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The Daily Volcano Quote: a great eruption of Kilauea 20 April 2009

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From Kilauea to this place the lava flows in a subterranean gallery, probably at a depth of a thousand feet, but its course can be distinctly traced all the way, by the rending of the crust of the earth into innumerable fissures, and by the emission of smoke, steam and gases … After flowing under ground several miles, perhaps six or eight, it again broke out like an overwhelming flood, and sweeping forest, hamlet, plantation, and every thing before it, rolled down with resistless energy to the sea, where, leaping a precipice of forty or fifty feet, it poured itself in one vast cataract of fire into the deep below, with loud detonations, fearful hissings, and a thousand unearthly and indescribable sounds. Imagine to yourself a river of fused minerals, of the breadth and depth of Niagara, and of a deep gory red, falling in one emblazoned sheet, one raging torrent, into the ocean! The scene, as described by eye witnesses, was terribly sublime. Two mighty agencies in collision! Two antagonist and gigantic forces in contact, and producing effects on a scale inconceivably grand!

‘Great eruption of the Volcano of Kilauea’, Western Miscellany, vol. I, no. 10 (April 1849), pp. 317-8. The eruption described is that of May 1840.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: catastrophe and uniformity 16 April 2009

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Thus I conceive that the assertion of an à priori claim to probability and philosophical spirit in favour of the doctrine of uniformity, is quite untenable. We must learn from an examination of all the facts, and not from any assumption of our own, whether the course of nature be uniform. The limit of intensity being really unknown, catastrophes are just as probable as uniformity. If a volcano may repose for a thousand years, and then break out and destroy a city; why may not another volcano repose for ten thousand years, and then destroy a continent; or if a continent, why not the whole habitable surface of the earth?

William Whewell, The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded upon their History (1840; 2nd edn., London: John W. Parker, 1847), vol. I, pp. 669-670.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: Herculaneum overflowed by ashes 8 April 2009

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It was not by the lava, or fiery stream of melted stones, that Herculaneum was first overflowed. It was first covered by the burning ashes belched forth by the mountain, and next by torrents of water, which to the ashes, that first fell on it, added all those that fell on the mountain itself; and left the whole upon this wretched city … After this last had been covered with showers of ashes, and deluged with torrents of water, there broke out fiery streams of lava, which, rolling slowly, spread over the former by degrees, and formed a kind of crust over it. In the terrible eruption of 1631, which had been preceded by a calm of one hundred years, the ashes were likewise followed by a lava.

Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Critical Account of the Situation and Destruction by the First Eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, of Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Stabia (1764; English translation, London, 1771), pp. 15-6.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: Mount Augustine split in two 7 April 2009

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On the morning of Oct. 6 a settlement of fishermen on English Bay heard a heavy report, and looking in the direction from whence the sound came immense volumes of smoke and flame were seen to burst forth from the summit of Mount Augustine. The sky became obscured and a few hours later great quantities of pumice dust began to fall, some of it being fine and smooth and some gritty. At 3:30 o’clock on the same day an earthquake wave 30 feet high came rushing in over the hamlet, sweeping away all the boats and deluging the houses … Upon examination after the disturbances had subsided it was found that the mountain had been split in two, from base to summit, and that the northern slope had fallen to the level of the surrounding cliffs … So violent was the volcanic action that two extinct volcanoes on the peninsula of Alaska lying to the westward of the active volcano Iliamna, 12,000 feet high, burst into activity and emitted immense volumes of smoke and dust.

‘A mountain split in two: the great volcanic eruption in Alaska in October’, New York Times, 29 December 1883, p. 1. This VEI=4 event was the largest historical eruption of Mount Augustine and involved, as this report indicates, a major edifice collapse. Since 1883 dome growth has practically restored the volcano to its pre-1883 height.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: the eruption cloud of Tarawera, 1886 1 April 2009

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Riding home, weary and covered with mud, we halted to gaze upon one of the most glorious sights man could view. We stood in a light-timbered grove just outside the belt of the ashcovered plain, the setting sun at our back. Away and away in our front for miles lay the scene that not long since looked like snow, but now, reflected on it, the rays of the setting sun gave it the aspect of red coral. But, above all, there rose in solemn grandeur the towering mass of steam—thousands upon thousands of feet it ascended, until its crown was lost in the bright, fleecy clouds that came rolling up from the south. Bright, aye bright with the full effulgence of the orb which was still high above the horizon there; but lower, the dazzling brightness waned, and a faint glint of a golden hue was seen, to be rivalled by the richer colours and deeper gold of the nether parts until they deepened and sank through rose to carmine, and deeper hues suffused the base and the far-reaching crimson plain, while the deep greens of the bush in which we stood made up a picture difficult to equal, impossible to excel. And thus from earth to sky rolled the ever-changing mass of steam, rent at the base with the up-rush of countless geysers, imparting to it changing and varying tints, beautiful and transient; but above, calm, solemn, and gorgeous, and apparently immovable. Slowly the deeper tints crept up, and left the base white and beautiful in the light of the bright full moon, while the crown still reflected the deep soft tints of a sun which had long since set with us.

J. A. Pond & S. Percy Smith, ‘Observations on the eruption of Mount Tarawera, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, 10th June, 1886’, Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand, vol. 19 (1886), pp. 362-3.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: volcanoes and the weather, 1932 30 March 2009

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Will South America’s recent volcanic eruption change our weather? Experts anticipate that possibility since a 400-mile string of volcanoes along the Andes roared into action like a salvo of big guns a few weeks ago, shaking Chile and Argentina for two days and nights with their cannonading.

The greatest eruption of modern times, in area involved and quantity of lava emitted, left thousands of square miles of country looking as though it had passed through a snow-storm. White volcanic ash, lava blown to a fine froth, was borne clear across the continent on the wind. This ash may affect the weather since its particles serve as nuclei around which cloud droplets form.

‘Erupting volcanoes change weather’, Popular Science, vol. 121, no. 1 (July 1932), p. 46.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: sunspots and solar volcanoes 20 March 2009

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From these preceding Particulars, and their Congruity to what we perceive in our own Globe, I cannot forbear to gather, That the Spots on the Sun are caused by the Eruption of some new Vulcano therein; which at first, pouring out a prodigious Quantity of Smoak, and other opacous Matter, causeth the Spots: And as that fulginous Matter decayeth and spendeth itself, and the Vulcano at last becomes more torrid and flaming, so the Spots decay and grow to Umbrae, and at last to Faculae; which Faculae I take to be no other than more flaming brighter Parts than any other Parts of the Sun. These Faculae I have observed never continue long on the Sun: And the Reason I conceive is, because the Vulcano, after its Smoak is over, doth not long emit its Flames, by reason the fiery Pabulum is then near spent, when once it begins to flame: After which the torrid Vulcano soon returneth to the natural Temperature of the Sun, so nearly at least, to escape our Sight, at so vast a Distance as the Sun is from us.

W. Derham, ‘Spots observed in the Sun, from 1703 to 1708’, in Henry Jones (ed.), The Philosophical Transactions (From the Year 1700, to the Year 1720) Abridg’d, and Dispos’d under General Heads (London: W. Innys, &c., 1749), vol. IV, p.238.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: the decline of volcanic activity 19 March 2009

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It is supposed that the number of active volcanoes in the world is one thousand, if we include all those still retaining some degree of heat, although at present dormant. The number however of known burning volcanoes is estimated at two hundred, which are distributed as follows. One on the continent of Europe and twelve on its islands, sixtysix in Asia, one hundred and seventeen in America, and an unknown number in Africa. The number now is not so great as in ancient times. The whole face of the earth exhibits appearances to lead the geologist to believe, that they were once not only more frequent than at present, but that their eruptions were on an incomparably larger scale. The number of extinct volcanoes which are known exceeds that of the active. Many may have been covered up by the eruptions of succeeding volcanoes.

Josiah Holbrook, and others, Scientific Tracts, designed for Instruction and Entertainment, and adapted to Schools, Lyceums, and Families (Boston: Allen & Ticknor, 1832), vol. II, p. 121.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: the lava-leaping ladies of Vesuvius 18 March 2009

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The last eruption of Vesuvius was very gallant. The ladies formed parties by hundreds for Torre dell Annunciata, directly opposite the mouth from which the lava flowed. There they walked composedly to the foot of the mountain, stood on the border of the fiery current, wantonly jumped over its narrow arms backward and forward, and actually placed themselves before the stream, and waited its coming: all this was unattended with danger; as it rolled on very slowly, or rather drove its great scaly waves deliberately over one another, till they lost their equilibrium by being piled up, and rushed down again like a cataract — which afforded full time for escaping in safety.

Augustus von Kotzebue, Travels Through Italy, in the Years 1804 and 1805 (4 vols., London: Richard Phillips, 1806), vol. II, pp. 13-14.

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The Daily Volcano Quote: fatalism and forecasting 17 March 2009

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Nothing captures the world’s attention like a natural disaster – particularly a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. A huge eruption is perceived as uniquely primordial and fatalistic, a response to the extraordinary power of volcanism but also to the powerlessness of man in controlling gigantic forces. Too often the perception carries a feeling that these forces have been unleashed with inadequate warning under nearly fortuitous spatial and temporal conditions.

Yet we in volcanology know this perception is largely untrue. Eruptions can be forecast, the legacy of Thomas Jagger in Hawaii and others. The dangers of living on volcanic edifices seem clear and obvious. Every volcano has an eruption history compatible with its tectonic setting, although the timing of eruptions within this history sometimes seems nearly fortuitous. The message of volcanologists is slowly modifying the relationship between civilizations and volcanoes; we hope it is not outpaced by the influence of increasing population and the space needed by that population.

Floyd W. McCoy & Grant Heiken, ‘Introduction’, in idem (eds.), Volcanic Hazards and Disasters in Human Antiquity (Boulder, CO: The Geological Society of America, 2000), p. v.

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