So far this week, we have seen the most dangerous volcano in Mexico erupt, and three major volcanoes in Indonesia all erupted within the space of just 72 hours. Mexico and Indonesia are both considered to be part of “the Ring of Fire”, and all along the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean volcanoes are starting to go off like firecrackers right now. According to Volcano Discovery, 25 volcanoes in areas that are considered to be within the Ring of Fire have erupted recently. Our planet appears to have entered a time of increased seismic activity, and those the follow my work regularly know that this is a theme that I revisit repeatedly. Sadly, most Americans are not paying too much attention to this increase in seismic activity, but the truth is that it has very serious implications for the west coast of the United States.
It didn’t make a big splash in the mainstream media in the United States, but this week Mt. Popocatepetl erupted and coated homes and vehicles in Mexico City with a thick layer of volcanic dust. And now some scientists are becoming concerned that this recent activity may be building up to “a major disastrous eruption”…
Residents of Mexico City woke this morning to find ash coating cars and buildings after the Popocatepetl volcano belched out another toxic cloud.
The volcano is considered one of the world’s most dangerous due to its proximity to the city with more than nine million inhabitants.
Around 25 million people live within 62 miles of the crater of the 5,426-metre magma mount, who could also be affected.
There are fears the peak is building towards a major disastrous eruption after activity increased over the past few years, although, it has been periodically erupting since 1994.
There is a very good reason why Mt. Popocatepetl is considered to be the most dangerous volcano in Mexico. If there ever is “a major disastrous eruption”, millions upon millions of people will be directly affected and it will bring Mexico’s economy to a screeching halt. The following comes from one of my previous articles…
Popocatepetl is an Aztec word that can be translated as “smoking mountain”, and more than 25 million people live within range of this extraordinarily dangerous mountain. Experts tell us that during the time of the Aztecs, entire cities were completely buried in super-heated mud from this volcano. In fact, the super-heated mud was so deep that it buried entire pyramids. In the event of a full-blown eruption, Mexico City’s 18 million residents probably wouldn’t be buried in super-heated mud, but it would still be absolutely devastating for Mexico’s largest city.
Meanwhile, the nation of Indonesia has been rocked by three significant volcanic eruptions in just a three day period…
Giant clouds of ash engulfed the skies as Mount Sinabung became the third volcano to erupt in Indonesia, in the space of just three days.
Mount Rinjani on Lombok island near Bali erupted on Monday, with the Sinabung volcano on Sumatra island and Mount Gamalama in the Moluccas chain of islands following suit late yesterday.
There are approximately 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, but this is still very unusual even for them.
But of even greater concern for Indonesia (and for the rest of the planet) is the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that shook Mount Tambora on July 31st. Back in 1815, an eruption at Mount Tambora was the largest that has ever been recorded, and there are concerns that this recent very large earthquake may be a sign that another mega-eruption is on the way.
If you are not familiar with the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, it was truly a historic event. More than 70,000 people died from the immediate blast, and the climate of the entire planet was cooled substantially for years afterwards. The following description of that eruption comes from Wikipedia…
After a large magma chamber inside the mountain filled over the course of several decades, volcanic activity reached a historic climax in the eruption of 10 April 1815. This eruption had a volcanic explosivity index (VEI) of 7, the only unambiguously confirmed VEI-7 eruption since the Lake Taupo eruption in about AD 180. (The 946 eruption of Paektu Mountain might also have been VEI-7.)
With an estimated ejecta volume of 160 km3 (38 cu mi), Tambora’s 1815 outburst is the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. The explosion was heard on Sumatra, more than 2,000 km (1,200 mi) away. Heavy volcanic ash falls were observed as far away as Borneo, Sulawesi, Java, and the Maluku Islands.
The following year became known as “the year without a summer” because the global climate cooled down so dramatically. There were crop failures all across the northern hemisphere, and as a result the world experienced the worst famine of the 19th century.
Someday, there will be another eruption of that magnitude at Mount Tambora or elsewhere along the Ring of Fire, and the world will experience another horrifying famine.
It is just a matter of time.
And let us not forget that the entire west coast of the United States also sits along the Ring of Fire. In my novel and in my new book I warn about the coming eruption of Mt. Rainier. But that is certainly not the only volcano on the west coast that we need to be concerned about. In recent months there has also been increased seismic activity at Mt. Hood and at Mt. St. Helens.
We have been very fortunate not to have had any major volcanic eruptions in the continental United States since the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980, but scientists assure us that we are well overdue for the next one.
In addition, the Yellowstone supervolcano may not be considered to be directly along the Ring of Fire, but it has also been exhibiting very strange behavior this year as well. When it finally erupts, all of our lives are going to change in a single moment.
So there are definitely some big reasons why we should be concerned about all of these volcanoes that are currently erupting around the world. It may not be tomorrow, but eventually Americans are going to see firsthand how a major volcanic eruption can permanently alter their lives.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported on May 5, 2016, on the large number of small earthquakes occurring beneath Mount St. Helens, the most seismically active volcano in the Washington and Oregon Cascades, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. This volcano is known for having erupted violently on May 18, 1980. It erupted again – less violently – in 2004-2008. Since March 14 of this year, scientists have been observing small-magnitude earthquakes at the volcano, but scientists do not believe another eruption is imminent. USGS said:
Over the last 8 weeks, there have been over 130 earthquakes formally located by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and many more earthquakes too small to be located. The earthquakes have low magnitudes of 0.5 or less; the largest a magnitude 1.3. Earthquake rates have been steadily increasing since March, reaching nearly 40 located earthquakes per week. These earthquakes are too small to be felt at the surface.
USGS said these earthquakes – which are taking place below the volcano, at a depth between 1.2 to 4 miles (2 and 7 km) – are a normal part of what a volcano does when it’s not erupting:
The magma chamber is likely imparting its own stresses on the crust around and above it, as the system slowly recharges.
The stress drives fluids through cracks, producing the small quakes. The current pattern of seismicity is similar to swarms seen at Mount St. Helens in 2013 and 2014; recharge swarms in the 1990s had much higher earthquake rates and energy release.
Erik Klemetti of Wired’s great earthquake blog explained it this way:
… new magma is rising up underneath St. Helens as it slumbers. As the magma intrudes, it imparts pressure on the rock around it and it heats up water/releases gases that can add to that pressure. This generates small earthquakes as the rocks shift in response to that stress.
No anomalous gases, increases in ground inflation or shallow seismicity have been detected with this swarm, and there are no signs of an imminent eruption.
As was observed at Mount St. Helens between 1987-2004, recharge can continue for many years beneath a volcano without an eruption.
The small earthquakes in 2016 at Mount St. Helens aren’t nearly as dramatic as the observations prior to the volcano’s 1980 eruption. That year, magma – or molten material – pushed its way up from a reservoir deep inside the volcano, creating a bulge on the volcano’s north side as the magma drew closer to the volcano’s mouth. In 1980, scientists felt strongly that Mount St. Helens would soon erupt, although they weren’t entirely prepared for the violence of the eruption, which, according to Wikipedia:
…killed 57 people, nearly 7,000 big game animals (deer, elk, and bear), and an estimated 12 million fish from a hatchery … [and] destroyed or extensively damaged over 200 homes, 185 miles (298 km) of highway and 15 miles (24 km) of railways.
Mount St. Helens is 96 miles (155 km) south of Seattle, Washington, and 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Portland, Oregon.
The video below features scientists talking about their experiences during the 1980 eruption.
For more information, see the Activity Updates for Volcanoes in CVO Area of Responsibility and Earthquake Monitoring at Mount St. Helens.
Bottom line: The U.S. Geological Survey reported on May 5, 2016, on the large number of small earthquakes occurring beneath Mount St. Helens, the most seismically active volcano in the Washington and Oregon Cascades. Earthquake rates have been steadily increasing since March. The cause is probably new magma, rising upward.
Official Source: http://earthsky.org/earth/earthquake-swarms-at-mount-st-helens-2016
If it blows again, it could make Vesuvius look like a tea party.
Now, in a ground-breaking collaboration between the West and North Korea, vulcanologists are gaining new insights into Mount Paektu, on North Korea’s border with China, and whether it might blow its top any time soon.
“If it erupted, it would have impacts way beyond Korea and China,” says James Hammond of Birkbeck, University of London, one of the scientists involved.
In 946 AD, the eruption of Mount Paektu, Korea’s highest mountain, blasted 96 cubic kilometres of debris into the sky, 30 times more than the relatively puny 3.3 cubic kilometres that Vesuvius spewed over Pompeii in AD 79.
Yet despite is size and the potential impact of an eruption, little is known about this enigmatic volcano.
Western researchers got involved because the team investigating the volcano in North Korea, led by Ri Kyong-Song of the government’s Earthquake Administration in Pyongyang, needed access to extra scientific equipment and know-how.
Chinese vulcanologists, who have been monitoring the volcano they call Changbaishan from their side of the border, also wanted more information from the Korean side.
They and the Koreans have been monitoring the volcano closely ever since suspicious bulges were seen in and around the volcano between 2002 and 2005. These involved ground deformations measured by GPS, increased gas emissions and seismic rumbles.
“It’s a priority for both countries, and both have monitoring networks on the volcano, keeping an eye on it,” says Hammond.
Hammond and others from the West were invited to Korea in 2011 to install six seismometers at distances up to 60 kilometres from the volcano. These were sited to detect seismic waves from earthquakes elsewhere in the world passing through the ground beneath Paektu.
Seismic waves travel at different speeds through solid and molten rock, giving the researchers crucial information about what lies beneath.
The results reveal that there is indeed extensive magma beneath the volcano. “It’s a mushy mixture of molten rock and crystals that goes down right through the crust around 35 kilometres deep,” says Hammond.
It’s rare to see a partially melted type of magma with such a large fluid component throughout the whole crust, he says.
These are the first known estimates of the crustal structure of the volcano’s North Korea side and for anywhere beneath North Korea.
The partially melted crust is a potential source for magma in past eruptions and it may be associated with the recent volcanic unrest there.
At the moment, though, there’s no pool of liquid magma gathering near the surface – often a prelude to an eruption.
“One of the challenges now is to go beyond simply saying there’s magma in the crust, discovering instead how it’s sitting, how much there is and what are the implications,” says Hammond. “It’s only when it gets to a certain amount and a certain overpressure that it will erupt.”
At present, the researchers are not sure how much has to accumulate before the volcano erupts, he says.
That’s why the collaboration is set to continue for some time, with Hammond due back in Pyongyang next week. “We’ll be discussing what we’ll do over the next 12 months, and longer term over the next five to 10 years,” says Hammond.
After years working together, the two teams have got to know each other well, talking geology through an interpreter during the day, and in the evening heading for a restaurant or karaoke bar.
No politics, just science
“With what we’re doing, there’s no political element – we’re involved to understand a huge volcano, and the fact we’re having this dialogue is a great example of science transcending political differences,” says Hammond.
Ri also spent a month in the UK finalising the results and the draft for publication. “Our project is an example that it’s possible to build these collaborations and establish mutual trust,” says Hammond. “It’s been an advantage that our science doesn’t come with much political baggage.”
North Korea is keen to open doors for more scientists through an institution called Piintec, Hammond says. “The Koreans are very open to science engagement in most areas.”
“This is a bit of a first, in terms of a collaboration resulting in publication in a high-profile Western journal,” says Hammond.
So next week, when he reaches Pyongyang, he and his Korean colleagues will be celebrating, probably in a karaoke bar in Pyongyang, drinking soju, the rice liquor popular in the country.
“We get on very well,” says Hammond. “That’s why it works, through relationships and trust, and for that to work you need to understand each other.”
Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501513
January 2015 – VOLCANIC ACTIVITY – Bardarbunga (Central Iceland): The visible intensity of the eruption continues to decrease gradually. The Icelandic Met office conducted air-borne measurements of the lava field last week, showing that it has significantly thickened (rather than expanded laterally) during the past weeks, and is now estimated to contain approx. 1.4 cubic kilometers of lava. Effusion rates, although decreasing, are still close to an impressive 100 m³ per second.
Fogo (Cape Verde): The eruption still continues although most of the time visible activity is very low and restricted to degassing. Minor lava effusion and sporadic flares of strombolian activity of mild to moderate size occur from time to time. Scientists from the Cabo Verde volcano observatory (OVCV) who climbed the volcano on 25 January observed small ash emissions, and published a detailed report about the most recent significant activity during 20-23 January, when explosions produced a short-lived ash plume that rose up to 1200 meters on the morning of 20 Jan, as well as a small lava flow on the following day.
Kliuchevskoi (Kamchatka): The eruption continues and a lava flow is active on the southeastern upper flank. A collapse of lava from the flow and violent snow-lava interaction produced a pyroclastic flow that descended to the base of the steep mountain yesterday afternoon around 17:40 local time. From webcam images, it can be estimated that the flow traveled approx 2000 meters in about 2 minutes, resulting in a mean velocity of around 16 meters per second.
Karymsky (Kamchatka): Moderate explosive activity continues. Ash plumes from strombolian to vulcanian eruptions were reported by KVERT, reaching approx. 14,000 ft (4.2 km) altitude and drifting north and later east from the volcano. Aviation color code remains “orange”.
Shishaldin (United States, Aleutian Islands): A faint thermal signal remains visible on satellite imagery. According to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, weak eruptive activity likely continues in the summit crater.
San Miguel (El Salvador): A small explosion occurred last Monday at 06:43 morning. Probably phreatic in nature, it was the first eruptive activity since minor ash emissions past July. According to MARN, falling blocks from the eruption could be heard from people in the vicinity of the volcano. No further eruptions have followed so far, and no significant temperature signal can be detected at the summit, only constant degassing reaching 150-250 m height. Seismic activity remains relatively low, but sudden explosions of small to moderate size remain a possibility.
Sangay (Ecuador): Eruptive activity of some sort is likely in progress at the volcano. Along with pilot reports of spotted plumes relayed through the Washington VAAC, thermal signals detectable on satellite data have been more and more frequent since early January, Culture Volcan points out in his blog. It is unknown what kind of activity is occurring, but the most likely scenario is mild to moderate strombolian activity, which is typical for Sangay,- an extremely remote, but at the same time very active, that often has this type of activity. In many ways it is similar to its Kamchatka counterpart Klyuchevskoy currently in eruption as well. –Volcano Discovery
January 2015 – HAWAII – The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports an active breakout of the Kilauea Volcano lava flow that began June 27 advanced about 120 yards toward Highway 130. An update Saturday from the Hawaii County Civil Defense said the original flow front and south margin breakout remain stalled. However, a breakout along the north side of the flow remains active and has advanced down slope below an area near the stalled front. The leading edge of the breakout was 0.4 miles from Highway 130 and west of the Pahoa police and fire stations. The Civil Defense agency says dry weather is likely to keep brush fires a concern. –Fox 8
Tonga underwater volcano creates new island: A Tongan volcano has created a substantial new island since it began erupting last month, spewing out huge volumes of rock and dense ash that has killed nearby vegetation, officials said on Friday. The volcano, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of the South Pacific nation’s capital Nuku’alofa, rumbled to life on December 20 for the first time in five years, the Lands and Natural Resources Ministry said. It said the volcano was erupting from two vents, one on the uninhabited island of Hunga Ha’apai and the other underwater about 100 meters (328 feet) offshore.
The ministry said experts took a boat trip to view the eruption on Thursday and confirmed it had transformed the local landscape. “The new island is more than one kilometer (0.6 mile) wide, two kilometers (1.2 miles) long and about 100 meters (328 feet) high,” it said in a statement. “During our observations the volcano was erupting about every five minutes to a height of about 400 meters (1,312 feet), accompanied by some large rocks… as the ash is very wet, most is being deposited close to the vent, building up the new island.”
It said ash and acidic rain was deluging an area 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) around the volcano, adding: “Leaves on trees on Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai have died, probably caused by volcanic ash and gases.” A number of international flights were cancelled earlier this week amid concerns about the volcano’s ash plume but they resumed on Wednesday, with authorities saying debris from the eruption was not being thrown high into the atmosphere. “Tonga, which is almost 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) northeast of New Zealand, lies on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where continental plates collide causing frequent volcanic and seismic activity. –Discovery News
Iceland volcano still erupting: Five months after it sparked fears of aviation disruption in Europe, this aerial footage shows the Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland continuing to magnificently erupt. Seismic activity from the volcano has continued since August last year, with small earthquakes occurring daily in the area, according to a report by the Icelandic Met Office. The Holuhraun lava field is now around 85 square kilometers (33 square miles), NASA has said.
It is Iceland’s largest baslatic lava flow since the Laki eruption in 1783-1784, with lava flowing at an estimated 50 to 70 cubic meters per second over the last few weeks. High levels of sulphuric dioxide are still being recorded in the area, which has triggered evacuations of villages. Air exclusion zones were put in place when the volcano first began to erupt on 27 August. In 2010, an ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano closed much of Europe’s air space for six days. –Sky News