THe Future Volcanoes of New Hampshire

New England Might Not Be Volcano-Free Forever

Icelandic Volcano Update

Holuhraun Eruption in Iceland Still Going Strong

Part of the Holuhraun eruption in Iceland, seen on October 21, 2014. Photo by Milan Nykodym / Flickr.

If you can believe it, we’re now in the fourth month for the Icelandic eruption that started north of the Bárðarbunga caldera in Iceland. The world watched and waited for this eruption after weeks of intense earthquakes, but since the eruption began in late August, we’ve had a nearly constant stream of basaltic magma eruption from the fissures in the Holuhraun lava fields between Bárðarbunga and Askja. This eruption has drifted from the headlines because the eruptive activity itself has been fairly tame — no giant ash plumes to disrupt air travel across Europe, but instead just a steady flow of lava creating a new lava field that covers over 72 square kilometers (~17,700 acres; see below). You can watch some great slow-motion footage of the lava erupting at one of the main vents, taken October 27 by Karl Neusinger – it really shows the constant influx of lava from below that creates the impressive lava flow field. This eruption at Holuhraun now has the distinction of being the largest (by volume) in Iceland since the massive 1783-4 eruption of Laki (although Holuhraun trails Laki by “only” 16 cubic kilometers of lava!)

The Holuhraun lava field (shown in white outline) and the active vent seen by Landsat 8 on November 16, 2014. Image by University of Iceland Institute of Earth Sciences / IMO.

The biggest hazard produced by the eruption so far has been to the air quality in Iceland, where the sulfur dioxide emissions from such a constant and vigorous basaltic eruption has meant that people have been required to stay indoors during much of the summer and fall months on the island nation. Analyses of the rainwater in Iceland over the past months show that as much as 40% of the rain that has fallen is acidic (pH <7) with some rain as low as pH 3.5 (as John Stevenson put it, that’s like grapefruit juice rain).

At Bárðarbunga, the floor of the caldera has continued to subside during this whole eruption without much signs that any eruptions have occurred under the ice that fills the caldera (however, the increased heat from the geothermal system may have melted some of that ice). That, in itself, is interesting and tells us something about how some of these Icelandic calderas can form. Instead of the catastrophic events that many people envision for caldera formation (e.g., Crater Lake), these are slow subsidence events that might takes months to occur. Calderas at other large shield volcanoes have also formed in this fashion, but to be able to measure the motion so precisely is a great scientific bonanza. Large earthquakes are still occurring under the caldera as well, with a M5.4 happening just yesterday (November 18).

The NASA Earth Observatory recently posted an image of the plume from the Holuhraun fissure that shows how the plume itself might interact with the clouds around the eruption. More likely than not, eruption plumes can play a role in cloud formation and distribution around a volcano.



Volcano Report fr/E. Klemetti

Eruption Update: Copahue, Poás, Sinabung, Kilauea, Holuhraun and Italy

Webcam image of Copahue in Chile, seen on October 16, 2014. A small steam-and-ash plume can be seen along with deposits of fresh, dark grey across on the volcanoes slopes. Image: SERNAGEOMIN.

I apologize for being missing for the last week. The big Geological Society of America meeting is next week in Vancouver BC and not only am I giving a talk and co-chairing a session, but two of my students are presenting posters. Needless to say, things have been busy. My talk centers on what zircon can tell us about the storage conditions and source magmas across the Cascade Range. I have zircon data from four Cascade volcanoes: St. Helens, Hood, South Sister and Lassen, it is a great chance to see how the differences in different parts of the Cascade arc might influence the composition of zircon. My two students are both presenting on their pieces of the Lassen Volcanic Center project, so we’ll be presenting over 800,000 years of zircon data.

Not only that, but I also built a volcano on the Denison campus, so if you missed the video of that, check it out.

So, without further ado, here’s some brief updates around the world of volcanoes:


The Holuhraun lava field eruption is now one of the largest continuous eruptions in the past few centuries in Iceland here in its second month of activity. Lava flows and fountains are continuing on the plain between Barðarbunga and Askja while the Barðarbunga caldera itself is still subsiding at a rate of 30-40 cm/day. So far, that subsidence is over 0.75 cubic kilometers of lost volume below the caldera floor and large earthquakes are still occurring near the caldera. The biggest danger from this eruption so far has been the copious sulfur dioxide emissions that continue to cause problems for people in Iceland (depending on the winds). If you want to see some stunning images of the eruption, check these out — especially some of the overhead shots of the lava flows. Also, there might be something lost in translation, but Haraldur Sigurðsson make the odd prediction that the eruption would end on March 4, 2015 — a little too specific for my tastes.


Sinabung has entered back into a phase of more intense dome-collapse pyroclastic flows. This crisis at Sinabung has now lasted well over a year and local residents are running into problems with access to food and water. Not only that, but rainfall around the volcano combined with these eruptions has caused the threat of volcanic mudflows (lahars) to increase dramatically. The loose volcanic ash and debris is easily remobilized when heavy rains occur, creating a concrete-like slurry that can be very damaging and dangerous. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some of the pyroclastic flows have also triggered fires in the regions around Sinabung.


Copahue has had a number of moderate explosive eruptions over the last week that prompted some minor evacuations of herders near the volcano. This is the third bout of explosive activity at the volcano since it became restless at the end of 2012. The alert status at Copahue is Orange and if you want to check out what is up there, use the SERNAGEOMIN webcam.

Costa Rica

Poás experienced a number of explosions as well. These mainly steam-driven events closed off the summit of the volcano to tourists for a few days, but access has been reopened after signs of the volcano settling down again – although the overall unrest continues. Be sure to check out the OVSICORI time-lapse video of the explosion as well.


The lava flow headed down the slopes of Kilauea towards Pahoa is still continuing to crawl forward. Now the flows are moving at ~25 meters/day, but the threat still remains for the flows to reach houses and roads if it continues to flow. The current estimate has the flow reaching Apaa Street in Pahoa around November 1. So far, the only damage the flows have caused is to vegetation.


In case you missed it, be sure to read David Wolman’s coverage of the appeal for the Italian geologists convicted in the aftermath of the L’Aquila earthquake. It still amazes me how much the Italian judicial system is willing to believe in charlatans and find scapegoats for an act of nature.


Eruptions at Mayon Volcano in Phillipines

New Eruptions at Mayon in the Philippines Prompts Evacuations

The conical summit of Mayon in the Philippines. Paths of previous lava flows and pyroclastic flows can be seen on the steep slopes of the volcano.

Quick post before I take off for the Department of Geosciences Fall Field Trip. If you’re looking for the current status of the eruption in Iceland, be sure to check out the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

However, today’s post is about the renewed activity at Mayon in the Philippines. It appears that lava is now actively extruding at the summit of the volcano, producing rock falls of incandescent blocks of lava. Seismic activity has increased dramatically over the last week and the style of earthquakes suggests to geologists at PHIVOLCS that magma is ascending inside the volcano. They have increased the alert status at Mayon from 2 to 3 (on a 5 level scale) and say that the potential for a “hazardous eruption” within weeks is high.

What this means in a practical scene is that over 24,000 people are now being evacuated from an 8-km radius around Mayon. The Philippine government is establishing refugee camps for the first evacuees* and readying more if the situation at the volcano suggests that a larger evacuation is needed. The largest hazard posed by Mayon is that of pyroclastic flows generated by the collapse of the new lava dome forming at the summit (or possibly from any explosive eruptions that might occur). Mayon is definitely one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines — and even when it is not in an active eruption period, steam explosions at the summit can be deadly. The Philippine government is watching the activity closely to determine if and when more evacuations are needed.

As I mentioned with the eruption of Rabaul, this activity at Mayon has the potential to have much more direct consequences on people than the activity in Iceland. In the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia, hundreds of thousands of people live within a few tens of kilometers of these potentially highly explosive volcanoes. At Mayon, that number is over 250,000 people within 10 kilometers! Keeping a close eye on these eruptions is definitely a necessity to protect those lives.

* AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article from the Philippine Star quotes a PHIVOLCS volcanologist as saying that Mayon is “overdue” for a large explosive eruption. This is based on a grand total for 2 prior eruptions in 1814 and 1897. I wouldn’t believe this sort of talk as 2 data points cannot be used to set such a pattern, even if it existed.


Volcanic Activity: Iceland & PNG

Updates on Eruptions in Iceland and Rabaul

The ~0.6 km fissure eruption from the Holuhraun lava fields in Iceland. Small lava flows (dark black in foreground only) and degassing (white steam and volcanic plumes) show the extent of last night's eruption. Image: Almannavarnir Iceland / Twitter.

Yesterday we had two eruptions grab everyone’s attention – one from the area that has had everyone’s attention between Iceland’s Bárðarbunga and Askja in the Holuhraun lava field and one unexpected eruption from the Tavurvur cone in the Rabaul Caldera of Papua New Guinea.

The Icelandic eruption that everyone has been waiting for ended up being small, lasting ~3-4 hours and producing lava flows and spatter ramparts. Video of this morning’s flyover show a linear fissure about 0.6 km long (see above) that is still degassing strongly, but no lava is currently erupting. A shot of the eruption site (see above) released today clearly shows the short lava flow tongues that issued from the fissure during the brief eruption. Right now, there is no threat at all to aviation and even during the height of the eruption last night, the explosivity was low. The IMO has lowered the aviation alert level back to orange and briefly raising it to red during the eruption last night. The latest statement from the IMO says that they are still unsure how the eruption may proceed: this might be it or new fissures may open in the area as more magma reaches the surface.

The same can’t be said for the ongoing eruption from the Rabaul caldera, an eruption that was not expected. The Tavurvur cone has been producing impressive explosive eruptions that has caused some international flights to alter their flightpaths to avoid the copious ash. Unlike the Icelandic eruption, this eruption is occurring right next to a city of nearly 20,000 people, so the threat to life and property is much higher. In fact, the 1994 eruption of Rabaul came close to destroying the city, so this sort of intense eruption from Tavurvur can have very real consequences for the people living near the volcano – and the current activity has led to evacuations of some of the villages nearby. You can check out a brief video of the intense strombolian eruption from yesterday while galleries of the eruption show the impressive ash plume from the eruption that spread mostly to the southwest and southeast.

The Rabaul eruption is probably the one to watch most closely because the Rabaul caldera has a history of explosive eruptions and is much closer to populated area. Right now, the Icelandic eruption is about a benign as an eruption can be: it is in a remote area and has been lava flows with some lava fountains. The Icelandic events have definitely captured the public’s imagination, but in terms of real world volcanic hazards, Rabaul is the real threat.


Bardarbunga Volcano, Iceland Activity

Earthquakes Still Rocking Iceland’s Barðarbunga

The volcanic wastelands between Barðarbunga and Askja in Iceland, seen in 2012. Photo by Dave McGarvie, used by permission.

It has now been over 4 days of intense seismicity at Iceland Barðarbunga, located under the Vatnajökull ice cap. The latest report from the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) says that over 2,600 earthquakes, most less than M3, have occurred since the morning of August 16. The activity has shifted in its focus (see below) and is now primarily under a part of Vatnajökull that is ~600 meter thick, so any eruption would have a lot of ice to melt when the lava reaches the surface. This likely means that it would be a long time before any eruption would be noticed on the surface of the ice cap – instead, it would be glacial outburst floods (jökulhlaups) that would herald the start of the eruption. If the eruption never breaches the surface of the ice cap, there is the potential of a new tuya forming under the ice, where lava forms a broad, flat-topped mountain. Beyond the seismicity, we’ve also seen deformation around the focus of the earthquakes, suggesting magma is filling in below and needs to make space by moving the Earth’s surface. IMO says most of the seismicity is occurring at depths between 3-7 km but there aren’t signs yet that the magma is moving to shallower depths, so we still could see this all end as merely the intrusion of magma rather than an eruption. The alert status for Barðarbunga remains at Orange.


The location of earthquakes near Barðarbunga, color-coded to time (blue is earlier in the day, red is later - see hours marked on scale to right). Illustration by Iceland Meteorological Office.

If you want to see what some of the potential scenarios, be sure to read Dr. Dave McGarvie’s article. Also, there are now two webcams pointed at the Barðarbunga area, so you can keep an eye on it if any potential eruption manifests at the surface: Mila and You can also see some realtime earthquake data in 3D (note: I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this model and more recent earthquakes do not have accurate depths until they have been examined) on this interactive page.

Costa Rican VOlcano Poas Eruption

Eruption Update for February 28, 2014: Poás,

The opening salvo of the eruption at Poas in Costa Rica, captured on the crater webcam. Image: OVSICORI webcam capture.

The opening salvo of the eruption at Poás in Costa Rica, captured on the crater webcam. Image: OVSICORI webcam capture.

Costa Rica

Earlier this week, Poás in Costa Rica had a small eruption likely related to water flashing to steam in the heating crater lake area. This eruption ended up being the largest so far in 2014, but these types of explosion are fairly common at the Costa Rican volcano. That being said, María Martínez Cruz (OVSICORI) said that the size of this eruption, with a plume that reached 300-meters, is not too common at Poás. This could suggest that more heat is being fed into the upper reaches of the volcano. The webcam at Poás captured the eruption as it occurred, spreading ash mainly within the crater area. If check out the webcam at night, you can see some intense incandesce that betrays the magma just beneath the surface at the volcano. Not surprisingly, the volcano is off-limits to tourists.


Erik Kelmetti’s Volcano Update

Eruption Update for January 13, 2014: Sinabung, Pacaya, Shiveluch and Etna

An a’a lava flow from Pacaya in Guatemala burning its way through a forest, seen on January 11, 2014. Image: CONRED.

Some volcano news to start off the week of January 13, 2014:


The eruption at Sinabung is continuing unabated and now evacuees have reached over 25,000. The repeated cycle of dome building and collapse are producing dozens of pyroclastic flows, mainly within 5-7 km of the summit of Sinabung. However, the significant ash fall that accompanies such eruptions has been enough to collapse roofs and destroy homes in villages near the volcano. Ash has also been falling as far as Medan (the capital of North Sumatra), which is ~60 km (35 miles) from Sinabung and Langkat, which is ~77 km (48 miles) away. The economic impact is being felt not only in the agricultural core of the region, but also in tourism.


Eruptions at Pacaya has also prompted CONRED to call for evacuations, but on a much smaller scale than at Sinabung. Lava flows stretching 3 km from the main summit of the volcano are the cause for this limited evacuation for people living closest to the volcano. Explosive activity has accompanied these lava flows as well — a very typical behavior for these Strombolian eruptions at Pacaya. Even as basaltic lava, these a’a lava flows (see above) do not move quickly, as these images of CONRED officials examining the flow can attest, so the real hazard is to structures that stand in the path of these extensive lava flows.


Shiveluch has started off 2014 with a bang as well. Ash plumes reaching 7-9 km (25,000-30,000 feet) along with pyroclastic flows have been occurring due to the same cycle of dome building and collapse that we’re seeing at Sinabung — a very standard behavior for arc volcanoes like these two. Thanks to its remote location, Shiveluch doesn’t pose much in the way of human hazard, but some villages on the Kamchatkan Peninsula have had some minor ash fall due to the eruptions. You might be able to check out the action on the Shiveluch webcam as well.


I meant to mention this last week, but Dr. Boris Behncke had a brief post on the rumbling at the Northeast Crater of Etna. Over the past year, much of the action has been at the New Southeast Crater, but that is a recent phenomenon. Although the Northeast Crater has taken a back seat lately, minus some ash emissions, apparently there is some speculation that this could change based on its current state of degassing.


Ongoing Sinabung Eruption -Indonesia

The Eruption and Humanitarian Crisis at Indonesia’s Sinabung Continues

A woman carries her daughter in a nearby field as Mount Sinabung spews pyroclastic ash and debris on January 4, 2014 in Karo District, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Webcam captures of Sinabung, showing (left) a pyroclastic flow and (right) the debris left from repeated pyroclastic flows, both on January 8, 2013. Image: PVMBG webcam.

In what is becoming a larger danger (and potential disaster), activity at Sinabung appears to be increasing daily, with more explosions and resultant pyroclastic flows streaming down the slopes of the volcano (see right) in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Some of these flows are reaching up to 5 km from the summit of Sinabung.

All of this activity is centered around the growing lava dome at the summit of Sinabung — that dome was filmed in low light this past weekend and it really shows the glowing dome with hot debris (the main component of the pyroclastic flows) cascading down the slopes. The pyroclastic flows are leaving a clear light grey deposit on the volcano, ominously pointed towards the location of the PVMBG webcam (see below). The plume from Sinabung is regularly reaching 4-5 km (13,000-16,000 feet) with hundreds of small-to-moderate explosions over the past week.

Looking up information on this eruption, I came across what might be the most striking image I’ve seen that brings together this volcanic eruption with the people being impacted by this activity (see above). This woman is holding her daughter in front of crops that are grown near Sinabung, all with a stunning pyroclastic flow from the volcano being erupted in the background. I can’t even fathom what it must be like to be near your home knowing that it could be destroyed by an eruption of this scale.

With eruptions such as this current activity at Sinabung, it can be easy to forget how disruptive to people’s lives they can be. Although some eruptions do have singular explosions that cause destruction, many eruptions are not simply a single event. Activity can stretch on for weeks, months, even years and the displacement of people living near the volcano can cause a crisis independent of the activity itself.

I’ve written about how significant a problem this is in a volcanically-active country like Indonesia — how does a country deal with the displacement of tens of thousands of people for an undefined time or, in some cases, forever? Two main problems arise: (1) keeping living conditions sanitary and safe at refugee camps can be very difficult and (2) long-term evacuations can cause people to become complacent and then they try to return homes/farms before it is safe. These are some of the biggest challenges during volcanic hazard mitigation.

It may have taken a few months, but currently, at least 22,000 people have been evacuated from danger zone (now defined at 5-7 km) around Sinabung. This has put a heavy strain on the refugee camps set up to deal with the influx of refugees and if the eruption continues to intensify, then these numbers will grow. We mustn’t forget that even without the “big bang” eruption, people are put in danger’s way by merely being moved


Nishinoshima Eruption-New Island Formed

Continuing Eruption at Nishinoshima Joins Two Islands

The eruption of Nishinoshima with the new island joining with the original Nishinoshima island, seen on December 26, 2013. Image: Japan Coast Guard

Quick volcano news update from Japan! The eruption at Nishinoshima continues and now the new island is no more … because it has joined up with the actual island of Nishinoshima (see above). This is a great example of how volcanic island like this in the Bonin Islands grow over hundreds to thousands of eruptions. Compare these two NASA Earth Observatory images to see how the island has grown between December 8 to December 24. The Japan Coast Guard has also posted a map (see below) that shows how the shape of the coastline for the new island has changed across the course of the eruption — and it is dramatic how quickly the island has grown, especially between December 13 and 24. Some video taken from a helicopter flight above the volcano shows the new island and its continued eruption (with discolored water surrounding it) and a very active spatter cone producing the lava flows.