Monday, June 20, 2016

Moving to Hawaii

It's been a while since I've posted much here, but with pretty good reason. I'll be moving to Oahu, Hawaii in about two weeks. This is first and foremost born out of a desire to move out of San Diego, CA, where - dare I say it - climate change is in full force here. California is experiencing a record-setting heat wave in conjunction with a long running drought. As I am currently writing, the temperature here in East San Diego County has reached an abominable 110 degrees Farenheit, and I'm nowhere near the desert.

Another reason - of course - is that I love volcanoes, and Hawaii's Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes are some of the most active in the world. Kilauea has been in constant eruption since 1984, with no pause in activity. Mauna Loa is currently inflating, and will erupt in the near future (although it is impossible to say when). I want nothing more than to be there, in person, for that show, while helping to provide info, and volunteer assistance with what will likely be a crisis for many if lava flows advance onto people's property.

And of course, I've been in San Diego my entire existence, and my wife and I are due for a change. There are many jobs there for I.T. people (I am a network engineer and admin/CIO by trade), and teaching jobs (my wife currently teaches 5th grade students in high-risk neighborhoods).

The focus of this blog will likely shift somewhat to the Hawaiian volcanoes, at least for a time. Kilauea isn't exactly doing anything different than what it has for the past 33 years, and HVO does quite a nice job of... copying and pasting with minor updates. But Mauna Loa is going to be a big story, at least in the near future, and it will be neat to kind of chronicle the process of inflation leading to an eruption.

In any case, my reports will probably be a little sparse in the next couple of months as I get settled on Oahu (thankfully, extinct). But things will pick up again soon, I promise!


Iceland's Hekla Volcano Primed For Eruption

Iceland's Hekla volcano is ready "To go at any time" according to Iceland geophysicist Páll Einarsson. (Link is in Icelandic). According to him, the Hekla volcanic system is at a higher state of pressure than the 2000 eruptions, and previous eruptions. I've personally been watching this volcano and it's goings-on for some time now, and what I've seen has been a bit worrying.

As pointed out by the article, it's nearly two decade long dormancy has given way to a booming tourist industry, where 40-50 flights occur daily over the volcano, in conjunction with a high population of hikers and photographers. The problem here is that Hekla, unlike many volcanoes, does not typically give much warning before erupting. Most volcanoes at least show some signs of volcanic quakes, which can give some forewarning of an eruption.

Hekla however is not that kind of volcano. Its eruptions are typically sudden and without much warning... but Hekla is having volcanic quakes, which could signal that the next eruption may be much larger than previous ones. As the volcano is not prone to showing much seismicity, rather, gradual deformation when its magma chamber is inflating, this is a bit worrying.

If the volcano is already displaying some warning signs (a 2.5 quake occurred within 48 hours of this writing according to, this could be all the warning we get.

Many scientists are cautioning against visiting this volcano within several tens of kilometers, as there is simply no way to tell when it will erupt - just that it will erupt in the near future.

Iceland's last major eruption from Bardarbunga's Holuhraun fissure North of Vatnajökull caused soem disruption due to gas emission, but was largely very harmless. An eruption of Hekla - much closer to tourist accessibility, and some small properties, makes this a more dangerous eruption, however the area is sparsely populated. The threats from this volcano would be rapidly melting ice which causes flooding, lahars, pyroclastic flow (due to magma interacting with ice), lava flow, and gases.

The biggest threats are ash (due to aircraft and nearby farmlands) and disruption of flight paths, gases, and flooding.

Keep an eye on this volcano too, Iceland has been very good about posting links to various volcano webcams, when it does erupt, it should put on quite a show.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Mexico's Popocatépetl Volcano Causes High Alert

There is a lot of bad reporting going on about Popocatépetl in Mexico lately, so I thought it might be a good idea to set everything nice and straight. Some reports are suggesting Popo hasn't erupted since the year 2000. False, it has been in a continuous state of unrest with occasional ash emissions since 2005. That's upwards of 11 years. 

The volcano has been having more frequent and more powerful ash emissions, with multiple dome building/collapse events and small pyroclastic flows for quite some time. The media does love a good panic story, so when Mexico raised the alert level to "yellow", they freaked out. 

Yes, this is a volcano that is dangerous. It is capable of large eruptions up to VEI 5 (but not since  3700 BCE ± 300 years according to the Smithsonian GVP), however it is more than likely going to be (if it has a serious explosion) a VEI 2-3 event, most likely 2. 

The volcano, while quite massive, simply has no recent evidence of an eruption large enough to damage surrounding cities. The real danger from this volcano is not blasts or explosions, rather the fine ash that it generates that can cause lots of problems. It weighs down roofs, it chokes animals and livestock, and creates a fair amount of misery for the surrounding areas. 

It can be expected, depending on the weather, that there would be some ashfall in Mexico city, however Mexico City is not threatened in any serious way by Popo's activity. It's simply too far away at some 44 miles. However the surrounding towns such as Amecameca, Atlautla, Ecatzingo, and Tetela del Volcán would be quite a bit more vulnerable due to their immediate proximity to the volcano. All are small(ish) towns surrounded by farmland.

The Yellow alert raised by Mexico is a precautionary measure meant to prepare residents for immediate evacuation if necessary. It is simply an alert status, not a "MASS EVACUATION ALERT" (in bolded caps) as some yellow-journalists out there are parroting. It is meant to have residents have what they need prepared in case Popo does decide to blow. At this time, nobody is actually being evacuated, as some outlets are suggesting.

The base of the volcano is surrounded by dense(ish) forests which don't show any signs of stress (except for human logging) past about 2 miles from the summit. This probably rules out the danger to towns for pyroclastic flows. Gas and ash probably would be the worst it can do to the surrounding areas. At the most, a 10km exclusion zone would probably do the trick to keep people safe. 

That does not mean evacuations won't occur if activity increases and heavy ashfall starts making life miserable for people, but it's not happening right now. 

I will update this post if anything changes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Nicaragua's Momotombo Volcano Erupts After Sleeping For 110 Years

Nicaragua's conical Momotombo volcano has had its first eruption in over 110 years. From early pictures and video it looks like a Strombolian style eruption with ash clouds reaching very high. Pyroclastic flows can also be seen descending the NE face of the volcano. The last major eruption in 1905 produced a lava flow that traveled to the NE.

This is likely going to be a small eruption with some ashfall and probably will not go on for too long. The volcano itself is not near any heavily populated areas. Most of the surrounding land is forest and some sparse farmland. At the South foot of the volcano, there are a few geothermal plants on the shore of Lake Managua (which is also home to several other volcanoes).

There are some reports of gases affecting some nearby villages.

If anything further develops or if the eruption increases in intensity, I'll update this post.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Strongest Hurricane Ever Recorded About To Hit Colima Volcano

South Western Mexico is about to be hit - hard - by the most powerful hurricane ever recorded by NOAA. If that wasn't enough, it seems that Hurricane Patricia, with sustained winds upward of 200mph, is barreling squarely towards Colima volcano, which has been having intermittent explosive eruptions for months now. What will happen when the hurricane hits this stratovolcano? There are a few possibilities.

The volcano, for one, will be just fine. Hurricanes have hit active volcanoes before, in Hawaii, and other islands. This is different. This is the mainland of a large nation, and the volcano isn't a Hawaiian style volcano, it is a stratovolcano that deposits large amounts of tephra and fine ash, which could mean lahars.

Google Earth with Weather Overlay, USGS, and Volcano DB.

This is bad news for Mexico. The strength of the hurricane alone is likely to cause a humanitarian disaster, which will be exacerbated by fresh ash laden lahars. The eruptive activity, if it occurs during the volcano, can suspend ash within the hurricane, leading to more problems.

In short, this is a very bad situation for Mexico, and residents would be wise to get as far away from this monster as possible. This will not be pretty, and since we have never seen a hurricane of this intensity in history, we have no idea how bad it will get.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mauna Loa Aviation Code Raised To Yello

Mauna Loa has been slowly re-loading its vast magma chamber since it's last eruption ended in 1984. In the mid-2000's, inflation increased, stopped, started again, and now continues at a slow pace. I've been covering the goings-on at Mauna Loa and have suspected for a while it was getting ready for its next round, but as of yesterday, HVO has taken notice as well and chose to raise the aviation code (not the alert code) to Yellow (advisory).

Mauna Loa has been experiencing tremor and seismicity associated with small rock-fracture events for some time now, but I suppose it's gone on long enough where HVO is now starting to get nervous. Mauna Loa is after all, the largest active shield volcano on earth by both volume and height, and given the types of eruptions it has, people on the Big Island of Hawaii have a reason to be nervous.

Nearly all of the recent eruptions of Mauna Loa have produced enough fast-moving pahoehoe lava to reach the shore. Many towns have been paved over in the past, and due to Mauna Loa's size, the lava can move at much faster speeds than the lavas produced by its neighbor to the SE, Kilauea.

Mauna Loa's re-inflation and increased seismicity is still below the levels that preceded the last two eruptions, so an eruption is by no means imminent at this time. That can change without warning, however, this is a heavily monitored volcano, so it's likely there will be at least several hours of warning prior to any eruptive activity.

One theory currently is that due to Kilauea's ongoing eruption (which has continued nonstop since 1983), the magma reservoirs at Mauna Loa take a bit longer to refill, as both volcanoes have the same magma source - a giant magma hotspot that is responsible for the creation of all Hawaii's island chain. So it is possible that the release of lava from Kilauea is keeping Mauna Loa from rapidly inflating like it did in the past.

If that were true, it might explain why inflation is not as rapid, and seismicity is not as intense. Only time will tell. Previously, Mauna Loa had typically erupted before Kilauea, so the fact that Mauna Loa is inflating while Kilauea is erupting could indicate higher plume pressure on the island. Again, far too soon to tell, but it does make a lot of sense.

I've been monitoring Mauna Loa since 2008, and this is the first time that HVO has raised the alert level in a long time. It's worth keeping your eye on the Big Island, and if you live there, be vigilant and stay up to date, as this volcano, once it starts erupting, is capable of issuing lava flows that travel upwards of 60mph. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Meru Volcano In Tanzania Had Eruption Scare From Forest Fire

*****UPDATE 9/22*****
The smoke coming from Meru volcano was indeed a forest fire and NOT a volcanic eruption. While it is unclear whether reports of tremors are accurate, it is confirmed that no eruption has taken place.

Sep 20, 2015 -Tanzania

Meru volcano, which has not erupted in a hundred years or so, may have had an eruption. Reports are coming in from several sources, although all of them are posting the same image. The image appears to show the NE flank of the volcano in eruption, however it is too soon to tell and 'could' be a wildfire. The image does appear however to show large amounts of grey ash, and being a California native, I can tell you most brush fires burn very much darker than that, so it does look like it could be volcanic.

Image by Selle Higgins (@safariwithselle Twitter) via

According to Volcano Discovery, "A new eruption has been reported yesterday from the volcano, which has last been active 105 years ago. An ash plume was seen rising approx. 1 km and drifting NW from what looks like a lateral vent on the northern slope of the volcano near Arusha town. The are no reports of damage or fatalities. According to local sources, people in the area around the volcano have been experiencing an increased number of small felt earthquakes in recent months."

The surrounding areas are mostly farmlands with some small villages, so not a very high population center, however any large pyroclastic flows could have devastating consequences for those on its slopes. If the picture (which is a bit hazy) is interpreted correctly, the eruptive center appears to be on the lowe flank of 'Little Meru', a satellitic summit cone/dome to the NE of the main summit (similar to Mt. Shasta's 'Shastina' cone. The blast could be lateral, or there may be a small amount of pyroclastic flow that is travelling down the flank, far too soon to know.

The Smithsonian GVP characterizes Meru:

"Meru volcano, Africa's fourth highest mountain, is dwarfed by neighboring Kilimanjaro volcano, but is an impressive peak in its own right. Seen from the west, Meru has a conical profile, but it contains a 5-km-wide breached caldera on the east side that formed about 7800 years ago when the summit of the volcano collapsed. Associated massive debris avalanches and lahars traveled as far as the western flank of Kilimanjaro volcano. Parasitic cones and lava domes are located on all sides; a maar field is present on the lower north flank. The historically active Ash Cone forms a prominent symmetrical cone inside the breached caldera. A second vent between it and the caldera headwall has fed lava flows that cover much of the caldera floor."

At this time however, this could be a false alarm, as there are doubts this is actually a volcanic eruption, and rather could simply be a wildfire. This video seems to suggest it is just a wildfire: