Volcanoes old and new in New Zealand

Two tidbits from New Zealand:

– A recent survey of volcanoes in the Kermadec Arc north of New Zealand suggest that there is abundant – and recent – undersea volcanism. Scientists from University of Washington (one of my former homes) and Southhampton University (UK) explored a number of submarines volcanoes including Rumble II West, Rumble III and Brothers, which are all located along the same arc of volcanoes as New Zealand’s own White Island and Mt. Edgecumbe. What they found was a change in the shape of Rumble III (1.4 km below the sea surface) since the last survey in 2007 – the summit crater has been filled and the height of the summit cone is almost 100 m shorter! Sounds like that would have been a significant eruption for that sort of physiographic changes to the volcanic edifice. Previous to this, the last known eruption at Rumble III was in 1986, but the only known eruptions are based on hydrophone evidence. They also found abundant “black smokers” on Brothers Volcano. The map of Rumble II West (above) also shows what appears to be a caldera-like feature with a new cone growing in the center. Studies like this always make me wonder how many eruptions occur under the surface of the ocean that go unnoticed.

– If you’re into historical accounts of volcanic eruptions (and who isn’t?), you might enjoy the snippet posted in the Otaga Daily Times from 1909 entitled “Little to fear from Ngauruhoe’s eruption”. Mt. Ngauruhoe (which is really just the youngest vent of Mt. Tongariro) erupted 100 years ago on March 11 (see above), the original articles reports that the eruption was “the finest seen in New Zealand for years.” The eruption in 1909 was one of many of the volcano in the 20th century, explosive eruptions of ash and debris with moderate intensity (VEI 2).
//Below are the comments from the original posting of this article.
doug Says:
March 12, 2009 at 1:33 am e
given the relative proportion of the earth that is covered by water compared to land and the various plate boundaries, should one assume that there are many more underwater volcanoes than those that reach above sea level (continental and island arc)?
gg Says:
March 12, 2009 at 4:50 am e
Do tell, Dr. K! Just want to say that I check the world earthquakes and volcanoes. We have underwater vents in Canada, even. If it’s on the Ring of Fire, and in water, I’d guess there’s a pretty good chance of underwater volcanoes.
New Zealand undersea volcanism at the Eruptions blog « The Volcanism Blog Says:
March 12, 2009 at 8:13 am e
[…] New Zealand undersea volcanism at the Eruptions blog 12 March 2009 Posted by volcanism in New Zealand, current research, geoscience, submarine volcanism. Tags: Kermadec Arc, New Zealand, undersea volcanism, volcano research trackback Dr Klemetti has an interesting post at his Eruptions blog today on undersea volcanism in the Kermadec Arc, north of New Zealand. A study by the University of Southampton and the University of Washington found evidence of a high level of volcanic activity in this area, with the delightfully-named Rumble III volcano having apparently filled in its crater and lost 100m in height since 2007. Eruptions has all the information and relevant links: Volcanoes old and new in New Zealand. […]
Bruce Says:
March 12, 2009 at 1:54 pm e
Wow! that’s almost like Indonesia!
Erik, I just had a thought, do you think the volume of rhyolite produced by the TVZ has something to do with the fact that the plate boundary is actually dissecting (or trying to) the submerged continent of Zealandia? I read one report a couple of years ago that theorized that melt from the plate boundary was being transferred north from the south of the North Island to be pooled under Taupo .. (this was also to explain the absence of volcanism south of Ruapehu) but couldn’t the volume of rhyolite simply be a product of the thickness of the Zealandia continent itself? Does anyone know of any other regions where plate boundaries are actually dissecting a continent (and no, I don’t mean rift scenarios).. Is there any comparable volcanism?
Thomas Donlon Says:
March 13, 2009 at 8:26 am e
Erik,
I’d be interested to link the location of these volcanoes with current earthquakes so that maybe we could get a sense ahead of time which volcanoes may continue to be active – or be in danger of erupting.
Now are all these volcanoes that you are talking about underwater? And how close are they to breaking through to the surface and how dangerous would that be? So if any breaks through to the surface would it pose any threat for worldwide climate? I am thinking anything that might be Pinatubo size or larger. We have gone a number of months with a dearth of meaningful sunspot activity. Even the occasional sunspot now is often tied in with the last sunspot cycle. A few degrees cooler – like what Pinatubo generated on top of a presently cooling off earth may translate into meaningful or substantial cooling.
Bruce Stout Says:
March 13, 2009 at 11:23 am e
To Thomas!
first thanks for your feedback on my post the other day.
The best way to trace the correlation between the earthquakes and these volcanoes is probably still via the USGS earthquakes site and then when one happens click on the link to Google Earth. I know there are plans to put the seabed into Google earth but I haven’t seen anything yet.
There has been a lot of earthquake activity along the Kermadec trench but from what I have seen most of it has been in the subducting Pacific plate rather than volcano related.
I’d like to see comparable studies for up near Tonga because they have positively huge rates of subduction up there and all that material must result in some volcanism someday, me thinks.
NZ is kind of strange because the axis of subduction flips completely along the Southern Alps and this seems to be holding up plate movement. The TVZ is actually a zone of attenuated crust (ie. extensional) like a rift zone but with a subducting plate underneath it providing the oomph. As far as I know this scenario extends up into the Havre trough NNE of NZ:
http://www.teara.govt.nz/EarthSeaAndSky/OceanStudyAndConservation/SeaFloorGeology/5/ENZ-Resources/Standard/2/en

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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.}

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.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7912270.stm
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 2/23/2009

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.

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.

Eruptions Mailbag #2

I get a fairly steady stream of emails from Eruptions readers, some of which are very worth a post, but sometimes it takes me a while to get around to posting. This is my second attempt to catch up on these mailbag emails. Remember, feel free to email me questions or comments whether you want.

Thanks for the emails!

Ongoing submarine volcanism in the Mariana Islands


For those of you interested in what happens in the realm of submarine volcanism, I can pass on some tidbits I’ve gotten about NW-Rota 1, a submarine volcano in the Mariana Islands (see bathymetry above). Dr. Ed Kohut (Petrogenex), a friend of mine from my days at Oregon State Univ., is currently on a JAMSTEC research cruise in the Mariana Islands, visiting the area about NW Rota-1. He reports:

“We just reached NW-Rota 1. It is still actively erupting. To put that in perspective, it has been observed erupting every time it has been visited since 2003. Today’s actvity is not as vigourous as in past visits, but there are billowing sulfur laden plumes and the summit has increased ~15 meters since the last ROV visit  (in ’06?).”

Seems that this seamount continues to chug away under ~500 meters of seawater. It is most famous for the 2004 eruption that coated an ROV that visited the volcano with ash and molten sulfur during an eruption (all under water). Below is a short video from a 2006 research cruise of the vigorous behavior at the vent called “Brimstone Pit”, which produced the 2004 eruption. You can clearly see the ash, rock and gases being ejected from the vent, all under half a kilometer of seawater!

Chaiten update for 2009


It is hard to believe that the eruption at seem to come out of nowhere at Chaiten started over 8 months ago now, and apparently is still not showing many signs of abating. I did get a chance to see some great talks and posters at AGU last month about the Chaiten eruption, with the key points I took away being that Chaiten is erupting a very crystal poor rhyolite (<1% crystals) and that it seems that the source of the magma is relatively deep in the Andean crust. Also, there are some indications that the eruption at Chaiten may have been tectonically instigated – i.e., that earthquakes in the area might have helped the magma to erupt – at least that is what Luis Lara of the SERNAGEOMIN believes (hat tip to Thomas Donlon for the link). The eruption at Chaiten also wreaked more havoc on aviation in South America than we thought, effecting airports 1000s of kilometers away and almost bringing down a number of aircraft. Most everyone I talked to seems to think what we are seeing is very similar to what happened at Little Glass Mountain in California about 1,000 years ago.
Moreover, the eruption hasn’t really stopped since it began in May of 2008. In fact, just last week we saw a collapse of part of the new dome that have produced some pyroclastic flows within and outside the caldera (see above and the Volcanism Blog) and fed more ash into the choked rivers near the volcano. It is anyone’s guess (well, at least at AGU) how long this eruption might go on – weeks? months? years? – but the consensus is that this might be a once-in-a-lifetime eruption (but we already knew that, didn’t we?)

Back from New Zealand

erik_tc
I made it back from New Zealand yesterday after spending the last two weeks looking at some of the most remarkable volcanic landscapes you could imagine. I’ll add more detail soon for those of you interested in the volcanism of the North Island, but I’ll leave you with a picture of yours truly in from of Ngauruhoe (a.k.a Mt. Doom) along the Tongariro Crossing. The volcano last erupted in 1977 and it considering the youngest vent of Tongariro. Ngauruhoe has had >60 eruptions over the last 150 years.

Interview with YVO chief Jacob Lowenstern on the Yellowstone swarm


I just wanted to point folks to an interview in US News & World Report with the USGS scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Dr. Jacob Lowenstern. He plays down the swarm, noting that things like this happened in the 1980s and that Yellowstone has seen over 80 eruptions in the caldera since the last “supervolcano” eruption 640,000 years ago. I know Dr. Lowenstern pretty well, and even at AGU when I talked to him (before the swarm), he seemed to play down the huffing and puffing the caldera experiences on a yearly basis. It would take much more activity to get the YVO folks concerned about a potential new eruptive period.