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Kilauea to star in BBC ‘Volcano Live’ series in July 16 March 2012

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The BBC likes to do big-budget live TV specials from time to time: they are of course very expensive and complicated, so the corporation has to choose its favoured subjects very carefully. Recently we’ve had natural history (Springwatch), astronomy (Stargazing), and little baby lambs (Lambing Live). The next big live BBC TV subject is a really big one: volcanoes. ‘BBC Two have decided to expand their unique broadcasting technique of commissioning live events with a Volcano Live series’ claims a remarkably illiterate and typo-ridden report at imediamonkey, making it seem that the BBC is actually going to go out there and commission a volcanic eruption. In fact BBC Two is taking the more sensible course of setting up the programme around a volcano that is already erupting, and which erupts in a reasonably predictable and safe way: Hawaii’s Kilauea.

The series will be broadcast in four parts from 9 to 12 July and will combine live reports from Kilauea with segments looking at the phenomenon of volcanism and exploring volcanoes around the world. Professor Iain Stewart (British television’s Mr Geology) and Kate Humble (British television’s Ms Natural History) will do the presenting. According to BBC Two controller Jane Hadlow, ‘Volcano Live will offer BBC Two viewers a rare opportunity to join world-class experts at the forefront of cutting-edge volcanology research. Broadcasting live from the edge of one of the world’s most active volcanoes over four days will offer a completely new and unique way of experiencing this powerful and unpredictable natural phenomenon’.

This is a high-profile project by the BBC which, if it puts the science in the foreground, has the potential to do a great deal for the public understanding of volcanoes and volcanology. Let’s hope it fulfils that potential. Let’s also hope that Kilauea doesn’t decide to end its current long-running eruption before the cameras arrive in July. That would be annoying.

News
BBC Two announces Volcano Live – BBC Two press release, 16 March 2012
BBC Two announces its latest live event series Volcano LiveTelevisual, 16 March 2012 (BBC press release recycled)
BBC Two to broadcast live from active volcano – imediamonkey, 16 March 2012 (BBC press release recycled, with added gibberish)

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Forthcoming: ‘Volcano: Nature and Culture’ 9 March 2012

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Exciting news from the website of the wonderful Reaktion Books: this spring sees the launch of a new series under the title Earth, exploring the natural and cultural history of natural phenomena, and one of the first books to be published in this series is Volcano: Nature and Culture by James Hamilton.

Author of books on, among others, J. M. W. Turner and Michael Faraday, James Hamilton, University Curator and Honorary Reader at the University of Birmingham, curated the exhibition Volcano – from Turner to Warhol at Compton Verney in 2010.

The book is due to be published in May this year, and I hope to be reviewing it here in due course.

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Science and sensationalism in the press 2 March 2012

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In a memorable post at Eruptions at the start of the year, Fearmongering Gets Started in 2012: Laacher See is Not “Ready to Blow”, Erik Klemetti reported on a story in the Daily Mail (which, for those who remain blissfully unaware, is a UK newspaper), headlined ‘Is a super-volcano just 390 miles from London ready to blow?’, which claimed that the Laacher See caldera in Germany was ‘showing worrying signs of waking up’ on the grounds that (1) it erupts every 10,000 to 12,000 years ‘and last went off 12,900 years ago, so it could blow at any time’, and (2) CO2 bubbling up through the lake ‘indicates that the magma chamber below is degassing’. Pulling no punches in his attack on this nonsense, Dr Klemetti calls the article ‘tremendously terrible’, ‘substance free’ and ‘irresponsible, lazy journalism at its finest’.

I haven’t linked to the Daily Mail article itself because it’s gone. A further post by Erik two days ago explains why: Daily Mail Required to Remove Laacher See Eruption Fearmongering. It seems that a complaint was made to the UK press complaints body, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), on the grounds that the article ‘had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complainant considered the assertion that the volcano was about to erupt had not been supported by sufficient evidence or expert opinions’. The PCC ‘resolved’ this complaint by negotiating the removal of the article by the Daily Mail.

It’s good to see that this particular piece of scaremongering rubbish has gone, but it’s important to note that (1) no admission of fault has been made by the Daily Mail – when the PCC ‘negotiates’ a resolution the process involves no direct admission by the publication concerned that it did anything wrong, so it’s neither a victory for the complainant nor a defeat for bad journalism; (2) that the Daily Mail is required to give no explanation or correction of the original story, just quietly to ‘disappear’ it, in accordance with the cosy way the PCC’s model of ‘self regulation’ works; and (3) this is one ‘resolution’ pertaining to one story, which sets no precedent and provides no guarantee that this kind of story will not appear again in this publication and in others. Indeed, let’s be honest, we all know we are going to be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing because it sells papers, and the titles concerned (by no means limited to the bottom end of the market) have no conception that there is anything wrong with it.

As it happens we may not be seeing the PCC ‘resolving’ complaints this way for much longer. The Leveson Inquiry is currently conducting a wide-ranging investigation of ‘the culture, practice and ethics’ of the UK press, and (while Lord Justice Leveson himself has been very careful not to commit himself to any specific future course of action) it is highly likely that the replacement of the PCC, and possibly the complete reform of the current ‘self regulation’ model, will form a part of the Inquiry’s ultimate recommendations. It’s very encouraging to see that one of the areas Leveson is looking at is the way science is reported in the press. In January the Inquiry heard from Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre (her evidence before the Inquiry can be found here, beginning on page 5 of the ‘Transcript of Afternoon Hearing 24 January 2012’ PDF) who spoke very eloquently on the power of the media in informing the public about science and the consequent responsibility of the media to get its facts right.

An instance of the kind of irresponsible and misleading sensationalism she was warning against had been provided earlier in the Inquiry by Dawn Neesom, editor of the Daily Star (a tabloid), who was challenged over a front-page spread headlined ‘Terror As Plane Hits Ash Cloud’ and featuring an image apparently of a plane with engines spitting fire as it plunged through a dark grey ash cloud. This was published on 21 April 2010, at the time of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption and associated airspace closures, and apparently caused such alarm that the paper was removed from sale in airports. The picture was of a non-existent event: it was a grab from a TV documentary’s computer reconstruction of a notable ash cloud encounter which took place in 1982 (Neesom’s evidence is here, the ash cloud story is discussed on page 14 of the ‘Transcript of Morning Hearing 12 January 2012’ PDF). The Daily Star later apologized for this story, up to a point. Apropos of Eyjafjallajökull coverage specifically, it is interesting to see that a new paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research examining newspaper coverage of that event reports that of 669 quotes used in the press reports only 9% came from volcanologists, and volcanological pieces were placed ‘well down the reporting order’. The subtext appears to be newspapers chose to emphasize chaos and disruption because that makes for a better story (disclaimer – I haven’t yet read the J. Geophys. R. paper, only the abstract).

Volcanoes are only a small part of media science coverage, but at times a very high-profile one, and it’s vital that every pressure is brought to bear on the media to provide responsible, soundly based and informative science coverage in this area as in others. In that respect the internet has an important role to play, and Erik Klemetti in particular deserves praise for his ceaseless war on media scaremongering at Eruptions. It is a crucial issue, for, as Martin Robbins put it yesterday in his Lay Scientist blog at The Guardian, ‘Bad science reporting isn’t just an irritant to nerdy pedants like me, it’s something that risks people’s health and undermines their ability to make informed choices’.

At one end of the scale, it’s depressing when newspapers reporting on volcanic activity can’t be bothered to get a picture of the right volcano. At the other, things get dangerous when ignorant fools are given space in respectable papers to claim that volcanic ash poses no risk to aircraft. The media has responsibility to inform itself before presuming to inform others; and its duty to get things right is precisely proportional to its power to shape public discourse.

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‘Mobilities’: the humanities and social sciences take on Eyjafjallajökull 11 January 2011

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The current issue of the academic journal Mobilities, published by Taylor & Francis, is devoted to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, under the title ‘Stranded: An Eruption of Disruption’.* The Eyjafjallajökull eruption has already been notable in the scholarly attention it has attracted from beyond the physical sciences – perhaps we are seeing the birth of an academic sub-discipline of ‘Eyjafjallajökull Studies’ in the humanities and social sciences. To quote from the abstract for the introductory essay by Thomas Birtchnell and Monika Büscher:

A spontaneously organized workshop and open call for papers gathered together analyses from different perspectives – systems theory, impromptu surveys, personal reflection, literary and philosophical probing. This introduction explores some of the connecting themes and highlights the strange, surprising and potently revealing nature of strandedness in a world of mobile lives.

Among the contents: ‘Anticipation, Materiality, Event: The Icelandic Ash Cloud Disruption and the Security of Mobility’, ‘A Fiasco of Volcanic Proportions? Eyjafjallajökull and the Closure of European Airspace’, ‘Inspired by Eruptions? Eyjafjallajökull and Icelandic Tourism’, and ‘Fire as a Metaphor of (Im)Mobility’. The full list of contents, with links to abstracts, can be found on the issue’s webpage. The contributors include scholars in geography, transport studies, business and management, tourism studies and sociology.

I’d like to tell you more about this, but sadly my university library subscribes to Mobilities via EBSCOhost (ugh – the clunkiest and least customer-responsive of the online journal collections) which has a 1-year moving wall for this title, so I can’t yet read any of this mouth-watering collection without paying up to do so. I am not opposed to paying on principle, I just can’t afford it.

* When it comes to exploring the significances of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption and its consequences, the name ‘Stranded’ has of course already been used.

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Volcano names: the female factor 9 January 2011

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‘Can anyone tell me why volcanos are named after woman??’ asks Volcanism Blog correspondent Doris in a comment left on 22 December when I wasn’t here. I’ve looked at the issue of volcano names before on this blog, and very interesting it all is (‘From “throat of fire” to “many bats”: the naming of volcanoes’). As you’d expect there is a great variety of volcano names, from the physically descriptive to the highly imaginative, the commemorative to the utterly random. Some of the names do have what might be called a feminine aspect, although it is rarely as simple as a particular volcano being named after a particular woman, unless she is a saint.

There are volcanoes whose names suggest that they have been seen in some way as female: Mexico’s Iztaccíhuatl, ‘the woman in white’ is perhaps the best-known, but there’s also Kick’em Jenny in the Caribbean. Lewotobi in Indonesia consists of two stratovolcanoes, one of which is Lewotobi Perempuan: ‘perempuan’ is very much a female term and can be interpreted as ‘bride’ or ‘wife’ (the other volcano, Lewotobi Lakilaki, represents the ‘groom’ or ‘husband’). The North Sister Field in Oregon consists of two sisters (and a little brother), while a little way away is South Sister, making up the Three Sisters. Over in Alaska, Pavlof also has a sister. Among disputed volcano etymologies, Ecuador’s Chimborazo may mean ‘women of the ice’. Female saints and religious figures are honoured by, among others, Santa Ana (El Salvador), Santa Clara (Galápagos Islands), Santa Isabel (Colombia), St Catherine (Grenada) and Santa María (Guatemala). La Vírgen is one of the volcanoes making up Mexico’s Tres Vírgenes. As for Mount St Helens , that celebrated volcano is only indirectly connected with the saint of that name (mother of Emperor Constantine I), having been named after a British diplomat who took his title from the town of St Helens in north-west England.

Overall there seems to be a significant feminine presence among volcano names, but by no means a predominant one. More research is needed, however. Corrections/additions to the above and suggestions as to further examples are welcome.

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Out of the volcano: ‘Stranded’ magazine is now available 28 September 2010

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Back in May we reported on Stranded magazine, one of the happier outcomes of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the travel chaos it caused. Well, it’s great to report that the magazine, put together through the efforts of people across the world who found themselves stranded by the volcano, is now available. In its 88 pages you’ll find (among other things):

  • volcano cocktail recipes from around the globe
  • a sense of history from a leading volcanologist
  • an exclusive video image from a graffiti artist
  • a horror story set inside the ash cloud by an acclaimed novelist
  • 53 journalists and the head of the London Design Museum in 16-hour race to catch a boat.

Stranded can be purchased (at $18.95 plus shipping) as a physical magazine from MagCloud.com. A digital version will soon be available from Zinio.com. And very importantly, all proceeds from both editions go to the International Rescue Committee, a charity dedicated to helping people who are stranded in a more permanent way across the world.

You can find out more about Stranded by visiting the blog of Andrew Losowsky, whose inspired creation it is.

UPDATE 9 October 2010: the digital version of Stranded is now available (for $5.00, all to the International Rescue Committee) at Zinio.com.

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Volcanic art at Compton Verney 17 July 2010

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Compton Verney is a historic country house in Warwickshire (in the English West Midlands) which is now home to a thriving art gallery. There’s a new exhibition opening there on 24 July, and in the wake of Eyjafjallajökull it couldn’t have been better timed.

Volcano: Turner to Warhol displays a rich and varied range of artistic responses to volcanoes and volcanic activity from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first, including works by Hokusai, Joseph Wright, Sir William Hamilton, J. M. W. Turner, and this Warhol chap. A selection of works from Iceland promise to be particularly interesting.

I hope to visit the exhibition over the summer and will post a review here when I do. In the meantime there is a detailed review in The Guardian here, and the exhibition home page is here.

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Please, big thinkers, tell us what the ash cloud means 4 May 2010

Posted by admin in Eyjafjöll, Iceland, volcano culture, volcanoes.
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When the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud disruption was at its height and I was waiting for news of my own family members and friends who were stranded here and there across Europe, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I hope that somewhere the Big Thinkers are getting to work on this’.

Well, I needn’t have worried. The Edge Foundation, where complex and sophisticated minds are put in a room with each other in order to produce astonishingly smart ideas (which are then published on astonishingly long and ugly web pages) were on the case. Wired Magazine will tell you all about it: Big thinkers on what the ash cloud means.

The results can be read on the Edge’s ash cloud special event page. Among the notable contributions: Haim Harari, Alexandra ZukermanMartin Menzies and James O’Donnell are smart and interesting, Charles Simonyi and J. Doyne Farmer are sensible, Greg Paul and Alun Anderson* are doomy, Karl Sabbagh, Matthew Ritchie and James Croak are fatuous, Emanuel Derman is wrong, and Matt Ridley gets a special mention for his glib ignorance about the work of the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres.

* Alun Anderson is very worried about Katla erupting. Although it isn’t that long ago that he was telling us ‘I wouldn’t mind a big volcanic eruption’.

For all our Eyjafjallajökull coverage: Eyjafjöll « The Volcanism Blog.

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Eyjafjallajökull ash victims strike back with eruption of creativity 4 May 2010

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Matt McArthur's vision of an angry and ashy EyjafjallajokullAmong the thousands of people who ended up grounded involuntarily far from home when Eyjafjallajökull’s ash cloud closed down European airspace last month was Andrew Losowsky, a writer and editor (‘marooned magazine fanatic’ – Belfast Telegraph) who found himself stranded in Dublin. He decided to make a travel disaster into a creative opportunity, and put out an online appeal to other writers, editors, artists, designers and illustrators to make something of their situation and contribute to a collaborative magazine project. Each collaborator was invited to take a photograph of the bed they were currently sleeping in, head to the nearest bar and ask for a cocktail called a ‘Volcano’ (and note down the recipe), and provide additional contributions according to their own particular skills: a story, an artwork, whatever. Thus, on the left we have illustrator Matt McCarthy’s vision of an angry and ashy Eyjafjallajökull, while below is a poster by Defeat Chaos urging us, vainly, to Defeat Volcano, and below that Paul Khera’s Volcano cocktail. Some more samples of the kind of work that has been coming in can be seen in this post on Andrew’s blog.

stranded2.jpgThe final outcome of this collaboration, through print-on-demand technology, will be a physical magazine (although there will be a digital version as well). Explaining his decision to go for a traditional bound-paper format rather than some here today, gone tomorrow website, Andrew says, ‘To create a website would be something continually updated for a while but eventually it would wither away and die in a corner of the internet. To make a physical product means that it exists on your bookshelf that you can pick up and read and remember. It happens in a more serendipitous way in your life; it brings back the emotional resonance again’.

Although most victims of the travel disruption have now made it home again, there are still people stranded out there – and there are many others who have found themselves, for whatever reason, stranded away from their homes on a rather more permanent basis. To help them out proceeds from the magazine are going to the International Rescue Committee.

People who are still stranded, or who were stranded but are now back home, are still welcome to participate in the magazine: follow this link to a simple survey form as the first step. And given that Eyjafjallajökull is not finished with us yet, there may be scope for a second issue.

Volcano cocktail by Paul Khera

News
Barriers to publishing being broken down by the internetBelfast Telegraph, 27 April 2010
Ash cloud passengers unite to publish magazine – BBC News, 29 April 2010

For all our Eyjafjallajökull coverage: Eyjafjöll « The Volcanism Blog.

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Eyjafjallajökull: the art of Claire Iris Schencke 1 May 2010

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'Monotype of the Krossá River' (copyright Claire Iris Schencke)

A little while ago we linked to the Eyjafjallajökull Art Project, a collection of artworks inspired by the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. There’s some very good stuff there (along with some that is, er, not so good), but Claire Iris Schencke‘s work really stands out. The artist has been in touch since I posted that link, and I’m very happy to say that some of her Eyjafjallajökull works will soon be showcased in a Saturday Volcano Art article, when  that feature resumes publication later this month. Much more (and a nice link back to us) can be found on Claire Iris Schencke’s art blog.

For the moment, and as a taster, here (with the permission of the artist) is Claire Iris Schencke’s ‘Monotype of the Krossá River’. The braided glacial river Krossá drains Eyjafjallajökull and Myrdalsjökull, feeding the Markarfljót which runs southward from the glaciers and which flooded during the eruption last month. More information about this picture can be found in a posting on the artist’s blog.

[‘Monotype of the Krossá River’, copyright Claire Iris Schencke.]

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