Thursday, March 5, 2015

Iceland's Bardarbunga Volcano Eruption Pauses

The long-running eruption of Iceland's Bárðarbunga volcano has paused, or ceased. Webcam footage no longer is showing any lava coming out of the eruptive fissure, and scientists visited the site to assess the landscape, only to find a degassing crater.

The stoppage of the eruption at Holhuraun fissure is likely not the end of the activity. As this is a rifting episode, it is likely that magma chamber re-inflation will eventually occur. Seismicity is ongoing, although a lot lower than it has been in recent months.

There is still plenty of quake activity along the eruptive fissure, and below the Vatnajöull glacier, and in the Bárðarbunga caldera.

The area will probably remain unsafe for some time due to degassing, residual heat and cooling lava, and brittle, sharp surfaces.

It is anyone's guess as to when or if activity will resume. If it does, you'll definitely read about it here!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Oklahoma Kept Silent About Fracking To Protect Industry

While it has long been known that 'fracking' byproducts and waste water well injections can and do cause earthquakes, it seems that in Oklahoma, that fact was suppressed to protect the oil industry. According to an article on Rawstory, University of Oklahoma President David Boren pressured subordinates to either downplay or remain silent on the issue after being pressured by oil executives.

Waste water well injections pump millions of gallons of chemical-laden liquid into 'waste water wells' which are simply very deep drill holes in the ground. These holes can go through many types of rocks, and old 'locked' fault lines, and once the chemical soup is down there, it can lubricate fault lines, weaken limestone and bedrock, and of course, pollute water tables and aquifers.

Fracking has increasingly become a more common practice in the oil and gas industry. Hydro-fracturing injects gas an water into shale tables in order to release trapped natural gases, which are harvested above ground. There are many reserves of this gas-shale across the US, which has led to a brief energy boom in the industry, which has seen very little regulation or restraint placed on these practices.

Unfortunately, it seems that good science has been suppressed in this case in the name of energy profits, and this has put lives and property at risk.

Where previously, there were little to no earthquakes in Oklahoma, their daily total of quakes now exceed that of my home state of California, both in number and magnitude. While California regularly experiences small quakes ranging from <1.0 to greater than 3.5 daily, Oklahoma's average quake magnitudes are exceeding magnitude 3.5 and in one case, a damaging 5.7 earthquake occurred along a now reactivated fault line.

This is part of a disturbing trend in the US, where 'scientists' can be paid to suppress research findings in the name of corporate profit, and part of a concerted effort by energy companies to publicly erode public trust in science itself. And the strategy is working.

In the US, public trust of science is on a sharp decline, in no small part because of powerful energy lobbyists, and oil barons the Koch brothers. David and Charles Koch own and operate Koch Industries, who re involved in everything from energy to agriculture. It has long been known that they heavily lobby and campaign for neo-conservtive politicians, and fund anti-science campaigns designed to 'discredit' unfolding disasters such as global warming, and environmental damage caused by energy extraction an exploration, in order to deregulate the oil industry and maximize profits.

It is an unfortunate state of affairs for good science, and a black mark on the human race. It is entirely outrageous that average people buy into the whole 'clean coal' myth, along with climate change denial because of tactics like this. Stuff like this gives me a conniption.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Chile's Villarica Volcano Erupts

Villarica Volcano in Chile has erupted for the first time in around 15 years, forcing evacuations. The volcano had been showing small signs of activity since early February, but this explosion was enough to force people to flee due to its intense but brief eruption.

The volcano was briefly raised to 'Red alert', but has since been lowered to 'Yellow' as activity has waned.

No injuries or property damage was reported, although ash fall was likely a nuisance to nearby residents.

According to the USGS/Smithsonian GVP:

"OVDAS-SERNAGEOMIN reported that activity significantly increased at Villarrica during 1-16 February, characterized by increased seismicity, crater incandescence, and explosions. On 6 February seismicity increased significantly, explosions occurred in the crater, and ash emissions rose above the crater rim. The Alert Level was raised to Yellow (the second lowest level on a four-color scale). DOAS (Differential Optical Absorption Spectrometry) data showed an average monthly sulfur dioxide emission value of 222 tons per day; a high value during this period of 450 tons per day was recorded on 11 February. The highest number of explosions, five per minute, during the period occurred on 16 February. Explosions ejected incandescent material out of the crater as far as 1 km onto the S flank. During an overflight on 16 February, supported by ONEMI, volcanologists observed the lava lake and recorded temperatures near 800 degrees Celsius, tephra in and around the active crater, and a diffuse layer of ash on the flanks."

The GVP describes the volcano here:

"Glacier-clad Villarrica, one of Chile's most active volcanoes, rises above the lake and town of the same name. It is the westernmost of three large stratovolcanoes that trend perpendicular to the Andean chain. A 6-km wide caldera formed during the late Pleistocene. A 2-km-wide caldera that formed about 3500 years ago is located at the base of the presently active, dominantly basaltic to basaltic-andesitic cone at the NW margin of the Pleistocene caldera. More than 30 scoria cones and fissure vents dot Villarrica's flanks. Plinian eruptions and pyroclastic flows that have extended up to 20 km from the volcano have been produced during the Holocene. Lava flows up to 18 km long have issued from summit and flank vents. Historical eruptions, documented since 1558, have consisted largely of mild-to-moderate explosive activity with occasional lava effusion. Glaciers cover 40 sq km of the volcano, and lahars have damaged towns on its flanks."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai Erupts

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, one of many submarine calderas NE of New Zealand in an island arc, has begun causing some problems for flights in the area. What started as a minor steam and ash eruption has now turned into a semi-major eruption in the area. Steam and ash clouds are reaching extraordinary heights, and the ongoing eruption is rapidly building a new island.

Photo from

Residents have reported that the eruption plume was changing hourly from white steam, to black ash clouds, in what was probably the ebb and flow of the tides covering the vent and interacting with hot lava. The eruption has sustained itself for months now, with no signs of slowing, and has breached the surface in a Surtseyan eruption.

Other reports have come in about 'the sea turning blood red'. This is more than likely a red-algae bloom. Algae blooms are common when volcanic nutrients flood the ocean water. This recently occurred in Alaska, and Iceland.

Surtseyan eruptions start as under water eruptions, gradually breaching the surface, and creating an island. The term comes from the island of Surtsey in Iceland, which was created in an eruption during ht 1960's. This was the first such eruption of its kind clearly observed from start to finish. The Icelandic fire-god Surtr is the inspiration for the eruption type.

It is unknown if this island will remain as a permanent land body. Many volcanoes of this type create islands that are rapidly eroded by the sea in the years following the cessation of the eruption, however based on the pictures I've seen, the island looks every bit as solid as Surtsey, or Anak Krakatau. Anak Krakatau is probably a better comparison, as it was also a post-caldera cone, much like Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai is.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Super busy but will post again soon!

To my readers:

Thanks for staying tuned. I recently went through a large job change, and had some family emergencies to take care of, as well as the holidays. I will be resuming posts again shortly.

I have not updated blogs regarding Fogo, Bardarbunga, or the Nevada quake swarm because nothing really has changed, and things continue as they have been.

Fogo and Bardarbunga continue to erupt at this time with no signs of change. Fogo volcano has swallowed up more villages on the volcano floor, including some historic towns over 100 years old. Bardarbunga's lava field is now about 80+ sq km in area, and caldera subsidence slowly continues, although current data isn't available due to equipment loss and weather conditions for Iceland Met Office.

The Nevada quake swarm is still ongoing, and USGS is installing new equipment. Quakes of mag 1.0-4.7 have occurred.

If you're looking for some quick volcano updates for the week, the Smithsonian GVP is a great place for current info at their Weekly Report section.

I'll be back on 'the job' after New Years.

Have a great holiday season everyone!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fogo Volcano Erupts


Pico Do Fogo volcano, one of the Cape Verde islands, erupted about 4 hours ago, INVOLCAN's Facebook account reported.

No more information is available quite yet. A Google search turns up no news yet. The posted video showed a small ash plume a few thousand feet (estimated) high. The eruption does not appear to have occurred from the summit, so it could be a cinder cone building event. I will post more updates as they come in.

Fogo volcano last erupted in 1995, with a cone building event on its WSW flank. This event appears to be similar. 

Youtube video of the eruption of Fogo, 2014.

UPDATE: 11/25/2014

You can view footage of the eruption now on INVOLCAN's Facebook page. It appears to be a cone building event with a large lava flow at this time. People were evacuated out of the caldera area, and footage shows what appears to be a large amount of gas. Footage shows what appears to be large lava flows of 'clinker' (also called a'a' lava) destroying some brick buildings, so it does appear there has been some property damage. To my knowledge there have been no injuries or casualties.

Video news (in Portuguese) can be seen here

Youtube video of eruption plume (this is the small light blue area in the center screen)

Youtube video of lava destroying property and advancing.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Curious Quake Swarm in NW Nevada [UPDATED 3/3/15]

Nobody at all is reporting on this, although it's no secret either. There is an oddly shallow and very active quake swarm occurring in NW Nevada, about 65 KM ESE of Lakeview, Oregon (as USGS reports it) and it has been going on now for over a week and a half.

The area the quakes are occurring in does not seem to have any significant human population, and appears to be mostly mountainous desert, overlain by igneous rocks of what I'm guessing are older than pliestocene. There isn't a lot of info on the area, much less any geological information I'm able to find.

In any case it appears to be a long series of very shallow quakes ranging in size from <1.0 to greater than 3.5. The area does appear to be on a spreading rift, and probably has a past history of volcanism, but there are no records to confirm this.

As these quakes have ranged in depth from <2km to near surface, I'd say we are looking at a purely teconic event, and nothing related to volcanism. Again, there are no news articles or blogs I'm able to find. Below is a screenshot.

Google Earth Screenshot of location of quake swarm using USGS overlay.

I'm purely writing about this out of curiosity, and want to keep speculation to a bare minimum. I wonder if any USGS people would like to comment on what they suspect this is? It's happened before!

*****UPDATE 8/21/2014*****
Looks like the media and geologists are finally taking notice of this quake swarm. So far, indications are that it is purely tectonic, but they don't know yet. The area has a history of tectonic activity, however this swarm appears to be unprecedented for the region. Here are the few reports I could find on this:

*****UPDATE 8/29/2014*****

The quake swarm in NW Nevada continues, adding a magnitude 3.8, 3.2, and numerous smaller quakes. All are occurring at depths less than 2km, and some (probably not manually reviewed, and auto-detected quakes) are occurring near or at the surface according to the data feed (which is probably not accurate). So far there is no analysis from USGS aside from what has been briefly mentioned in articles. This 'swarm' is interesting at least to me. There are volcanic basalt cliffs in the area, and it does appear to be part of a rift zone. There is little to no human population in the area, and I am wondering if anyone has visited it to gain some visual observations, or install more instrumentation. At this time, it's being reported that this is purely tectonic, and there are no reports of anything to suggest otherwise, however volcanic activity or dike intrusion can't be ruled out given the composition of the surrounding rocks. Something odd is going on up there.

*****UPDATE 11/6/2014*****
Surprisingly, this swarm is still active. A 4.7 magnitude quake, and a 4.6 are so far the largest quakes of the resurgent swarm. There is no explanation from USGS other than 'this is probably tectonic'. I tend to agree, as the quakes are extremely shallow, in some cases appearing to be so shallow it reads as '0.0 km depth'. However, the 4.7M quake was at a depth of around 5km, which can indicate some sort of volcanic origin. It's still way to early to tell what's going on, and without comprehensive analysis by USGS or a geologist, I still have no new info to really put forth, other than the swarm has been active now for months, which is certainly unusual. I can find no analysis, GPS charts, or otherwise to give any more details, but I will follow up when any info comes out (I am keeping my eye on this). Stay tuned!

*****UPDATE 11/14/2014*****

The quake swarm continues, with USGS releasing a statement saying they are finally going to be out in the area installing new equipment, which should give us a much better picture about whether this even is simply tectonic 'exfoliation' events, rifting, or perhaps even volcanic (which is highly unlikely, but not impossible). The duration of the swarm is still quite interesting, as it has now been occurring for several months now.

***** UPDATE 11/24/2014*****

Seismologist have indeed installed new equipment, hence the better depth readings. They are working out whether or not this is volcanic or tectonic, as reported in the above link:

"Bill Hammond of the university’s Nevada Geodetic Laboratory said that while some residents wonder if the latest swarm is related to an extinct volcano in the Sheldon wildlife refuge, experts think it stems from the region’s faults. However, conclusively ruling out a volcanic source will require the additional seismic and geodetic measurements closer to the events,"

*****UPDATE 1/19/2015*****

Amazingly this swarm is STILL ongoing with little to no difference in behavior. USGS is still installing new instrumentation in the area, according to the latest info. So far they have not updated their previous statements that this is tectonic in nature. I have no cause to disagree.

*****UPDATE 3/3/2015*****

I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record at this point, but yes, this quake swarm is STILL ongoing. And thus far STILL no concrete answers from USGS other than "This is probably tectonic". Quakes are still at depths ranging from 9km to under 3km, and raning in magnitude form quite small up to 4.8. Other nearby areas appear to be being tectonically disturbed by this activity, as there has been some action now to the ENE of the swarm a couple miles away. Absent GPS deformation data, all the data that exists is quake depths. USGS isn't raising any volcanic alarm bells, so it's probably safe to say still that this is not volcanic in nature, however that has not been ruled out. If it was volcanic however, you'd expect that the quake depths would get progressively shallower, which hasn't exactly occurred (they seem to be very random). Some theories abound as to whether this is related to stresses on the Cascadia fault, but I find ti s a bit unlikely. Yes, the fault is 'locked' and is generating an immense amount of pressure which will result (possibly soon) in a very large quake off the Oregon coast, but I see no reason to believe that the Nevada quakes are in any way related at this time.

Regardless, this is a very interesting swarm, as it has now been ongoing for over six months. I'll keep hovering over USGS for updates, but it seems they're sort of 'meh' about this swarm.