How volcanoes affect the economy

Photos by Edward Kohut, all rights reserved, used by permission, 2009
Photos by Dr. Edward Kohut, all rights reserved, used by permission, 2009
Many times people think that volcanic eruptions affect the economy through the destruction inflicted upon the landscape during an eruption: lahars and pyroclastic flows destroying bridges and homes, ash ruining crops and water, lava flows overunning communities. However, in Hawai’i, a new effect of volcanism has been seen in the agriculture of the state. The volcanic fog – or “vog” as its called – has been causing major problems with farms on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Since the new activity at Halemaumau (see above) began last year, Kilaeua has been spewing much larger volumes (2-4 times more) of volcanic gases such as sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, water and carbon monoxide than in previous years. These gases form a brown fog that is caustic to most animals and plants. The sulfur dioxide, in particular, has caused many crops to fail thanks to the production of sulfuric acid with the sulfur dioxide interacts with water – think of it as a very concentrated version of “acid rain” that is seen in the eastern United States.
The solution to this would either be to build “vog-proof” air-filtering greenhouses or planting a limited set of plants that seem to withstand the effects of the vog. Alternately, one can hope that the gas emissions from Kilaeau will return to lower levels, allowing for the plants to survive. In any of these cases, the growers on the island face a large financial hardship in order to keep their businesses alive in the face of the volcano. This passive destruction of plants by Kilaeua shows how even when a volcano seems to be benign, it can inflict millions of dollars of damage on the local economy.

The last mini-update for Redoubt … for now?

AVO has officially downgraded the status at Redoubt from “Watch” (orange) to “Advisory” (yellow). The seismicity at the volcano has dropped off for the last couple weeks and signs that an eruption was imminent have waned. This, again, shows the difficulty in trying to predict the behavior of a volcano. All the signs were there at Redoubt – increased seismicity, increased heat flow at the summit (seen as melting ice and increased fumarolic output), increased volcanic gases (CO2 and SO2) – but as of right now, it seems like these signs only pointed to magma moving up the system, but not out of the system (i.e., eruption). Anchorage might call this a “near miss,” but Redoubt will erupt again, more likely sooner rather than later. As AVO puts in in their statement today:

It remains possible for unrest at the volcano to change rapidly, advancing from relatively low levels to eruption in time periods as short as 24 hours or less.

And that is why we need volcano monitoring, especially when volcanoes are so complex.

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.

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.

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.

Redoubt Mini-update for 2/23/2009

Nothing much to report on the Redoubt front except more of the same. The latest report from AVO says (6:44 AM):

Redoubt Volcano has not erupted. Volcanic tremor and intermittent discrete earthquakes continue. Data for the past few hours (since 00:00 AST on 2/23) has consisted almost entirely of low-level tremor, with few discrete earthquakes.

So, it seems that Redoubt continues on its holding pattern. In other fronts, the Anchorage Daily News is running a good synopsis of the monitoring AVO does on volcanoes in the Aleutian chain in Alaska. More updates as seen fit.

A third ocean lava entry at Kilauea

Lava issuing from the current eruptions at Kilauea have started a third ocean entry (and the second within the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park). The entry is not as dramatic as some, forming a slow, dripping entry of lava into the ocean (see linked video footage), but every little drip adds a little more land to the big island of Hawai’i.
In some other Hawaiian volcano news, the USGS have also posted a video showing the filling and draining of the lava lake in Halemaumau that started last year. Usually, the crater was surrounded by steam and fumes from the degassing magma, but the thermal camera pierced the veil to show the lava rising and falling within the crater.