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
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:

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.}

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!

Redoubt continues its holding pattern

A week ago, if you asked around, I’m sure most people would have thought Redoubt would have erupted by now considering all the seismicity and melting that was seen at the end of last week. However, volcanology is not an exact science, and here we are continuing to watch Redoubt tease us with signs of pending activity. New holes have appeared in the snow that caps the volcano, the seismicity continues and the volcano is still spewing sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide – all signs that magma is intruding the volcanic edifice. However, as on this morning (2/5/2009), the volcano has yet to erupt.
Some news from earlier in the week is that the US Air Force has moved many of its aircraft from the area of Redoubt to Washington state, apparently not wanting to play the waiting game like it did during the 1991 eruption of Pinatubo near Clark Air Base. Also, an eruption of Redoubt might also have a larger effect on air cargo rather than air passenger traffic, with one of the largest air cargo hubs located in Anchorage.
UPDATE 9:20 AM 2/5/2009: Read into it as you will, but Redoubt’s activity is in “slight decline” according to AVO.

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.

Redoubt, oil and corporations: a tale of volcanic mitigation (or lack thereof)

The Anchorage Daily News has an excellent article today on the Drift River Oil Terminal, a depository for oil collected from the platforms in the Cook Inlet. This oil terminal stores at least 1,000,o00 barrels of oil (see article for why we’re not sure) and sits, well, at the base of Redoubt (see map below from Anchorage Daily News) on the floodplain of the Drift River (~25 miles from the vent). 

Now, this oil terminal was more-or-less destroyed during the last episode of volcanism at Redoubt twenty years ago when the terminal was wiped out by floods resulting from the eruptions. Not only did this cause the retrieval of the oil left at the terminal to be an immense problem, but it shut down production in the Inlet for 10 days … and we all know what this kind of news does to gasoline prices.
You would think that after this event, Chevron (who owns the terminal) would have thought better of building there again because, well, not only is Redoubt a volcano, but it is a fairly active one at that. I mean, its not like (for arguments sake) building an oil terminal at the base of Mt. Jefferson in the Cascades, that hasn’t erupted in a thousand of years. However, from what the ADN reports, Chevron has only: (1) possibly started to move oil away from the terminal since the ramping up of seismicity and (2) added a dike that “steer waters away from the facility if another monstrous flood occurs.”
I wish we knew more about what is being down about the oil terminal, because it could be a great example of when volcanic mitigation is ignored … or alternately, if Chevron is actually doing something about it, when it is paid attention. It doesn’t take a team of experts to realize that the placement of the terminal in a flood plain at the base of an active volcano might not be the best location in the Inlet. Combine that with the fact that, although a flood took out the facility in 1990, there is no guarantee that other volcanic hazards with a little more “oomph” might not be able to reach the facility, dike or not. The Drift River Oil Terminal is one of those situations where a little forethought into its placement might save Chevron and the country a lot of hassle and worry.
As for the current state of Redoubt, as of noontime (Pacific) on 1/31/09, AVO reports “Seismicity remains relatively unchanged since 3:30 PM AKST yesterday afternoon. It is still well above background.” The wait continues!

Redoubt is rapidly captivating the country

I am surprised as anyone how the public has become captivated by this geologic drama unfolding at Redoubt. Headlines about the volcano are popping up everywhere from CNN to the MSNBC to Slashdot to Popular Science – yes, even the nerds are enthralled, which might be the reason that the AVO servers are overloaded today (and that Eruptions has set new records in visits each day for the last 4 days). The stories are pretty typical: everyone is preparing/panicking, the volcano might have a giant eruption, and so on. This is rapidly becoming the most eagerly anticipated (is that the right word?) eruption in the US in the last 20 years. However, even with all this attention, there is little change in the status at Redoubt: AVO says that the volcano is likely to erupt in the next “days to weeks” with all the telltale signs there: increased seismicity, increased gas emissions, evidence of increased heat near the vent.
The very latest (2009-01-30 07:57:51) from AVO is

“Seismicity at Redoubt is varying in intensity but is still well above background. We have seen higher amplitude seismicity for the past several hours but appears to be subsiding a bit at this time.” 

So, the wait goes on. I wonder who will get the first interview when the volcano (see above photo, thanks to Brandon Browne at Cal State Fullerton) decided to erupt (if it does erupt at all).
UPDATE 14:20 PM Pacific 1/30/2009: AVO is reporting

“Seismicity at Redoubt has increased markedly over the last 20 minutes. Clear webcam views and pilot reports indicate that the volcano has not yet erupted.”

Sounds like they could be thinking we’re entering the final phase. Stay tuned!

Redoubt takes over the headlines

It is either a slow news day, or something about the eruption watch at Redoubt has captured the attention of someone at CNN.com as it is now the headline on the website (see above). This is interesting (and odd) to me considering that, over the last few days, very little has changed in the status of Redoubt. In fact, AVO has said things have, in fact, settled down a bit. However, they are still thinking that an eruption is imminent, but maybe in the scales of days to weeks rather than hours. The Anchorage Daily News does have a nice map of Anchorage’s area volcanoes and when they last erupted (see below). Beyond this, the news at Redoubt is, well, there is no news except they are keeping an eye on it.

In a sidenote while we’re on the subject of headlines, ABC News is making a big deal that the Stimulus bill recently passed contained this (as an example of waste):

  • $200 million for the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor earthquakes and volcanoes

Now, I don’t want to get into politics, but can someone explain to me how this is waste considering the lack of funding for most volcano and earthquake monitoring facilities? I’m excited to see the USGS getting more money for this stuff – and yes, it does create jobs because the USGS can hire more people to monitor volcanoes and seismically active area.

Redoubt could destroy mankind

Sorry for the headline, but this is a quick update to emphasize the media and their love of destruction. For example, Redoubt is, indeed, showing signs of a pending eruption, but how large of an eruption is anyone’s guess. Most news sources have been fairly restrained with their headlines, such as:

You get the idea. However, this afternoon FoxNews came out with:

Now, talk about sensationalizing a potential eruption. Sure, there is that chance, but along the probability tree (pdf link) for eruption at Redoubt, “burying Anchorage” in ash might not be one of the most likely events possible. If you read the FoxNews report, it actually is almost exactly the same was most of the wire reports we’ve seen so far, so no new data that would suggest the volcano going “going nonlinear”. I think we have another fine example of what happens when the media gets a little bit of information and tries to spin it for more readers.

Evacuations continue at Huila

The Colombian government has extended the evacuations near Nevado del Huila, taking 800 families out of the danger zone near the rumbling volcano. Huila has been making a lot of noise as of late, and Colombian officials in Ingeominas and the National System for Emergencies are worried that the volcano will erupt soon, sending avalanches and lahars down the valleys of the Paez and Simbola Rivers as happened in November of 2008 (see above or the link to the Volcanism Blog). They also note that Ingeominas is installing microphones on the volcano to detect explosions in the crater to better predict potential lahars.
However, this report is almost dangerously erroneous. The report notes:

The volcano’s crater holds 52 million cubic meters (1.8 billion cubic feet) of lava, said Colombia’s Caracol Radio. That’s the equivalent of 13.8 billion gallons.

Now, this might be the case that the crater might be able to hold a volume of 52 million cubic meters of something – lava, water, Jell-O, caviar – but by no means is the crater at Huila currently holding 52 million cubic meters of liquid, bubbling lava. Maybe that volume of solidified lava in dome material, but clearly not molten lava. It is this kind of incorrect information that can cause undue panic and hysteria in the public and press.