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Research: Fuji developing a more explosive style? 6 May 2010

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‘Rumbles hint that Mount Fuji is getting angry’, says the rather sensationalized headline that New Scientist has stuck over their report of a new study of Mount Fuji. There’s no suggestion in the original research paper that Fuji is ‘getting angry’, or even slightly annoyed, just a new theorization of the processes that may be causing Fuji’s magmas to become more andesitic to dacitic, thus tending towards a more explosive eruptive style.

The paper, ‘Crypto-magma chambers beneath Mt. Fuji’ by Takayuki Kaneko et al (JVGR 2010, in press) notes that Fuji’s eruptive history has been characterized by basaltic activity with occasional explosive eruptions involving andesitic to dacitic lavas. Studies of Fuji’s lavas using air-fall scoria, however, indicate an increase in silica content over time: Kaneko proposes a two-level magma chamber system to account for this, with basaltic magma at the deep level and more silicic magma at the shallower level. The increasing level of silica, suggests Kaneko, ‘could result from the combination of repeated magma mixing between the two end-member magmas and fractional crystallization processes in each magma chamber’.

The upward trend of SiO2 … seems to continue to the present. In the last several thousand years, explosive eruptions involving a small volume of andesitic magma were repeated sporadically … Such andesitic or dacitic products have not been found from the older periods of Fuji–Ko-Fuji to the middle stage of Shin-Fuji volcanoes. This may suggest that, in the last several thousand years, the composition of the magma in the shallow chamber has become more SiO2-rich than ever.

The New Scientist article says that Kaneko interprets the low-frequency earthquakes detected beneath Fuji in 2000 and 2001 as possible evidence for magma injections into the lower chamber, ‘and adds he would not be surprised if Fuji erupts in the very near future’. That’s the ‘Fuji getting angry’ bit, and it’s stretching things somewhat on the basis of this research. The paper itself simply concludes with the suggestion that ‘Fuji may have entered a stage with the potential for explosive eruptions involving andesitic to dacitic magmas’.

  • Takayuki Kaneko, Atsushi Yasuda, Toshitsugu Fujii and Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, ‘Crypto-magma chambers beneath Mt. Fuji’, Journal of Volcanology & Geothermal Research, article in press 2010 [doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2010.04.002]

Rumbles hint that Mount Fuji is getting angryNew Scientist, 5 May 2010

Global Volcanism Program: Fuji – information about Fuji from the GVP (0803-03=)
Volcano Research Center – the University of Tokyo’s Volcano Research Center

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The vanishing views of Fuji 13 October 2009

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Mt Fuji from Nippori Fujimi slope on 18 November 2000 (photo by Mr Naofumi Nakajima).
Mt Fuji from Nippori Fujimi slope on 18 November 2000 (photo by Mr Naofumi Nakajima).

Among the many ways in which human beings interact with volcanoes, one of the most important but also least tangible and hardest to quantify is the simplest of all: looking.

Volcanoes are beautiful, often dramatic elements of the landscape, and people like to look at them. But views are fragile things, particularly where volcanoes are close to constantly-changing urban areas in which the construction of buildings and the effects of pollution mean the obstruction of once-valued views. Perhaps the most notable such case is Mount Fuji, and the New York Times‘s ‘Tokyo Journal’ has a report on the efforts of some Tokyo residents to fight back against the loss of treasured views of Fuji:

Protecting a building or a park may be one thing, but how do you protect a view? Saving the view from Nippori’s Fujimizaka would require capping building heights within an elongated fan-shaped corridor three miles long and up to 1,000 feet wide across densely populated neighborhoods. So far, the society has met stiff resistance from city officials and developers in Tokyo, whose properties rose rapidly from the postwar ashes thanks in part to unrestrained construction.

For centuries, the views of Mount Fuji offered by many parts of the Tokyo region have been a celebrated part of Japanese culture: but as Tokyo’s skyscrapers have climbed into the sky, the views have disappeared. Of the sixteen areas of central Tokyo called Fujimizaka, ‘the slope for seeing Mount Fuji’, there is now only one, in Nippori, from which the volcano can still be seen – just. The threat to this last remaining view of Fuji provoked the establishment of the Citizens’ Alliance to save the Fuji-view (CASF): the picture at the top of this post, from the CASF website, shows what they are up against.

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Saturday Volcano Art: Katsushika Hokusai, ‘Mount Fuji seen through cherry blossom’ (c.1834) 12 September 2009

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Katsushika Hokusai, 'Mount Fuji seen through cherry blossom' (c.1834) - detail

Unfortunately there is no time for a detailed ‘Saturday Volcano Art’ essay this week, so please just enjoy this tranquil image of Mount Fuji by the Japanese artist and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), ‘Mount Fuji seen through cherry blossom’, from One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (1834).

Katsushika Hokusai, 'Mount Fuji seen through cherry blossom' (c.1834)

For all ‘Saturday volcano art’ articles: Saturday volcano art « The Volcanism Blog.

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Saturday volcano art – Utagawa Hiroshige, ‘Miho no Matsuhara in Suruga Province’ (1858) 21 February 2009

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Utagawa Hiroshige, 'Miho no Matsubara in Suruga Province' (1858).

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), whose given name was Andō Tokutarō, was one of the masters of Japanese painting and print-making in the nineteenth century, one of the last great ukiyo-e artists and a leading exponent of the art of the full-colour landscape print. The son of a minor Shogunal official, he showed early promise in drawing and painting, and studied under a number of leading artists associated with the Utagawa school of the ukiyo-e genre, from which he took his professional name. In the first part of his career he produced prints in the characteristic ukiyo-e genre depicting beautiful women and actors, book illustrations and decorative works. In the 1830s he seems to have become aware of the possibilities offered by the then neglected genre of landscape, perhaps being inspired by the works being published by Katsushika Hokusai, including the celebrated Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (1830-33). Hiroshige began producing his own landscape print series, and with the publication from 1833 of Fifty-three Stages on the Tokaido he achieved success and his reputation was assured.

The beautifully symmetrical cone of Mount Fuji has long been a profoundly important symbol in Japanese culture, and images of Fuji form an ancient and rich tradition in Japanese visual art. With the development of Edo as the Shogunal capital after 1603 the ascetic religious cult of Mount Fuji became metropolitanized and absorbed into Court culture. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Fuji was also highly active, making it even more of a powerful presence in the local landscape. The volcano, with its pilgrimage routes, its ascetic holy men and its shrines, became the focus of an increasingly popular urban religious movement during the Edo period, providing a market for visual representations of the volcano in prints, books and devotional images which an entire industry of artists, printmakers and publishers sought to fulfil. When first Hokusai and then Hiroshige (and their followers and imitators) began to produce innovative new styles of landscape prints in the first decades of the nineteenth century, Fuji was a natural choice of subject.

Hiroshige produced two woodblock print series of Fuji, both entitled Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, one in 1852 and another, at the very end of his life, in 1858 (although he produced many more images of the volcano throughout his career). The picture reproduced above is from the latter series and is typical of the artist’s later work in its simplicity, with the composition reduced to a limited number of motifs, and striking use of colour. Here the grey cone of the volcano stands starkly against a sky filled with a dramatic combination of yellow and black. The setting is a famous scenic location on Suruga Bay, on the Pacific coast of Honshu south-west of Tokyo, long celebrated for its views of Mount Fuji. Hiroshige emphasizes the dominance of Mount Fuji, but draws the surrounding scene of land and water, and the evidence of human activity in the boats that pass along the coast, into an overall harmony. This print represents the classic image of Fuji as the central motif of a landscape of elemental clarity and harmonious balance.

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