Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Kilauea Lava Lake Overflows

The lava lake at Kilauea's Hale'ma'uma'u crater/caldera has overflowed, for the first time since it's 2008 debut. This follows a rockfall event on the lake rim, which resulted in some minor explosive activity.

Seismicity at Kilauea has been high of late, which may indicate a fresh injection of magma into the chamber. Kilauea's neighbor, Mauna Loa, is also undergoing a period of inflation and higher than normal seimicity.

It is likely that the mantle plume which feeds the Hawaiian volcanic chain is undergoing a period of higher pressure or activity. The plume is responsible for all of the islands that exist in the chain, as are most 'hotspot' type volcanic systems.

The activity so far has not been threatening or dangerous to any population. The lava lake is situated within a much larger caldera, which sits inside an even larger caldera. There is no possibility from the lava in the lake to escape the caldera rim at the current time.

The activity has drawn far more visitors than normal for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Inevitably, someone has attempted to fly a drone over the lava lake. This resulted in a scuffle with park rangers, and the eventual use of a taser.

It should be mentioned, that in any US National Park, flying personal drones is illegal. This is due to damage that can be caused to park features, as occurred recently in Yellowstone, where a hobbyist flew, and crashed his drone into the Grand Prismatic Pool, one of Yellowstone's star features. This drone cannot be retrieved due to the temperatures of the pool. The chemical properties of the drone can alter the chemistry of the lake, damage the bacterial mats that give color to the pool, thus altering the appearance.

National Parks worldwide are under similar threats, even if sometimes they are a bit silly. Sometimes, they're downright despicable.

It is important when visiting any US National Park to know the rules, maintain safety, and avoid damaging any feature of a park. The PopSci article above doesn't actually seem to touch on the fact that there has been a rash of defacing national parks, and careless drone usage.

I came across that article on Facebook, which was accompanied by the quote "What was the drone going to do? Hurt the lava?"

Well, no. However... there exists plenty of video that shows what happens when foreign objects (not rocks or lava) are tossed into lava lakes, like Kilauea's. I have no clue how large this drone was, but I know a fair amount about electronics, as I am a computer engineer by trade. Silicon, heavy/rare earth metals, polycarbonates (plastics), carbon and more are present in any electronic system. The linked video shows a bag of mere garbage being tossed into a lava lake. The result is an explosive reaction, occasionally violent.

Now, imagine there were people around the area where the drone was being flown. Currently, the HVO has closed off the observation area of the lake, the reasoning for which was demonstrated by the rockfall into the lake and subsequent minor explosion. Lava is a mix of dissolved gases, molten rock, and more. Adding chemicals, such as those included in drones, to lava lakes upsets that chemistry, in many cases explosively. This could cause injury or death if done carelessly... which is what I expect was the reasoning behind tasering the hobbyist.

Regardless of the opinion of myself or others, our National Parks are under constant threat of careless tourists. If you choose to visit a US volcanic national park, please take care not to provoke the law, and respect the environment which has been preserved for you, and others to enjoy. It is unacceptable to take ignorant actions, or resort to flat out vandalism when you visit these places. Tasering a hobbyist may seem extreme, but keep in mind, one careless hobbyist can wreck a national treasure or UNESCO World Heritage Site with little to no effort, ruining the experience for millions, if not billions, of people.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chile's Calbuco Volcano Erupts, Forcing Evacuations

A long-dormant stratovolcano in Southern Chile, Calbuco Volcano erupted yesterday and last night with a small eruption at first, followed by a massive explosion. Several thousand people were forced to evacuate nearby towns as pyroclastic flows, ash fall and created hazardous conditions for those living near the volcano.

The volcano last erupted some 40 years ago, with several eruptions smaller than the current one. According To the Smithsonian GVP, the largest historical eruptions of the volcano occurred from 1893 to 1894, and subsequent eruptions merely added to the growing complex lava dome at the summit . It is likely that during this explosive eruption, much of the lava dome was probably destroyed , but it is too early to know if that is certain. Judging by the amount of pyroclasts, and ash, it seems that this is the likeliest scenario.

The military has-been called in to evacuate the area around the volcano, and to help preserve order.

The eruption has caused jams at nearby airports as people flood in to evacuate, which is exacerbated by the ash fall which can prevent aircraft from taking off. When volcanic ash enters most jet engines, it gets super-heated and can stick to the engine housings, causing the engine to stall. In some cases it has caused plans to crash, while in others the aircraft was reliable to recover.

It is unknown how much advanced warning this volcano gave. Chaiten's famous eruption in 2008 had given very little warning when it erupted, destroying it's rhyolite dome, and the nearby town of the same name. Chile's volcanoes are occasionally monitored, but since there are so many potentially active volcanoes, monitoring them all is a bit problematic so far. Many of them are extremely tall, and inhospitable to humans, so that task is daunting. 

I will update this blog post as the story develops.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mauna Loa Quake Activity Increases

During the past couple weeks, Mauna Loa, Hawaii's largest and historically most active volcano, has been exhibiting more quake activity at its summit, and SW rift zone. HVO is monitoring the situation. Inflation restarted in the volcano in 2010, and a slow but gradual inflation is taking place. This is a bit unusual, as Kilauea is still pumping plenty of lava out and consistently creating new land. Typically, Mauna Loa only inflates when Kilauea is not active. It would be highly unusual, however not unprecedented, for both volcanoes to be erupting at the same time.

Many shallow quakes exceeding magnitude 2.0-3.5 have occurred near the summit. Fumerole temperatures remain slightly elevated.

The latest report from HVO states:

"MAUNA LOA VOLCANO (VNUM #332020) 19°28'30" N 155°36'29" W, Summit Elevation 13681 ft (4170 m) Current Volcano Alert Level: NORMAL Current Aviation Color Code: GREEN

Monitoring data through the month of March 2015:

Seismicity: Seismicity at Mauna Loa remains elevated in several parts of the volcano. Earthquake rates on the Upper Southwest Rift Zone (Sulfur Cone) and Mokuʻāweoweo Crater remain elevated, with over 100 earthquakes occurring in March. Though there were no swarms on the west flank of Mauna Loa, earthquake rates remained above background with approximately 25 earthquakes occurring in March. All earthquakes in the past month have been small relative to earthquake sequences observed before eruptions in 1975 and 1984.

Deformation: The pattern of motion of continuously recording GPS stations in March indicate that inflation continues. Average velocities since the start of the current inflationary period in mid-2014 are not quite as fast, but very similar to those observed in 2005 which, along with a short period in 2002, had been the time of highest observed velocities since GPS monitoring started in the mid-1990's.

Background: Re-inflation of Mauna Loa's shallow magma storage reservoirs started immediately following the most recent eruption in 1984, then turned to deflation for almost a decade. In mid-2002, inflation started again, just after a brief swarm of deep long-period (LP) earthquakes. A more intense swarm of several thousand deep Long Period (LP) earthquakes occurred in late 2004, immediately preceding a dramatic increase in inflation rate. Inflation slowed again in 2006, ceased altogether in late 2009, and resumed slowly in late 2010."

It is unclear how April's upcoming report will look, however there have been much larger quakes at the summit compared to March. They are still below the magnitudes preceding the earthquakes in the above report.

It is likely Mauna Loa is entering into a heightened phase of activity, but it is impossible to know when it will erupt, however HVO will certainly have more advanced notice since it's last time, as monitoring techniques and technology are by far more advanced than they were in the 1970's and 80's.

For now, I am keeping my eye on this volcano.

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.