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Saudi earthquakes update 21 May 2009 21 May 2009

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There are some new reports tonight from the English-language Saudi media on the earthquakes (possibly with some volcanic connection) that have been affecting the west of the country. The indications that some kind of volcanic activity is under way are mounting up, albeit many are as yet unconfirmed.

The Business Maktoob headline says ‘Saudi volcanic eruption “imminent”‘, a dramatic claim derived from actually rather cautious comments from UK seismologist Roger Musson: ‘Looking at this recent activity it does seem that an eruption is imminent. We cannot say for definite. But the combination of the earthquakes and the release of hot gasses does suggest something is about to happen. The region has experienced volcanic activity in the past so this is possible’.

Meanwhile a report from the Saudi Press Agency, quoted by the Malaysian National News Agency BERNAMA, says that an overflight by the Saudi Geological Survey has revealed the existence of ‘ground groves’ (fissures?) at the seismic activity area, and that ‘The SGS reassured the variables associated with this activity in terms of the rise in temperature and concentration of radon gas in some regions of volcanic area of “Al Harrat AS-Shaqqah”‘. Possibly the translation here is not all it might be. There is a discussion of the significance of Radon measurement in the latest Saudi update at the Eruptions blog.

The particular Saudi Press Agency news release quoted by BERNAMA is unfindable at the SPA’s horrible website, but an apparently more recent report is available which says that:

The Saudi Geological Survey Commission, Saudi Arabia’s authority in charge of monitoring and controlling seismological activity in the country, said today that the volcanic activity at Harrat Al-Shaqa, which showed unprecedented activity over the last 30 days, registered recent remarkable fall in terms of number and strength. In a press statement, the authority said only six minor quakes were registered during the last 24 hours measuring about 3 points on the Richter scale. The statement said nobody felt or reported the shocks neither of which exposed in volcanic vapor.

Only time will tell if things really are quietening down, or if any lull is just temporary.

UPDATE 22 May 2009. The latest story in Arab News quotes the Saudi Geological Survey as reporting no further gas emissions since Wednesday (which is probably also what is meant by ‘neither of which exposed in volcanic vapor’ in the SPA report above):

The Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) said no emission of volcanic gases has been observed since Wednesday in Harrah Al-Shaqah, the epicenter of the earthquake and the location of extinct volcanoes. It said six minor tremors were recorded at Harrah Al-Shaqah in the 24 hours until 2 p.m. yesterday.

‘Our tracking devices did not detect on Wednesday any gas emissions indicating the eruption of lava. However, we are closely observing the extinct volcanoes in the region for any sign of renewed activities’, said Ahmad Al-Attas, acting head of the SGS.

N.B. Whatever the SGS says, the volcanoes in this area cannot be regarded as extinct.

Saudi volcanic eruption ‘imminent’Business Maktoob, 21 May 2009
Saudi Geological Survey explains Al-Ais tremors – BERNAMA, 21 May 2009
Volcanic activity is in the fall, reports Saudi Seismological Authority – Saudi Press Agency, 21 May 2009
Madinah governor tours quake-prone Al-AisArab News, 22 May 2009

Global Volcanism Program: Harrat Lunayyir – information from the GVP on the area where the seismic activity has been located
Global Volcanism Program: Arabia – information from the GVP about the volcanoes of Arabia
Volcanic Arabia – a detailed and well illustrated article from Saudi Aramco World, 2006, on Arabian volcanism

The Volcanism Blog