Earth's largest volcano, Mauna Loa on Hawaii's Big Island, awakens from slumber

Mauna_Loa_Volcano

After a peaceful nap three decades long, Mauna Loa seems to be stirring. "While there are no signs of impending eruption, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has recorded an increased level of seismic activity on the flanks and summit of Mauna Loa over the past 13 months," reports Big Island Now. "Four distinct earthquake swarms — clusters of earthquakes occurring closely in time and location — have occurred since March 2013."

Mauna Loa is "one of five volcanoes that form the Island of Hawaii in the U.S. state of Hawaiʻi in the Pacific Ocean, [and] the largest subaerial volcano in both mass and volume, historically considered the largest volcano on Earth."

From a Wired Science blog post by Erik Klemetti, assistant professor of Geosciences at Denison University.

As of right now, there is little evidence of deformation or increasing carbon dioxide or sulfur dioxide emissions from Mauna Loa — all key signs that an eruption might be about to start at a shield volcano like Mauna Loa. HVO also notes that the earthquake activity is much less intense now that it was in the years just prior to the 1984 activity. Remember, lava flows from Mauna Loa are definitely a hazard for people living between the volcano and Hilo and Hawaii has been preparing for the volcano’s awakening. Nothing is going on right now, but you can get quite a view from the webcams set up at the Mokuʻāweoweo summit area.

Check out the USGS report, and don't miss out on those webcams.

[photo: USGS; HT: @elakdawalla]

"Live Panorama of Mokuʻāweoweo Caldera from the Northwest Rim. 2014-06-18 09:40:30 (HST)." USGS.


"Live Panorama of Mokuʻāweoweo Caldera from the Northwest Rim. 2014-06-18 09:40:30 (HST)." USGS.

Watch a volcanic eruption engulf a forest

Pyroclastic flows are the infamous deadly avalanches of superheated gas and debris that killed thousands at Pompeii and in the 1902 Mount Pelée eruption on Martinique. Now, thanks to a very brave scientist, you can watch a pyroclastic flow up close.

This is one of several videos taken during the recent eruption of Guatemala's Santiaguito (or Santa Maria) volcano. At the Eruptions blog, Erik Klemetti explains the background of how this footage was made, what it shows, and why it's so important.

So, when faced with a pyroclastic flow, why would you try to get up close to one? Julio Cornejo, an INSIVUMEH observer from the Santiaguito volcano observatory (OVSAN), did just that to capture some video (see top and below) that has surprised everyone that has seen it. Cornejo was able to film the very far end of a pyroclastic flow generated by the dome collapse at Santiaguito (see above), when it had lost most of its energy but was still moving. At this point a flow is likely still capable of engulfing and suffocating someone in hot ash and gasses, as happened to many people in the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelee. So, Cornejo is very lucky to have made it out alive with this footage, but what he got was remarkable.

Rudiger Escobar Wolf, a volcanology post-doctoral researcher at Michigan Tech who studies volcanoes in Guatemala, posted a sequence of videos from Cornejo and INSIVUMEH and annotated some of the video to understand what we’re seeing. I’ve also watched the video closely and have two here that show some likely never-before-filmed examples of how pyroclastic flows can be destructive even after they slowed to a snail’s pace relative to their usual speed.

Video Link

Video of bison running out of Yellowstone ≠ "OMG supervolcano eruption"

[Video Link] There's a video going around that shows a long line of bison trotting down a road in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. Some people are pointing to this as a sign that the animals are hightailing it out of the park because the Yellowstone volcano is about to blow its top. But in the video above, Yellowstone Park Public Affairs Chief Al Nash explains that the bison and other animals are simply migrating to a lower elevation where they can find food, which they do every year in the dead of winter.

My takeaway from this video was a reminder that I have a box of mouth-watering Bison Bacon Cranberry Bars in my kitchen cabinet.

Volcano blows smoke rings


Image: Tom Pfeiffer/Volcano Discovery

Sicily's Mount Etna volcano is currently erupting. The series of explosions began on October 26, but on November 11, the mountain did something rare and nifty. Over the course of several hours it blew out dozens of perfect smoke rings, each hundreds of feet in diameter, including the one pictured here.

It's not the first time Etna has done this. Nobody knows exactly how the rings form, but people have been photographing smoke rings coming from Etna since at least 1970. Volcanologist and tour guide Tom Pfeiffer took this picture, as well as several others that you can see at his Volcano Discovery website. He suspects that the smoke rings are formed when eruptions alter the shape of volcanic vents.

Field trip guide to Mount St. Helens

Geology blogger Dana Hunter is putting together some resources that will allow you to take yourself on a fantastic tour of America's most famous volcano. Includes maps, suggested background reading, and routes that will ensure you get to see the most interesting spots on the mountain — and learn stuff while doing it!

Marshmallows roasting on an open lava pit

Syracuse University makes its own lava by melting down hunks of basalt. Then, they give school kids the opportunity to toast marshmallows over the top of the fiery goo.

Read a moving account of surviving (and dying on) Mount St. Helens

At National Geographic, you can read Rowe Findley's 1981 account of surviving the Mount St. Helens eruption — and his deeply moving profiles of many of the people who did not. Includes this seminal quote from 83-year-old Harry R. Truman, who Findley describes as raising "the adjectival use of profanity to a new high": "It's a part of me, and I'm part of that ______ mountain," said Truman. "If I got out of here, I wouldn't live a _____ day, not a ______ day."

What a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption would actually mean for humanity

It's kind of a "That's no moon" moment in real life — a series of discoveries in the 1960s and 1970s led geologists to realize that most of Yellowstone National Park was one giant volcanic caldera. If you've seen the cable TV specials, you've probably come to the conclusion that an eruption of this supervolcano could doom humanity and that said eruption is bound to happen at any time. But the reality is more nuanced than that, write Annalee Newitz at iO9.com. Not only is a Yellowstone eruption not imminent, but there's also more than one way it could erupt — and the most likely scenarios don't equate to worldwide horror.

Amazing images of salt harvest in Ethiopia

National Geographic calls Ethiopia's Danakil Depression "the cruelest place on Earth." It's a desert wasteland, where temperatures can push past 120 F, where ancient and current lava flows impede movement, and where water is so scarce that that people build rock domes over the top of volcanic vents to trap and condense steam.

It's also a place where Ethiopian men and boys regularly travel in order to cut slabs of salt off of the surface of the Earth and haul them back to civilization. Salt flats like this occur when entire bodies of water totally evaporate. In the Danakil Depression, you'll also find salt towers and other formations caused by evaporation off of volcanic geysers and hot springs.

The photo above was taken by Reuters photographer Siegfried Modola, who traveled with a group of salt miners into the desert and then followed their haul all the way back to the marketplace. You can see his full slideshow of images online. I chose this one because it gives you a view of the salt as it's found on the ground, and the neat, rectangular blocks the merchants cut it into for shipping.

The spot is a favorite of photographers. I'd also recommend checking out the photos and story put together by Christina Feldt, who posted about the Danakil salt flats earlier this year.

Exploding things for science

Earlier this month, volcanologists blew 12 holes in an otherwise peaceful meadow in Ashford, New York. It's not that they had anything against the meadow, per se, it's just that it was a convenient place to do some real-world experiments in how explosions affect the Earth and what we can do to monitor and predict volcanic eruptions.

Did a volcanic eruption nearly kill off ancient humans?

Short answer: We don't know. What makes this story by Erin Wayman interesting is the way it carefully breaks down an almost Hollywood-ready narrative and finds the fascinating uncertainty lurking underneath. The truth is, uncertainty is cool. Because it means there's more stuff left to discover.

The birth of a volcano

On February 20th, 1943, Dionisio Pulido watched as a crack in his farm field collapsed in on itself and began to vomit out ash, rock, and fire. The birth of Mexico's Parícutin volcano is a story I've heard before, but I really enjoyed Dana Hunter's two-part series on the occasion of its 70th volcanaversary. Her posts really get into the perspective of Pulido and other local residents in a way I haven't seen in other accounts, and she does an amazing job of giving you a sense of just how well-documented the birth of this volcano was and why that fact matters so much. Here's Part 1 and Part 2.

What we can learn about volcanic eruptions from the vehicles trapped in their path

The car in this photo was 13 kilometers northeast of Mount St. Helens when that volcano erupted on May 18, 1980. This photo was taken about a month later by researchers from the United States Geological Survey. At the Rosetta Stones blog, Dana Hunter has a really fascinating story — with more eerie photos — about why geologists would want to study totaled vehicles and what we can learn from machines that we can't learn from people.

Journey into a volcano

Back in July, I told you about an crane system used to lower tourists into the now-empty lava tubes of an extinct volcano. Now, you can travel down into Iceland's Thrihnukagigur volcano yourself — via this fascinating video posted at the NOVA website. While you're probably not getting a view of Thrihnukagigur's magma chamber, you can see the massive tubes that brought that magma to the surface and stare, gawk-eyed, at the tiny scientists scrambling around inside them.

The risks of visiting volcanoes

In 1993, Stanley Williams survived a close-encounter with a volcano. A volcanologist, he was standing on the rim of Colombia's Galeras volcano when it erupted with little warning. Six of his scientific colleagues and three tourists were killed. Williams fled down the mountain's slope — until flying rocks and boulders broke both his legs. With a fractured skull, he managed to stay conscious enough to huddle behind some other large boulders and dodge flying debris until the eruption ended and his grad students rescued him.

Williams and the other scientists were there to study Galeras, and hopefully get a better idea of what signals predicted the onset of eruptions.

This is something we still don't understand well.

While volcanologists have identified some signals — like distinctive patterns of small earthquakes — that increase the likelihood of an oncoming eruption, those signals aren't foolproof predictions. There are still volcanoes like Galeras that give no warning. And volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens. In 2004, that volcano gave signals that it would erupt. And it did. Sort of. The Seattle Times described it as "two small burps and a lava flow". Basically, the signals don't always precede an eruption, and even when they do happen it doesn't tell you much about how big any ensuing eruption will be.

And that presents an interesting question, writes Erik Klemetti at Wired's Eruptions blog. How close to volcanoes should tourists really be? That's a question with real-world applications. This year, New Zealand's White Island volcano has been ... rather grumbly. Even as tourist boats continued to ferry people over for a view of the crater.

There has always been a fragile relationship between volcanoes and tourism. Volcanic features are some of the most fascinating in the world – just look at the millions of people who visit Yellowstone or Crater Lake National Parks for but two examples of hundreds of volcanic tourist attractions around the world (and that doesn’t even consider all the extinct volcanoes or volcanic deposits that can create amazing landscapes as well). However, with the splendor of volcanic features comes the danger that you, as a tourist, are visiting an active volcano. Sometimes, that danger is low, where either the volcano has been dormant for thousands of years, but the signs of magma beneath are still visible. However, the danger can appear to be low in some places but in reality, you are literally putting your lives in the hands of tour operators when you make the visit.

Read the full story

Read Stanley Williams' account of surviving the Galeras volcano

Photo by Michael Rogers, via GFDL and CC