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Insuring against volcanic disaster 13 February 2010

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How does the insurance industry view volcanoes? As a big risk, naturally. Most volcanoes do little damage, but when volcanic damage to life and property does occur it can be extensive and long-lasting (deposits from the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helen’s, for example, are still causing problems thirty years later). How does one insure property built on or near active volcanoes (e.g. Hawaii)? Is it possible to insure against the harmful effects of volcanic emissions (e.g. Turrialba)? Can insurance offer peace of mind to the farmer fearing a scoria cone may appear in his back yard (e.g. Paricutin, or even Ballarat)? And what will be the effects upon the insurance business of a major urban centre being significantly damaged or destroyed by a volcanic eruption (e.g. Naples, Seattle and many others)?

Lloyds of London have been pondering these issues, as you might expect; and so has the insurance-industry-funded Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre. Among the conclusions reached is that while most natural disasters are usually defined by insurers as lasting no more than 72 hours, volcanic eruptions can be considered for insurance purposes as lasting up to 672 hours. Find out more by reading ‘Bubbling under – disasters waiting to happen’ at the Lloyds of London website.

The Volcanism Blog

Gran Canaria volcanic hazards newly mapped 19 January 2010

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Mapa de riesgos volcánicos en Gran Canaria 2010

Researchers have compiled a comprehensive study of volcanic activity on the island of Gran Canaria from 11,000 years ago to the present day and used the data to produce a new hazard map of Gran Canaria (see above), indicating the areas of potentially greatest volcanic risk in the future. The findings are published in the Journal of Quaternary Research (full reference below).

Alejandro Rodríguez-González of the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, lead author of the study, explains:

We have identified 24 volcanic eruptions that have occurred over the last 11,000 years on Gran Canaria. We know that the volcanism was concentrated in the northern area of the island and produced small monogenetic strombolian cones (eruptions of little violence, emitting lava and pyroclasts) and, occasionally, phreatomagmatic calderas (expulsion of ash).

The research involved advanced Digital Terrain Modelling which revealed geomorphological changes produced by volcanic activity and the precise mapping of individual units of volcanic activity and their products. Combined with geochemical and stratigraphic data this enabled a detailed picture of the unfolding of volcanic activity on the island during the Holocene.

Not only does the study indicate that the areas at highest risk of future volcanic activity lie in the densely-populated north of the island, it also reveals that the intervals between periods of active volcanism are becoming shorter and the eruptions are becoming more voluminous and explosive:

The new findings highlight that during the Holocene there were three clusters of volcanic activity ‘separated by four periods of inactivity’. The earliest occurred over 10,000 years ago and consisted of a single eruption in El Draguillo, to the east of the island. The other eruptions occurred between 5,700 and 6,000 years ago, and between 1,900 and 3,200 years ago … the researchers explain that currently ‘the number of eruptive centres is increasing and the periods of volcanic inactivity are becoming shorter’. In the same way, they also warn that over the past 11,000 years ‘the amount of magma emitted and the explosiveness of the eruptions have been increasing’.

Ironically, however, the researchers note that damage to the island’s ecosystem may restrict the impact of future volcanic activity. The deforestation of Gran Canaria and the over-exploitation of limited water resources has left the island very dry, reducing the chances of water interacting with magma to produce explosive activity. The next eruption in Gran Canaria, which may be in ’200-300 years’, is expected to be a strombolian event: quiet, non-explosive, with no casualties expected.

  • Rodríguez-González, Alejandro; Fernández-Turiel, José L.; Pérez-Torrado, Francisco J.; Hansen, Alex; Aulinas, Meritxell; Carracedo, Juan C.; Gimeno, Domingo; Guillou, Hervé; Paris, Raphael; Paterne, Martine. ‘The Holocene volcanic history of Gran Canaria island: implications for volcanic hazards’ Journal of Quaternary Science, vol. 24, no. 7 (October 2009), pp. 697-709. DOI: 10.1002/jqs.1294 (abstract).

UPDATE. A translation into English of the SINC (Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas) news release is available at EurekAlert: Volcanic hazard map produced for island of Gran Canaria.

[Found via: Actualidad Volcánica de Canarias.]

News
Presentan un mapa de peligrosidad volcánica de la isla de Gran Canaria – Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas, 18 January 2010
Un volcán despertará en Gran Canaria dentro de 200 años – Público.es, 19 January 2010
Presentan un mapa de peligrosidad volcánica de la isla de Gran Canaria – Actualidad Volcánica de Canarias, 19 January 2010
Volcanic hazard map produced for island of Gran Canaria – EurekAlert, 19 January 2010

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Gran Canaria – summary information for Gran Canaria (1803-04-)
Actualidad Volcánica de Canarias – news and information about Canary Islands volcanoes and earthquakes
Canary Islands volcanoes and volcanics – information from the Cascades Volcano Observatory

The Volcanism Blog

New website for the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network 18 January 2010

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The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN) does excellent work with the collection of data and the communication of information in the relatively new field of volcanic health hazard research. The IVHHN describes its aims as follows:

  • To promote the expansion of the newly emerging field of volcanic health hazard research.
  • To continue existing collaborations and develop new collaborative links between the multidisciplinary international partner organizations.
  • To produce and widely disseminate protocols and volcanic health hazard information to volcano observatories, scientists, governments, emergency managers, health practitioners and the general public.
  • To encourage collection of geologic and medical data to evaluate health hazards.
  • The formation of databases of well-characterized ash and gas samples and literature from volcanoes world-wide, for use by the Network and other workers.

The IVHHN website has just been re-launched, and offers easy access to information and resources about the Network, including two invaluable new pamphlets available in a range of languages: The Health Hazards of Volcanic Ash: A Guide for the Public, and Guidelines on Preparedness Before, During and After an Ashfall.

For more information visit the new IVHHN website: International Volcanic Health Hazard Network.

The Volcanism Blog

New Zealand: disaster management software aims to save lives 12 January 2010

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Yasir Javed, a doctoral student in the application of computer technology to disaster management at Massey University in New Zealand, was in the city of Abbottabad in his homeland of Pakistan when the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake hit, killing thousands. His current research at Massey is inspired by his experience of that disaster and its aftermath, when communication systems collapsed and thousands of people were left unable to discover whether missing relatives were alive or dead.

Javed worked in the relief effort, setting up a computer database of earthquake victims admitted to Abbottabad’s hospitals, helping survivors to trace missing family members. Now transplanted to New Zealand, he is carrying out admirable research on an integrated information management system for emergency services to use following natural disasters:

Yasir Javed’s research involves the design, implementation and evaluation of an internet-based package called Situation Aware Volcanic Eruption Reasoner (SAVER) to help emergency operations have a clear understanding of the disaster and the status of their resources in dealing with it. The package is designed to provide a common platform, giving information to emergency services about the full picture of the disaster and status of emergency resources. Mr Javed began the project after an emergency exercise last year based on the occurrence of a volcanic eruption in Auckland revealed current emergency services do not have an integrated information management system.

The initial focus on volcanic eruptions reflects the fact that Javed is based at the Albany campus of Massey University near Auckland. After his experiences in the Kashmir earthquake, he says, ‘I realised I wanted to work with technology in these disaster scenarios to save lives. ‘New Zealand is quite disaster-prone and it seemed the ideal place to do this kind of research’.

News
Evacuating Auckland after an eruption – Massey University press release, 6 January 2010
Auckland eruption evacuation software developed – 3 News, 6 January 2010
Software tackles Auckland evacuation – Stuff.co.nz, 6 January 2010
Logging on to beat volcanic eruptionNew Zealand Herald, 7 January 2010

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Auckland – summary information for the Auckland volcanic field (0401-02=)

The Volcanism Blog

Volcanic ascents: cautionary tales from Villarrica 6 January 2010

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Villarrica volcano, Chile, 2 January 2010 (copyright Roberto Alarcon, POVI)

Villarrica volcano in Chile, one of the country’s most active volcanoes, is popular among walkers and climbers, who come to the Parque Nacional Villarrica to enjoy the beautiful scenery and (when Villarrica’s activity allows) the challenge of ascending the 2,847-metre volcano’s slopes. But a volcano does not have to be erupting to be dangerous, and Villarrica certainly has its dangers.

On Saturday 2 January a snow avalanche struck a party of tourists who were climbing to the summit crater, leaving one Brazilian tourist seriously injured and a number of his companions slightly hurt. The avalanche, reportedly 100 metres in width, occurred in good weather conditions and took the party (and their mountain guide) completely by surprise. This is the first time such an avalance, apparently caused by unstable snow cover slipping on the underlying ice, has caused problems at Villarrica. In response, the park authorities closed the slopes to tourists pending a detailed survey of snow and ice conditions on the volcano.

The picture above (copyright Roberto Alarcón N.), kindly submitted by Werner Keller of Proyecto Observación Volcán Villarrica (POVI), shows Villarrica on 2 January 2010 following the avalanche referred to above and two further avalanches; the scars are clearly visible in the snow. The avalanche struck the tour party at around 2000 metres a.s.l., having descended about 600 metres, accumulating loose volcanic debris on the way. The front of the avalanche lobe was 2-3 metres deep. More information can be found at the POVI website.

(more…)

Pre-eruption rumbles help volcano forecasting 17 December 2009

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Before a volcano erupts it rumbles and shakes the ground, just as an angry dog growls before it bites, says this press release.

The point is that different volcanoes behave in different ways – some rumble consistently, some stop and start, some rumble and erupt straightaway, others rumble for ages before they do anything, and others never get round to erupting at all – and understanding that behaviour helps with eruption forecasting and the issuing of alarms.

Volcano observatories often have a good understanding of these behaviours in the case of their local volcanoes: now Emily Brodsky, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, working with Luigi Passarelli of the University of Bologna and Stephanie Prejean of the USGS Alaska Volcano Observatory, has been trying to ‘stitch together those empirical rules with the underlying physics and find some sort of generality’. Professor Brodsky is presenting her findings at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

Physics, of course, is only part of the problem with effective forecasting and warning of volcanic eruptions. Psychology is also an issue. The Pasto volcanological observatory in Colombia, which keeps watch on Galeras, has an excellent understanding of Galeras’s behaviour and always issues timely and appropriate warnings, but the local inhabitants do not respond to the alerts because they also feel that they know the volcano very well and don’t believe, from their experience, that its activity will do them any harm. They also weigh up the potential risks of volcanic activity (rather remote) against the risks of leaving their homes, farms and businesses unattended for an unknown length of time (very real) and decide to stay put.

(Press release re-heated here, here and here.)

The Volcanism Blog

Machín volcano: disaster prevention in Colombia 4 September 2009

Posted by admin in Colombia, Machín, natural hazards.
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‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’, said the always quotable Benjamin Franklin in 1735. The principle applies to natural disasters as it does to other areas of life: it is surely better to prevent a catastrophe than have to pay for clearing up afterwards. The practical application, however, can present problems, for how is a volcanic eruption to be prevented? The answer is that it can’t, but its potential for disaster can be reduced by, for example, evacuating nearby at-risk populations so that an eruption does not turn into a disaster. This is one of the preventive strategies being followed in Colombia.

The government of Colombia has prioritized three potential natural disasters as targets for a strategy of prevention: an earthquake in the national capital, Bogotá, a Pacific tsunami, and an eruption of Machín volcano. Cerro Machín is in central western Colombia and overlooks the city of Ibagué (population approximately 500,000), 17 km to the east. The last eruption was about 800 years ago. Any new activity would pose considerable dangers for Ibagué and surrounding agricultural areas – and recently Machín has been showing signs of restlessness, with increased seismicity and some ash emission late last year provoking widespread alarm, and a further earthquake swarm at the end of July this year.

The authorities in Colombia aim to reduce the hazard potential of Machín by carrying out a comprehensive survey of the volcano and its surroundings, identifying areas of high danger and establishing evacuation routes, educating the local population about volcanic hazards, and moving people away from the volcano. The local (Tolima) edition of the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports that the programme of buying local farmers out of their properties in areas threatened by volcanic hazards is under way, but that there are legal problems over land titles. An ‘inventory of facilities and physical resources’ has been completed (which presumably includes the identification of evacuation routes) and education efforts are progressing, but are handicapped by lack of money: ‘one of the obstacles encountered is the lack of finance (about 100 million pesos) for the distribution of a booklet that allows the population under threat just to identify the evacuation routes’.

News
Erupción del Volcán Machín se encuentra entre las tres prioridades nacionales de prevenciónEl Tiempo, 4 September 2009

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Machín – information about Machín volcano (1501-04=)
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Manizales – INGEOMINAS observatory responsible for monitoring Machín
Volcán Machín – information, maps and pictures

The Volcanism Blog

Peru practices for El Misti eruption 17 May 2009

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El Misti volcano, Arequipa, Peru, 29 April 2007
El Misti volcano from Arequipa, 29 April 2007. [source]

El Misti in southern Peru, a 5822-metre stratovolcano, has an active eruptive history and last erupted in 1985. The volcano overlooks the city of Arequipa, which has a population of 1.2 million people. El Misti’s recent activity has been on a relatively small scale (no eruption larger than VEI=1 since the fifteenth century) but it poses a potential danger to thousands of people — about 2000 years ago a pyroclastic flow from the volcano travelled some 12 km, and winds have spread ash as far as 20 km from the cone.

In July 2001 a NASA commentary noted that the local civil defence and planning authorities regard the volcano as a ‘remote danger’ and that the city of Arequipa is continuing to expand towards the volcano. It seems, however, that some of the Peruvian authorities are now aware of the dangers: Peru.com reports that an exercise has just been held to simulate the evacuation of nearby districts in the event of an eruption. The exercise was organized by Peru’s Instituto Geológico, Minero y Metalúrgico (INGEMMET) with the local authorities in Arequipa and neighbouring areas and the Peruvian Army. Sirens sounded, trucks carried evacuees to shelters, procedures for providing tents, warm clothing, blankets and food were tested. The practice evacuation involved only 150 people, but the aim was to ‘sensitize’ the local population about the dangers of an eruption and the importance of being prepared.

News
Eventual erupción del volcán Misti afectaría a 100 mil personas – Peru.com, 16 May 2009

Information
Global Volcanism Program: El Misti – summary information for El Misti (1504-01=)
Instituto Geológico Minero y Metalúrgico – Geological, Mineral and Metallurgical Institute of Peru (Ingemmet)

The Volcanism Blog

Volcano geodesy at Green Gabbro 9 January 2009

Posted by admin in geoblogosphere, geoscience, natural hazards, volcano monitoring.
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Over at Green Gabbro, Maria Brumm has posted a crystal-clear explanation of the use of GPS networks to measure surface change, which can be an important indicator of volcanic activity. Great cartoon, among other things.

Green Gabbro: Volcano Geodesy 101

The Volcanism Blog

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