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Kilauea to star in BBC ‘Volcano Live’ series in July 16 March 2012

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The BBC likes to do big-budget live TV specials from time to time: they are of course very expensive and complicated, so the corporation has to choose its favoured subjects very carefully. Recently we’ve had natural history (Springwatch), astronomy (Stargazing), and little baby lambs (Lambing Live). The next big live BBC TV subject is a really big one: volcanoes. ‘BBC Two have decided to expand their unique broadcasting technique of commissioning live events with a Volcano Live series’ claims a remarkably illiterate and typo-ridden report at imediamonkey, making it seem that the BBC is actually going to go out there and commission a volcanic eruption. In fact BBC Two is taking the more sensible course of setting up the programme around a volcano that is already erupting, and which erupts in a reasonably predictable and safe way: Hawaii’s Kilauea.

The series will be broadcast in four parts from 9 to 12 July and will combine live reports from Kilauea with segments looking at the phenomenon of volcanism and exploring volcanoes around the world. Professor Iain Stewart (British television’s Mr Geology) and Kate Humble (British television’s Ms Natural History) will do the presenting. According to BBC Two controller Jane Hadlow, ‘Volcano Live will offer BBC Two viewers a rare opportunity to join world-class experts at the forefront of cutting-edge volcanology research. Broadcasting live from the edge of one of the world’s most active volcanoes over four days will offer a completely new and unique way of experiencing this powerful and unpredictable natural phenomenon’.

This is a high-profile project by the BBC which, if it puts the science in the foreground, has the potential to do a great deal for the public understanding of volcanoes and volcanology. Let’s hope it fulfils that potential. Let’s also hope that Kilauea doesn’t decide to end its current long-running eruption before the cameras arrive in July. That would be annoying.

BBC Two announces Volcano Live – BBC Two press release, 16 March 2012
BBC Two announces its latest live event series Volcano LiveTelevisual, 16 March 2012 (BBC press release recycled)
BBC Two to broadcast live from active volcano – imediamonkey, 16 March 2012 (BBC press release recycled, with added gibberish)

The Volcanism Blog

Páll Einarsson on the Hekla eruption scare: ‘sensational stories about Hekla based on nothing at all’ 8 July 2011

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Followers of the current Hekla eruption scare, and particularly of the role played by the media, will be interested to read an interview with Professor Páll Einarsson of the University of Iceland published in IceNews, in which he expresses his frustration with the ability of the media to make sensational stories out of nothing at all:

… geophysicist Páll Einarsson said in interview with IceNews today that the current volcano scare is simply made up: “They are actually quoting me as saying that Hekla will erupt soon; but there is nothing new in this. I’ve been saying this for three or four years and ‘soon’ means different things to journalists and geologists,” he said.

Not for the first time, news outlets have latched onto something Professor Einarsson said, or rather something they thought he said, and made a colossal heap of fear-mongering nonsense out of it: ‘The last scare earlier this year, about Bardarbunga which came to nothing, was based on a bad translation from Icelandic. This time there is not even that excuse’. And journalists who know nothing about the subject they are writing about have a strange reluctance to go for information to people who do know something about it: ‘A lot of this news is even built around quotes by ‘experts’ who are not, in fact, real experts. … Journalists should talk to experts and not just take their news from anyone!’

Páll Einarsson has some particularly harsh words for the British press, accusing them of ‘sensationalist journalism’ and ‘making sensational stories about Hekla based on nothing at all’. The British media, sensationalist? making stuff up? not interested in the facts? Good heavens, what a shocking idea.

Icelandic scientist surprised by Hekla volcano eruption sensation – IceNews, 7 July 2011

The Volcanism Blog

How the media gets it wrong, at Eruptions Blog 7 July 2011

Posted by admin in Hekla, Iceland.
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No, Daily Telegraph, that is NOT Hekla.
‘Hekla is known for its extremely varied and hard-to-predict eruptions’, says the Daily Telegraph. It is also known for not being by the sea.

Erik Klemetti has a nightmare. It’s called ‘the way the media reports volcanoes’. Click here to read Erik’s high-class rant about the recent crop (e.g., see above) of volcanic misreporting. A new abomination from Canada’s CBC gets a particular and richly-deserved pasting.

The Volcanism Blog

Restless Hekla: an update 7 July 2011

Posted by admin in activity reports, Hekla, Iceland.
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Left: Hekla. Right: not Hekla.
The global news machine showed much interest in Hekla yesterday, but little interest in getting the facts right, or indeed the volcano right. Many supposedly reputable news outlets followed AFP’s lead and boldly illustrated their reports on Hekla with a picture of Eldfell, which is many miles to the west on Heimaey Island. AFP even labelled their picture of Eldfell ‘The Hekla volcano on Heimaey Island’, for pity’s sake. You’d think the presence of the sea in the picture of Eldfell would have given it away, Hekla being some distance inland, but apparently not. To help journalists and editors get it right I’ve provided pictures of the two volcanoes above, and obtained the assistance of a passing seven-year-old in providing labels so clear that even Daily Mail journalists will grasp the difference.

There was considerable interest in Hekla yesterday, but media speculation notwithstanding, all is quiet there today and the activity appears to be subsiding. Hekla is closely-monitored and we’ll be as well-informed about what it’s doing as we are about any volcanoes anywhere. In the meantime, it’s best not to jump the gun and read too much into every episode of seismic restlessness.

The forecasting of volcanic eruptions is fraught with uncertainty. Volcanoes, unlike earthquakes, generally give some signal of their intentions in the form of seismic activity, inflation, gas emissions and so on, but working out what those signals mean is no easy matter, and even the most sophisticated analysis of the widest possible range of data can never do more than reduce the level of uncertainty, it can never remove it altogether.

Likewise, a particular volcano’s history is an important guide to current and future behaviour, but no matter how full and detailed our knowledge of a volcano’s past may be, it is not an infallible guide to that same volcano’s future. Significant patterns can emerge from the records we have of a volcano’s previous activity, in terms of eruptive style and periodicity, but they can never be more than indicative. You can’t say, for example, that because volcano ‘A’ turns out to have erupted roughly every ten years since 1970, and it is now 11 years since its last eruption, that a big bang is imminent. Nor can you argue that because the geological record for volcanic field ‘B’ shows eruptive activity about every 2000 years and it is now 5000 years since we last had a peep out of it, it is ‘overdue’ and we should be worried. Human beings like patterns, and we particularly like periodicity: it provides a structure for our understanding of the past, and we like to use it to make some sense of the future too. But it has to be considered alongside other evidence and cannot offer anything but a set of pointers.

For volcanoes a knowledge of the chronological pattern of activity only gets us part of the way to understanding what is going on at any given moment, and what is likely to happen within the next month, year, decade or century — and it can never be definitive. Hekla has a volatile history and is active and restless, and will erupt again, but we do not know when: it could happen tomorrow, or next year, or in ten years or twenty (there was a gap of 23 years between the 1970 eruption and its predecessor in 1947, and 57 years between that eruption and the one before that in 1913, so the ten-year cycle is a pretty recent development anyway). It is not ‘overdue’. Nor is it ‘ready to erupt’:* we’ll know when it is ‘ready to erupt’ because it will then erupt.

* Did Páll Einarsson actually use this phrase? And if he did (in Icelandic), has the meaning he intended been faithfully reproduced (in English translation) by the news sources that have seized upon the phrase? In the past Dr Einarsson has not always been well-served by the way his comments have become distorted in translation or otherwise misrepresented: see examples from October 2009 and February 2011.

Global Volcanism Program: Hekla – summary information for Hekla (1702-07=)

The Volcanism Blog

Puyehue-Cordón Caulle corked: a small-scale case-study of media sensationalism 24 June 2011

Posted by admin in Chile, eruptions, Puyehue.
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Even by the standards of sensationalized volcano stories in the mainstream media the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald and some other news sources today is pretty silly: ‘Red alert as “cork” plugs volcano’. This headline does what such headlines so often do: create a false sense of an urgent, dangerous situation by misrepresenting the facts. That little word ‘as’ is very important in the creation of this effect. There is indeed a red alert at Puyehue-Cordón Caulle, there has been since the eruption began: but by putting the word ‘as’ after the words ‘red alert’ an entirely baseless impression is created that the red alert is the result of whatever situation is described after the ‘as’. By the third word of the headline an expectation of potential disaster is established in the reader’s mind, and s/he is thus pre-disposed to react with alarm and concern to the news that a ‘cork’ is plugging the volcano. The word ‘cork’ itself confirms the impression — everyone knows what corks do, they contain pressure and when they are released an explosion results. This is made explicit in the original AFP story: ‘Geologists said a “cork” of lava, which emerged on Tuesday and was blocking even more lava from spewing forth, had the potential to create a huge build-up in pressure’. The headline rests neatly on that word ‘cork’ in the middle: the words preceding it prepare the reader for danger, the words after it confirm the nature of that danger, and another volcano scare story is set merrily upon its way.

By the time the AFP story has reached Earthweek it has become enveloped in a general air of breathless anxiety, as a standard bulletin from SERNAGEOMIN on the activity of the volcano becomes ‘an urgent warning’ about building pressure and powerful blasts: ‘geologists issued an urgent warning late Wednesday, saying a “cork” of lava had begun to block the volcano’s crater, building up pressure that could lead to another powerful blast’. The bulletins on Puyehue-Cordón Caulle, by the way, are normally released by SERNAGEOMIN around 15:30-16:00 local time, but of course it’s much more exciting to talk of ‘an urgent warning’ issued ‘late Wednesday’ than of ‘a standard bulletin’ issued ‘in the middle of the afternoon, as usual’.

The facts upon which the story is based in no way justify the alarmism of the Australian headlines, still less the utter rubbish from Earthweek. The ‘red alert’, as stated above, was in place anyway, and has not been changed as a result of the current situation. The ‘cork’ plugging the volcano is no big deal. Here’s what SERNAGEOMIN actually reports in its most recent bulletin for Puyehue-Cordón Caulle: ‘the possibility of an explosive event still remains because of possible obstruction of the conduit by the lava erupted and/or changes in the dynamics of the eruption, although there is little likelihood that it will reach the magnitude of the initial eruptive phase’. That is standard wording for a standard situation: the volcano has begun erupting lava, cooled lava may block the conduit creating the circumstances for explosive activity caused by continuing pressure within the volcanic system. This is not a disaster movie scenario, just one that needs careful watching (which is what SERNAGEOMIN is doing).

There is a particularly Australian context to the Sydney Morning Herald‘s daft headline. The flight disruptions caused by ash from Puyehue-Cordón Caulle have given Australia a lot of problems, and it’s understandable that Australian newspapers and their readers are sensitive about volcanic activity — particularly the threat of more explosive activity and more ash. But that’s all the more reason not to over-react, to get the facts right, and not resort to lazy sensationalism.

Red alert as ‘cork’ plugs volcanoSydney Morning Herald, 24 June 2011
Red alert as ‘cork’ plugs volcanoThe Age, 24 June 2011
Experts warn Chile volcano could explode again – AFP, 24 June 2011
Chile volcano could explode againHerald Sun, 24 June 2011
Aviation halted for second week by Chile eruption – Earthweek, 24 June 2011

Global Volcanism Program: Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcanic complex – summary information for the PCCVC (1507-15=)
Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería – website of Chile’s SERNAGEOMIN
OVDAS-SERNAGEOMIN bulletins for Puyehue-Cordón Caulle – PDF files are available from this page of the OVDAS website

The Volcanism Blog

Just some of the things Eyjafjallajökull has screwed up 23 April 2010

Posted by admin in eruptions, Eyjafjöll, Iceland, volcano culture.
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(In addition to grounding European aviation for days on end and exhausting headline-writers’ supplies of volcano puns.)

The UK General Electionbetting on 2010 temperaturesSouthern California music festivalUK schoolgirls’ geography field tripthe Norwegian Government (iPad to the rescue) … touring wrestlers … Boston Marathon runnersthe London Book Fairhealth of petsfootball, ice hockey and runningPremier League refereesthe gilded progresses of celebs and pop starsJohn Cleese’s trip homefootball, cycling and runningPolish state funeraltransport of wounded soldiersDubai luxury hotel openingMorocco golf tournamentsexams, exotic foods and surgery … yet more celebs (Hollywood ‘paralized’, no less)Japan MotoGPthe international oil marketand even more celebsEuropean stocks and sharesKenyan flower growersKenyan vegetable growersmovie premieresBMW production in South Carolinaand still more celebs (superstar forced to take Irish Sea ferry)youth boxingequestrianismfootball (also boxing, running, tennis, motorcyle racing)organ transplants … Ghana farming, war crimes trials, rose growing, car making, flowers for New York weddings … travel plans of dogs, horses, snakes, geckos, turtlesclassical concerts in San Diego … classical concerts in Salt Lake Cityclassical concerts in New YorkTribeca Film FestivalMetallica tour (kings of heavy metal fight back, take bus) … supplies of sea urchins, monkfish livers and scallops to British restaurantsart shipmentsweddingsweddingscomputer gaming eventsairline emissions regulationIndian TV host’s IPL contract (seems rather unfair) … Italian guitar playerssupply chain resilience, whatever that  iscollege admissionsscareware cyberscams

The Volcanism Blog

An Eyjafjallajökull miscellany (further updated) 21 April 2010

Posted by admin in eruptions, Eyjafjöll, Iceland.
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More on the eruption itself later, but for the moment here is a fairly random selection of Eyjafjallajökull links, some good, some bad, some just, you know, strange. [Updated 24 April 2010, new links marked with a *; and updated again 26 April 2010, new links marked with a #.]

UK political crackpot: Iceland volcano a message from God – eruption ‘a clear Biblical sign of repentance’, a reminder that ‘the human race is powerless compared to God’, claims Christian Peoples Alliance election candidate in outpouring of contemptible garbage.#

(How) Are Birds Affected by Volcanic Ash? – some of the effects of ashfall on non-human life: GrrlScientist has the details.

Finnish F-18 meets volcanic ash – pictures of damage to the engines of a Finnish Air Force F-18 fighter that flew through Eyjafjallajökull’s emissions on the morning of 15 April.

Eyjafjallajökull images from the NASA Earth Observatory – the Earth Observatory has been publishing some great satellite imagery of the eruption: the Eyjafjallajökull collection so far can be found here.

Volcanic lightning, Eyjafjallajökull, and how it works – theoretical astrophysicist Ethan Seigel explains volcanic lightning, with gorgeous pictures.

The Big Picture: Iceland’s disruptive volcano – stunning images from The Boston Globe. More Eyjafjallajökull images from the Globe here.

Daily Mail: Iceland volcano – some wonderful pictures that happen to have shown up in the pages of one of the world’s more disgusting newspapers.

Ignorant idiot sounds off on volcanic ash threat (1) – Simon Jenkins in The Guardian‘s reliably appalling Comment is Free section: what’s all the fuss about, it’s just ‘a volcano and a bit of dust’.

Ignorant idiot sounds off on volcanic ash threat (2) – Frank Furedi at the generally loathsome Spiked Online: ‘I claim no authority to say anything of value about the risks posed by volcanic ash clouds to flying aircraft’, he says, but surprisingly he does not then shut up.

Ignorant idiot sounds off on volcanic ash threat (3) – rambling buffoon Max Hastings in the vile Daily Mail, has the nerve to say expert atmospheric scientist Dr Grant Allen of Manchester University ‘hasn’t a clue’.*

Ignorant idiot sounds off on volcanic ash threat (4) – prize twit Christopher Booker roams his enclosure at the Telegraph, rattling the bars: ash crisis all a fuss about nothing, evil European plot, global warming is wrong, blah blah blah.#

Eyjafjallajökull Art Project – art inspired by the eruption (Claire Iris Schencke‘s work is great).

Iceland Volcano Mispronunciation Video – lots of US television people coming a cropper trying to say Eyjafjallajökull.

Cybercrooks befuddled by Icelandic volcano name – scareware merchants and scammers can’t latch on to the Eyjafjallajökull story, the name is just too hard for them.

Icelandic singer explains how to say Eyjafjallajökull – with the help of her trusty ukelele.*

The Volcanism Blog

Pictures from Chaitén documentary makers 12 May 2009

Posted by admin in Chaitén, Chile, eruptions, volcano images.
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The Chilean film company 7 Tierras Producciones is working with German company Dream Team Medienproduktion on a documentary about the eruption of Chaitén volcano in southern Chile. In the course of production – which is ongoing, and they are currently seeking funding to continue production to January 2010 – they have made a very large collection of photographs, some of which Jorge Guzmán of 7 Tierras has been generous enough to share with The Volcanism Blog. These photographs were taken by Cristian Canessa. The aim is to publish many of these images in book form, to be released alongside the film.

Chaiten 28 April 2009 (7 Tierras Producciones: photographer Cristian Canessa, producer Jorge Guzmán)
Picture taken at 17:44 on 28 April 2009, looking northwards at the volcano, showing the plume being erupted from Chaitén’s lava dome. (7 Tierras Producciones: photographer Cristian Canessa, producer Jorge Guzmán.)

Chaiten 28 April 2009 (7 Tierras Producciones: photographer Cristian Canessa, producer Jorge Guzmán)
Picture taken at 23:52 on 28 April 2009 from approximately the same position, showing incandescence from the lava dome. (7 Tierras Producciones: photographer Cristian Canessa, producer Jorge Guzmán.)

Many thanks to Jorge Guzmán and 7 Tierras for letting The Volcanism Blog reproduce these pictures.

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

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

The Volcanism Blog

‘Volcanic Top Ten’ curse strikes again 31 March 2009

Posted by admin in miscellaneous, volcanoes.
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When I was a child it was never enough simply to like things or be interested in them: you had to chose the ones you liked best. ‘Yes, but what’s your favourite?’ would be the automatic question, when one admitted to liking this type of sweet, or that type of film. Things had to be arranged in order of merit. ‘Would you like a blackcurrant milkshake?’ ‘No, blackcurrant is only my third favourite.’ I grew out of it eventually.

Anyway, hot on the heels of Discovery Magazine‘s Top 10 Volcanoes in Geologic History, which is not without its problems, we now have Popular Science‘s Top 10 Volcanic Eruptions, which, within the limits of the form, is actually rather better. Listing eruptions rather than volcanoes makes for a better focus – they seem to have gone for VEI=6 and above, sudden and violent events rather than gradual (hence no flood basalts), and with a preference for events that had significant consequences beyond the local. Thus Mount St Helens is not promoted beyond its desserts (as it was by Discovery), whereas the big calderas such as Toba, Tambora and Lake Taupo are included. They spoil it a bit by putting Io in at the end though. Gratuitous extraterrestrialism is always regrettable.

See what you think: Popular Science‘s Top 10 Volcanic Eruptions.

The Volcanism Blog

Redoubt in the news 23 March 2009

Posted by admin in Alaska, eruptions, Redoubt, United States.
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A quick round-up of some points from the news media’s coverage of Redoubt today.

Reuters, under the puzzling headline ‘Alaska’s Redoubt erupts, more may follow’ (more eruptions at Redoubt, not more volcanoes, presumably) reports that the Drift River Oil Terminal was in the process of shutting itself down in response to the eruption. Interior Secretary Salazar is quoted as saying that ‘we believe everything is safe there’. An AFP report (among others) notes that Alaska Airlines is cancelling flights out of Anchorage. The volcano has also disrupted the travel arrangements of Alaskan politicians – the nerve.

The Anchorage Daily News has extensive reports on the eruption, including accounts of the significant ashfall at Skwentna, upwind of the volcano.

Popular Science reports that ‘Federal Aviation Administration officials have not stopped flights into Anchorage, but some airlines have canceled flights into the state’s capitol’. They mean ‘capital’, not ‘capitol’, and anyway Anchorage is not the state capital of Alaska.

‘Ash clouds as Alaskan volcano erupts’, says the link on the BBC News website, but the link goes to a video of the 15 March explosive event (which happened in daylight, not during the hours of darkness as was the case with the current eruption). This video is not identified as dating from 15 March, thus giving the casual browser the impression that the BBC is showing them a video of today’s eruption. The same video, still not correctly dated, is used to illustrate the BBC’s report of the current eruption. This really is very sloppy news presentation.

UPDATE: 24 March 2009 – the BBC are still using the 15 March video clip without identifying it. In this new report today it is coupled directly to shots of ashfall from the current eruption, making it even more potentially misleading.

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

Alaska’s Redoubt erupts, more may follow – Reuters, 23 March 2009
Redoubt eruptsNational Geographic, 23 March 2009
Alaska volcano erupts: ash, quakes – and more to comeNational Geographic, 23 March 2009
Mount Redoubt volcano in Alaska erupts explosively – ScienceDaily, 23 March 2009
Alaska volcano erupts five times – AFP, 23 March 2009
Alaska volcano erupts five times – BBC News, 23 March 2009
Skwentna reports ‘complete ash-out’Anchorage Daily News, 23 March 2009

Global Volcanism Program: Redoubt – summary information for Redoubt (1103-03-)
Alaska Volcano Observatory – Redoubt – AVO information and updates for Redoubt
Alaska Volcano Observatory – main page for the AVO
Anchorage VAAC advisories – volcanic ash advisories issued by Anchorage VAAC are archived here

The Volcanism Blog

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