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: 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Iceland May Be gearing Up For Another Round of Eruptions

Iceland may be gearing up for another round of volcanic and tectonic events, and some of them could be spectacular. The world only recently started paying close attention to Iceland's volcanoes after the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, Grimsvötn the following year, and the recent eruption of a Bárðarbunga fissure system at Halhuraun. Bárðarbunga's eruption was the largest in recent history, with a massive lava field being issued, and millions of tons of SO2 gas.

The events at Bárðarbunga were part of the heart of what Iceland is, the eruptive center of a massive magma plume, which coincidentally lies on the spreading sealfoor rift of the North American and European plates. These plates are spreading, and recent seismicity shows just how active that spreading is.

Several volcanoes are either overdue for an eruption, or showing signs of awakening. Accoring to Jon Frimann of the Iceland Geology Blog, the island of Surtsey in the Vestmanneyjar volcanic system has shown signs of increased thermal activity. This is one system to watch, as in 1973, Eldfell volcano was born on the Icelandic island of Heimaey, with no warning. The eruption devastated residential homes, and advanced to the island's only port. During this eruption, Icelanders actually fought back the lava flow using massive pumps, piping cold ocean water in vast amounts onto the lava. They saved the harbor.

But this is a volcano, and it will erupt again in the future. The Island of Surtsey was created in a spectacular and never before documented eruption type. The term 'Surtseyan' eruption was born on the day Surtsey arrived. Boiling out of the ocean floor to breach the surface in 1963, the eruption lasted until 1967, building a new Icelandic volcano island. The island remains off-limits to all but the scientific community, who are studying biodiversity on newly created islands. 

This means that the people of Heimaey are living on a still very active volcano, and it has been quite silent for some time... until now. Unlike the recently erupted volcanoes that have been in the news, Vestmanneyjar is off people's radar these days, and unlike those volcanoes, does have population centers in its immediate vicinity. Heimaey after all is a very busy trading port.

Other volcanoes are stirring as well, some in the vicinity of the recently erupted Bárðarbunga system, which seem to have been disturbed by that eruption. Some have been eerily quiet for a long time, but are starting to have small quakes.

Hekla volcano is a dangerous volcano. Not because it is close to any population centers (although close enough for gas and ash to fall in the capitol), but because it is one of those volcanoes, like many in Iceland, which tends to erupt without warning. It has been experiencing sporadic quakes, which worry volcanologists. 

Torfajokull to Hekla's East, and NNW of Katla volcano, is also experiencing some quake activity, although this may be purely tectonic. This is a caldera system, which has not erupted in many centuries, however still has very active fumeroles, hot springs, and geysers.

Katla itself is assumed to be primed for an eruption, and may have had a very minor subglacial episode following the eruption of Ejyafjallajökull. It typically displays spurts of seismic activity, however would still be difficult to predict or monitor given its size, and the glacier mounted on top. This eruption would likely dwarf those of Ejyafjallajökull and Grimsvötn. But it just hasn't popped off as of yet. This would likely be the most dangerous eruption, as it would affect air travel (again) in Europe on a larger scale, create massive glacier outburst floods (jökullhlaups), and could last for a long time.

Tungnafellsjokull, to the East of the Bárðarbunga caldera, has been experiencing very unusual and heavy quake swarms during and after Bárðarbunga's fissure eruption and caldera collapse. I have stated in the past this may be a 'toothpaste tube' like scenario, where one magma chamber has stressed the other, and created a  more dynamic situation under Tungnafellsjokull. I still believe this to be the case. It is unknown whether this means an eruption will happen, or if things are settling down, but this volcano does not have a historical eruption record (in Iceland these date back to Viking times), so it could be unlikely... but nothing is impossible.

And to the North of Bárðarbunga, Askja volcano, which is another record-holding volcano in Iceland, had a catastrophic eruption in 1875, one of Iceland's largest, has been having persistent seismicity after the fissure eruption of Bárðarbunga. One of its much older and unmonitored neighbors, Herðubreið has followed that trend as well.

All of these volcanoes are in the vicinity of the spreading rift, and it does appear that the magma plume under Iceland is getting a little restless. Time will tell, but Iceland is an ever-changing landscape of ice and fire, and it does not appear to want to lose that description any time soon.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hakoneyama Volcano In Japan Put On Alert [UPDATED 6-30-2015]

According to an article on The Asahi Shimbun, Hakoneyama (Hakone) Volcano in Japan has been put on alert, and visitors restricted from visiting the summit. Hakoneyama is the close neighbor to Mt. Fuji, which has according to experts been in a state of high pressure for some time now.

Hakoneyama has not erupted for some 2900 years, although the numerous hot springs, geysers, and fumeroles within the caldera point to an active magma system. Recent seismicity has given reason for the high alert status. According to the article, many shallow quakes have been recorded in the last month, with 16 quakes recorded on April 26th, and 72 from May 2-4.

Image from JMA detailing locations of quakes.

According to the article, inflation is being recorded at the volcano. While this does not point to an imminent eruption, this volcano was on the same large subduction zone that was affected by the infamous 9.0 quake of 2011, which caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a massive tsunami, and associated disasters. Quakes of that magnitude in active volcanic zones can produce some surprises.

Japan is likely more wary of volcanic unrest after Mount Ontake erupted with little warning, killing hikers and tourists, and stranding many in mountainside lodges. It was the worst volcanic disaster for Japan in recent times. The caution can and will save lives should the volcano erupt.

The Smithsonian GVP Characterizes the volcano as such:

"Hakoneyama volcano is truncated by two overlapping calderas, the largest of which is 10 x 11 km wide. The calderas were formed as a result of two major explosive eruptions about 180,000 and 49,000-60,000 years ago. Scenic Lake Ashi lies between the SW caldera wall and a half dozen post-caldera lava domes that were constructed along a SW-NE trend cutting through the center of the calderas. Dome growth occurred progressively to the south, and the largest and youngest of these, Kamiyama, forms the high point of Hakoneyama. The calderas are breached to the east by the Hayakawa canyon. A phreatic explosion about 3000 years ago was followed by collapse of the NW side of Kamiyama, damming the Hayakawa valley and creating Lake Ashi. The latest magmatic eruptive activity about 2900 years ago produced a pyroclastic flow and a lava dome in the explosion crater, although phreatic eruptions took place as recently as the 12-13th centuries CE. Seismic swarms have occurred during the 20th century. Lake Ashi, along with major thermal areas in the caldera, forms a popular resort area SW of Tokyo"

Since this is a breaking news story, and from Japan, it will be difficult to monitor the situation by normal means, but I'll keep an eye out, and should anything develop, I will update this post.

*****UPDATE 5/8/2015*****

Japan's Meteorologial Agency (JMA) raised the alert level of Hakoneyama to alert level RED. This is more than likely out of an abundance of caution, but after the eruption of Ontake, this is a prudent step. Volcanic tremor remains elevated, and steam vents are becoming more vigorous. If Hakoneyama were to erupt, it would be the first eruption in historical time.

****UPDATE 6/8/2015*****

JMA has lowered the alert level for Hakoneyama after visual observations noted a decrease in steaming from the various fumeroles and steam vents, in conjunction with a decrease in seismicity, as well as deflationary tilt. The alert level remains elevated, but no eruption now appears imminent.

*****UPDATE 6/30/2015*****
According to Reuters/Yahoo, Japan's Hakone (hakoneyama) volcano has now had a small ash-emitting eruption, after around a month or so of unrest. Japan had previously restricted access to the steam-vents area near the resort and issued an exclusion zone. The eruption was described as very small. 40 people were evacuated from the summit area. Live cams currently show vigorous steaming, suggesting that this was possibly a small phreatic (steam driven) eruption. New eruptions can happen at any time, and any new steam/hot rock interactions can cause more eruptions. Any fresh injection of magma (which is thought to have occurred) can increase this risk.

The volcano is now at Alert Level 3. A drone flight on June 20 revealed damage to facilities caused by large amounts of sulfur and gases being expelled by the volcano.