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Chaitén: tourists flood in, despite red alert 18 February 2010

Posted by admin in activity reports, Chaitén, Chile, volcano monitoring, volcano tourism.
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The Chilean state emergencies office ONEMI has felt the need to remind everyone that Chaitén volcano in southern Chile is still dangerous and on red alert. Recently activity at Chaitén had appeared to be in decline, but in a bulletin issued on 15 February 2010 ONEMI notes that ‘although seismic activity has declined overall in recent months’ there was an increase in the number of events recorded during the period 21 January to 5 February (as reported in SERNAGEOMIN’s bulletin for that period) and warns that the continuing seismic activity around the volcano and constant gas emissions and incandescence at the dome suggest that ‘the volcanic system retains a high degree of instability’, and that the danger of collapses, explosions and debris flows remains, meaning that red alert still applies to Chaitén.

This reminder that Chaitén remains dangerous may have been at least partly provoked by an influx of tourists, both Chilean and foreign, to the area. The officially abandoned town of Chaitén seems to have been playing host to large numbers of visitors. ‘All the [tourist] cabins are open, and other hotels as well. It’s surprising how many gringos are walking the streets’, says one local. Another dismisses the red alert warning as ‘a lie told by the Government … there has been no shaking, and there is nothing stopping people coming’. The pressure group ‘Hijos y Amigos de Chaitén’ (sons and friends of Chaitén) also attacked the Government for issuing the warnings: ‘The situation is completely normal today. There are no tremors, no fumaroles, ONEMI is lying’, says the group’s chairwoman, Rita Gutiérrez. Local councillor Bernardo Riquelme claims that a group of tourists have recently climbed the volcano and encountered neither tremors nor emissions. La Tercera reports that visitors to Chaitén are up by 50% on this time last year: ‘There is no light and no drinking water, but this does not prevent the flow of visitors that has increased in the last few months’.

In neighbouring Argentina there is anger at the ‘alarmist’ nature of some of the Argentinian press reporting of the Chaitén (and Llaima) warnings. The Patagonian paper Diario El Chubut reports the comments of one ‘visibly annoyed’ Environment Ministry official in Esquel who criticizes uncritical and sensationalist reporting by the press ‘who wanted to report something much more catastrophic than the reality’. The national press in Argentina, he complains, failed to communicate with either the Chilean or the Argentinian authorities, and put out distorted and alarmist reports based on their misunderstandings of the information released in Chile: ‘These are … technical reports intended for technicians, and it often happens that these reports come into the hands of untrained people who end up distorting the information’.

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

Arribo de turistas chilenos y extranjeros a Chaitén crece 50%La Tercera, 9 February 2010
Chaitén recibe cientos de turistas – Publimetro, 16 February 2010
Residentes de Chaitén afirman que ‘no hay temblores ni fumaroles’ en la zona – Terra.cl, 16 February 2010
Critican a la prensa nacional por cobertura alarmista en torno al volcán ChaiténDiario El Chubut, 18 February 2010

Global Volcanism Program: Chaitén – summary information for Chaitén (1508-41)
SERNAGEOMIN – Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería
Erupción del Volcán Chaitén – extensive coverage of the Chaitén eruption

The Volcanism Blog

Those Chaitén webcams: a reminder 16 February 2010

Posted by admin in Chaitén, Chile, volcano monitoring.
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We’re overdue for a Chaitén update here at The Volcanism Blog. I hope to be able to publish a Chaitén post tomorrow or on Thursday (a busy couple of days lie ahead for me, hence the vagueness of this schedule).

In the meantime, here’s a reminder of where to find webcam images of Chaitén. There are now two cameras, our old friend the DGAC (Chilean Civil Aviation Directorate) camera at Chaitén airfield, and the new OVDAS (Observatorio Volcanológico de los Andes del Sur) camera overlooking the caldera. The latter was installed very recently and lots of people seem to be unaware of it (although a post about it was published here earlier this month, thanks to tip-offs from our friends Guillermo and Boris Behncke). The new camera gives a very good close-up view of the Chaitén caldera.

Links to the Chaitén webcams:
DGAC camera at Chaitén airfield
OVDAS camera at Chaitén caldera

OVDAS now has several webcams offering views of notable Chilean volcanoes. They can be accessed via the front page of the shocking OVDAS website, or, conveniently, from this earlier Volcanism Blog post.

The Volcanism Blog

The costs of volcano monitoring: funding the Alaska Volcano Observatory (also, Auckland’s cones need more cash) 16 February 2010

Posted by admin in Auckland, New Zealand, volcanoes.
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Volcano monitoring is a vital service, but who pays? In Alaska budget for the Alaska Volcano Observatory is the focus of current debate. The AVO – which, surely, resoundingly proved its value to everyone during the Redoubt eruption of 2009 – has seen its funding fall dramatically with the loss of those unreliable short-term things Americans call ‘earmarks’:

Congress in recent years has provided annual earmarks through the Federal Aviation Administration for the observatory, which is cited as a key contributor to aviation safety in Alaska. But those earmarks have dried up, and total funding for the observatory has fallen from $8 million per year to $5 million, prompting the state Department of Natural Resources to propose a $300,000 contribution this year to help.

As a result it’s been suggested that airlines and freight companies could pay a levy towards the costs of running AVO, the argument presumably being that these business sectors benefit directly from the monitoring and warning services provided by the observatory. [UPDATE: see Dr Erik Klemetti’s remarks on this at Eruptions.]

Recently we saw the Russian volcano monitoring network KVERT hit the buffers when the money ran out (although a temporary fix has now been put in place): it would be deeply unfortunate, to say the least, if the AVO’s vital monitoring system on the other side of the Bering Strait were to encounter similar difficulties.

Meanwhile, in not unrelated news from New Zealand: getting the necessary cash together to look after Auckland’s volcanic cones properly is proving a problem. Local people want ‘good footpaths, good stormwater protection and a clean, green experience on the cones’, but councillors have refused to reinstate a long-term volcanic protection budget worth NZ$8 million, leaving the cones with a ‘pitiful and downright disrespectful’ NZ$457,000 to live on.

The Volcanism Blog

Yellowstone quakes not beginning of end of world – Discovery News 5 February 2010

Posted by admin in activity reports, calderas, United States, volcano monitoring, Yellowstone.
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It’s good to see that Discovery Channel, where Scary Supervolcano Scenarios are a speciality, is doing its bit to reality-check people who see approaching apocalypse in the current Yellowstone earthquake swarm: Yellowstone is rumbling. We are NOT doomed.

The comments are fun: ‘what do I know I’m just a welder’.

The latest news on the Yellowstone swarm itself is that after becoming shallower over the last couple of days the earthquakes seem to be deepening again. A M1.0 quake at 11.6 km depth (13:22 UTC 3 February) has been followed by quakes at depths ranging from 8.6 to 9.1 km depth.

The most recent update on the swarm from the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory can be found here. And let me recommend again (as does Michael Reilly in the Discovery News piece) Dr Erik Klemetti’s article at Eruptions, ‘Looking inside the structure of the Yellowstone Caldera’. It’s a great antidote to Yellowstone paranoia, for those willing to be cured.

The Volcanism Blog

KVERT returns to full service (until 30 April 2010) 5 February 2010

Posted by admin in Kamchatka, Russia, volcano monitoring.
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It seems that a deal has been struck in Russia to keep the Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT) fully functioning, at least for the next few months. The following statement was released by KVERT via the VOLCANO discussion list:

Scientists of KVERT Project return to the full KVERT operations (the information ensuring of air services for the results of daily analysis and evaluation of activity of Kamchatka and Northern Kuriles volcanoes) and will discharge these obligations for 01 February – 30 April 2010.

An announcement on the KVERT updates page explains that ‘a temporary funding agreement’ has been reached ‘and the KVERT Project has returned to full operations … The temporary agreement will fund the KVERT Project until 30 April 2010’.

This is good news in the short term, but KVERT needs to be put on a permanent, stable footing if it is to do its vital job effectively.

The Volcanism Blog

New OVDAS webcam for Chaitén 4 February 2010

Posted by admin in Chaitén, Chile, volcano monitoring.
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Webcams have been proliferating of late at the Observatorio Volcanológico de los Andes del Sur (OVDAS) in Chile: nine are now linked from the main page of the OVDAS website. The latest addition is a new webcam for Chaitén, giving a view of the caldera, with an image that updates every 10 seconds or so. At the moment it’s the early hours of the morning in southern Chile and the camera shows only darkness, so I can’t say anything about what the image is like or even if it is actually working or not. Anyway, here’s the link:

Chaitén caldera webcam

[Thanks to Guillermo for the tip.]

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

The Volcanism Blog

Yellowstone doing what Yellowstone does 3 February 2010

Posted by admin in United States, Yellowstone.
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Yellowstone has earthquakes. It’s what it does. It’s having a prolonged and interesting swarm at the moment: I’m not saying much about it here because it is being expertly covered at Eruptions. For the latest, see: The Yellowstone Earthquake Swarm of 2010 marches on.

The Volcanism Blog

KVERT to cease operations as Russian government cuts funding 27 January 2010

Posted by admin in Kamchatka, Russia.
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The Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT) monitors the highly active volcanoes of the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian far east. Many international air routes pass through airspace potentially affected by volcanic eruptions on Kamchatka, and there is a very high risk of flight disruption, and even of accidents and loss of life, if volcanic activity in this region is not properly monitored.

But the Russian government does not care about that. The following announcement came through this evening via the VOLCANO mailing list:

Due to a loss of government funding beginning February 01, 2010, KVERT will no longer
distribute information regarding volcanic activity in Kamchatka and the Northern Kuriles.
Specifically, the following KVERT services are suspended:
– Assignment of Aviation Color Codes;
– Sending:
– email operational messages from IVS FED RAS and KB GS RAS;
– daily activity report in English from KB GS RAS (table format);
– KVERT Information Releases about current activity and forecasts activity of
volcanoes of Kamchatka and Northern Kuriles from IVS FED RAS
to all users including Tokyo VAAC, Anchorage VAAC, and Washington VAAC, and airlines

In addition, KVERT will no longer maintain its public web site with volcano information.
Access to the following information will cease:
– KVERT information releases
– Volcanic danger prognosis for aviation for next week (in Russian)
– Current Activity of the Volcanoes
– MODIS and NOAA satellite images
– Weekly information on current eruptions on the IVS website

This is dreadful, shameful news. The Kamchatka volcanoes cannot be left unmonitored: either the Russian government must be pressured to reconsider (and Moscow does not normally respond very well to such external pressure) or some kind of international arrangement will have to be made through which either KVERT funding can be continued or another country will have to step in, if that is possible.

UPDATE. This has happened before. Funding for KVERT was last cut in 2007: an AVO news release from March 2007 can be found here. KVERT was offline from 1 March to 9 April that year. Funding also broke down for KVERT in 1994.

ANOTHER UPDATE. Dr Erik Klemetti weighs in at Eruptions, with all the detail about why this is such a bad idea: Russia nixes Kamchatka and Kuril Island volcano monitoring.

The Volcanism Blog

Tungurahua update, 14 January 2010 14 January 2010

Posted by admin in activity reports, Ecuador, eruptions, Tungurahua, volcano monitoring.
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Yesterday’s daily bulletin (PDF) from the Ecuadorian Instituto Geofísico reports a continuing increase in the level of activity at Tungurahua:

In a manner similar to preceding days the activity of the volcano has continued to increase. In the last few hours there has been a greater number of explosions considered moderate to large in size, which have generated emissions columns of approximately 3 km in height and with high ash content. Interspersed with these events, the constant presence of an emissions column of less than 2 km and with moderate ash content has been observed. Reports have been received of ashfall in some nearby towns located to the west and south-west of the volcano.

The bulletin reports 11 long period earthquakes, 33 episodes of tremor and 83 moderate to large explosions over the preceding 24 hours. Constant roars and rumbles have been occurring, ‘interspersed with cannonades that in some cases make windows vibrate’. Incandescent blocks were ejected from the summit crater and lava fountains were observed overnight, with the latter reaching 500 m above the crater and projecting material 800 m down the flanks of the volcano.

‘The monitoring of the volcano is in trouble’, says the headline in El Comercio , which reports that power cuts are causing problems for the Instituto Geofísico station at Guadelupe which co-ordinates the monitoring of Tungurahua. A failure at the local electricity plant on Saturday caused a power cut which forced the station to rely on a gasoline-drive generator which worked for only half an hour; at this point the local fire chief came to the rescue with another generator. The Instituto Geofísico has asked the provincial governor, who also chairs the Tungurahua Emergencies Committee, to ensure that the electricity company provides reliable power to the monitoring station. Meanwhile ashfall continues to cause problems for local agriculture: ‘the dust that fell in recent days is thick and white,’ says José Cuica, a farmer from El Manzano. ‘I’m screwed. You can’t shift the ash. There will be no harvest’. Local authorities in northern Penipe are preparing for an increase in Tungurahua’s activity: El Universo says that an emergency plan is in place for the city of Riobamba, but reports that the alcaldes of Riobamba and Penipe have expressed doubt that the National Government really understands how serious the situation is, or has the necessary structures in place to provide help where it is needed.

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

El monitoreo del volcán tiene líosEl Comercio, 14 January 2010
En Riobamba preparan plan de prevenciónEl Universo, 14 January 2010
Autoridades insisten en emergencia por volcánEl Universo, 14 January 2010

Global Volcanism Program: Tungurahua – summary information for Tungurahua (1502-80=)
Instituto Geofísico (Escuela Politecnica Nacional) – Geophysical Institute of Ecuador

The Volcanism Blog

Pre-eruption rumbles help volcano forecasting 17 December 2009

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Before a volcano erupts it rumbles and shakes the ground, just as an angry dog growls before it bites, says this press release.

The point is that different volcanoes behave in different ways – some rumble consistently, some stop and start, some rumble and erupt straightaway, others rumble for ages before they do anything, and others never get round to erupting at all – and understanding that behaviour helps with eruption forecasting and the issuing of alarms.

Volcano observatories often have a good understanding of these behaviours in the case of their local volcanoes: now Emily Brodsky, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, working with Luigi Passarelli of the University of Bologna and Stephanie Prejean of the USGS Alaska Volcano Observatory, has been trying to ‘stitch together those empirical rules with the underlying physics and find some sort of generality’. Professor Brodsky is presenting her findings at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

Physics, of course, is only part of the problem with effective forecasting and warning of volcanic eruptions. Psychology is also an issue. The Pasto volcanological observatory in Colombia, which keeps watch on Galeras, has an excellent understanding of Galeras’s behaviour and always issues timely and appropriate warnings, but the local inhabitants do not respond to the alerts because they also feel that they know the volcano very well and don’t believe, from their experience, that its activity will do them any harm. They also weigh up the potential risks of volcanic activity (rather remote) against the risks of leaving their homes, farms and businesses unattended for an unknown length of time (very real) and decide to stay put.

(Press release re-heated here, here and here.)

The Volcanism Blog