Photo Friday: Volcanic Readiness in Colombia

The Volcanic and Seismological Observatory of Manizales has recently conducted several workshops on volcanic risk with communities in the vicinity of Nevado del Ruiz, a glacier-covered volcano in Colombia that showed signs of renewed activity earlier this year.

The workshops prepare communities to react to volcanic hazards like ash and lahars, the latter of which can occur when lava flow mixes with the icy temperatures of glaciers. Locals participate in focus groups and model experiments to better understand the volcanic risks in their community.

“Communication Strategy of Volcanic Risks,” is enacted in conjunction with the Colombian Geological Service, the National Unity of Disaster Risk Management, and other regional and municipal agencies. Check out some photos of the workshop, courtesy of the Observatory, below.

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Click here to “like” the Observatory’s Facebook page and to see more photos of the project.

 

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Iceland’s fire decimates its ice: Eyjafjallajökull

A new scientific study investigates the interactions between the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull’s lava flow and the overlaying ice cap, revealing previously unknown subglacial lava-ice interactions.

Six years after  the eruption, the volcano is revisited by the author of the study, Björn Oddsson, a geophysicist with Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management. He and his team present the most up-to-date chronology of the events, reverse engineer the heat transfer processes involved, and discover a phenomenon which may invalidate previous studies of “prehistoric subglacial lava fields.”

Satellite image of Iceland in 2010, during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)
Satellite image of Iceland in 2010, during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption (Source: NASA Earth Observatory, annotated)

Eyjafjallajökull (‘jökull’ is Icelandic for ‘glacier’) hit headlines in April 2010, as it spewed 250 million tonnes of ash into the atmosphere. The explosive event shook the West, as it took an unprecedented toll on trans-Atlantic and European travel, disrupting the journeys of an estimated 10 million passengers. It is only known to have erupted four times in the last two millennia.

The first hint that something major was about to happen in 2010 came as a nearby fissure — Fimmvörðuhálsa — to the northeast, began spouting lava in March and April 2010. Just as Fimmvörðuhálsa quieted, a “swarm of earthquakes” rocked the Eyjafjalla range, on April 13. The next day, Eyjafjallajökull started its 39-day eruption.

Over four and a half billion cubic feet (130 million m3) of ice was liquefied and vaporized as six billion gallons of lava spewed forth from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull stratovolcano. Flowing at distances up to 1,640 feet (500 m) each day, the lava poured down the northern slopes of the Eyjafjalla range, nearly halving the mass of the glacier Gígjökull, as it bored a channel underneath the ice.

Oddsson and co-authors Eyjólfur Magnússon and Magnus Gudmundsson have been on the leading edge of Eyjafjallajökull research, developing a comprehensive chronology of the subglacial processes at work in 2010. To complement their timeline, they developed a model demonstrating the probable interactions and volumes involved.

Steam plumes from the caldera of Eyjafjallajökull (Source: Jon Gustafsson)
Steam plumes from the caldera of Eyjafjallajökull (Source: Jon Gustafsson)

The eruption was exceptionally well-documented and studied in real-time by the world-class volcanologists and glaciologists who populate Iceland. Oddsson’s et al. paper relied on a previously uncombined series of datasets (i.e. synthetic aperture radar (SAR), tephra sampling, seismic readings, webcam footage) to develop an holistic model to explain the subglacial formation of the 3.2 km lava field.

In April 2010, magma began to rise to the surface — the “culmination of 18 years of intermittent volcanic unrest,” according to Freysteinn Sigmundsson and colleagues. The first outflow of lava rapidly began undermining the base layers of the Eyjafjallajökull ice cap, which was then around 656 ft (200 m) thick.

Over two billion gallons of meltwater was generated. Dammed by the surrounding glacier and rock, the water pooled within the caldera (a large cauldron-shaped volcanic crater). There, it was rapidly heated, building up the subglacial pressure under Eyjafjallajökull’s ice cap over two hours — mimicking a pressure cooker.

In the early hours of April 14, a “white eruption plume” broke through the overlying ice, ultimately ascending 3.1-6.2 (5-10 km) into the atmosphere. During the first three days of the eruption, a series of vast floods — “hyperconcentrated jökulhlaup[s]” — pulsed from under Gígjökull. The first jökulhlaup completely evacuated within half an hour, at up to 1.45 million gallons (5,500 m3) per second, according to Eyjólfur Magnússon of the University of Iceland.

The outpouring of this vast volume was the first indication of an enormous transfer of energy taking place beneath the Eyjafjallajökull ice cap. Oddsson and his team determined that over 45 percent of the heat from the eruption was expended melting the ice, based on inferences of the outflowing steam, tephra, water, and other materials.

Their paper presents a culmination of several decades-worth of research, providing a substantive advance on earlier research. For instance, in 1997 Stephen Matthews’s team estimated mass fluxes in ice, water, and lava based on steam plumes, and in 2002 John Smellie made inferences on the progress of a subglacial eruption on Deception Island, Antarctica. In 2015, Duncan Woodcock and his team provided a theoretical model for the processes, but Oddsson and his colleagues have succeeded in making firmer estimates of heat flux, at a far higher temporal resolution than ever before. It is an evolution of the working group’s 2012 study of Fimmvörðuhálsa, where similar approaches were applied.

Historically, jökulhlaups have directly claimed the lives of only seven Icelanders in the past 600 years. This rate is low, due to the preparedness of local emergency services, as well as the low population density and high level of understanding within the Icelandic population. According to a study led by Magnus Gudmunsson, most fatalities occurred near Grímsvötn — Iceland’s largest subglacial lake, situated in an active volcanic caldera.

Eight-hundred people were evacuated the day before the floodwaters barrelled down the Jökulsá and Markarfljót rivers.

Around 28 percent of the lava breached the northern caldera wall, and escaped under Gígjökull. Over one-and-a-half billion cubic feet (46 million m3) of Gígjökull’s ice mass was liquefied and evaporated as the lava flowed beneath the glacier.

The degradation of Gígjökull (Source: Helgi Arnar Alfreðsson, annotated)
The degradation of Gígjökull (Source: NSIDC (left, right), Helgi Arnar Alfredsson (center), annotated)

As the lava was wasting the ice, it was being quenched by the ensuing meltwater. Four percent of the heat was lost to this water. A “lava crust” formed rapidly, insulating the rest of the lava, and preserving a high core temperature of over 1,832°F (1,000°C).  This encrusted lava continued to flow nearly two miles (3.2 km) from the summit, underneath Gígjökull, melting the overlaying ice as it descended over the following two weeks.

Oddsson’s team explored the resultant lava field, characterised by a “rough, jagged and clinkery” surface, in August 2011 and 2012. Two distinct lava morphologies had formed on the northern slopes. The longer lava field extends of 1.6 miles (2.7 km). It formed as the lava was rapidly quenched by its interaction with the ice, and ensuing meltwater. It accounts for 90 percent of the lava which poured out under Gígjökull. A second layer poured out over the top. It formed a distinctly different rock-type as it cooled, as the overlaying ice had melted, and the water had all evaporated, or flowed downriver. Accordingly, the second lava layer cooled more slowly, losing its heat to the air.

This finding is important as it unveils the processes at work in 2010, as well as having implications for studies of “prehistoric subglacial lava fields.” Dr Kate Smith of the University of Exeter commented, “It is possible that lava-ice interaction in prehistoric eruptions has been underestimated,” as the evidence was obscured by successive layers of lava from the same event, which cooled in the air, rather than interacting with ice and meltwater.

Smith noted that this new observation is a “useful contribution to the body of work on volcano-ice interaction.” The investigation has affirmed and updated earlier glaciovolcanic investigations by David Lescinsky and Jonathan Fink of Arizona State University, outline in a seminal piece in 2000. Oddsson’s et al. findings corroborate the processes Lescinsky and Fink described, though their evidence for successive layering ”partly conceal[ing]” the record is a revelation.

This latest publication by Oddsson and his team establishes a comprehensive chronology of subglacial interactions, and reliable calculations of the heat transfer processes during the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The paper emphasises the value of field observations of volcanic eruptions, especially from ice-capped calderas. It has shone a light on previously little-considered interactions, which has consequences for palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstructions. Overall, it is a valuable contribution to the ever-growing database of glaciovolcanic events, and emphasises the continued need for investigations of present and historic eruptions.

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Photo Friday: Eruption at a Glacier Volcano in Russia

Klyuchevskoy, a glacier-covered volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia, is erupting. The volcano, 4,750 meters in elevation, has had a history of extensive activity over the last 7,000 years. It has been emitting gas, ash and lava since April 3. Several organizations are closely monitoring its eruption. They note that ash explosions reaching 6 to 8 kilometers in height could occur at any time, affecting flights from Asia to Europe and  North America. Local impacts could also be extensive.

KVERT, the Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team, posted an update about Klyuchevskoy’s eruption today

“Explosive-effusive eruption of the volcano continues: there are bursts of volcanic bombs to 200-300 m above the summit crater and up to 50 m above the cinder cone into Apakhonchich chute, and strong gas-steam activity of two volcanic centers with emission of different amounts of ash, the effusing of lava flows along Apakhonchich chute at the south-eastern flank of the volcano. According to the video data, an intensification of the eruption was noted on 06 July: strong explosions sent ash up to 7.5 km a.s.l. According to satellite data by KVERT, a large bright thermal anomaly in the area of the volcano was observed all week, ash plumes drifted for about 350 km to the southwest, south and southeast from the volcano on 02-05 July; and dense ash plumes drifted for about 400 km to the southeast and east from the volcano on 06-07 July.”

Enjoy these striking photos of Klyuchevskoy’s eruption and glaciated peaks below.

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Photo Friday: Volcanoes of the Kamchatka Peninsula

The Kamchatka Peninsula, located in remote Far East Russia, is part of the “Ring of Fire” and is known for its volcanic activity. The 102,400 square mile region has the highest concentration of active volcanoes in the world.

The Kamchatka Peninsula captured by the MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
(Photo credit MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC.)

The Klyuchevskoy volcano is one of the seven active glacier-capped volcanoes in the remote region. At a towering 4,835 meters, the Klyuchevskoy, the area’s tallest volcano, is known for its beauty and symmetry.

Photograph of Klyuchevsky taken July 2006 (Wikimedia Commons)
Klyuchevskoy, as seen on July 2006. (Wikimedia Commons.)

Considered Kamchatka’s most active volcano, Klyuchevskoy has the likely potential to erupt and is currently listed as code orange. The volcano’s current lava flows still are no match for the 1994 eruption, which sent volcanic ash nine miles high into the atmosphere.

1994 eruption of the Klyuchevsky Volcano, taken by NASA
(Photo credit NASA.)

Over the past three decades, satellites have captured many eruptions within the Kamchatka Peninsula, like the 1994 eruption of Klyuchevskoy, seen here. In January of 2013, four volcanoes—Shiveluch, Bezymianny, Tolbachik, and Kizimen — erupted at the same time.

Ash plume over Shiveluch, one of the four volcanoes to erupt on january 1, 2013. (NASA)
Ash plume over Shiveluch, one of the four volcanoes that erupted January 2013. (Photo credit NASA.)

In 2010 a unique photograph of the region was taken from the International Space Station, providing a unique perspective of the glacier-capped volcanoes.

Kamchatka Peninsula as seen from the International Space Station (NASA)
Kamchatka Peninsula as seen from the International Space Station. (Photo credit NASA.)
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Assembling Stories of the 2010 Volcanic Eruption in Iceland

Driving through ash-filled air, using GPS (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
Driving through ash-filled air, using GPS (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)

Like many other people, I was affected by the eruption of Mt. Eyjafjallajökull six years ago.  I have begun a project which focuses on the mountain, a glacier-covered volcano in southern Iceland, and its dramatic eruption.  I am writing to invite you and others to contribute stories about this event to the project, which is titled Volcanologues.  

The eruption began on 20 March 2010. The interaction of magma with water during the second phase of the eruption, beginning on 14 April, created a plume of volcanic ash that covered large areas of northern Europe, blocking air traffic over most of Europe for six days. About twenty countries closed their airspace to commercial jet traffic. Approximately ten million people had their travel schedules interrupted without any warning, and had to scramble to adjust their plans.  

Holding volcanic ash (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
Holding volcanic ash (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)

Eyjafjallajökull and the glacier which covers it have always had a significant presence for me. Not only did some of my ancestors live on a small farm right under the glacier, but also I could see the mountain from Heimaey, the island I was born and raised, as well as more recently from my summer home in southern Iceland.

In Reykjavik, I followed news on the levels of toxic gases which were emitted, and I measured the amount of ash that fell by my house. I also had to cancel a trip for a major conference in Poland. Most importantly, later on I was stranded in Norway due to one of the last clouds of volcanic ash. The trip home, which ordinarily would require  only three hours, lasted 26 hours–a strange experience, one that remained in my mind longer than I anticipated.

Caring for a sheep affected by the eruption (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
Caring for a sheep affected by the eruption (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)

During the months following the eruption, I kept meeting many people who described similar experiences, often in far more dramatic terms than I had used in speaking to my family and friends. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to collect eruption stories. I hesitated, perhaps because I somehow felt guilty that a volcano in my backyard was causing all these troubles! Recently, however, such a project has appealed to me, partly because I have been organizing a research project, “Domesticating Volcanoes” at the Center for Advanced Study in Oslo and partly because I have been developing the notion of “geosociality,” along with anthropologist Heather Anne Swanson, focusing on the commingling of humans and the earth “itself.”

Horses facing the volcanic ash-cloud (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
Horses facing the volcanic ash-cloud (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)

Hosted at the University of Iceland, the Volcanologues project will document the complex impacts of the eruption on people from different parts of the world. Anyone who has a story to tell is inviteded to share their experience. Collectively, these stories will illuminate personal dramas in the wake of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, providing an engaging window into unprecedented natural events and their aftermaths.

I ask those who are interested in contributing to submit a short essay, possibly along with a related image (a photo, a drawing, or a document), to volcanologues2010@gmail.com. The average text should be between 500 and 1000 words. It should include a title, name and email address of the author, and a statement of consent: “I hereby grant Gisli Palsson permission to publish my essay on his Volcanologues website and in a printed collection of essays.”

I would like to thank my friend Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson for the permission to use his striking photographs of the eruption. His work can be viewed at Arctic Images.

Walking through the freshly fallen ash (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
Walking through the freshly fallen ash (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
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A Glacier-covered Volcano in Chile: Will It Erupt Soon?

Several recent events suggest that a set of glacier-covered volcanoes in the southern Chilean region of Bío-Bío, which have been showing increasing activity since December, may be likely to erupt.  The three mountains, known as the Nevados de Chillán, reach over 3200 meters in elevation, and have a set of glaciers totaling over 2 square kilometers in area on their summits. They have a long record of eruptions, with historical documentation from the 17th century. Radiocarbon evidence records eruptions that took place about 8000 years ago.  

Ash from eruption covers volcano webcam at Chillán (source: SERNAGEOMIN)
Ash from eruption covers a volcano webcam at Chillán (source: SERNAGEOMIN)

The Nevados de Chillán complex, which averaged about one eruption a decade during the 19th and 20th centuries, had been relatively quiescent since an eruption in 2003. Sticking roughly to that schedule, the complex began to show signs of returning to activity with an earthquake in February 2015 which registered 3.2 on the Richter scale. The Chilean National Geology and Mining Service (SERNAGEOMIN) maintained the volcano warning at the lowest level, green, until 31 December, when it issued a yellow warning, signaling an intermediate level of danger. This shift was prompted by the appearance of a new gas vent on 8 December and by a series of over 2000 small seismic events, all under 2.0 on the Richter scale, throughout the month,  which indicated the fracturing of solid rock and the upward movement of magma beneath the surface.

New crater near the summit at Chillán (source: SERNAGEOMIN)
New crater near the summit at Chillán (source: SERNAGEOMIN)

This activity has picked up in January, with the opening of a second new vent on 8 January, accompanied by a 2.9 earthquake and a cloud of ash. SERNAGEOMIN and the National Office of Emergencies (ONEMI) installed two webcams near this vent on 27 January. Providing these cameras with material to record, new clouds of ash appeared on 29 January. On 30 January, a crater, about 25-30 meters in diameter, appeared near the other new vents, with gasses, ashes and occasional blocks of cooled lava emerging from it. Temperatures at the summit were about 125º C, which was consistent with ongoing hydrothermal activity but did not suggest that magma, typically closer to 1000 º C in temperature, was approaching the surface.  Taken as a whole, these new activities led ONEMI to create a 2-km zone around the new craters from which people are excluded.  The local sense of concern was increased by the wide availability of images from the new cameras and from an impressive thunderstorm on 31 January, as shown below:

Dave McGarvie, a volcanologist with considerable experience in ice-covered volcanoes, has been working around Chillán since 2001. In his blog, he offers this overview of the situation:

What makes me think that this unrest is likely to lead to an eruption? Well there are two main reasons.

 

Firstly, there’s clearly been a new heat source introduced into the plumbing system beneath the volcano, and this had drilled a new pathway to the surface leading to bursts of heat escaping through a new vent. This heat source is almost certainly due to magma rising up in the plumbing system. And at the moment there’s a ‘vent-cleaning’ phase in place, with bursts of heat interacting with water contained within the cone (Hydrothermal). There are probably magmatic gases involved as well. These energetic outbursts are cleaning out material in the developing conduit, and possibly also pulverizing (fragmenting) material being blown out.

 

Secondly, this new vent has developed on the youngest cone at this volcanic complex, which has developed through a long series of eruptions, punctuated by time gaps of a few years to decades.

Hazard map showing areas at risk of lava and mudflows (source: ONEMI)
Hazard map showing areas at risk of lava and mudflows (source: ONEMI)

McGarvie’s assessment is that an eruption in the near future would probably be small, though it could include significant volumes of lava as well as of gases and ashes. He notes that the snow cover on the mountain is relatively small at this time of year, the austral summer, but that the risk of melting snow and glacier ice cannot be excluded. SERNAGEOMIN produced a map in 2012 that indicated the zones of danger from lahars (volcanic mudflows), which extend 40 km from the volcanoes through the foothills of the mountains and of local authorities into valleys with farms and town. Local officials could use these maps to organize evacuations if a large eruption occurred.  

However, the summer season brings another risk to the area: fires. A brushfire in the area on 31 January threatened to grow large, but was controlled after several hours. On 1 February, the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) sent three helicopters to combat a large and rapidly-moving forest fire near the mountain. With the assistance of the lumber company Masisa and four local fire departments, CONAF was able to extinguish the blaze, which closed local roads.  The movement of lava down the mountain could create a large series of fires which would prove more difficult to control, especially if the current heat wave continues.

The coming weeks will provide more information about the activities of this glacier-covered volcano complex. A recent video, with dramatic footage of a sudden burst of ash and an audio recording of sustained deep rumbling, offers a suggestion of what the start of an eruption might be like.

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Roundup: Gloomy Glaciologist, Icy Blasts, and New Models

Glaciologist Causes Chills with Not So Icy Predictions

“How does being the one to look at the grim facts of climate change most intimately, day in and day out, affect a person? Is Box representative of all of the scientists most directly involved in this defining issue of the new century? How are they being affected by the burden of their chosen work in the face of changes to the earth that could render it a different planet?”

(Photo:NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Jefferson Beck, please contact the photographer before using)
A man collects meltwater temperatures in Greenland, where Box does most of his research. (Photo:NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Jefferson Beck, please contact the photographer before using)

Read more about the man who, for better or for worse, set off climate alarm bells.

 

Could Climate Change Cause More Icy Blasts?

“The degree of activity of the volcano provides a semiquantitative indication concerning the probability of future eruptive activity, but changes in snow and ice as induced by climate change and/or volcanic activity can superimpose fast or slow trends with respect to hazards and risks related to volcanoe-ice interactions…”

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The paper speaks of the particular risks the eruption of Mt. St Helens caused. (Photo: Eric Prado/Flikr, please contact the photographer before using)

Read more about the risks of volcano-ice interactions and how those risks might effect society.

High Resolution Model Accurately Recreates Glacier Variability

“Altogether, the model compares well with observations and offers possibilities for studying glacier climatic mass balance on Svalbard both historically as well as based on climate projections.”

Glaicer calving in Svalbard. (Photo:Gary Bembridge/Flikr, please contact the photographer before using)
Glaicer calving in Svalbard. (Photo:Gary Bembridge/Flikr, please contact the photographer before using)

Read more about how the researchers were able to get their models so accurate.

 

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New Findings Suggest Cryovolcanoes on Pluto

On November 9th, New Horizons mission geologists presented evidence that Pluto’s largest and most distinctive mountains might indeed be cryovolcanoes, or ice volcanoes, that are likely to have been active in Pluto’s recent geological past.

The findings are just one of over fifty new reports of exciting discoveries about Pluto, revealed just four months after the New Horizons spacecraft first encountered the dwarf planet. Geologists and astronomers presented this new research at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Maryland, which began on November 9th.

Elevation maps of Pluto
Elevation maps of Pluto. Blue indicates lower terrain, green shows higher elevation, and green indicates intermediate heights. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

New Horizons geologists presented 3-D elevation maps of Pluto’s surface, specifically of two of Pluto’s largest mountains, informally named Wright Mons and Piccard Mons.

“These are big mountains with a large hole in their summit, and on Earth that generally means one thing—a volcano,” said Oliver White, New Horizons postdoctoral researcher with NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, in a New Horizons blog post.

The elevation maps suggest that these two distinctive mountains, which measure tens of miles across and several miles high, could be ice volcanoes. The research team is still tentative in its conclusions, but their current hypothesis strongly explains the geological formation of the two mountains.

White says, “If they are volcanic, then the summit depression would likely have formed via collapse as material is erupted from underneath. The strange hummocky texture of the mountain flanks may represent volcanic flows of some sort that have travelled down from the summit region and onto the plains beyond.”

The scientists don’t yet have all the explanations of their hypothesis, though. White muses, “Why they are hummocky, and what they are made of, we don’t yet know.”   

However, while Earthly volcanoes spew fiery molten rock, these cryovolcanoes are a little different: NASA scientists suspect that they would emit “a somewhat melted slurry of substances such as water ice, nitrogen, ammonia, or methane.”

If Pluto’s distinctive mountains are indeed volcanoes, the findings will provide important insight into geologic and atmospheric evolution in space.

Wright Mons
Mountain Wright Mons displays a 35-mile wide summit depression. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The scientific findings regarding Pluto’s geology and atmospheric systems that have emerged over the last four months have consistently continued to surprise NASA’s New Horizons mission team.

Jim Green, the director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, commented about the mission, “The New Horizons mission has taken what we thought we knew about Pluto and turned it upside down.”

Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, called Pluto the new “star of the solar system,” adding, “It’s hard to imagine how rapidly our view of Pluto and its moons are evolving as new data stream in each week.”

Even further, the sheer magnitude of data available for analysis have stunned scientists. Stern stated, “I’d wager that for most planetary scientists, any one or two of our latest major findings on one world would be considered astounding. To have them all is simply incredible.”

“It’s why we explore – to satisfy our innate curiosity and answer deeper questions about how we got here and what lies beyond the next horizon,” said Jim Green.

 

 

 

 

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Roundup: Lava Flows, Pollen Grains and Village Projects

Hazards at Ice-Clad Volcanoes: Phenomena, Processes, and Examples From Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile

Photo courtesy of the study
Photo courtesy of the study

“The interaction of volcanic activity with snow and ice bodies can cause serious hazards and risks[….] Case studies from Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile are described. These descriptions depict the way in which the volcanic activity has interacted with ice bodies in recent volcanic crises (Popocatépetl, Mexico; Nevado del Huila, Columbia; Llaima and Villarica, Chile) and how the lahar processes have been generated. Reconstruction of historical events (Cotopaxi, Ecuador) or interpretation of events from the geological remains (Citlatépetl, Mexico) help to document past events that today could be disastrous for people and infrastructure now existing at the corresponding sites. A primary challenge for hazard prevention and risk reduction is the difficulty of making decisions based on imperfect information and a large degree of uncertainty. Successful assessments have resulted in the protection of lives in recent cases such as that at Nevado del Huila (Colombia).”

Read more about the study here.

 

Ancient pollen reveals droughts between Sierra Nevada glacier surges

The Sierra Nevada region.
The Sierra Nevada region. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Hidden below the surface of California’s Central Valley are pollen grains from the Pleistocene that are providing scientists with clues to the severity of droughts that struck the region between glacial periods.

The Pleistocene—the age of mammoths and mastodons—occurred between 1.8 million and 11,500 years ago. For this new study, scientists dug up Pleistocene sediment samples containing buried pollen from the Central Valley. They found that pollen samples dated from interglacial periods—years between surges in the mountain glaciers—predominantly came from desert plants. The same sediments lacked pollen from plants of wetter climates.”

To learn more about the new findings, click here.

 

Adapting in the Shadow of Annapurna: A Climate Tipping Point

02780771-35.3.cover“Rapid climate change in the Himalaya threatens the traditional livelihoods of remote mountain communities, challenges traditional systems of knowledge, and stresses existing socio-ecological systems. Through semi-structured interviews, participatory photography, and repeat photography focused on climate change and its impacts on traditional livelihoods, we aim to shed light on some of the socio-cultural implications of climate related change in Manang, a remote village in the Annapurna Conservation Area of Western Nepal…. Continued development of relevant, place-based adaptations to rapid Himalayan climate change depends on local peoples’ ability to understand the potential impacts of climate change and to adjust within complex, traditional socio-ecological systems.”

To learn more about the study and its findings, click here.

 

 

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Ecuadorean Eruption Sparks Fears of Glacier Floods

Ash erupted from Ecuador’s glacier-covered Cotopaxi volcano last week after seventy quiet years. The debris shot five kilometres into the air, covering homes, cars, fields and roads as it descended, according to the Independent.

Patricio Ramon, of Ecuador’s Instituto Geofísico, said the eruption was phreatic, meaning that molten rock encountered water, creating a forceful release of steam.

“[I felt] in shock, not knowing what to do when I saw everything was moving. Then a strong smell of sulfur filled the mountain. Tourists were also concerned and wanted to leave as soon as possible,”  resident Franklin Varela told Ciudadana, an Ecuadorean radio station.

Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s second highest volcano, peaks at 5,897 metres and lies 45 kilometres from the capital, Quito. Its glacier, also named Cotopaxi, is considered to be of significant economic, social and environmental importance, according to reports of the United Nations Environment Programme. Meltwater from the glacier provides Quito with water and hydroelectric power, but in the last 40 years, the ice has thinned by more than 38 percent.  Most of this retreat is attributed to climate change, but eruptions can exacerbate glacial retreat by rapidly melting ice and triggering floods. Researchers from Instituto Geofísico told El Universal they considered Cotopaxi one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to its potential for lahars, or mudflows, often triggered by glacial melt. When Cotopaxi erupted in 1877, lahars travelled as far as 100 kilometres from the volcano.  

The most recent ash eruptions led to the evacuation of hundreds of residents and livestock from El Pedregal, a community close to the volcano, reported La Hora. Farmers have expressed concerns that the ash that fell on their livestock feed will harm their animals.

Residents have been warned to avoid inhaling ash. Quito’s Mayor, Mauricio Rodas, told citizens he would hand out masks and told the city to remain calm.

Researchers continue to observe Cotopaxi’s activity as the volcano’s activity increases. On Saturday, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, declared a state of emergency.

The president’s announcement comes the same week as a series of strikes against his government’s labor policies and changes to the constitution that would allow him to run for president at the end of his term. The army and police have been dispatched and civil guarantees are temporarily suspended.

“We declare a state of emergency due to the unusual activity of Mount Cotopaxi,” Correa said. “God willing, everything will go well and the volcano will not erupt.”

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Volcanoes and Glaciers Shape Alaskan Landscape

Alaska's Pavlof Volcano, courtesy of NASA Goddard  Space Flight Center
Alaska’s Pavlof Volcano, courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Volcanic eruptions mark the beginnings of new landscapes. Ash and lava cover existing vegetation and map out a fresh terrain. Though researchers understand how volcanic landscapes evolve over centuries, there is little understanding of how volcanic eruptions have influenced the geomorphology, or the relationship between the Earth’s surface and geological structures, according to Christopher F. Waythomas, from the United States Geological Survey.

In a new review of historic volcanic eruptions, Waythomas laid the groundwork for interpreting the effects of volcanic eruptions on shaping the Alaskan landscape. He examined four volcanoes, Redoubt, Katmai, Pavlof and Kasatochi, and found that the volcanoes played a major – if not dominant – role in shaping the ecosystems and landscapes of southern and southwestern Alaska.

Alaska, especially the state’s Aleutian arc, experiences volcanic eruptions every one or two years. Most of the time, these eruptions affect the region’s extensive glaciers.

Following an eruption, melting glacier water can pick up debris and result in dangerous mudslides, or lahars. Lahars can be so powerful that they change the shape of the landscape they travel through, Waythomas found. They can also change sediment flux in the sea and create lahar blocked lakes.

Cleveland Volcano, Alaska, courtesy of NASA
Cleveland Volcano, Alaska, courtesy of NASA

“Given the significant magnitude of many Alaska eruptions and the high frequency of occurrence of eruptive activity, it is worthwhile to examine how eruptive activity and the products of this activity have affected the geomorphic evolution of landscapes throughout the Aleutian arc,” wrote Waythomas.”This task is practical and academic because of the obvious implications for hazards to people, infrastructure, and the environment and for understanding how volcanic systems evolve in an area that is as geologically dynamic as Alaska.” 

Because Alaska’s volcanoes erupt fairly frequently, they tend to be covered by a mantle of loose debris, which is easily dislodged by water flows following an eruption.

However, the varying nature of eruptions makes understanding the consequences of eruptions and lahars difficult. The state experiences both mild eruptions that spread ash across the surrounding areas and extreme events with heavy lava flow.

“The size, characteristics, and unpredictable occurrence of such flows present significant challenges for incorporating large lahars into conventional flood-hazard analyses,” wrote Waythomas.

By further studying the secondary effects of volcanic eruptions in Alaska, researchers will have a better understanding of how the events influence the hydrology, biology and form of the landscape, Waythomas added.

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Photo Friday: Mount Adams

Mount Adams, the second highest mountain in the U.S. state of Washington, is a potentially active volcano in the Cascade Range. Mount Adams was active from about 520,000 to about 1,000 years ago. During the past million years, it has generated considerable eruptive materials. Mount Adams is also home to 12 officially named glaciers. Most of the glaciers originate from the mountain’s summit ice cap.

Roger Reeves and Terrie Heslop began their photography journey with film cameras back in the 1970s and continued until the digital revolution. As a happily married couple, they explore the world around them and share the beauty of natural landscape. The pictures they took in Mount Adams are absolutely breathtaking.

See more about the pictures taken by Roger Reeves and Terrie Heslop here.

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(photo credit: Roger Reeves and Terrie Heslop)

 

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