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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