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Permian caldera discovered in Italian Alps 22 September 2009

Posted by admin in calderas, current research, Italy.
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The remains of a caldera that erupted during the Permian (290-248 million years b.p.) have been identified in the Sesia Valley in the Italian Alps. Local uplift has exposed the magmatic plumbing to the depth of 25km, five times deeper than scientists have been able to study previously:

A fossil supervolcano has been discovered in the Italian Alps’ Sesia Valley by a team led by James E. Quick, a geology professor at Southern Methodist University. The discovery will advance scientific understanding of active supervolcanoes, like Yellowstone, which is the second-largest supervolcano in the world and which last erupted 630,000 years ago.

A rare uplift of the Earth’s crust in the Sesia Valley reveals for the first time the actual ‘plumbing’ of a supervolcano from the surface to the source of the magma deep within the Earth, according to a new research article reporting the discovery. The uplift reveals to an unprecedented depth of 25 kilometers the tracks and trails of the magma as it moved through the Earth’s crust.

The discovery was described by Prof Quick and his colleagues in Geology, July 2009 (click here for the abstract), and SMU have a press release, ‘Research Spotlight: the “Rosetta Stone” of supervolcanoes’.

(What would science reporters do without the term ‘supervolcano’? And where there’s the term ‘supervolcano’, the name ‘Yellowstone’ is rarely far behind.)

Supervolcano ‘Rosetta Stone’ discovered in Italian Alps – redOrbit, 21 September 2009

The Volcanism Blog

Life returning to Kasatochi 31 August 2009

Posted by admin in Alaska, Kasatochi.
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Life is already returning to the island of Kasatochi in the Aleutians, blanketed with ash and left bleak and barren by the surprise eruption of its eponymous volcano in August 2008. A scientific team is revisiting the island to look at how it is responding to the eruption, the Anchorage Daily News is running a series of reports on their work, written by University of Alaska Geophysical Institute Science Writer Ned Rozell.

The latest report describes the way in which life is ‘inching its way back to Kasatochi’. The birds are gone and ash outwash from the island is disrupting kelp growth in the surrounding ocean, but nineteen species of plant have been found springing back to life on the island, along with an insect or two and some tough invertebrates: ‘The smallest and luckiest of life forms clung to natural bunkers within the island, and mats of plant roots were buried quickly enough to withstand the heat of the eruption flows’.

After eruption life inching its way back to KasatochiAnchorage Daily News, 29 August 2009

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Scientists map Sierra Negra magma chamber 22 August 2009

Posted by admin in Ecuador, Galapagos, geoscience.
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Sierra Negra volcano in the Galápagos erupting, 22 October 2005 (NASA Earth Observatory image: Terra/MODIS)

Sierra Negra volcano on Isla Isabela in the Galápagos is one of the most active volcanoes in the Galápagos archipelago: its most recent eruption was in October 2005 (shown in the NASA Earth Observatory image above).

An interdisciplinary team of scientists (University of Miami, University of Rochester, University of Idaho and the Instituto Geofísico of Ecuador) has just returned from Isla Isabela, where they have been busy deploying a seismic network the data from which will help to determine precisely where Sierra Negra’s magma chamber is located and how far it extends, as Dr Falk Amelung of the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science explains:

‘With the satellite data we regularly collect here at the University of Miami, using a technique called satellite radar interferometry, we are able to see the underground location of the magma chamber. The new seismic data will allow us to corroborate our information and obtain proof that the magma chamber is actually 2 km down and to what depth it extends. Petrologists suggest that the chamber may extend to a depth of 10 km, whereas geophysicists believe it might go only to a depth of 3 km or so’.

Much fun was evidently had by the team, coming and going in helicopters and on horses, and trekking across jagged, boot-shredding lava fields. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation, and in an admirable example of science-schools partnership an additional NSF grant funded the presence of Lisa Hjelm, science teacher from The Girls’ Middle School, Mountain View, California, who will be using data from the study to create a visualization of the volcano’s interior as an educational project.

The Volcanism Blog

A volcanic miscellany: Ibu, Toba, Kasatochi, Cotopaxi 21 August 2009

Posted by admin in Alaska, Ecuador, Ibu, Indonesia, Kasatochi, Toba, United States, volcano tourism.
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Catching up with some volcanic bits and bobs that have been hanging around on my desktop/in my inbox/on little pieces of paper in my pocket for the last couple of weeks:

Heightened alert at Ibu. The alert level for the Indonesian volcano Ibu on the island of Halmahera was raised to level 3 (orange/siaga) on 5 August. The last increase in alert level, from 1 (green) to 2 (yellow/waspada), was less than a month earlier, on 15 July. Eruptions of incandescent material accompanied by elevated seismicity occurred with increasing frequency at the end of July. Meanwhile, the lava dome continues to grow. Some very nice pictures of the dome from August 2007 can be found in this Flickr collection (thanks to Volcanism Blog reader Bruce S. for letting me know about this).

Weather wonders and supervolcanoes. Randy Cerveny, geographical sciences professor at Arizona State University, has a new book out called Weather’s Greatest Mysteries Solved! (the exclamation mark is, apparently, part of the title) which looks at the role of the weather in Earth’s prehistory and history, from the extinction of the dinosaurs to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s via the end of the Mayan civilization and the parting of the Red Sea. One chapter is devoted to the Toba eruption of about 74000 years ago, which may (or may not) have brought about the near-extinction of humanity. This topic naturally leads to speculation about possible future ‘supervolcano’ eruptions and the potential threat posed by Yellowstone: ‘It’s overdue’, says Prof. Cerveny, but ‘I don’t think it’s a run into the night screaming kind of thing yet, but if it were to happen civilization as we know it would probably break down’. He also has a nice message of humility for humanity, pointing out that however much ‘We like to think we are masters of our fate … the thing about climate is that there are simply a lot of things we can’t control or even begin to control or totally understand’.

‘Our island blew up’. The August 2008 eruption of Kasatochi volcano in the Aleutians brought an abrupt end to scientific fieldwork being carried out there by two U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologists: ‘our island blew up’, is the deadpan observation in their research report. Today Kasatochi, formerly green here and there, is black and barren, and about 32 percent larger than it was before the eruption. A scientific team is revisiting the island to assess the aftermath of the event, and will be accompanied by a reporter from the Alaska Daily News who will file regular reports on their researches.

Music and dance at Cotopaxi. It’s 34 years since the Cotopaxi National Park was created around Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador, and local communities have been celebrating the anniversary with music and dance, reports El Comercio. The Ecuadorian Minister for the Environment has been at the celebrations, and the locals have taken the opportunity to lobby her for more support and funding for the park and the people who live in and around it. The Parque Nacional Cotopaxi is one of Latin America’s top tourist attractions, receiving more than 100,000 visitors per year.

The Volcanism Blog

Colima volcano database 19 August 2009

Posted by admin in Colima, Mexico.
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A new web-based resource is available providing information about the interesting and active Mexican volcano Colima.

The Colima Volcano Database, developed by a group of researchers at the Centro de Geociencias at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (with collaborators from other institutions), includes details of the eruptive history of the Colima Volcanic Complex, a hazard map, data from ongoing research, bibliographies, pictures and films. A mapserver is also under development.

The site is constantly updated, and new information is requested: anyone who has data, picture or publications not already included is invited to contact the website team who will add it to the database.

The Volcanism Blog

Debate over the future of Mount St Helens 18 August 2009

Posted by admin in Mount St Helens, United States.
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The Mount St Helens eruption of 18 May 1980 created a unique opportunity for scientists to study how a landscape recovers from a major destructive event. To facilitate long-term research the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument was established in 1982 ‘for research, recreation, and education’. The MSHNVM website explains that ‘Inside the Monument the environment is left to respond naturally to the disturbance’; the 110,000 acres (44,500 hectares) of the Monument is essentially a vast open-air laboratory within which scientists can investigate in depth and over time how an entire landscape and ecosystem reacts to large-scale disruption.

An article in the New York Times looks at the future of the Mount St Helens Volcanic Monument, and the differing views over how the mountain and its landscape should be managed in the future. The Monument, which is run by the United States Forestry Service, has been in place for nearly thirty years: is it time things changed? The prioritization of research means access to the area around the mountain is restricted and economic and recreational activities that were very much part of the local landscape before the eruption are no longer permitted. Should the balance between the needs of scientific study and other human activities be changed? Then there is the question of who should manage Mount St Helens, the Forestry Service as at present, or the better-financed U.S. National Parks Service. If the mountain became a National Park more money could be put into it, but there is the danger (as some see it) that access might be even more severely restricted.

These are the issues currently being weighed up by the Mount St Helens Citizen Advisory Committee, set up to investigate and make recommendations regarding how the mountain and its landscape should be managed in the future. The resulting debate reflects the tensions and compromises involved in exploiting a unique opportunity for scientific study in a landscape that is not static but ever-changing, and of which human activities are an aspect that is as natural as any other.

Clash over rebirth of Mt. St. HelensNew York Times, 17 August 2009

Global Volcanism Program: Mount St Helens – summary information for Mount St Helens (1201-05-)
Cascades Volcano Observatory: Mount St Helens – information from the CVO
Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument – website for the MSHNVM

Watching volcanoes: Natural Environment Research Council podcast 19 May 2009

Posted by admin in Caribbean, current research, geoscience, Soufrière Hills, volcano monitoring, volcanology.
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The Natural Environment Research Council ‘is the UK’s main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences’ (says the NERC ‘what we do’ page). The NERC is responsible for the British Antarctic Survey and the British Geological Survey, among many many other things, and has a strong commitment to natural hazards research, including (of course) volcanoes. To give a notable current example of the NERC’s involvement in this field, it provided emergency funding for the recent important studies of ashfall at Chaitén carried out by a University of Oxford research team.

All this is by way of background, and to point out that if you’re interested in volcanological and natural hazards research, the NERC is an agency to watch. Today there’s a new podcast available on the NERC’s Planet Earth Online environmental news service: ‘Watching volcanoes’. In the podcast (duration 6 min 42 sec) Richard Hollingham talks to Dr Sue Loughlin and Dr Kathryn Goodenough of the British Geological Survey about how studying currently active volcanoes (Montserrat) and the remains of ancient volcanoes (Edinburgh) informs our knowledge of volcanic processes and improves our ability to forecast future volcanic behaviour. It’s a model of clear exposition and an excellent example of scientific outreach.

The Planet Earth podcast – ‘Watching volcanoes’ (18 May 2009)

The Volcanism Blog

Volcanoes take a holiday, glaciers rule the world 14 May 2009

Posted by admin in current research, geoscience.
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Around 2.4 billion years ago plate tectonics shut down, volcanism took a break for 250 million years, and glaciers spread across the world’s surface, it says here.

Volcano ‘vacation’ produced first glaciers – Discovery News, 14 May 2009

The Volcanism Blog

Volcano research miscellany 7 May 2009

Posted by admin in Africa, current research, geoscience, Hawaii, Kilauea, Ol Doinyo Lengai, Pacific, submarine volcanism, Tanzania, United States.
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Various interesting bits and pieces of volcano-related research to report. Apologies for the lack of detail, but I’m pressed for time right now.

Ash evidence suggests impact of past eruptions underrated – a research team from the University of Oxford has studied the distribution of ash from the Chaitén eruption and concluded that the impact of past volcanic eruptions is likely to have been significantly underestimated, because so much ashfall is light (a few millimetres thickness) and is quickly lost from the areas affected. More on this at Science Daily, under the snappy headline Chaitén Volcano In Southern Chile: Historic Volcanic Eruptions Significantly Underestimated, Ash Fallout Analysis Shows.

Origins of Ol Doinyo Lengai’s weird lavas probed – the unique carbonatite lavas of Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano in Tanzania are produced by a very low degree of partial melting of the upper mantle minerals, concludes research to be published shortly in Nature by U.S. and French scientists. Science magazine’s ScienceNOW (caps lock stuck down?) news service also has an article on this, bafflingly entitled Volcanic Fish Out of Water.

Thriving ecosystem supported by NW-Rota 1 – scientists who have just returned from filming and studying the deep undersea volcano NW-Rota 1 report that the active volcano nourishes a rich and thriving biological community including shrimps, crabs, limpets and barnacles, some of which are new species. National Geographic News has some pictures.

Gentle, easy-going Kilauea has a dangerous side – between 1000 and 1600 years ago Kilauea, known today for its gentle tourist-friendly lava flows, chucked rocks 16 or 17 kilometres during powerful explosive eruptions.

The Volcanism Blog

Dominica volcano poses Caribbean tsunami risk – researchers 21 April 2009

Posted by admin in Caribbean, current research, geoscience, natural hazards.
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Morne aux Diables is an 861-metre high stratovolcano at the northern tip of the island of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean. It is a little-known volcano: the Global Volcanism Program does not have an ‘eruptive history’ page for Morne aux Diables, noting that ‘No eruptions are known from Morne aux Diables in historical time’ but that ‘the volcano has a youthful appearance and activity at flank domes likely continued into the late-Pleistocene and Holocene’.

As discussed recently in these pages, a volcano does not have to erupt to be dangerous, and recent research by a team of geologists led by Dr Richard Teeuw of the University of Portsmouth concludes that Morne aux Diables may be very dangerous indeed. Geomorphological surveys by Dr Teeuw’s team and evidence from Google Earth3-D imaging have revealed that one flank of the volcano is in danger of collapse. If a flank collapse occurs at Morne aux Diables a tsunami could be triggered that would threaten the heavily-populated coast of Guadeloupe, 50 kilometres north of Dominica.

Dr Teeuw’s team plans to return to Dominica this summer, and again in 2010, to study the geomorphology of the volcano, and to survey the seafloor for evidence of previous collapses.

Research shows Caribbean at risk of tsunami – University of Portsmouth news release, 21 April 2009
Devil’s volcano is tsunami risk to Caribbean island – Bloomberg, 21 April 2009
Caribbean at risk of tsunami, disaster experts warn – ScienceDaily, 21 April 2009
Volcano ‘poses tsunami threat’ in Caribbean – AFP, 21 April 2009
Tsunami threat from Dominica’s Devil’s Peak – RedOrbit, 21 April 2009

Global Volcanism Program: Morne aux Diables – summary information for Morne aux Diables (1600-08=)
Tsunami generation mechanisms from volcanic sources – interesting paper by George Pararas-Carayannis (try to ignore the shocking page design)

The Volcanism Blog