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Volcano Week at Atlas Obscura 22 April 2010

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Atlas Obscura is a great travel site, ‘a compendium of this age’s wonders, curiosities and esoterica’, and in honour of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption it is currently running Volcano Week, bringing together lots of volcano-related content and imagery.

What is nice about Atlas Obscura’s Volcano Week is that the site is featuring not only volcanoes themselves (Erebus, Erta Ale, Toba, Mauna Kea and more) but an intriguing range of landscape features and monuments with a sometimes offbeat volcanic connection: thus we have Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe, a medieval chapel on a peak formed of the eroded core of an ancient volcano in France; Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral, constructed entirely from local dark volcanic rock (it’s Volvic trachyandesite); sulphur mining at Kawah Ijen in the Ijen Volcanic Complex in eastern Java; the fulgurites of Mt Thielsen in the Oregon High Cascades; and the scarily toxic Laguna del Diamante in Argentina, home to a flock of singularly tough flamingoes. There’s much more – take a look.

The Volcanism Blog

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

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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

Giant’s Causeway to get a new visitor centre 22 January 2010

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Giant's Causeway, looking north. Picture by J. M. Pulsford, 1969 (NERC/British Geological Survey)
The Giant’s Causeway, looking north. Picture by J. M. Pulsford, 1969 (NERC/British Geological Survey). Via GeoScenic, image reference P225386.

The Giant’s Causeway on the coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland was formed around 60 million years ago by the eruption of large volumes of lava that cooled rapidly to form an extensive basalt field fractured into columnar units. The volcanism that produced the Causeway, and similar structures in what is now Scotland, was associated with the Thulean basaltic province.

In a notable example of ‘volcano tourism’ the resulting spectacular formation has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in the north of Ireland for around 300 years, and has inspired some interesting visitor infrastructure, perhaps most notably the Giant’s Causeway Tramway. In 1986 the Giant’s Causeway was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the only such site to date in Ireland. The site has been without a visitor centre, however, since the last one burned down in April 2000. The business of replacing the destroyed facility with a new one has been long-drawn-out and murky even by the standards of Northern Ireland, but it looks as if it may finally be coming to a conclusion with the news that construction of the new visitor centre is about to begin following the awarding of a £3 million lottery grant.

The BBC News story reporting the grant is a questionable piece of work: it seems rather odd to say something about the legendary origin of the causeway (a piece of extempore construction work by Irish giant Finn McCool) but to say nothing about how the feature was actually formed. The report also describes the Causeway’s rock formations as ‘unique’, which they certainly are not, and ends by saying:

The ‘discovery’ of the causeway was announced in a paper to the Royal Society in 1693. At that time, there was furious debate over whether the causeway had been created by men with picks and chisels, by nature, or by the efforts of a giant called Finn.

This can charitably be described as a mischaracterization of the debate, which was between those arguing that the Giant’s Causeway was an artificial structure and those who believed it to be natural, the latter group being further divided between advocates of volcanic and non-volcanic explanations. No-one seriously suggested in 1693 or afterwards that the thing had been built by ‘a giant called Finn’ (who is of course the legendary Finn McCool mentioned earlier in the story, although the author doesn’t seem to have spotted that).

UPDATE. Since the above was posted, the BBC has edited and slightly improved its report, which currently ends: ‘Scientists now agree the naturally-formed patterns of rock were formed 65 million years ago by volcanic activity’ (yes, science has abandoned the ‘built by giants’ hypothesis). The original version can still be seen at the News Sniffer’s Revisionista monitoring service.

The Volcanism Blog

Mayon still quiet: Phivolcs considers lowering alert level to 2 12 January 2010

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Mayon volcano on Luzon remains quiet following its burst of activity last month. The latest Phivolcs bulletin for Mayon, no. 30 of 12 January 2010, reports low seismic activity and ‘weak to moderate emission of white steam’ at the summit crater, with a pale glow visible at the crater overnight. Ground deformation measurements show a deflationary trend compared with early December 2009. Sulphur dioxide emissions have been variable over the past few days: 672 tons/day on 6 January, 1,077 tons/day on 7 January 7, 1,345 tons/day on 8 January, 759 tons/day on 9 January and 820 tons/day on 11 January. The danger of explosions remains, and Phivolcs warns that ‘the 6-km radius Permanent Danger Zone and the 7-km Extended Danger Zone on the southeast flank of the volcano should be free from human activity because of sudden explosions that may generate hazardous volcanic flows’.

The Inquirer reports that Phivolcs ‘could downgrade the alert level of Mayon Volcano from 3 to level 2 within a week’s time should the abnormal condition of the volcano continue to wane’. Meanwhile the United Nations Development Program has praised the response of the Albay Provincial Disaster Co-ordinating Council to the Mayon emergency. ‘I have worked in disaster situations in many countries around the world and, in my own professional opinion, the provincial preparedness and planning is amongst the best that I’ve seen … I believe it could make a good case study for disaster management training’, says the UN’s John English.

The show Mayon has put on over the last month has certainly been good for local tourism, says the Philippine Information Agency. Tourism and hotel occupancy rates surged compared with December 2008 as thousands of people visited Albay province to see the eruption, although that doesn’t mean that the volcanic activity was, overall, a good thing: the ‘benefits of disaster tourism are simply outweighed by the actual destruction on the livelihoods, crops and properties’. Also putting Mayon’s recent restlessness in perspective is Tito Genova Valiente at Vox Bikol, who reflects on perceptions of Mayon from the nineteenth century to the present: ‘Mayon is really part of Nature, invasive and majestic perhaps, but still indicative of the workings of the Earth’.

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

UNDP hails Albay’s Mayon disaster preparedness program – Vox Bikol, 9 January 2010
Re-visiting Mayon – Vox Bikol, 9 January 2010
Mayon still emitting gas – PhivolcsPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 9 January 2010
Mayon eruption brings biggest surge of tourists to Albay – Philippine Information Agency, 11 January 2010
Mayon’s alert level may be lowered to 2Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 January 2010

Global Volcanism Program: Mayon – summary information for Mayon (0703-03=)
Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology – website for Phivolcs

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

Beauty! Passion! Pahoehoe! Volcanic excitement at Environmental Graffiti 27 April 2009

Posted by admin in Hawaii, volcano images, volcano tourism, volcanoes.
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That unusual and always interesting corner of the web Environmental Graffiti (‘an eclectic mix of the most bizarre, funny and interesting environmental news on the planet’) has a long-standing and thoroughly admirable interest in volcanoes.

Their latest article of volcanic interest, ‘Anything for the perfect volcano shot!’ by Karl Fabricius, talks to Dr Tom Pfeiffer of VolcanoDiscovery about the excitements and dangers of volcano-visiting, and includes some stunning photographs from the heart of the action in Hawaii.

Environmental Graffiti: Anything for the perfect volcano shot! (27 April 2009)

The Volcanism Blog

Arenal activity continues, tourists dice with death 17 April 2009

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Seismicity at Arenal volcano in Costa Rica remains elevated, with continuing rock-fracture earthquakes caused by magma movement within the volcanic system (online seismograph displays for Arenal, along with other Costa Rican volcanoes, are available from the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica: Sismogramas en línea). Monitoring was stepped up at Arenal at the beginning of this month, and warnings were issued to tourists visiting the Arenal National Park over the Easter holiday.

It seems to have made no difference, however. The Costa Rican newspaper La Nación reports today that Costa Rican and foreign tourists ‘are entering dangerous areas in the vicinity of the crater of Arenal volcano, despite the presence of notices warning of the increased seismic activity that could cause avalanches’. Visitors have apparently been getting in via neighbouring private property to evade police and park ranger controls, or are being brought into the park by people masquerading as official guides in order to earn money, regardless of the risks. ‘Because [the tourists] are uninformed or unconcerned, they are wandering through the area of greatest danger. They are putting their lives on the line’, warns the head of the tourist police, José David Rojas.

Arenal and its surrounding park form a popular tourist attraction, but the volcano is not tame and has to be treated with respect. In August 2000 three people died on Arenal when they were engulfed by a pyroclastic flow: they were in an area identified as dangerous at the time.

Turistas invaden zonas de riesgo en volcán ArenalLa Nación, 17 April 2009

Global Volcanism Program: Arenal – summary information for Arenal (1405-033)
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica – home page for Ovsicori

The Volcanism Blog

Chaitén as a tourist attraction 21 August 2008

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According to a story from the Spanish news agency EFE, reported today in Periodista Digital, the Chilean national tourism service Sernatur is looking into exploiting the Chaitén volcano (still erupting) as a tourist attraction.

‘There are countries where it is part of their tourist industry for people to observe active volcanoes and the aftermath of the eruption’, explains Oscar Santelices, the director of Sernatur. He goes on to suggest guided tours of the area affected by the eruption and even ‘a festival of ash’ next September, an idea which will surely go down well with locals who have seen their homes and livelihoods destroyed by Chaitén’s ash over the past three months. The idea, explains Santelices, is for Chile to combine science with tourism, ‘and with volcanology we have a link to tourism, as we have with glaciology and ufology’.

The reference to ‘ufology’ may seem a little bizarre. It should be pointed out that Sernatur has just inaugurated a ufo-themed tourist trail in central Chile to encourage ‘turismo ufológico’.

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén « The Volcanism Blog

The Volcanism Blog

The actress and the volcano: Sarah Bernhardt ascends Vesuvius, 1898 23 May 2008

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The famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), passionate and unpredictable, was somewhat volcanic herself. During 1898 she made a theatrical tour of Italy, performing her celebrated star turn as Margeurite Gautier in La Dame aux Camélias, and while staying in Naples took the opportunity to climb Vesuvius. She made her climb on foot and at night and, in a typically self-dramatizing episode, insisted on approaching the edge of the crater, getting her hair and eyebrows scorched as a result. From The Pall Mall Gazette, 28 December 1898, p. 6:





ROME, Monday. — Theatre-goers in the Eternal City have this year had the unusual pleasure of seeing three great artists: Eleanor Duse, Maria Guerrero, and now Sarah Bernhardt — the three shining stars of those three Latin nations which produced Goldini, Lope de Vega, and Moliére, who are such magnificent exponents of the master’s work. The French diva is now at the Theatre Valle, whither I wended my way after receiving an invitation which read: “Come and see me this evening at the theatre.” So between the acts of the “Dame aux Camélias” I found myself kissing her hand and admiring the big Newfoundland dog which lay at her feet, having taken the place of the tiger, bear, and serpents of other days.

“I love this Italy,” she began. “This is my fourth visit to Rome.”

“And the public?” I queried.

“Ah! That is another pair of sleeves, as the Italian proverb has it.”

“That is to say?”

“All Latin audiences are difficult to enchain. The English, je les adore and Americans behave in the theatre as though in church. They listen in religious silence, though they are quick to catch a point and generous with applause. Italians talk more, rustle their programmes, read newspapers, making success much more difficult. But then it is their volcanic nature, I suppose. Apropos of volcanos, before leaving Naples I wished to have the strange sensation of seeing Vesuvius by night. I have been in Naples many times, and always intended to see that superb fiery despot at close quarters, but always put it off. However, I could do so no longer, for soon there will be a funicular from Naples to the crater, which will render the monster accessible to all. This railway I find barbarous. Is Vesuvius to be reduced to the proportions of a theatrical representation? I find this scheme only less ridiculous than the lighting of the Catacombs by electricity. I went up the great mountain on foot with two attendants and a trusty guide.”

“And ran a great risk,” I interrupted.

“It is dangerous enough by day, but at night wellnigh impossible for a lady, but quite well worth the trouble. We left after the theatre closed, taking the shortest route. We seemed ancient Pompeians climbing to face the inexorable father with the breast and head of fire. My emotions increased as we ascended. I have climbed many mountains of snow, but never one of fire before. As we proceeded the ground beneath my feet seemed to become gradually warmer and warmer. Then there were frequent clouds of vapour and showers of ashes. The way became more difficult, our feet leaving prints in the scarcely cold lava, while the giant sighed occasionally, sending out a hot breath of flame, and the air became heavier and heavier until breathing was difficult. I went on and on without a word to my companions, feeling in my innermost being the grandeur of the earth and the littleness of man when face to face with the forces of Nature. At last the guide said we must go no further, as the lava was liquid at the mouth of the crater. I begged for a few more paces. The man gave way to my importunities, and we went on forty or fifty steps, when the others came to a standstill. I proceeded until stopped by a cry from the guide. I seemed to be in the midst of flame, hardly able to breathe, and — but look! I lost one of my curls, and do you see my eyebrows are scorched? I felt as though the day of judgement was at hand.”

From this the conversation turned to general subjects, even the Dreyfus affair. “We French have become mad, perfectly mad, and it will end badly. We shall see the army in the streets of Paris.”

“Why? What for?” I asked.

“To slash, to strike, to kill.”

At this interesting point the call for Madame to go on the stage was heard, and she hurried away with her inimitable grace, saying over her shoulder, “Come and see me at the Grand Hotel before I leave!”

The Volcanism Blog

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