Extremophiles, Volcanoes and You

Folks have been suggesting that life on Earth started near volcanic vents for a long time now (and of course, some people don’t buy it). Whether or not life sprung forth near hydrothermal vents, undersea black smokers or from the head of Zeus, it doesn’t really change the fact that we find organisms living in these places today, expanding what we might consider “habitable” by leaps and bounds. Case and point, researchers from CU-Boulder have recently found a community of micro-organisms happily living near the summit of Volcán Socompa (above) in Chile in the hydrothermal vents. Now, having done field work in the high Andes of Chile (at Volcán Aucanquilcha – say that three times fast), I can attest to the fact that it is as close to working on Mars as you might be able to get on Earth – dry, desolution, mostly lifeless, extreme day/night temperature variations, thin air, the whole nine yards. So, to find these communities shows just how hardy life can be when presented with challenges.
One interesting question not brought up in the article is how quickly might these communities develop. Socompa was last known to have erupted in 5250 B.C. (most likely). This might limit the amount of time for these micro-organisms to take a foothold at the summit of the volcano to at most ~7,000 years. This seems like a pretty reasonable time for life to reemerge after an eruption – the question would be from where did it arrive in a place as desolate as the high Andes of Chile after the eruption. Of course, this also begs the question of whether life like this could exist of Mars, but that is question best left untouched by me. To me, this is just another example of how no matter how destruction we think volcanoes are, life just keeps on coming back for more.
{Hat tip to reader Thomas Donlon for pointing this out to me.}

Move over Redoubt … Okmok shows signs of life

Count this as your mini-update for Redoubt, with the news being no news. Even AVO seems a little bored with Redoubt lately (not to say they aren’t watching it as vigilantly as ever) as their last three updates have been exactly the same:

Redoubt volcano has not erupted. Seismicity is low, but above background levels and consists mainly of small discrete earthquakes. Night has fallen and no image is visible in the webcam.

However, down the road (arc-wise) in the Aleutians, AVO has raised the alert level at Okmok Caldera. New volcanic tremors were felt yesterday at Okmok, averaging about one event per hours, which is above the normal background seismicity for Okmok. It also marks the first volcanic tremors since the volcano erupted this past July and August (see above from AVO). However, they don’t go as far as to say that an eruption at Okmok is likely, but to be on the safe side, they have raised the Aviation Color Code alert to Yellow.
{Hat tip to the Volcanism Blog for bringing the Okmok activity to my attention.}

Redoubt Mini-mini-update for 2/28/2009

As there has been a lot of chatter about the goings-on at Redoubt, I thought I’d post the latest AVO update (3:35 PM):

Redoubt volcano has not erupted. Seismicity is dominated by small discrete earthquakes and tremor remains at the diminished levels of the past two days. Webcam images are now clear and show no change in the volcano.

Nothing doing. In fact, seems quieter than it has been in the last few weeks.

Redoubt Mini-update for 2/26/2009

The Redoubt watch is now been going for well over a month and this is how quickly things can change when monitoring volcanoes. The headline in my volcano RSS, when I saw it said:

“Redoubt quiets after weeks of activity, though eruption still possible”

By the time I clicked on the link, the headline for the KTUU TV article became:

“Redoubt steaming at strongest level, seismic activity calms”

The seismic event refered to happened yesterday afternoon (Alaska time) and the volcano rumbled for about an hour, getting picked up by seismometers all around the Cook Inlet. They also mention that steam vents on the volcano were the most vigorous as has been seen so far. John Power from AVO did temper the expectations of activity:

“We do feel that the most likely outcome of the current activity of level will be a eruption at some point, although it is still always a possibility that it could die away…”

Currently, Redoubt seems to have quieted back down according to the latest report from AVO. The watch marches on.

Redoubt Mini-update for 2/24/2009

Not much new to report with Redoubt except that folks in Alaska are getting, well, a little punchy.
AVO currently reports (7:12 AM):

Volcanic tremor and occasional discrete earthquakes continue at Redoubt. Since 00:00 local time on 2/24, tremor amplitude at nearby stations has gradually increased, and the number of small earthquakes on nearby stations has increased slightly.

Redoubt isn’t exactly making us volcanologists look too good lately. That is the nature of the beast, I suppose.

Japan planning ahead … way ahead

I found this little press release that doesn’t have a huge amount of information, but is interesting nevertheless. The Coordinating Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions of Japan (nice name) is putting seven volcanoes on “24/7” monitoring. That sounds like we might see a lot of eruptions in Japan soon … except that their rationale was that these volcanoes “are likely to affect public life by erupting or becoming active in the coming 100 years”. That is quite the window of eruptive opportunity! The question is what exactly “24/7” monitoring – does this mean that someone/something will watch seismicity for signs of activity, or will this be a dedicated position that coordinates seismic, gas and deformation monitoring? The article doesn’t say much beyond seismographs and (vaguely) GPS. Nor does it mention what the seven new volcanoes are beyond Mt. Shirane and Mt. Norikura. However, I do give Japan credit for having such foresight when it comes to potential volcanic hazards.
One volcano that is already being constantly monitored is Mt. Asama, which has been erupting for over week. However, folks are already wondering when officials will say that Asama is “back to normal”. You can get a good idea of the ash dispersal from Asama with this excellent satellite image (above) from just after the January 21, 2009 eruption.

Galeras erupts

UPDATE 2/15/2009 20:30 PM: Marta Calvache of INGEOMINAS says that seismicity has all but stopped at Galeras after the eruption Saturday night, however the area will be kept on alert for more potential activity. However, even with the eruption, apparently there are very few people in the evacuation centers – never a good sign if something really big were to happen at the restless Colombian volcano.  
Last night, Galeras, near Pasto in Colombia, erupted, prompting an evacuation of nearly 7,000 people living near the volcano. The first CNN article linked above, for some reason, says that Galeras is not in a “heavily populated” area, however over 500,000 people live in or around Pasto, which is quite close to the volcano itself (see the CCTV video footage or the picture above for evidence). The current eruption has blanketed Pasto in “abundant ash” (according to the mayor of Pasto), where there have no been reported injuries or death, however, they did have to close down two water treatment plants. Beyond this, not too much is known about this eruption as it is cloudy and rainy near the volcano. That being said, with this much ash being deposited, there is likely a plinian component to the eruption, making it likely to have been a larger eruption than many of the recent events at Galeras, the last ending in January 2008 (VEI ~2). 
{Hat tip to Jesse for pointing this out to me last night.}

Redoubt Mini-update for 2/13/2009

We’ve now had three weeks of waiting for Redoubt, and all we have to show for it is steam, seismicity and lots and lots of press. As of today, Redoubt continues with the same: elevated seismicity, constant monitoring, think it will erupt.
Current status from AVO:

Redoubt Volcano has not erupted. Elevated seismicity is continuing, dominated by ongoing volcanic tremor and occasional small earthquakes. A storm system is moving across the Redoubt area at present, which will make for poor viewing conditions today. Associated winds are causing a small increase in seismic amplitudes on some seismic stations.  AVO continues to monitor Redoubt 24 hours a day.

So, don’t get too excited about slightly elevated apparent seismicity over the weekend (and note, with the poor visibility, this would be a great weekend for Redoubt to decide to erupt).

Redoubt from space

The NASA Earth Observatory website posted this great image of Redoubt taken from Landsat images in 2000.

You can see a few neat things. The main thing I notice is that the Drift River Oil Terminal is in about the worst place you could put an oil terminal near a volcano like Redoubt. All the material from recent eruptions at Redoubt get focused down into the Drift River, which then heads off into the Cook Inlet via the Drift River flood plain (upper right hand side of the image). When this image was taken, the Drift River is still grey with volcanigenic material even 10 years after the last activity, showing that most of the material is mobilized in that direction. It still amazes me that the oil terminal was ever allowed to be built in that location.
As for the current state of things at Redoubt, AVO reports that the seismicity is still going and things remain much the same as it has been for the past few weeks. Officials on the Kenai Peninsula are assuring residents that they’re ready for an eruption. At this pace, they might have months to prepare!