my very favorite volcano in the world, okay? Arrrrgggghhh!

Indonesian volcanologists have yet to provide webicorders for any of their volcanoes with the exception of Merapi, which has four of them, but isn’t doing anything at all right now, so biggie wow guys. It’s the same story in the Philippines, where PHIVOLCS has all the most interesting volcanoes there fully instrumented and won’t let me at the data. I wrote them about this outrage, but thus far no response.


Papandyan becoming active again

The Papandayan volcano in Indonesia has been active over the last week and is starting to worry folks there. Papandayan is a complex andesitic/basaltic stratovolcano best known for it’s last eruption in 1772, when it’s northeast flank collapsed resulting in gigantic avalanche that wiped out 40 villages killing almost 3000 people. Papandayan has calmed down a bit and the alert is downgraded for now, but another Indonesian volcano has started acting up in it’s stead.

Soputan volcano on Sulawesi has begun erupting and alerts have been posted, as Soputan entered the eruptive phase at 11 p.m. on Saturday night and erupted at 6:03 a.m. on Sunday morning.
The eruption sent searing gas up to 6,000 meters into the air, released hot volcanic rocks and spewed heat clouds that were heading west. National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the government warned locals to stay six kilometers away from the center of the crater. This is a young volcano, so far un-vegetated, but one of the most active in Indonesia.

Posted in Popocatepetl, Tambora, Volcanology | Leave a comment

Hey, Let’s Go Live in a Volcano!

Boy oh boy we humans do love our volcanoes! We want to live right up on them, we want to grow our food in the rich volcanic soil they produce while admiring their majestic natural beauty, we want to get right into bed with our volcanoes, God love em! If they rumble a bit now and then or puff a bit of ash and smoke, hey, what’s not to like? Volcanoes are exciting!

Big time excitement in the Philippines for those living near Mt. Pinatubo

If there’s a volcano anywhere around we are there, building our houses, tilling our fields, setting up homes, farms, businesses, bed and breakfast inns, Olive Gardens and Outback Steakhouses, Walmarts even. Hell, if we can, we even want to get right into the crater of our beloved volcano and set up a bar there! Think of the names you could give it!

As we go looking around the world in Google Earth our deep and abiding urge to buddy up to our volcanoes becomes readily apparent, and quite regardless of their reputations, how badly they have treated us or even how many people they have killed.

It’s like the horrific boyfriend that we cannot break up with no matter how many times he’s hospitalized us. Oh yeah, it’s self-destructive behavior for sure and totally dependent upon denial of the situation we have chosen to put ourselves in, just like many of our relationships with each other, but that never stopped us before, why should we be any smarter where volcanoes are concerned?

Think about it okay? In 79 AD Mt. Vesuvius exploded in a spectacular plinian eruption wiping out the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum killing everyone in them that hadn’t managed to hop a boat as the pyroclastic floes were roaring down on them. Did we avoid the place after that? Hell no! Today there are over two million people living around the base of Mt. Vesuvius! We as a species just do not learn.

Consider the beautiful little town of Sete Cidades in the Azores. A quite charming place to live as long as your are fundamentally in denial about where you are living. Below we see it from about 2000 feet altitude.

Looks like a nice little town, and it is, for now. Moving right along let’s have a look at it from a bit higher up…

At this altitude something begins to dawn on us a little bit, and we might wonder what those round features are around the pleasant little town. Gosh, can they be… nah! But let’s go a little farther up and then look down…

That’s right folks, our charming little town is located in a volcano crater three miles across. The eruption that produced that crater had to be about a VEI 6, or on the scale of the 1883 eruption of Krakatau. That one wiped out 36,400 people, all of them living more than 20 miles from the volcano. Not good enough here, we have to be right in the crater! Hey what? Ya wanna live forever? There’s bass in that lake!

If you think that one is good I’ve got more for you. About 74,000 years ago the entire human race was very nearly wiped out by the eruption of the Toba super-volcano in Indonesia. If we love our volcanoes we super-love our super-volcanoes! Nothing could be more super than living right in the caldera of one! We are total suckers for this stuff. Why do you think we make so many movies about gigantic disasters? It’s because we have a morbid fascination with our own mass destruction.

We are not a well species.

Seen from about 80 miles altitude is the gigantic elliptical gash in the earth from which Toba erupted. It is 53.6 miles long and nearly 20 miles across. It was the largest eruption anywhere on the planet for the last two million years. No wonder we couldn’t wait to move right in there!

The Toba super-volcanic caldera in Sumatra Indonesia

The sheer scale of the Toba eruption is almost beyond comprehension. Superheated ash and pumice covered an area of at least 7,700 sq mi., with deposits as thick as 2,000 ft around the caldera. All of India was covered in at least 6 inches of ash from this one, and India was 1500 miles away.  The volume of material erupted there was more than 670 cubic miles of rock, ash, and magma.

This could happen again quite easily. Indonesia is one of the most volcanically active places on earth, but, don’t worry, be happy! See that lake in the caldera with the island in the middle? There’s bass in that lake!

Cottage on Lake Toba

And who wouldn’t want to live there? Check out that cute little bungalow to the left here. Paradise, right? Well yes, up to a point, and you might be able to live out your life there dying of natural causes, or, you could be flash carbonized in another supervolcanic eruption at any time, but that’s really not my point here. My point is that we tend to heavily populate such places without any thought whatever to the long term consequences or risks, and we get wiped out in enormous numbers when  time runs out, the inevitable happens, and we become roughly estimated statistics coldly reported on CNN. These days we seem to be very concerned about the environment and our impact upon it, while we blissfully ignore the impact it might very well have on us as we drive our hybrid Toyota’s around the narrow streets of Naples Italy catching scenic glimpses of Vesuvius on our way to buy spiral CFL lightbulbs, or gloating over the value of our property which has a gorgeous view of Mt. Rainier from where it’s lahars will wipe us out.

Millions of Japanese live with the massive inconvenience of cleaning up the ash from Mt. Sakurajima year around giving no thought to the fact that it’s located in the caldera of the Aira super-volcano which they are living in. Millions of Americans flood into the Yellowstone caldera every year, equally oblivious, enjoying the billions of dollars in infrastructure we have installed there as though the worst can never happen. The Nevado del Ruiz volcano killed 24,000 people in Armero Columbia in 1985 because they just could not believe it might happen no matter the warnings.

In many ways we are not a well species, or an intelligent species, and especially not when it comes to our relationships with our beloved volcanoes. We strain out the gnats and swallow the elephants, and we obsess over what comes out the exhaust pipe of an SUV while ignoring what might come out of the crater of a super-volcano.

Sometimes I really don’t think much of my own species.

Posted in super volcano, Uncategorized, Volcanology | Leave a comment

Watching Redoubt

Alaska’s Redoubt volcano bears watching of late, but then it’s always been one to keep an eye on, as it is the most active Holocene stratovolcano in the Cook Inlet.  On AVO’s seismographs it appears as the most seismically active volcano on their web page, but then there are over 90 volcanoes in the Aleutians and only a few of them are instrumented. Nevertheless Redoubt stands out in the data available to us for obvious reasons shown below.

Here we see quite a bit of seismic activity, including many A type events and quakes on August 28th and 29th. On the 30th there appeared a B type event, also known as a long period event, or tornill0 at 2310 hours or 11:10 pm on the seismograph time scale.

This was the only one I’ve seen recently, but I’ll be watching for more of them as they are significant seismic signatures detailed in my previous entry to this blog, and they were key in predicting a past eruption of Redoubt in late December of 1989 just in time to save lives at a local oil storage terminal.

Bernard Chouet had seen the long period events begin to appear on the seismographs, slowly increasing in frequency, and then rapidly increasing until the eruption that followed.

Workers there were very reluctant to leave as the oil would freeze up in the pipelines and cost millions per day in lost revenue, but they were finally convinced to leave. It took them two hours to shut down the operation and get everyone out, and just two hours after that Redoubt blew up sending a huge lahar down the valley, burying the oil storage terminal in three feet of mud. It could have easily been a lot worse.

Redoubt erupted again in March of 2009, shown here after having been seismically tempestuous for the preceding two months, and I think we might be seeing that coming again soon, especially if we see more of the long period events showing up. Redoubt does not directly threaten civilian populations but could pose a hazard for air traffic.

Just an aside here, yesterday, (August 30) there was a 6.8 magnitude quake under the Banda Sea, which is ringed to the east by a string of volcanoes, and just southwest of the epicenter of that quake is Gunungapi Wetar, an andacitic youngster  just starting out life as a volcano and poking it’s cute little cone timidly above the waves there.

I shall be very interested to see if the recent seismic activity gives rise to any volcanic activity, especially with Gunungapi Wetar, which is only 16 miles or so from the quake epicenter and immediately north of a major undersea faultline. There’s not much at all on the web about this young volcano, but I’m rooting for this little guy to show us something. It last erupted in 1699, over 300 years ago, but this latest big quake might just kick it into action.

Gunungapi Wetar volcano in the Banda Sea. Isn't it just adorable?

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