Volcano monitoring in the news

So, there has been a lot of talk about “volcano monitoring” over the last 24 hours, now hasn’t there?
Now, I’m not going to revisit this discussion, but as an example of why it might be important, there is an article today about the location of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in the Philippines (near the potentially active caldera Natib). These are the sorts of issues that need to be dealt with in regards to volcano monitoring – the cascading effect of an eruption. During the 1980 eruption of Mt. Saint Helens, there was a chance that volcaniclastic sediment from the eruption could have dammed the Columbia River and cut off/limited cooling water to the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant nearby (see Beaulieu, J. D., and Peterson, N. V., 1981 pdf).
We all have different political views on how to help the U.S. economy. However, Stimulus Bill or not, it is irresponsible to put into the public consciousness that volcano monitoring is “wasteful” spending – and this is how it could be perceived. It is also been shown that monitoring volcanoes ends up saving much more money than it costs. I am sure there are plenty of other 0.01%s of the Bill that are much more wasteful but don’t add to the overall anti-science rhetoric in which this country is mired.
//Below are the comments for this article from the previous home of the blog.
Ed Kohut Says:
February 25, 2009 at 10:01 pm e
It is not just monitoring that is important. There is still much to learn about how volcanoes behave and there are potentially dangerous phenomena that have yet to observed in action and can only can be examined by studying the geologic record. Such studies do require some spending, but the cost is small relative to what the cost if something unexpected occured and thus no warning could be issued.
Tied into this is the fact that what a volcano did in the past is an indication of what it could do in the future. There are many volcanoes still awaiting detailed study and these could be potentially dangerous. Therefore basic field mapping and petrology are very important and need to be funded.
And while I’m on a soapbox taking up bandwith: it is not just politicians, but the academic departments that have declared subjects like volcanology, mineralogy and petrology are no long needed as core geologic disciplines. The refrain “nobody does that anymore” is heard from such places and simply adds to the problem of scientific ignorance when they grant “geology” degrees to people ignorant of these fields.
gg Says:
February 25, 2009 at 11:46 pm e
Isn’t this what has happened with Mount St. Helen’s? There is still a program in place, but funds are dwindling?
Here in Canada, we don’t bother with such things, even though we do have active volcanoes. Ignorance is bliss.
David Says:
February 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm e
i think Chaitén this had a big eruption i this here some in about it on TWC not sure
David Says:
February 26, 2009 at 4:04 pm e
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s Chaiten volcano, which erupted spectacularly last year, spewed a vast cloud of ash as well as gas and molten rock on Thursday in a partial collapse of its cone, prompting a fresh evacuation.
Television footage showed a cloud of ash billowing into the sky over the town of Chaiten, which lies about six miles from the crater.
Authorities evacuated 160 people from the area. Around 7,000 nearby residents were evacuated last year after the volcano, dormant for thousands of years, erupted. The government is planning to relocate the town.
Officials from Chile’s national emergency office, Onemi, flew over the volcano and saw a kilometer-long crack in the cone of ash that has steadily grown in the crater, part of which has collapsed.
“Large quantities of gases and pyroclastic material were observed,” Onemi said in a statement, adding that rains in the area combined with the ash could cause flooding in and around the town of Chaiten, located 760 miles south of the capital Santiago.
However, while there was a large volume of ash, there had been none of the earth tremors or groaning sounds that accompanied the initial eruption last year, it said.
Interior Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma ordered all government personnel out of the area, and called on around 30 to 40 civilians who refuse to leave to follow suit.
“It is dangerous to stay in the area. They must leave,” Perez Yoma said. “We have insisted for a long time now that it is completely irresponsible to keep living in the town.”
“If they insist on staying there, they do so at their own risk,” he added. “We can’t keep risking public money or the lives of public workers to protect a few who don’t want to face reality.”
The government insists on moving the entire town. But some residents vow to stay put and are unfazed.
“I looked up and saw a tremendous column (of ash), just like in the beginning, one-and-a-half kilometers high,” Claudio Chelgui, a resident who decided to return to Chaiten despite government warnings, told local radio.
“I didn’t see much because it was overcast, and there was this huge column and fierce sound.”
Emergency officials are exasperated.
“We have repeatedly said there is a red alert and that people should not be there, and if that had been respected, then police would not be evacuating people,” an Onemi official said, asking not to be named.
He said the volcano has been in a permanent state of eruption since May of last year, when a cloud of debris soared as high as 20 miles into the air. The cloud was kept aloft for weeks by the pressure of constant eruptions, covering towns in neighboring Argentina with volcanic ash.
Chile’s chain of volcanoes, the second-largest in the world after Indonesia, includes some 2,000 — of which 500 are potentially active.
Erik Klemetti Says:
February 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm e
David – I’ll check on this, but that sounds suspiciously like an article I read last week when Chaiten erupted. Anybody else hear anything about more eruptions/collapses at Chaiten today?
Al Frank Says:
February 26, 2009 at 4:14 pm e
Not entirely on-topic, but there’s a video at the BBC showing what is presumably the latest eruption of Chaiten. Unfortunately, the accompanying article is quite uninformative.
Ron Hager Says:
February 26, 2009 at 4:42 pm e
Jindal is not a stupid man and probably is not really against scientific research. He is creating a certain image as a politician and thus can never admit that publicly. His comments were directed specifically at a constituency that is either anti science or hates anything Democratic. He wants to gain their support for a presidential run. Expect him to continue blasting away with his political rhetoric regardless of truth, accuracy or factual basis. He wants to leave a specific impression in the minds of that unique constituency, of which, sadly there are many. Many like me will reject him, but there are plenty of our fellow citizens that will delight in his attacks and become even more ardent in support of him.
volcanism Says:
February 26, 2009 at 5:15 pm e
Nothing new at Chaiten today, Erik – which is to say, the dome is still growing, steaming and fuming, blocks and ash roll down its slopes pretty much continuously, and small collapses and explosions occur every few hours. But no big collapses or upsurges in activity so far today. The Reuters report quoted above refers to the 19 February collapse.
(The big Chaiten story in the Chilean media today is the relocation of the town to Santa Barbara, which is a surprise as Bahia Pumalin was thought to be the favoured location.)
Gerhardus Says:
February 26, 2009 at 8:45 pm e
Sounds familiar …….it gets me very angry just thinking of it .. it leaves me without a way to express myself without being brutally rude or even disgustingly mean
Catch them and dump them on a volcano so that they can see the danger. Mother nature don’t care which brand of car or political grouping you like she’ll blow your a.. off without even feeling sad about it
Just because I’m a Republican with political agenda gives me the right to endanger thousand or even millions of other people.
lance jones Says:
February 27, 2009 at 1:41 pm e
Well, I am a Republican with a political agenda. I think you guys are missing the point. I think volcano monitoring is something we need to do, probably a lot more. (My undergraduate degree is in geology). The question is whether or not it is “economic stimulus.” Volcano monitoring is not. The person to be mad at is the person who added it to the stimulus bill. There are a million things that more money needs to be budgeted for. This should have been in the regular budget, not this emergency package. We are borrowing this money from our children. If we need more geological monitoring of volcanoes, earthquakes, etc. (and we do) it should go through the normal budget process.
eileen Says:
February 27, 2009 at 9:33 pm e
Lance, what I remember about Jindal’s speech is that he called volcano monitoring “wasteful spending.” He wasn’t implying that it didn’t belong in the stimulus bill, he was stating that we shouldn’t be spending money on it at all. Volcano monitoring, by the way, is stimulus. The folks at Trimble (who recently laid off workers) would be happy to sell the USGS more GPS instruments, for example. How is buying goods and services not stimulus?
lancejones Says:
March 3, 2009 at 9:40 pm e
Eileen, from the CNN report
“The governor, a rising Republican star, questioned why “something called ‘volcano monitoring’ ” was included in the nearly $800 billion economic stimulus bill Obama signed earlier this month.”
All spending is “economic stimulus” in the broadest sense.
Anyway, it is better spent on any scientific research than poured down the AIG/Citi/GM/
Chrysler hole.


More signs of melting at Redoubt

The “eruption watch” continues at Redoubt … Saturday revealed that things are getting hotter at the summit near the 1989/1990 dome (see picture above that made Redoubt famous in 1989). The overflight of the volcano revealed new holes in the summit glacial and a multitude of muddy streams formed from the meltwater. This area of very intense fumarolic activity is just below the 1989/1990 dome (~7,100 feet) and has been growing over the past few days. They also report an area at ~9,000 feet on the volcano that shows signs of ice collapse, indicating heat from underneath the snow and ice (similar to what was seen at Mt. Saint Helens when it reactivated in 2004).
The Seattle PI article linked here does seem to get a little confused when it comes to the potential volcanic products at Redoubt. From the article:

“Geologist Jennifer Adleman said magma is a combination of three phases: liquid rock plus a gas and crystals than can form sort of a froth that works its way up the mountain.
“A lot of scientists refer to is as a crystalline mush,” she said.”

Now, I’m not certain what Adleman is referring to in her quote, but I’ve never heard of the frothy material as a “crystalline mush”. Not to say that is an inaccurate description, but usually mushes are referred to when the magma is at depth in the volcano. This is more like a foam, with the liquid and crystals entrained in a magma that is packed with bubbles that form as the magma decompresses. If those gases get bottled up before the volcano erupts, you could get an explosive such as what happened at Mt. Saint Helens in 1980. If not – if the gases are allowed to be more passively released, lets say if the magma stalls as it comes up – then we might get the toothpaste-style eruption we saw in the most recent Saint Helens activity.

All quiet on the Cascade front

The only volcanic arc in the lower 48 states continues to be pretty darn quiet according to the USGS. The Cascade range that spans from Lassen Peak in the south to Mt. Baker in the north (and maybe Mt. Garibaldi in Canada) has been remarkably quiet in terms of eruptions for the last century. In fact, only Mt. Saint Helens and Lassen Peak have erupted since 1900 – and most of the volcano have shown very few signs of even coming close to eruption beyond minor seismic swarms, steaming or land deformation. This is in contrast to the reports from the 1800s that suggest that Hood, Shasta, St. Helens, Baker, South Sister(?) and Rainier all experienced at least minor ash emissions. Now, these historical accounts are notoriously sketchy, but few people would argue that compared to other arcs such as the Aleutians or Kamchatka, the Cascades are a mighty quiet arc. The reasons for this are anybody’s guess at this point, with suggestions varying from the migration of the Mendocino Triple Junction to the shallow dip of the Juan de Fuca plate to random chance. It is definitely a fascinating question to consider, especially with the potential hazards a “reawakening” of the Cascade Arc might have on the Western U.S.

Back from the field

I am back from my trek through the Oregon and California Cascades – including stops at Lassen Peak/Chaos Crags, Hood, Three Sisters and Crater Lake (an added bonus). I’ll try to catch up on the volcano news I’ve missed and post on anything exciting that happened soon, but otherwise I’ll be posting new news as it occurs.
In the meantime, here’s a picture I took of Rock Mesa (foreground) and South Sister (background) taken from the Pacific Crest Trail. Rock Mesa is a ~2,700 year old rhyolite flow that appears to have erupted multiple pumices and has some impressive flow banding of the rhyolite itself. Enjoy!

Eruptions out of the office

I will be away from Eruptions for the next 2 weeks or so. I won’t be on vacation, I will actually be out on volcanoes themselves doing some much-needed fieldwork. It is a three volcano tour, starting with a trip to Lassen Peak to get a guided view with Michael Clynne of the USGS (the world expert on the volcano, the last Cascade volcano to erupt other than Saint Helens).
Then follows a trip to Mt. Hood with Adam Kent from Oregon State (my doctoral alma mater) in Oregon to sample some of the youngest flows that are only a few hundred years old. Geologists from Oregon DOGAMI (Department of Geology and Mineral Industries) are still worried about the hazards posed by Hood both during and between eruptions.
Finally, I head to my personal research field site, the Devil’s Hills and Rock Mesa on the southern slopes of South Sister (see above). I’m excited to go collect some new samples of lavas and tephra from these youngest rhyolites of the Oregon Cascades – they are definitely an anomaly in the Central Oregon Cascades.
Remember, if you need your fix of active volcanism, be sure to check out the Volcanism Blog.
See you all in September!

The Chaiten Rollercoaster ride continues

I am beginning to feel like a broken record, but the latest reports from Chile indicate that the ongoing eruption at Chaiten is ramping back up again, almost 3 months after the initial eruption began. As usual, the nitty-gritty details are limited, but reports of increased ash emissions and seismic activity are heralding this increase in activity.
For certain, Chaiten is one of the most important eruptions in any of our lifetimes. This is really not because of the amount of material that has been erupted (although when all is said and done, it will be a significant volume), but rather for the style and longevity of the eruption. A volcanologist friend of mine with more access to details of the Chaiten eruption has said that what we are really seeing is an eruption like might have produced Little Glass Mountain in the Medicine Lake Caldera. However, what is surprising is that the eruption to produce such a feature – a rhyolite dome – has had such longevity and produced so much ash along with the dome. Chaiten had not erupted in ~9,000 years, and more likely than not, a batch of eruptable magma was not sitting just below the surface for that time period – if that was the case, we would have likely seen signs of it such as degassing or seismicity. This means that more likely than not, there was some sort of intrusive event that triggered the eruption, such as the intrusion from depth of a hot basalt magma into a “crystal mush” of rhyolite that tipped the system and caused the eruption. Of course, this is complete conjecture on my part as we really have no samples of the magma itself beyond ash, which can tell us that it is, in fact, the first rhyolite erupted since 1912, but cannot tell us much about the timescales of storage and crystallization. What is really needed as samples of the dome lavas so the crystals (however sparse) can be analysed and dated and any inclusions of basalt(?) in the rhyolite can be sampled. Then we can really start having fun to pick apart the evolution of such a remarkable eruption as the 2008 eruption of Chaiten – remember, even here in the continental US, we have very similar volcanoes (Crater Lake for example) that could see similar eruptions to Chaiten in the future.

Mt. Saint Helens trivia

It is always fun to try to comprehend the sorts of numbers that geological processes produce. I mean, how much is 125 million cubic yard exactly? Well, the Cascades Volcano Observatory puts it this way:

“From October 2004 to late January 2008, about 125 million cubic yards of lava had erupted onto the crater floor to form a new dome-enough to pave seven highway lanes three feet thick from New York City to Portland, Oregon. A comparable volume had flowed out to form the 1980s lava dome. All lava erupted since 1980 has refilled about 7% of the crater, which was created by the catastrophic landslide and eruption of May 18, 1980.”

Seems a like a lot more material all of a sudden? And on the other hand, not too much when you think it only made a 7% dent on the post-1980 crater.
Thanks to M. Schmidt for forwarding me these facts.

Thus endth the eruption

Mt. Saint Helens, 2006
Just a brief note that the USGS has officially pronounced the eruption that started in 2004 at Mt. Saint Helens over. They lowered the alert level to “normal” after months with little to no signs of activity. The new dome that grew in the crater formed by the 1980 eruption is 125 million cubic yards of new material as the volcano continues to rebuild.
Here is the official USGS Press Release.
Edited 7/10/08 to add the USGS Press Release.

Newberry Caldera: alternative energy?

Newberry Caldera
The Oregonian reports on the on-going desire to develop geothermal power in the Oregon and California Cascades and backarc. There have been attempted (or at least exploration) to develop geothermal power at Newberry Volcano, Crater Lake and Medicine Lake, but none have ever panned out. Well, it seems like this time it might happen, and I, for one, think it is a good idea. Of course, there are a lot of folks who don’t want a geothermal plant anywhere near Newberry, especially with its National Monument designation, but one of these days we’ll have to choose between that and higher energy costs. Iceland seems to be able to live with the close proximity of geothermal energy plants and people, so maybe we should get used to it as well.