jump to navigation

Eruption in the Red Sea: images from the NASA Earth Observatory 1 March 2012

Posted by admin in NASA Earth Observatory, Red Sea, Yemen.

Volcanoes reshape the surface of the Earth all the time , but their influence is demonstrated in particularly dramatic form when new islands are created by volcanic activity. There’s been an interesting example this kind of event over the new year in the southern Red Sea, among the Zubair islands off the west coast of Yemen. The eruption seems to have begun on or around 19 December 2011 and to have lasted for nearly a month, ceasing by 15 January 2012, by which time a new island had been added to the Zubair archipelago (‘Throw away that shiny new atlas you got for Christmas – it’s already out of date’, was the engaging comment of the New Scientist‘s ‘Short Sharp Science’ blog).

This event was well reported by Erik Klemetti at Eruptions and Joe Bauwens (who, like me, has studied geosciences with the Open University) at Sciency Thoughts, and I have given links to their reports below. The main point of this post is to showcase the wonderful images of the eruption available through the NASA Earth Observatory. The following images trace the progress of the eruption from late December: in each case click on the image to go to the original report at the Earth Observatory.

Volcanic activity in the Zubair archipelago, Red Sea, 23 December 2011. EO-1 ALI image (NASA).
This image was captured by the Advanced Land Imager on NASA’s EO-1 satellite on 23 December 2011, a few days after the eruption was first observed. A thick plume can be seen rising from the new island created by the volcanic activity.

Volcanic activity in the Zubair archipelago, Red Sea, 7 January 2012. EO-1 ALI image (NASA).
A detail view from another EO-1 ALI image, this one captured on 7 January 2012, shows that the newly-created island has grown in size, with steam and ash (and considerable sulphur dioxide) streaming away northwards.

Volcanic activity in the Zubair archipelago, Red Sea, 15 January 2012. EO-1 ALI image (NASA).
On 15 January 2012 the EO-1 ALI captured this image of the new island, showing that the eruptive activity had ceased by this date.

Volcanic activity in the Zubair archipelago, Red Sea, 15 February 2012. Landsat 7 ETM+ image (NASA).
This detail from an image captured by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) on Landsat-7 shows the new addition to the archipelago, crater clearly visible (with perhaps a small crater lake inside it), on 15 February 2012.

The Red Sea is a very tectonically active place. Here the African and Arabian plates are pulling away from each other and new oceanic crust is being created. The rifts associated with this process feed the volcanism of Eritrea and Ethiopia on the western side of the Red Sea and that of the Arabian peninsula on the eastern side, as well as the volcanic activity beneath the Red Sea itself that sometimes breaks the surface in the form of islands.

Potential eruption off the coast of YemenEruptions, 19 December 2011
Eruption in the Zubair Archipelago in the southern Red Sea – Sciency Thoughts, 22 December 2011
New Red Sea volcanic island – Olelog, 28 December 2011

Global Volcanism Program: Zubair Group – summary information for the Zubair Group (0201-02=)

The Volcanism Blog