Monday Musings: Submarine supervolcanoes(?), Iceland's volcanic tourism, Redoubt settles down

Lots to do!

Tourists flock to the Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls in Iceland.

More like this

The eruption at Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls continues on - the explosive spatter and bomb eruptions at the new central vent (on the second fissure) were impressive all night, making the hikers/cars/aircraft look like mites in comparison. This eruption has, so far, followed the pattern of…
The steam and ash plume from the Eyjafjallajökull subglacial eruption that started early morning, April 14, 2010. Well, after the brief respite when there was speculation Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls eruption might be over, we now know what was going on. After the original fissures ceased…
The Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls eruption on April 7, 2010. Just as we were speculating that the Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls eruption might be over, Icelandic officials may have ordered an evacuation for towns (icelandic) in the area (but information in english is scant). There have been…
The Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls eruption at night on April 10, 2010. I mentioned this earlier in the Monday Musings column, but the Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls eruption in Iceland that started last month seems to be at a nadir of activity since its inception. This is being interpreted…

I was at Fimmvörðuháls only about 14 hours ago. The driver who I visited with said that the eruption was definitely smaller than it had been a week ago. Still, it was an incredible sight. There was constant lava fountaining at one crater, occasional outbursts at two others, and a lava flow which was hardly visible when I got there but brightened greatly during the night. I am amazed to hear the eruption might have stopped now!

Thanks so much for that update RW. I'm closely watching events at Fimmvörðuháls since I'm planning to visit at the end of the week. I'm slightly concerned about reports that activity has diminished but reports from people like you are very valuable.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed the eruption doesn't stop just yet!!

Report at is that there was a 3.2 earthquake shortly after which the activity diminished. If there was shift which pinched off (some of) the lave flow, that'd explain it.
Question is, is it stopped or building up to find another outlet?

In a month's time it'll be thirty years since Mount St Helens erupted so spectacularly. I can only speak for myself, but my feeling is that I am not alone in this.

Unlike previous volcanic eruptions, the awsome power unleashed by a large eruption finally hit home with the well-televised and publicised event - St Helens gave us an understandable scale:

* "Half" a mountain disappeared in a matter of seconds
* Giant redwoods were snapped off like so much matchwood for miles and miles
* A lake was buried under "a thousand feet" of volcanic debris
* The interior of cars melted
* Other cars had their bodywork riddled by stones some 30 miles away as if someone had fired a shotgun at point-blank range
* Giant lorries were wrapped around tree-trunks as if they were so much tinfoil.

Now, how do you describe something even bigger and much more destructive than this which is at the upper limit most human minds can encompass? The terms "supervolcano" and "supereruption" aren't scientific terms, true. They are human terms, intended to give scale to something that is beyond our comprehension.

Steinn #5, it could be that the eruption hasn't stopped, but is going though lava tubes. I posted this under Erik's description of Hawaiian style eruptions. If the quake did shut the flow off, the magma will probably head for another area to come to the surface. My guess is it is flowing through a tube system. I don't think it has ended, but I could be wrong.

The unearthly quiet that every one had been observing had been making me nervous, so I started re-doing my Jönkulhlaup map. It's just about done, with links, and will shortly be up on my page.

The gathering of a punch-up... directly at the caldera this time... as spoken about by Henrik and Jón seems somewhat likely. The most recent quake was low and large - the kind of "clearing of the throat" followed by two quakes at different levels, including near the surface directly above, which I associate as pre-eruptive.

This will come fast, and if so, will include a jönkulhlhaup. There will be little warning, as was the case with the past fissure-opening. I would recommend an immediate moving-back from the mountain and possible evacuation of the Markarfljöt. Just my humble opinion.

Michael! As others have poined out it seems the M3.2 (5.7 km depth) this morning has blocked the main conduit. If there's still more to come, I'd guess that the first thing we see is that the current site closes down, so to speak, this evening. Then inflation should resume and after that, an increase in tremors. IF this will prove to be the case, it's anyone's guess where as the presumed blockage is relatively deep down. We'll just have to wait and see. ;)

Henrik-I was up close and personal to St. Helens, Flew a lot
of USGS people and othes around the summit before and after.
My ex-brother in law and his family actually took a vacation to "see the mountain" they almost got killed.
I tried to tell them that going that close was ah, stupid.
but what do I know. Now I think about it I'm glad I didn't have children with his sister...
Being in NE Washington, I did a lot of aerial survey after.
for a while the Columbia river basin looked like the Moon...

By G.T. McCoy (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

we have a plume in the last 30 min it has grown and collapsed 3 or 4 times it has been a mix of team and dirty coulors unfortunately the cloud cover is blocking the eruption side. it looks as though it is going 2 or 3 km over the cloud cover them quickly falling somewhat like a pyroclastic flow event

@ Gordys

It looks to be like Icelandic weather. If you don't like it, then wait 5 minutes for it to change.

at the time the cloud cover was very smooth and dense with a clearly defined top now its messy

vodafone cam allows fetching by time go back to min 20 to 28

@G.T. McCoy

serious envy on that one. Not only are you a helicopter pilot by the sound of it but you got to witness that. Wow. One very lucky guy.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Raving: You may be correct. It was a white plume rising above the cloud deck that has been there for most of the day. It was rising up from the same location, not moving like the rest of the clouds were, and moving from low to high. Without being able to see everything but the top it is hard to say. Time will tell.

@ G.T. McCoy. Thanks for sharing that! Must be strange to have memories of something that's no longer there such as dropping people off at Goat's Ridge(?) or landing close to Harry Truman's property by Spirit Lake (if you did). I'd love to hear your views on how, if, St Helens changed your understanding of volcanoes!

>Being in NE Washington, I did a lot of aerial survey after.
for a while the Columbia river basin looked like the Moon.

Photo of the sky over Ephrata, WA in the hours before heavy ashfall the morning of May 19th, 1980.

That's not snow on the ground.

Enough ash fell on the mid-Columbia Basin Plateau to near-permanently alter the soil composition and chemistry. In Potholes Reservoir, there are emergent semi-aquatic plants, colonizers that have become a dominant player among community epiphytes in recent decades. These plants only thrive under conditions of sufficient soil-sediment silica.

There were not found here before 1980.

Erik I gotta agree with Henrik....please try to remember that the article wasn't written for a vulcanologist, it was written for a regular person. You are concerned with semantics and just what superlatives are being used to describe one of these events. A regular person doesn't know or even care if it is a Plinian, a Hawaiian or a Strombolian us....the great unwashed masses it is either a small, a large or maybe a "super" sized eruption. To us it is something that can kill several ways and at a great distance. When talking about one of these LARGE sized are not talking about something that just effects a relatively small area. You are talking about something that has the possibility of destroying an untold number of lives across the really what would you have us call them?

I also flew over the devastated area at St. Helens shortly after the May 18 1980 eruption and was awestruck by what I saw. I will never forget it. One of the lessons was, stay away from volcanoes that a developing a giant bulge on one side.

Creative problem-solving.

Earthquake prediction using accelerometers in laptops.
BBC News April 12th 2010. (video)

A scientist in California is trying to recruit thousands of people to build a volunteer early warning system by harnessing technology in laptops.

Motion sensors already fitted in computers are being used as seismographs. The hope is a large network of quake sensors could one day help give warning of impending tremors.

I feel that it may be a question of the scientific community having been caught flat-footed by public interest. To a vulcanologist, "VEI 5, Plinian, flank collapse" gives a succinct description of size and type of eruption. Now, how do you convey this to the public? Plinian and flank collapse present few problems as most have seen the pictures and videos. But VEI 5? Defining it as 1/4 cubic mile, 1.0 cubic kilometres or 1,000,000,000 cubic meteres still does little, so the term "very large" is used. Ok, but how do you describe something that is larger? VEI 6 as very, very large? VEI 7 as very, very, very large? VEI 8 as very, very, very, very large. In the absense of a suitable scale, journalists invented their own.

Had volcanology addressed the need to communicate its findings to the public in advance and had an understandable, verbal scale been in place already, the "supervolcano" misnomer might not have happened! At least by journalists who wanted to appear serious about their reporting. St Helens might have been described as a "large, locally destructive" eruption and Toba as "very large, regionally destructive, global affecting" - or something on those lines describing the effects as opposed to giving a number.

Along with failure to mention study authors names and affiliations, my beef with popular science articles is frequent lack of a proper citation, other than mention of the journal name publication day/month.

Science Daily has a few editors that include journal citation as a footnote at the bottom of the page; the majority of their on-line articles do not. Even more irritating is failure to include a critical hyper-link in news stories advertising immediate-release of government and private organization reports/documents that have on-line download access.

While the BBC did create the term 'super volcano', it has been integrated into the professional-technical lexicon and is employed in titles of quite a few journal articles since 2006. Moreover, the term has been fruitful for drawing public attention to volcanic hazards and produced government and private grant funding opportunities.

The article below has useful graphics for understanding relative eruption mass, ejecta volume, plume height, return period to VEI ranking of recent and historical very large volcanic eruptions.

Inclusion of this type of coupled cartoon graphic and information text box inset is very useful for visualizing meaning of technical scales and terminology.

See: Earth's largest volcanic eruptions were an order of magnitude larger. Miller and Wark (2008) ELEMENTS 4:11-16.

PS: at least two practical outcomes can be seen in the popularization of some news article-generated 'cataclystmic' terminology that generates considerable public interest:

Analysis and improved understanding of fiduciary risk by the insurance industry and risk recognition and action inclusion in public emergency response and urban planning projects.

Turrialba is really chuffing away this morning. The steam seems to have a blue component to it, but it could just be the angle of the sunlight. A few years ago HVO mentioned this was caused by high concentrations SO2, but the MSDS shows it to be colorless. Anybody help? What gives steam a blue tint?

Redoubt webicorder readouts over the past 48 hours don't look *that* quiet. Note that several recently active volcanoes have had a jump in activity 1-2 days ago, corresponding to a very strong geomagnetic flux perturbation, but has quieted back down as the Planetary-A index dipped in the past 24 hours to near baseline. It is presently rising again with moderate 'solar storm' events early today.

We are having high winds so webcorder of Redoubt should be read with that in mind.


@Passerby: Thanks for the last link with Jon's seismometers. I wonder if raw wave data coming from those in a common format could be made available. It would be easier to tell what's going on. Or if it's not possible, making spectrograms graphs available. From the compresseed helicorder it seems there's more than just earthquakes.

Sorry, I replied on the wrong thread, please delete post #31 and this one.

Erik, a little question: in all the bibliography avaiable on-line the Shatsky Rise are referred to a supervolcano. But it seems to me that their description make them much more similar to a LIP - Large igneous province - such as Deccan and siberian trap than to a supervolcano. Also the tectonic environment is not the same, since supervolcanoes are much more related to converging plates situation than intraplate or diverging plates ones.
what do you think about it?