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The last time Eyjafjallajökull erupted: an account from 1822 5 May 2010

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[From the Liverpool Mercury, 13 September 1822, p. 86.]

Eruption of the old volcano of Eyafjeld Jokkul in Iceland, in December 1821

The remarkable fall of the barometer which took place almost simultaneously throughout all Europe, in the month of December, 1821, and which in some cases was accompanied with an agitation of the magnetic needle, brought many persons to conjecture that some tremendous convulsion of nature must have visited some part of the globe. This conjecture has at last been verified by a volcanic eruption of the old volcano of Eyafjeld Jokkul, which has been in a quiet state since the year 1612.

This mountain, otherwise called Mount Hecla, is about 5666 feet in height. It is nearly equidistant from Kolla and Hecla, and is the southernmost of the chain where a dreadful eruption broke out about the middle of the last century.

On the 19th December, 1821, the eruption began. The crater was formed at the distance of five miles from the minister’s house at Holt, and discharged itself through the thick mass of ice that enveloped it, and which is never melted. The ice was dispersed in every direction, of which one mass, 18 feet high, and 60 feet in circumference, fell towards the north. A number of stones, of different sizes, rolled down the mountain, accompanied with a noise like thunder; and this was immediately followed by a discharge of an enormous and lofty column of flame, which illuminated the whole country, and allowed the people in Holt to read as perfectly within their houses at night as if it had been day. Ashes, stones, gravel, and heavy masses of rock, some of which weighed about 50 lbs, were thrown up, and one of these last was found at the distance of five miles from the crater. On the day immediately following the eruption, a great quantity of fine greyish-white powder of pumice was discharged, and carried about by the wind so as to fall like snow, through every opening. It exhaled a disagreeable smell of sulphur, brought on affections in the eyes, and occasioned diseases among the sheep in Vaster Eyafjeld and Oster Landoe.

On the 25th of December, a violent storm raged from the south, and by the united action of the wind and rain, the fields were cleaned of the sulphurous dust which had covered them. On the 26th and 27th of December, there was a heavy storm from the north-east, and the barometer, which had been gradually falling since the 18th December, when it was 29° 16, had reached, on the 26th December, its lowest point at 28° 49. It is a curious fact, however, that on the 8th of February, the barometer fell to 27° 25, a time when no earthquake was felt, and no apparent change had taken place in the eruption. On the 18th of February, the barometer, which had been at 29° 42 on the 11th fell to 27° 72. So late as the 23d of February, the Eyafjeld Jokkul emitted smoke greatly resembling the steam of boiling water; and some persons were of the opinion that the mountain had decreased, and was lower near the crater, as it evidently appeared to be when viewed in a direction from north to south.

It is stated that the water in the rivers that flow from the Jokkul and the surrounding mountains, had been considerably enlarged during the first day’s eruption. A constant rumbling noise was heard in the vicinity of the volcano, attended occasionally by a dreadful crash, as if the immense masses of stones and ice were on the eve of all being precipitated down the mountain.

Other two volcanoes to the east, in the mountains of Kolla and Oraefa Jokkul, are said to have broken out, but no certain information has been received on that subject.

The vessel which brought the account of the volcanic eruption to Copenhagen, left Iceland on the 7th of March and it is reported that the sailors, when at sea, again saw a violent fire in the direction of the volcano.

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Stromboli from the inside, 1933 style 16 February 2010

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I realized clearly the danger confronting me as I slipped over the edge of the crater and was lowered slowly into space. I knew my return was problematical. My precautions might prove insufficient. My heart and lungs might not stand the strain of the gases and the terrific heat. Suspended in space, I knew not where I was going nor where I would set down my feet. What awaited me at the end of my descent? Solid rock? Boiling lava? A sheer, slippery ledge with fire below? I could not tell.

Don’t you miss the days when science was an adventure and scientists were heroes, or maniacs, or both? When volcanology meant being lowered 800 Feet on a Fireproof Rope Inside a Flaming Volcano?

[From the highly-recommended Modern Mechanix blog.]

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Explosive eruption at Galeras 21 November 2009

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Thermal image of Galeras eruption 20 November 2009 (copyright INGEOMINAS)After some three weeks of simmering at the second-highest alert level of Orange, the Colombian volcano Galeras erupted last night, producing a 10 km eruption column and extensive ashfall.

The INGEOMINAS volcanological observatory at Pasto reported ‘an eruption of Galeras volcano of an explosive character’ yesterday evening at 20:37 local time. The picture to the left is a thermal image of the plume associated with that eruption (copyright INGEOMINAS: original image is here). The alert level was raised to Red, ‘eruption imminent or in progress’. At 22:53 local time INGEOMINAS published a bulletin on the eruption, which reports that ‘five explosions’ were reported from the town of San Cayetano near the volcano, that the sound waves produced by the event were ‘audible in the form of a rumble’ in various nearby areas, and that ‘the incandescence associated with the eruption was visible for some minutes’. The bulletin also notes that Washington VAAC reported that the eruption plume reached an altitude of around 10 km (see the Washington ash advisory here) and that ash was dispersed mainly towards the north, with ‘reports of ashfall in sectors of the municipalities of Nariño and La Florida and in the Bellavista district of Pasto municipality’.

The bulletin reports that the seismic signal of the 20 November eruption ‘had energy levels less than those registered during the eruption of 30 September 2009’, and that since the eruption (and the removal of the solidified material that had blocked the conduit) seismicity has increased in terms both of energy and frequency.

Local evacuation and emergency plans have been put into action, although whether those living around the volcano will pay any attention is another matter: 7000 people are affected by the evacuation orders, but only 800 were in the shelters last night, according to local officials.

For all our Galeras coverage: Galeras « The Volcanism Blog.

News
Declaran alerta roja en el volcán GalerasEl Espectador, 20 November 2009
Colombia: Volcán Galeras en alerta roja – ReliefWeb, 21 November 2009
Declararon nuevamente la alerta roja en el volcán Galeras (Nariño)El Tiempo, 21 November 2009

Information
Global Volcanism Program – Galeras – summary information for Galeras (1501-08=)
Portal Corporativo de INGEOMINAS – Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Pasto – Pasto volcanological observatory main page

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Athanasius Kircher’s ‘Mundus Subterraneus’ (1664) 13 June 2009

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Between mid-December 1631 and the end of January 1632 Mount Vesuvius produced its most violent eruption since that of AD79, a VEI=5 event that included central vent and radial fissure eruptions, pyroclastic flows, lahars and volcanic tsunamis. The eruption killed perhaps 4000 people, sweeping away the villages at the foot of the volcano and severely damaging a number of larger towns including Torre del Greco, which was perhaps two-thirds destroyed and where most of the fatalities occurred. This eruption had a major impact on contemporaries throughout Europe, giving rise to an upsurge of interest in the study of volcanoes. Among those drawn to the close scrutiny of Vesuvius was the Jesuit priest and polymath Athanasius Kircher (1609-1680).

Despite having had his youth in his German homeland disrupted by the Thirty Years War, Kircher had shown early promise in the sciences and by the early 1630s he was known for his work in mathematics, mechanics and magnetism. From 1633 he worked in Rome as a scholar and teacher, and in 1637-8 he travelled in the south of Italy investigating earthquakes and volcanic phenomena including Etna, Stromboli and Vesuvius. While visiting Vesuvius he climbed all over the mountain making observations, even having himself lowered by rope into the crater. From 1638 onwards he devoted himself to research and writing at the Jesuit Collegio Romano, one of the intellectual powerhouses of early modern science, producing a vast number of publications on subjects including music, astronomy, linguistics, archaeology, magnetism, mechanics and geology.

Kircher’s interest in geology, and particularly in volcanoes and earthquakes, bore magnificent fruit in his Mundus Subterraneus, published in twelve volumes between 1664 and 1678. Kircher postulated a central source of heat at the centre of the globe, and produced a stunning cross-section of the Earth (included in volume III of his work) showing a central mass of flame feeding heat to the surface through a complex network of channels and fissures and subsidiary bodies of fire distributed through the interior. Volcanoes were created where the Earth’s internal fires escaped at the surface, and also served to draw in air to sustain those subterranean fires. The source of the combustion was the combining of salt, sulphur, bitumen and other inflammable and explosive materials within the Earth. The idea of subterranean fire innate to the Earth developed during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a means of accounting for the presence and distribution of hot springs; its application to the problem of volcanoes was a natural development, significant for reflecting an awareness of volcanoes as a global phenomenon produced by a global process, rather than the purely localized product of wind action upon deposits of combustible materials. Kircher’s very influential work can be seen as playing an important part in the dissemination of this notion.

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

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Mount Vesuvius at Geology.com 17 December 2008

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Jessica Ball of Magma Cum Laude has written a fine article profiling Mount Vesuvius for Geology.com, clearly and concisesly discussing its geological context, eruption history, hazard potential and more. Excellent use of illustrations as well.

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Goethe’s volcanoes 15 December 2008

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Heinrich Christoph Kolbe, 'Goethe as poet and artist before Vesuvius' (1826), detail. Thuringian University and State Library, Jena.

Goethe Etc. (proprietor: Goethe Girl) is a wonderful scholarly blog exploring the life, work and significance of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). It features here because, among many other things, Goethe was interested in volcanoes, and when he visited Naples in 1787 during his Italian journey he took the opportunity to study, observe and ascend Vesuvius. The significance of Vesuvius to Goethe’s developing poetic and visual imagination is considered in Goethe and Vesuvius, a fascinating illustrated essay at Goethe Etc.

At the time of Goethe’s visit the British envoy in Naples was Sir William Hamilton, who was also greatly interested in volcanoes. Hamilton, however, was a ‘plutonist’, believing that volcanic action had deep-rooted causes and was a permanent and fundamental geological process, while Goethe espoused the ‘neptunist’ view that volcanoes were superficial phenomena of no profound geological significance.* This aspect of Goethe’s thought is discussed in Goethe and Vesuvius and also in another article at Goethe Etc., Goethe in Bohemia, which illuminates Goethe’s geology.

* Despite their different theories of volcanism Goethe rather admired Sir William, and definitely admired his wife, the (in)famous Emma.

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The latest volcanoes in the British Isles – a lecture from 1895 3 June 2008

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LATEST VOLCANOES IN THE BRITISH ISLES.

[From The Liverpool Mercury, 26 December 1895, p. 2]

The presidential address in connection with the Geological Society of Glasgow was delivered by Sir Archibald Geikie, the Director-General of the Geological Survey of Great Britain.

Sir Archibald Geikie said his first duty was to thank the members of the Geological Society for the honour conferred upon him some time ago in electing him their president. He had a keen interest in the society. It was now more than 30 years since that connection began, and one of his earliest papers was published in the first volume of their transactions. Although he had no prepared address to deliver to them that night, he proposed to speak to them on a subject that had occupied him closely for the last 20 years, and more particularly the last seven — the story of the last volcanoes in eruption in the British Isles. Our islands were especially fortunate in the wonderfully complete record which we had within our borders of the history of volcanic action, and these were nearer than the time of the soft clays on which London was built. There was an almost continuous line of volcanic eruption along the western border of the European Continent. Our country was placed on what one might call the critical line of the European Continent. He proposed to sketch rapidly the story of the last volcanoes. These were active along the great line of valleys between the Outer Hebrides on the west and the mainland of Scotland on the east, and they extended from the South of Antrim right through that hollow, through the line of the Inner Hebrides, and on to the Faroe Islands. During the last two years he had been able to extend his researches amongs those rocks in the Faroe Islands, and he had been specially interested to find that the story of volcanic action was told there even more fully and more clearly than it was within our own islands, a result partly due to the difference of climate, greater denudation, and the greater height. The Icelandic geologist — for there was really only one — complained that geologists in their text-books and in their memoirs had been in the habit of quoting Etna and Vesuvius as types of volcanic action, and pointed out that in Iceland they would find the most potent forms of volcanic activity. He sympathised with that geologist, for he found that the story of our own volcanic history was more clearly made known by the study of the Icelandic volcanoes. One of the first features that struck them in looking at the history of the modern Icelandic volcanoes was that they did not form mountains like Etna or Vesuvius, but were the production of great fissures. When a volcanic eruption was to take place the ground seemed to have been rent into long, rectilinear fissures, of which two series at least had been discovered — one running in a north and south line, and the other running from south-west to north-east. In some cases the lava had risen up through these fissures, and flowed out tranquilly now to one side and now to the other. Most frequently it happened, however, that the lava formed great long lines of volcanic cones so close together that they actually touched each other. From the base of these cones the lava streams flowed now to the one side and now to the other, and solidified over the surface. As each eruption occurred the surface was again covered over, and so altered the topography of the country. In some cases the intervals between the outpourings of lava would be very considerable, and along the western coast of Skye and the west of Mull there was found a red layer with one of dark, almost black, rock on the top of it. Sir Archibald Geikie referred to the fact that last year, when yachting among the Western Islands, he discovered some new facts of considerable importance in considering the volcanic action in that region. Last year he also visited the Faroe Islands, and was able at one part to trace distinctly no less than five old volcano vents which had been completely buried by about six, eight, or perhaps even ten thousand feet of volcanic material. He also referred to a visit which he was able to pay to St. Kilda this year, and to get to the junction of the two masses of rock. He found the black gabbro riddled with a network of fine light-coloured rock, such as was found in Mull of Skye and Rum, but on a much larger and grander scale than in any of these islands. He hoped to be able to make a more thorough examination next year, if the weather would permit him. The volcanic period of which he had been speaking belonged to a very recent geological period — and belonged to a time actually later than the soft clay on which the city of London was built. He concluded by referring to the interesting shores of the Faroe Islands, where the imagination, which was apt to be carried away by the contemplation of scenery so splendid, was always checked by those solemn, unmoved lines always in front of them, and where they could actually obtain numerical data to control them. (Applause.)

Information
Sir Archibald Geikie (1835-1924) – biography from NAHSTE
Sir Archibald Giekie (1835-1924) – another biography from Scottish Geology
Sir Archibald Geikie, The Scenery of Scotland (1887) – an online edition prepared by Dr David C. Bossard
Geographical Evolution: An Introduction – text of an 1879 lecture by Geikie

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The Daily Volcano Quote: Charles Lyell 2 June 2008

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When we speak of the igneous rocks of our own times, we mean that small portion which happens in violent eruptions to be forced up by elastic fluids to the surface of the earth. We merely allude to the sand, scoriae, and lava, which cool in the open air; but we cannot obtain access to that which is congealed under the pressure of many hundred, or many thousand atmospheres. We may, indeed, see in the dikes of Vesuvius rocks consolidated from a liquid state, under a pressure of perhaps a thousand feet of lava, and the rock so formed is more crystalline and of greater specific gravity than ordinary lavas. But the column of melted matter raised above the level of the sea during an eruption of Vesuvius must be more than three thousand feet in height, and more than ten thousand feet in Etna; and we know not how many miles deep may be the ducts which communicate between the mountain and those subterranean lakes or seas of burning matter which supply for thousands of years, without being exhausted, the same volcanic vents.

Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology (1st edn., London: John Murray, 1830), vol. I, ch. XXII, p. 396.

The Daily Volcano Quote: from Monday to Friday, a new eruption of volcanic verbiage each day.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: Jules Verne 30 May 2008

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Above our heads, not more than 500 feet away, was the crater of the volcano. Every quarter of an hour there came flying from it a tall column of flames mixed with pumice-stone, ashes, and lava, together with a deafening explosion. I felt the whole mountain heave every time it breathed, sending out, like a whale, fire and air through its enormous blowholes. Below, on a steep slope, layers of eruptive material could be seen extending 700 or 800 feet down, meaning that the volcano couldn’t be more than 2,000 feet high. Its base was hidden by a real basket of green trees, amongst which I distinguished olive and fig trees, plus vines laden with purple grapes.
It didn’t look much like the Arctic, I had to admit.

Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, translated by William Butcher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 210.

The Daily Volcano Quote: from Monday to Friday, a new eruption of volcanic verbiage each day.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: Richard Fortey on Vesuvius 29 May 2008

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Near the tip of the southern peninsula, Sorrento commands a wonderful prospect of Mount Vesuvius across the entire Bay of Naples. From this steep-sided town, Vesuvius looks almost the perfect, gentle-sided cone. It could be a domestic version of Mount Fuji, the revered volcanic cone in Japan. It can appear blue, or grey, or occasionally stand revealed in its true brown colours. On clear days Vesuvius is starkly outlined against a bright sky: a dark, heavy, almost oppressive presence. Or on a misty morning its conical summit can rise above a mere sketch or impression of the lower slopes, which are obscured in vapour, as if it were cut off from the world to make a house for the gods alone.

Richard Fortey, The Earth: An Intimate History (London: Harper Collins, 2004), p. 3.

The Daily Volcano Quote: from Monday to Friday, a new eruption of volcanic verbiage each day.

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