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  • richardmitnick 7:52 am on July 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Moho-boundary of the Earth’s crust and the mantle, , Vulcanology   

    From University of Cambridge: “Crystal clocks’ used to time magma storage before volcanic eruptions” 

    U Cambridge bloc

    From University of Cambridge

    18 July, 2019
    Sarah Collins

    Magma erupting at the Holuhraun lava field in August 2014. Credit: Bob White

    The molten rock that feeds volcanoes can be stored in the Earth’s crust for as long as a thousand years, a result which may help with volcanic hazard management and better forecasting of when eruptions might occur.

    Researchers from the University of Cambridge used volcanic minerals known as ‘crystal clocks’ to calculate how long magma can be stored in the deepest parts of volcanic systems. This is the first estimate of magma storage times near the boundary of the Earth’s crust and the mantle, called the Moho. The results are reported in the journal Science.

    “This is like geological detective work,” said Dr Euan Mutch from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, and the paper’s first author. “By studying what we see in the rocks to reconstruct what the eruption was like, we can also know what kind of conditions the magma is stored in, but it’s difficult to understand what’s happening in the deeper parts of volcanic systems.”

    “Determining how long magma can be stored in the Earth’s crust can help improve models of the processes that trigger volcanic eruptions,” said co-author Dr John Maclennan, also from the Department of Earth Sciences. “The speed of magma rise and storage is tightly linked to the transfer of heat and chemicals in the crust of volcanic regions, which is important for geothermal power and the release of volcanic gases to the atmosphere.”

    The researchers studied the Borgarhraun eruption of the Theistareykir volcano in northern Iceland, which occurred roughly 10,000 years ago, and was fed directly from the Moho.

    This boundary area plays an important role in the processing of melts as they travel from their source regions in the mantle towards the Earth’s surface. To calculate how long the magma was stored at this boundary area, the researchers used a volcanic mineral known as spinel like a tiny stopwatch or crystal clock.

    Using the crystal clock method, the researchers were able to model how the composition of the spinel crystals changed over time while the magma was being stored. Specifically, they looked at the rates of diffusion of aluminium and chromium within the crystals and how these elements are ‘zoned’.

    “Diffusion of elements works to get the crystal into chemical equilibrium with its surroundings,” said Maclennan. “If we know how fast they diffuse we can figure out how long the minerals were stored in the magma.”

    The researchers looked at how aluminium and chromium were zoned in the crystals and realised that this pattern was telling them something exciting and new about magma storage time. The diffusion rates were estimated using the results of previous lab experiments. The researchers then used a new method, combining finite element modelling and Bayesian nested sampling to estimate the storage timescales.

    “We now have really good estimates in terms of where the magma comes from in terms of depth,” said Mutch. “No one’s ever gotten this kind of timescale information from the deeper crust.”

    Calculating the magma storage time also helped the researchers determine how magma can be transferred to the surface. Instead of the classical model of a volcano with a large magma chamber beneath, the researchers say that instead, it’s more like a volcanic ‘plumbing system’ extending through the crust with lots of small ‘spouts’ where magma can be quickly transferred to the surface.

    A second paper by the same team, recently published in Nature Geoscience, found that that there is a link between the rate of ascent of the magma and the release of CO2, which has implications for volcano monitoring.

    The researchers observed that enough CO2 was transferred from the magma into gas over the days before eruption to indicate that CO2 monitoring could be a useful way of spotting the precursors to eruptions in Iceland. Based on the same set of crystals from Borgarhraun, the researchers found that magma can rise from a chamber 20 kilometres deep to the surface in as little as four days.

    The research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

    See the full article here.


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    U Cambridge Campus

    The University of Cambridge (abbreviated as Cantab in post-nominal letters) is a collegiate public research university in Cambridge, England. Founded in 1209, Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s fourth-oldest surviving university. It grew out of an association of scholars who left the University of Oxford after a dispute with townsfolk. The two ancient universities share many common features and are often jointly referred to as “Oxbridge”.

    Cambridge is formed from a variety of institutions which include 31 constituent colleges and over 100 academic departments organised into six schools. The university occupies buildings throughout the town, many of which are of historical importance. The colleges are self-governing institutions founded as integral parts of the university. In the year ended 31 July 2014, the university had a total income of £1.51 billion, of which £371 million was from research grants and contracts. The central university and colleges have a combined endowment of around £4.9 billion, the largest of any university outside the United States. Cambridge is a member of many associations and forms part of the “golden triangle” of leading English universities and Cambridge University Health Partners, an academic health science centre. The university is closely linked with the development of the high-tech business cluster known as “Silicon Fen”.

  • richardmitnick 8:52 am on July 15, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Seismic Sensors Probe Lipari’s Underground Plumbing", , , , Vulcanology   

    From Eos: “Seismic Sensors Probe Lipari’s Underground Plumbing” 

    Eos news bloc

    From Eos

    Francesca Di Luccio
    Patricia Persaud
    Luigi Cucci
    Alessandra Esposito
    Guido Ventura
    Robert W. Clayton

    An international team of scientists installed a novel, dense network of 48 seismic sensors on the island of Lipari to investigate the active magma system underground.

    The magma system underneath the island of Lipari, shown here, is connected to a regional fault system formed by tectonic activity rather than to volcanoes like nearby Etna and Stromboli. A research team recently deployed a dense network of seismic sensors to investigate Lipari’s unusual setting. Credit: F. Di Luccio

    Just north of the island of Sicily, near the toe of Italy’s “boot,” a chain of volcanic islands traces a delicate arc in the Mediterranean Sea. This chain, the Aeolian Islands, hosts popular tourist resorts in proximity to some of Earth’s most active and well-known volcanoes, including Etna and Stromboli. Lipari, the largest of these islands, lies just north of the island of Vulcano, for which these eruptive features are named. Lipari is less well characterized than some of the other nearby volcanoes, but one research group is setting out to change this.

    Lipari is located ~80 kilometers north of the well-monitored Etna volcano. The island’s hydrothermal system, in which magma heats the water underground, is not connected to eruptive centers, but, rather, is connected to the regional fault system that delimits the western boundary of the active Ionian subduction zone.

    Lipari holds a unique place in our understanding of the tectonic evolution and hydrothermal activity of volcanoes emplaced in subduction zones. Within the framework of the ring-shaped Aeolian arc, the unexpected NNW–SSE alignment of Lipari and Vulcano has been related to a major regional discontinuity, the Tindari-Letojanni subduction transform edge propagator (STEP) fault, a tear in a tectonic plate that allows one part of the plate to plunge downward while an adjacent part remains on the surface (Figure 1).

    Fig. 1. These tectonic and bathymetric maps show (a) southern Italy and (b) the Aeolian Islands. The bathymetric data are from Ryan et al. [2009]. Major faults are shown as black lines. Regional earthquakes larger than magnitude 3 (black dots) were recorded over the past 3 decades by the permanent Italian seismic network (magenta triangles). Events larger than M 3 that occurred in the time window of the current experiment are shown as cyan stars. The yellow star off the northeastern coast of Sicily shows the location of the 1 November 2018 ML 3.2 earthquake whose waveforms are shown in the left-hand plot of Figure 3. In Figure 1a, blue dashed lines in the Tyrrhenian Sea indicate the isodepths (50, 100, 200, and 300 kilometers) of the slab [Barreca et al., 2014]. Shown in Figure 1b are the locations of Lipari, the Sisifo-Alicudi fault (SAf), and the Tindari-Letojanni STEP fault (STEP-TLf).

    One innovative way to monitor the deep and shallow dynamics of magmatic systems is to deploy dense arrays of seismic sensors over active volcanoes [Hansen and Schmandt, 2015; Ward and Lin, 2017; Farrell et al., 2018]. Thus, to understand Lipari’s unusual setting, we deployed a dense array comprising 48 wireless, self-contained seismic instruments. This is the first time that a dense seismic array has been deployed to investigate a hydrothermal system in the volcanically active Aeolian Islands and the volcanism in the proximity of a STEP fault.

    Transporting the seismic sensors, called nodes, to Lipari required a transatlantic shipment from Louisiana State University (LSU) to Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV) in Rome, followed by a ferry trip to Lipari. Over the course of 2 days, two crews of two people each placed 48 instruments, spaced ~0.1–1.5 kilometers apart, in a wide variety of locales: with homeowners and hotel owners, at the Lipari observatory, on the sides of streets, and buried in the near surface beneath a few centimeters of soil (Figure 2).

    Fig. 2. Three-dimensional perspective view of a Google Earth map of Lipari Island, which covers an area of about 35 square kilometers. The last eruption on this island was in 1220 CE at Monte Pilato. The locations of the ZLand three-component seismic nodes are shown as yellow triangles. A magenta triangle indicates broadband station ILLI of the Italian permanent seismic network. Site photos taken at selected locations are also shown. The inset shows a detailed map of the hydrothermal area (modified from Cucci et al. [2017]) and the locations of photos A, B, and C, which characterize the hydrothermal alteration.

    Researchers from INGV in Rome, the Department of Geology and Geophysics at LSU, and the Seismological Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology deployed the 48 FairfieldNodal ZLand three-component nodes, which have a 5-hertz corner frequency. The nodes recorded one data point every 4 milliseconds from 16 October to 14 November 2018.

    After their transatlantic voyage from Louisiana to Rome, seismic sensors await a ferry trip to Lipari. Credit: A. Esposito

    Lipari’s Tectonic Neighborhood

    Lipari Island belongs to the Aeolian archipelago, a group of subaerial and submarine volcanoes located in southern Italy between the southern Tyrrhenian Sea back-arc basin and the Calabrian Arc, an orogenic belt affected by late Quaternary extensional tectonics. The NNW–SSE Lipari-Vulcano alignment (Figure 1) coincides with the regional tectonic boundary of the Ionian Sea–Calabrian Arc subduction system that is marked by the Tindari-Letojanni STEP fault [Barreca et al., 2014].

    To the west of the archipelago, the WNW–ESE oriented Sisifo-Alicudi fault accommodates shortening related to the eastern termination of the contractional belt (Figure 1). The Tindari-Letojanni and Sisifo-Alicudi fault systems are characterized by shallow seismicity, at depths of less than 25 kilometers, and recorded earthquakes of M 5.8 or less, including the M 4.7 Ferruzzano earthquake in 1978 [Gasparini et al., 1982].

    The Aeolian volcanoes, emplaced on 15- to 20-kilometer-thick continental crust, are the most recent evidence of the magmatism that started during the Pliocene epoch (5.3–2.6 million years ago). This magmatism started in the central sectors of the Tyrrhenian Sea and migrated southeastward toward the Calabrian Arc.

    From about 1 million years ago to the present time, the volcanoes have been producing magma with calc-alkaline, shoshonitic, and alkaline potassic compositions [De Astis et al., 2003; Barreca et al., 2014]. The geochemical affinity of these rocks and the deep seismicity (reaching depths of 550 kilometers) in the southern Tyrrhenian Sea indicate that the Aeolian Islands represent a volcanic arc related to the subduction and rollback of the Ionian slab beneath the Calabrian Arc [Milano et al., 1994; De Astis et al., 2003].

    Early volcanic activity at Lipari ejected lava and rocks into the air, but today, geothermally heated water is more common. Credit: L. Cucci

    Early volcanic activity on Lipari (150,000 years ago and earlier) was concentrated in the western part of the island and focused along north–south aligned vents. Later on, between 119,000 and 81,000 years ago, the Sant’Angelo and Monte Chirica volcanoes deposited lava and pyroclastics (volcanic material that is forcibly ejected into the air) in the central sector of the island (Figure 2).

    From 42,000 years ago to 1220 CE, the activity was concentrated in the southern and northern sectors. This activity included pyroclastics related to subplinian eruptions, domes, and lava flows. Currently, hydrothermal activity (the expulsion of geothermally heated water) characterizes Lipari, Vulcano, and areas offshore of Panarea and Salina. The Lipari hydrothermal field (approximately 0.5 × 0.15 kilometer; see inset in Figure 2) is located along a north–south striking alteration belt in the western and older sector of the island and is characterized by gypsum-filled veins, normal faults with a prevailing NNW–SSE to north–south strike, and active fumaroles.

    Hydrothermalism on Lipari is not associated with centers of recent volcanic activity (less than 40,000 years old), and fluid pathways are strictly controlled by faults and fractures [Cucci et al., 2017]. Vein networks of gypsum (a type of sulfur mineral) affect the hydrothermal system in the lavas and scorias of the oldest Timponi volcanoes, the overlying pyroclastics of Monte Sant’Angelo, the 27,000-year-old Pianoconte pyroclastic deposits, and the present-day soil (inset in Figure 2). The hydrothermal alteration process has been going on for less than 27,000 years and is still active [Cucci et al., 2017].

    A Mountain of Data

    Fig. 3. Seismograms from two earthquakes at local (left) and regional (right) distances recorded at the Lipari array. Vertical components of the ground velocity are low-pass filtered at 5 and 2 hertz for the ML 3.2 and MW 6.8 magnitude events, respectively, to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. Waveforms at the bottom of each plot are the seismograms of the two events recorded by the permanent broadband seismic station ILLI located on the southern tip of Lipari, as shown in Figure 1b, with numbers in bottom left corners indicating the epicentral distances.

    We collected more than 300 gigabytes of data, which include local, regional, and teleseismic (distant) earthquakes as well as ambient noise and volcanic tremor data. During the period of the experiment, about 50 earthquakes occurred within 100 kilometers of Lipari. Half of these had magnitudes of less than 2, but we also recorded 18 events larger than M 5 that occurred in the region and farther away. In Figure 3, we show two examples of recorded seismic waveforms from an ML 3.2 local earthquake and an Mw 6.8 regional earthquake.

    We aim to investigate in detail the crust and upper mantle beneath Lipari Island using receiver functions to characterize Earth’s structural response near the instrument and regional tomography to construct a three-dimensional image of Earth’s nearby interior. We will also analyze ambient noise and local volcanic tremors.

    We plan to merge the seismic data set with other observables such as geochemical measurements and structural data to get a more robust and complete picture of the tectonic setting. We will apply modern and sophisticated processing and analysis techniques used in seismological studies to the nodal seismic array data.

    The deployment of nodal arrays fills a unique niche in monitoring active volcanoes. In comparison to traditional portable seismic stations, nodal arrays enable a high-quality data set to be obtained over a short deployment period, at lower costs, with easier site selection capabilities, and with easy and quick installation procedures.

    Our collaborative field experiment is the latest vehicle for learning about the seismic structure of Lipari and an excellent approach to linking the unrest at depth to volcanic and hydrothermal activity at the surface in similar settings. This project will contribute to the evaluation of the geohazards of the Mediterranean region, where the African and Eurasian plates converge.


    We thank Comune di Lipari for hosting the experiment and INGV Catania and Lipari Observatory (L. Pruiti) for the logistical support. We are grateful to R. Vilardo and M. Martinelli of the Polo Museale di Lipari, Regione Sicilia; the Hotel Antea; Co.Mark and Tenuta Castellaro; and Alessandro (a grocery store) in Acquacalda for hosting some nodes of the experiment. We thank INGV Roma 1 for funding and supporting the project and the Department of Geology and Geophysics at LSU for supporting this project. A.E. was funded by INGV Osservatorio Nazionale Terremoti (ONT). LSU students R. Ajala and E. McCullison assisted with the deployment setup and preparation of the nodes. Data will be available in November 2020 (2 years after the last instrument was retrieved from the field) by contacting the corresponding author.

    Barreca, G., et al. (2014), New insights in the geodynamics of the Lipari–Vulcano area (Aeolian Archipelago, southern Italy) from geological, geodetic and seismological data, J. Geodyn., 82, 150–167, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jog.2014.07.003.

    Cucci, L., et al. (2017), Vein networks in hydrothermal systems provide constraints for the monitoring of active volcanoes, Sci. Rep., 7, 46, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-00230-8.

    De Astis, G., G. Ventura, and G. Vilardo (2003), Geodynamic significance of the Aeolian volcanism (southern Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy) in light of structural, seismological, and geochemical data, Tectonics, 22(4), 1040, https://doi.org/10.1029/2003TC001506.

    Farrell, J., et al. (2018), Seismic monitoring of the 2018 Kilauea eruption using a temporary dense geophone array, Abstract V41B-07 presented at 2018 Fall Meeting, AGU, Washington, D.C., 10–14 Dec.

    Gasparini, G., et al. (1982), Seismotectonics of the Calabrian Arc, Tectonophysics, 84, 267–286, https://doi.org/10.1016/0040-1951(82)90163-9.

    Hansen, S. M., and B. Schmandt (2015), Automated detection and location of microseismicity at Mount St. Helens with a large-N geophone array, Geophys. Res. Lett., 42, 7,390–7,397, https://doi.org/10.1002/2015GL064848.

    Milano, G., G. Vilardo, and G. Luongo (1994), Continental collision and basin opening in southern Italy: A new plate subduction in the Tyrrhenian Sea?, Tectonophysics, 230, 249–264, https://doi.org/10.1016/0040-1951(94)90139-2.

    Ryan, W. B. F., et al. (2009), Global Multi-Resolution Topography synthesis, Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 10, Q03014, https://doi.org/10.1029/2008GC002332.

    Ward, K. M., and F.-C. Lin (2017), On the viability of using autonomous three-component nodal geophones to calculate teleseismic Ps receiver functions with an application to Old Faithful, Yellowstone, Seismol. Res. Lett., 88(5), 1,268–1,278, https://doi.org/10.1785/0220170051.

    See the full article here .


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    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 11:14 am on July 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Tamu Massif no longer our biggest volcano", And this all means that Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii should once again be considered the world’s largest single volcano., “The largest volcano in the world is really the mid-ocean ridge system which stretches about 65000 kilometres around the world like stitches on a baseball", , Vulcanology   

    From COSMOS Magazine: “Tamu Massif no longer our biggest volcano” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS Magazine

    10 July 2019
    Nick Carne

    Tamu Massif – no longer the biggest, but still impressive. University of Houston

    Tamu Massif was declared the largest single volcano in the world when it was located in the Pacific Ocean about 1600 kilometres east of Japan in 2013 – but now it seems it probably isn’t.

    And the leader of the team that found it is the first to agree.

    “The largest volcano in the world is really the mid-ocean ridge system, which stretches about 65,000 kilometres around the world, like stitches on a baseball,” says William Sager, a geophysicist at the University of Houston, US.

    “This is really a large volcanic system, not a single volcano.”

    In their original paper [Nature Geoscience], Sager and colleagues concluded that Tamu Massif was an enormous shield volcano, formed by far-reaching lava flows emanating from its summit.

    However, new findings by Sager and others, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, conclude that it is a different breed of volcanic mountain altogether.

    A research team from the US, China and Japan analysed magnetic field data over Tamu Massif, finding that magnetic anomalies – perturbations to the field caused by magnetic rocks in the Earth’s crust – resemble those formed at mid-ocean ridge plate boundaries.

    They compiled a magnetic anomaly map using 4.6 million magnetic field readings collected over 54 years along 72,000 kilometres of ship tracks, along with a new grid of magnetic profiles, positioned with modern GPS navigation.

    The map shows that linear magnetic anomalies around Tamu Massif blend into linear anomalies over the mountain itself, implying that the underwater volcano formed by extraordinary mid-ocean ridge crustal formation.

    The new findings also weaken the accepted analogy between eruptions of continental flood basalts and oceanic plateaus because the formation mechanisms are shown to be different, the researchers say.

    Sager is philosophical. “Science is a process and is always changing,” he says. “There were aspects of that explanation that bugged me, so I proposed a new cruise and went back to collect the new magnetic data set that led to this new result.

    “In science, we always have to question what we think we know and to check and double check our assumptions. In the end, it is about getting as close to the truth as possible – no matter where that leads.”

    And this all means that Mauna Loa, on the island of Hawaii, should once again be considered the world’s largest single volcano.

    Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawaii, USA, towers nearly 3,000 m above the much smaller Kilauea Volcano (caldera in left center). Hualalai Volcano is in upper right. In recent years Mauna Loa has not erupted with the frequency of Kilauea, but its 33 historical eruptions have, on average, generated much larger volumes of lava on a daily basis — more than 10 times the lava output from Kilauea’s current Pu`u`O`o eruption. Lava flows on Mauna Loa tend to travel much longer distances in a shorter period of time than those on Kilauea. Thus, warnings and notifications in the first few hours of an eruption are critical for public safety.

    OpenStreetMap – Map of Hawaii

    Map showing relationship of Mauna Loa to other volcanoes that form the island of Hawai’i—the Big Island.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:49 pm on July 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Rare Lava Lake Found on Top of Sub-Antarctic Volcano" on the summit of Mount Michael on Saunders Island, , , , , Vulcanology   

    From smithsonian com: “Rare Lava Lake Found on Top of Sub-Antarctic Volcano” 

    From smithsonian.com

    Satellite data located the persistent pool of liquid rock on top of Mt. Michael on Saunders Island, part of the South Sandwich Islands.

    July 8, 2019
    Jason Daley

    Hollywood would have you believe that at the peak of most volcanoes is a roiling, red-hot lake of lava, perfect for human sacrifices or killing James Bond. Persistent lava lakes are actually quite rare; of Earth’s roughly 1,500 volcanoes, only seven are known to have lava lakes. So, the discovery of an eighth lava-topped volcano in the sub-Antarctic Sandwich Islands is a big deal, according to a new study in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.

    (British Antarctic Survey)

    The new lava lake is found on the summit of Mount Michael on Saunders Island, which is part of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. According to a press release from the British Antarctic Survey, the hot spot was originally hinted at in 2001 when low-resolution satellite data showed a geothermal anomaly at the top of the peak.

    Geologists used higher resolution satellite images of the mountain taken between 2003 and 2018 and cross-referenced that information with additional datasets going back 30 years. Using advanced image processing techniques, they were able to determine that a lake of fire roughly 300 to 700 feet wide was present throughout the time period. They estimated that the lava lake is smoldering between 1,800 and 2,300 Fahrenheit.

    So why didn’t researchers just climb the mountain and peer over the edge? Danielle Gray from University College London, first author of the study, explains that traveling to Saunders Island is extremely difficult and getting to the top is likely impossible except to elite mountaineers.

    Aerial photograph of Mount Michael. Credit: Pete Bucktrout (British Antarctic Survey)

    “It has been visited at the bottom very rarely, and no one has ever got to the summit,” study co-author Alex Burton-Johnson of the British Antarctic Survey tells Tom Metcalfe at LiveScience.

    The next step in investigating the lava lake is to send a drone or aircraft over the mountain. But even that will take some complicated logistics and lots of money. “The problem is that the South Sandwich Islands are so incredibly remote, there is very little ship traffic that goes past there,” says Burton-Johnson. “So there are not a huge amount of opportunities for research vessels in that area.”

    The discovery of the new lake will help researchers understand how to monitor volcanoes from space and teach them more about the rare, persistent lava pools, which also occur on the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Erta Ale volcano in Ethiopia; Mount Erebus in Antarctica; Kilauea on the island of Hawaii, Mount Yasur and Ambrym in Vanuatu; and Masaya in Nicaragua.

    Why do these volcanoes maintain liquid lava lakes while the molten rock congeals and plugs up most other volcanoes? Burton-Johnson tells Metcalfe that in most cases the steam and superheated gases that power volcanic eruptions isn’t enough to keep rock molten at the surface. But in a few special cases, the gases remain at high enough temperatures to keep a bright orange cauldron of lava bubbling at the summit.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 10:43 am on July 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Oregon Is About to Get a Lot More Hazardous", , , Landslides and debris flows, , , Vulcanology   

    From Scientific American: “Oregon Is About to Get a Lot More Hazardous” 

    Scientific American

    From Scientific American

    June 29, 2019
    Dana Hunter

    State leadership is failing its citizens—and there will be a body count.

    Credit: Dale Simonson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    When you live in an area at as much geologic risk as Oregon, you would expect that government officials would maybe, possibly, take those risks seriously. But the people who currently govern Oregon seem quite determined to ignore hazards and let the state languish unprepared.

    It’s bad enough that legislators voted this month to allow “new schools, hospitals, jails, and police and fire stations” to be built in areas that will most certainly be inundated in the event of a tsunami. Both parties think it’s a good idea now; I doubt they’ll still be feeling great about locating schools right in the path of rampaging seawater when the big one hits. But short-term economic gain outweighs long-term planning, so here we are. What else can we expect from a statehouse where lawmakers who would rather flee the state than be forced to deal with climate change?

    People say they’re willing to accept the risks. However, the state government is now planning to make it far harder for residents to even know what those risks are, because Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI for short) is severely underfunded and will now lose three critically-needed experts on staff as a punishment for going over budget. As if that weren’t bad enough, the governor’s office is considering whether the agency should even continue to exist:

    “In a note on the preliminary budget proposal for the agency, the Joint Ways and Means Committee said the Governor’s office would be “evaluating if the Department should continue to exist as an independent or recommendations to abolish and move the individual programs to other entities.”

    That drastic of a move could come with big consequences,” Avy said.

    “It would be incredibly disruptive to staff and it is likely that some on-going studies would be discontinued,” he said.”Oregon would lose a valued agency and may lose talented staff in our Geological Survey and Services Program which provides a focus on geologic and mineral mapping and natural hazard identification.”

    Can we be real for a minute, here? Oregon is a geologically young state in an active subduction zone, located on an ocean that has subduction zones on both sides, which generate ocean-spanning tsunamis on a regular basis. The local subduction zone, plus Basin and Range crustal stretching and faulting, also produces active volcanoes. Many, many volcanoes. Also, too, all of this folding and faulting and uplifting and volcanoing leaves the state terribly landslide prone. This is not a place where you can safely starve your local geological survey of funds, and then shut it down when it needs extra money to identify and quantify the hazards you face.

    So if you live in Oregon, or even if you just visit, I’d strongly consider writing a polite but serious missive to Governor Kate Brown, letting her know that it would perhaps be a good idea to look further into the possible repercussions of signing that deplorable tsunami bill (I mean, at least take the schools out of the mix!), and also fully fund DOGAMI rather than further crippling it and then stripping it for parts.

    Let’s have a brief tour of Oregon’s geohazards which DOGAMI helps protect us from, then, shall we?


    The Oregon coast is extremely susceptible to tsunamis, both generated from Cascadia and from other subduction zones along the Pacific Ocean. You can see evidence of them everywhere.

    Cascadia subduction zone. This is the site of recurring en:megathrust earthquakes at average intervals of about 500 years, including the en:Cascadia Earthquake of en:1700.

    One of the starkest reminders in recent times was the dock that was ripped from the shoreline in Misawa, Japan, in the brutal 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake. The tsunami that sheared it loose and set it afloat also washed ashore in California and Oregon, causing millions of dollars in damage; loss of life in the United States was only avoided due to ample warnings.

    Ocean energy distribution forecast map for the 2011 Sendai earthquake from the U.S. NOAA. Note the location of Australia for scale.

    Just over a year later, the dock washed up on Agate Beach, Oregon.

    At Agate Beach, homes and businesses are built right in the path of the next Cascadia tsunami. I can’t describe to you the eerie sensation you feel turning away from that dock to see vulnerable structures that will be piles of flooded rubble after the next tsunami hits.

    Residences and businesses on Agate Beach. Even a modest tsunami will cause untold damage to these structures. Credit: Dana Hunter

    The people here will have minutes to find high ground after the shaking stops, if that long. There is some high ground nearby, but not much, and perhaps not near enough. Roads will probably be destroyed or blocked in the quake. This is the sort of location the legislature has decided it would be fine to site schools.


    The stump of a drowned spruce at Sunset Bay, Shore Acres, OR. Lockwood DeWitt for scale. Credit: Dana Hunter

    Sunset Bay is the site of one of Oregon’s many ghost forests. Here, a Cascadia earthquake dropped the shoreline about 1,200 years ago, suddenly drowning huge, healthy trees in salt water. At least seven spectacular earthquakes have hit the Oregon coast in the past 3,500 years. It may not sound like much, or often… but look to Japan for the reason why we should take the threat extremely seriously. And Oregon doesn’t just have to worry about Cascadia quakes: the state is full of faults, stretching from north to south and from coast to interior.


    Huge swathes of Oregon are volcanic. As in, recently volcanic. As in, will definitely erupt again quite soon.

    Mount Hood, a sibling to Mount St. Helens, is right outside of Portland and last erupted in the mid-1800s. It is hazardous as heck.

    Mount Hood reflected in Trillium Lake, Oregon, United States

    But Hood is very, very far from the only young volcano in the state, and evidence of recent eruptions is everywhere. Belknap shield volcano and its associated volcanoes on McKenzie Pass ceased erupting only 1,500 years ago, and the forces that created it are still active today.

    Belknap Crater, Oregon. Cascades Volcano Observatory

    Another volcanic center like it could emerge in the near future. And you see here just a tiny swath of the destruction such a volcanic center causes.

    You know what you really don’t want to be caught unawares by? A volcano. And even once they’ve stopped erupting, the buggers can be dangerous. Sector collapses, lahars, and other woes plague old volcanoes. You need people who can keep a sharp eye on them. And I’m sorry, but the USGS can’t be everywhere at once. Local volcano monitoring is important!

    Landslides and debris flows

    If you’re an Oregon resident, you’ll probably remember how bloody long it took to finish the Eddyville Bypass due to the massive landslide that got reactivated during construction. Steep terrain plus plenty of rain equals lots of rock and soil going where we’d prefer it didn’t.

    Debris flows and landslides regularly take out Oregon roads, including this stretch on a drainage by Mount Hood.

    Construction equipment copes with damage caused by massive debris flows coming down from Mount Hood. Credit: Dana Hunter

    We know from the Oso mudslide just how deadly these mass movements can be. Having experts out there who understand how to map the geology of an area and identify problem areas is critically important, especially in places where a lot of people want to live, work, and play.

    Contact the governor’s office and let her know if you don’t think it’s worth letting a budget shortfall torpedo the agency that should be doing the most to identify these hazards and help us mitigate them.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., has been bringing its readers unique insights about developments in science and technology for more than 160 years.

  • richardmitnick 9:22 am on June 28, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "US revamps volcano early warning system", , , Vulcanology   

    From EarthSky: “US revamps volcano early warning system” 


    From EarthSky

    June 27, 2019
    Deanna Conners

    There are 161 active volcanoes in the United States, more than 1/3 of which have been classified as posing a high threat to nearby communities. A new law aims to improve volcano monitoring.

    Aerial view of the Halema’uma’u crater within Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano taken from a helicopter on June 18, 2018. Image via U.S. Geological Survey.

    There are 161 active volcanoes in the United States, distributed within 12 states and two territories, and more than 1/3 of these have been classified as posing a very high or high threat to nearby communities. To ensure that communities are given adequate warnings in the event of an impending eruption, a new law was enacted on March 12, 2019. This new law Public Law No. 116-9 – aims to improve volcano monitoring at potentially dangerous volcanoes.

    Historically, the United States has experienced several damaging volcanic eruptions. In 1980, for example, the eruption at Mount St. Helens in Washington caused 57 deaths and 1.1 billion dollars in damage. More recently, in 2018, a slow eruption at K?lauea in Hawaii destroyed hundreds of homes that were in the path of the lava flow.

    Volcanoes are somewhat unique among destructive natural hazards such as earthquakes and tornadoes in that scientists can often make accurate predictions of an eruption well in advance of the event. Thus, evacuations and other protective measures can be taken to minimize the damage. However, such predictions are only possible if monitoring technology is installed at a volcano.

    David Applegate, associate director for natural hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey, commented on the new law as it was being proposed to lawmakers during a hearing in 2017. He said:

    “Unlike many other natural disasters…volcanic eruptions can be predicted well in advance of their occurrence if adequate in-ground instrumentation is in place that allows earliest detection of unrest, providing the time needed to mitigate the worst of their effects.”

    Clearly, volcano monitoring technology can save lives and is a worthwhile investment.

    The new legislation that was finally passed and signed into law on March 12, 2019, will boost the nation’s capacity to respond to volcano-related hazards. Specifically, the new law will create (1) a unified National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS), (2) a watch office that will be staffed continuously around the clock, and (3) a grant system for funding volcano monitoring research.

    The new legislation can be expected to improve the monitoring systems that are already in place at five critical areas, namely, the Alaska Volcano Observatory, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Cascades Volcano Observatory, Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, and California Volcano Observatory, through equipment upgrades and other types of activities. The new legislation will also help to expand coverage to potentially dangerous volcanoes where there are no monitoring systems in place.

    Seismic monitoring stations used by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Image via University of Utah.

    You can access more details about the new initiative in the EOS article published April 23, 2019.

    Bottom line: The United State’s volcano monitoring system will be improved following passage of a new law on March 12, 2019. The improvements will include equipment upgrades, an expansion of monitoring sites, and enhanced coordination of volcano monitoring activities.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

  • richardmitnick 12:47 pm on May 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Stunning Sonar Image Just Revealed Largest Underwater Volcano Eruption Ever Detected", A large active volcano that wasn't there six months prior., , Data from the seismometers suggests the existence of a large magma chamber between 20 to 50 kilometres below the surface., , Material produced only reached about 2 kilometres upwards which explains why nothing was visible on the surface., on 15 May a magnitude 5.8 quake struck, , Vulcanology   

    From Science Alert: “Stunning Sonar Image Just Revealed Largest Underwater Volcano Eruption Ever Detected” 


    From Science Alert


    22 MAY 2019

    In November last year, geologists announced they’d picked up something really weird: a huge seismic event originating in the island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, felt all across the globe, source unknown. A few months later, scientists used modelling to produce an answer – hypothesising a giant underwater volcanic eruption.

    And now it seems that is pretty likely to be the case. Scientists travelled out to where they think the swarm’s epicentre is located, and they found a large active volcano, rising 800 metres (2,624 feet) from the seafloor, and sprawling up to 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) across.

    A large active volcano that wasn’t there six months prior.

    If these volcanic birth pains didn’t produce the detected seismic activity, that would be a pretty amazing coincidence. But more research is still needed to make absolutely sure.

    The seismic rumbles actually started on 10 May 2018. Just a few days later, on 15 May, a magnitude 5.8 quake struck. Since that time, hundreds of seismic rumbles have been detected, most on the smaller side, with the notable exception of the Earth-rattling low-frequency November event.


    All those events pointed to a spot around 50 kilometres from the Eastern coast of Mayotte, a French territory and part of the volcanic Cormoros archipelago sandwiched between the Eastern coast of Africa and the Northern tip of Madagascar.

    To find out what was going on, a number of French governmental institutes sent a bunch of scientists aboard the Marion Dufresne research vessel to investigate the area.

    Marion Dufresne research vessel

    Starting in February, the team began monitoring the region. They placed seismometers on the seafloor, 3.5 kilometres deep, and used a multibeam sonar to map the seafloor. They dredged up rocks from far below.

    The researchers combined this with data collected from Mayotte to build a comprehensive picture of what was occurring down in the dark depths of the lower bathypelagic.


    It’s a fascinating one. Data from the seismometers suggests the existence of a large magma chamber between 20 to 50 kilometres below the surface. This could have been seeping hot magma to the seafloor, where it met the cooler water and contracted, causing the crust to crack.

    The plume of volcanic material produced only reached about 2 kilometres upwards, which explains why nothing was visible on the surface. The rocks pulled up from the seafloor were popping – a sign, according to Science, of high-pressure gas escaping from volcanic material.

    But that’s not all. GPS data from Mayotte has revealed that the island is both shifting and sinking. It’s moved 10 centimetres eastward and sunk 13 centimetres since May of last year. This suggests the magma chamber that produced the volcano is collapsing and shrinking.

    This could help explain how the volcano formed: it’s consistent with a mantle plume formation, where a rising plume of hot rock in Earth’s mantle creates melting at shallow depths. Cormoros is a mantle plume hotspot – the islands were formed by volcanic activity – but, again, this is yet to be confirmed by detailed study.

    That research is currently underway.

    Meanwhile, the French government is also taking steps to ensure the safety of the residents of Mayotte, where tremors and sinking continue.

    “The government is fully mobilised to deepen and continue understanding this exceptional phenomenon and take the necessary measures to better characterise and prevent the risks it would represent,” the French Ministry of the Interior wrote in a press release.

    In the meantime, a mission to support civil safety and security has been dispatched to the island.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 8:38 am on May 17, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "From Earth’s deep mantle, Bermuda has a unique volcanic past., , Geochemical signatures, , scientists discover a new way volcanoes form", , The mantle’s transition zone – between 250 to 400 miles beneath our planet’s crust, The peculiar and extreme isotopes measured in the Bermuda lava core had not been observed before., There is enough water in the transition zone to form at least three oceans according to Gazel but it is the water that helps rock to melt in the transition zone., Vulcanology   

    From Cornell Chronicle: “From Earth’s deep mantle, scientists discover a new way volcanoes form” 

    From Cornell Chronicle

    May 15, 2019
    Blaine Friedlander

    Bermuda has a unique volcanic past. About 30 million years ago, a disturbance in the mantle’s transition zone supplied the magma to form the now-dormant volcanic foundation on which the island sits. Wendy Kenigsberg/Clive Howard – Cornell University, modified from Mazza et al. (2019)

    Far below Bermuda’s pink sand beaches and turquoise tides, Cornell geoscientists have discovered the first direct evidence that material from deep within Earth’s mantle transition zone – a layer rich in water, crystals and melted rock – can percolate to the surface to form volcanoes.

    In a cross-polarized microscopic slice of a core sample, the blue and yellow crystal is titanium-augite, surrounded by a ground mass of minerals, which include feldspars, phlogopite, spinel, perovskite and apatite. This assemblage suggests that the mantle source – rich in water – produced this lava. Gazel Lab/Provided

    Scientists have long known that volcanoes form when tectonic plates (traveling on top of the Earth’s mantle) converge, or as the result of mantle plumes that rise from the core-mantle boundary to make hotspots at Earth’s crust.

    The tectonic plates of the world were mapped in 1996, USGS.

    But obtaining evidence that material emanating from the mantle’s transition zone – between 250 to 400 miles beneath our planet’s crust – can cause volcanoes to form is new to geologists.

    “We found a new way to make volcanoes. This is the first time we found a clear indication from the transition zone deep in the Earth’s mantle that volcanoes can form this way,” said senior author Esteban Gazel, Cornell associate professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. The research published in Nature on May 15.

    “We were expecting our data to show the volcano was a mantle plume formation – an upwelling from the deeper mantle – just like it is in Hawaii,” Gazel said. But 30 million years ago, a disturbance in the transition zone caused an upwelling of magma material to rise to the surface, form a now-dormant volcano under the Atlantic Ocean and then form Bermuda.

    Using a 2,600-foot core sample – drilled in 1972, housed at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia – co-author Sarah Mazza of the University of Münster, Germany, assessed the cross-section for signature isotopes, trace elements, evidence of water content and other volatile material. The assessment provided a geologic, volcanic history of Bermuda.

    “I first suspected that Bermuda’s volcanic past was special as I sampled the core and noticed the diverse textures and mineralogy preserved in the different lava flows,” Mazza said. “We quickly confirmed extreme enrichments in trace element compositions. It was exciting going over our first results … the mysteries of Bermuda started to unfold.”

    From the core samples, the group detected geochemical signatures from the transition zone, which included larger amounts of water encased in the crystals than were found in subduction zones. Water in subduction zones recycles back to Earth’s surface. There is enough water in the transition zone to form at least three oceans, according to Gazel, but it is the water that helps rock to melt in the transition zone.

    The geoscientists developed numerical models with Robert Moucha, associate professor of Earth sciences at Syracuse University, to discover a disturbance in the transition zone that likely forced material from this deep mantle layer to melt and percolate to the surface.

    Despite more than 50 years of isotopic measurements in oceanic lavas, the peculiar and extreme isotopes measured in the Bermuda lava core had not been observed before. Yet, these extreme isotopic compositions allowed the scientists to identify the unique source of the lava.

    “If we start to look more carefully, I believe we’re going to find these geochemical signatures in more places,” said co-author Michael Bizimis, associate professor at the University of South Carolina.

    Gazel explained that this research provides a new connection between the transition zone layer and volcanoes on the surface of Earth. “With this work we can demonstrate that the Earth’s transition zone is an extreme chemical reservoir,” he said. “We are now just now beginning to recognize its importance in terms of global geodynamics and even volcanism.”

    Said Gazel: “Our next step is to examine more locations to determine the difference between geological processes that can result in intraplate volcanoes and determine the role of the mantle’s transition zone in the evolution of our planet.”

    Gazel is a fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and a fellow at Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute. In addition to Gazel, Mazza, Bizimis and Moucha, co-authors of “Sampling the Volatile-Rich Transition Zone Beneath Bermuda,” are Paul Béguelin, University of South Carolina; Elizabeth A. Johnson, James Madison University; Ryan J. McAleer, United States Geological Survey; and Alexander V. Sobolev, the Russian Academy of Sciences.

    The National Science Foundation provided funding for this research.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Once called “the first American university” by educational historian Frederick Rudolph, Cornell University represents a distinctive mix of eminent scholarship and democratic ideals. Adding practical subjects to the classics and admitting qualified students regardless of nationality, race, social circumstance, gender, or religion was quite a departure when Cornell was founded in 1865.

    Today’s Cornell reflects this heritage of egalitarian excellence. It is home to the nation’s first colleges devoted to hotel administration, industrial and labor relations, and veterinary medicine. Both a private university and the land-grant institution of New York State, Cornell University is the most educationally diverse member of the Ivy League.

    On the Ithaca campus alone nearly 20,000 students representing every state and 120 countries choose from among 4,000 courses in 11 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. Many undergraduates participate in a wide range of interdisciplinary programs, play meaningful roles in original research, and study in Cornell programs in Washington, New York City, and the world over.

  • richardmitnick 12:30 pm on May 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Bárðarbunga-Eruption at Holuhraun September 4 2014, , Vulcanology   

    From Eos: “More Than 30,000 Earthquakes Trace the Movement of Magma” 

    From AGU
    Eos news bloc

    From Eos

    Katherine Kornei

    Seismometers near Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcanic system pinpointed thousands of earthquakes in 2014–2015, revealing where molten rock was moving underground before any eruptions occurred.

    Bárðarbunga-Eruption at Holuhraun, September 4, 2014, https://www.flickr.com/photos/41812768@N07/15146259395/

    As Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcanic system erupts in the background, researcher Jenny Woods downloads data from a seismometer. Image courtesy of Cambridge Volcano Seismology. Credit: Jenny Woods

    Accurate forecasting of volcanic eruptions is life-saving science: Millions of people worldwide live in the shadow of a volcano.

    Researchers have now analyzed precise records of tens of thousands of earthquakes in Iceland and produced one of the most detailed pictures of how seismicity traces the movement of magma deep underground. These kinds of measurements, which reveal the location of molten rock, can be used to better predict when and where eruptions will occur, the scientists suggest.

    Lucky Placement

    Robert White, a geophysicist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, admits he was lucky. He and his colleagues on the Cambridge Volcano Seismology team had already installed over 60 seismometers near Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcanic system when magma began moving underground in 2014.

    The instrumentation was intended for a neighboring volcano, but White and his collaborators soon realized the seismometers were perfectly placed to capture the rumblings of Bárðarbunga. “They were in just the right place,” said White. (The researchers also rushed to place 10 additional seismometers.)

    Bárðarbunga would go on to belch 1.6 cubic kilometers of molten rock, dwarfing the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. The first eruption occurred for a few hours on 29 August, and the next one came on 31 August, this time lasting 6 months.

    Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions often go hand in hand: The movement of molten rock underground—a magmatic intrusion—triggers ground shaking as it deforms the surrounding rock.

    The Bárðarbunga magmatic intrusion cut a 48-kilometer-long path through Earth’s crust over the course of 2 weeks. And earthquakes were plentiful: White and his colleagues recorded over 30,000 ranging in magnitude from 0.5 to 3.5.

    Precise Triangulation

    White and his colleagues pinpointed the locations of the earthquakes in three-dimensional space by triangulation. By very precisely measuring—to within 0.001 second—how long it took the earthquake waves to travel to different seismometers, the researchers estimated locations with uncertainties of only about 100 meters. That’s about 10 times better than most other studies, said Jenny Woods, a volcano seismologist at the University of Cambridge and member of the research team.

    Using the locations of the recorded earthquakes, the researchers inferred that Bárðarbunga’s magma moved in fits and starts—sometimes it stalled, and sometimes it moved forward at nearly 5 kilometers per hour (roughly human walking speed).

    These kinds of measurements make it possible to track the path of magma underground, said Woods. “Monitoring microseismicity is one of the most important tools we have for tracking intrusions of magma in real time.”

    Their results were published earlier this year in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

    This study highlights the importance of having a dense monitoring network, said Luigi Passarelli, a volcanologist at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia not involved in the research. “[It] can lead to better understanding of physical processes and eventually to improved real-time risk mitigation.”

    White and his colleagues will be returning to Iceland this July to download data from the 27 seismometers still deployed around Bárðarbunga. Collecting these measurements is crucial because the volcano appears to be refilling with magma underground, said White. “It’s still active.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 2:35 pm on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "National Volcano Warning System Gains Steam", , Eruptions have the potential to pose significant security and economic threats across the nation., It took more than a decade but a bill that funds U.S. volcano monitoring efforts and establishes a single system became law on 12 March., Kīlauea Volcano in Hawaii, Mount St. Helens in Washington State, Passage of Public Law No. 116-9 authorizing funding for the implementation of the NVEWS was introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Since 1980 there have been 120 eruptions and 52 episodes of notable volcanic unrest at 44 U.S. volcanoes, Volcano Observatories: Alaska Volcano Observatory; California Volcano Observatory; Cascades Volcano Observatory; Yellowstone Volcano Observatory; Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Vulcanology   

    From Eos: “National Volcano Warning System Gains Steam” 

    From AGU
    Eos news bloc

    From Eos

    Forrest Lewis

    It took more than a decade, but a bill that funds U.S. volcano monitoring efforts and establishes a single system became law on 12 March.

    The string of 2018 eruptions at Kīlauea Volcano in Hawaii resulted in about $800 million in damages but no loss of life. Credit: USGS

    Early in the morning on 17 May 2018, Hawaii’s Kīlauea Volcano unleashed a torrent of ash more than 3,000 meters into the sky. The explosion was just one noteworthy event in a months-long series of eruptions that destroyed more than 700 homes and caused $800 million in damage. Remarkably—thanks in large part to the relentless monitoring efforts of scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO)—no one died as a result of the destructive eruption sequence, which lasted into August.

    Across the country, in Washington, D.C., Senate lawmakers happened to meet that same day to vote on a topical piece of legislation: Senate bill 346 (S.346), the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent, marking a big step forward for a piece of legislation more than a decade in the making.

    The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington was the most destructive volcanic eruption in U.S. history, responsible for the deaths of 57 people and $1.1 billion in damage. Credit: Austin S. Post, USGS.

    The bill sought to strengthen existing volcano monitoring systems and unify them into a single system, called the National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS), to ensure that volcanoes nationwide are adequately monitored in a standardized way.

    After ultimately lacking the floor time in the House necessary for a vote before the end of 2018, the bill was reintroduced as part of a larger package of natural resources–related bills at the start of the new Congress, which convened in January. The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (S.47) contained elements of more than 100 previously introduced bills related to public lands, natural resources, and water. This bill quickly breezed through Congress and was signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on 12 March; it’s now Public Law No. 116-9.

    Although the bipartisan effort and the bill’s other contents, including an urgent reauthorization of the recently expired Land and Water Conservation Fund, captured the media’s attention, Section 5001, National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System, will have lasting effects on the nation’s volcano hazard awareness and preparation.

    Volcano Observatories

    Only five U.S. volcano observatories monitor the majority of U.S. volcanoes, with support from the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Volcano Hazards Program and independent universities and institutions. These observatories are the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Fairbanks; the California Volcano Observatory in Menlo Park; the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash.; HVO; and the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.

    Volcanologists at these observatories monitor localized earthquakes, ground movement, gas emissions, rock and water chemistry, and remote satellite data to predict when and where volcanic eruptions will happen, ideally providing enough time to alert the local populace to prepare accordingly.

    The USGS has identified 161 geologically active volcanoes in 12 U.S. states as well as in American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. More than one third of these active volcanoes are classified by the USGS as having either “very high” or “high” threat on the basis of their hazard potential and proximity to nearby people and property.

    Many of these volcanoes have monitoring systems that are insufficient to provide reliable warnings of potential eruptive activity, whereas at others, the monitoring equipment is obsolete. A 2005 USGS assessment identified 58 volcanoes nationwide as being undermonitored.

    “Unlike many other natural disasters…volcanic eruptions can be predicted well in advance of their occurrence if adequate in-ground instrumentation is in place that allows earliest detection of unrest, providing the time needed to mitigate the worst of their effects,” said David Applegate, USGS associate director for natural hazards, in a statement before a House subcommittee hearing in November 2017.

    During the 2018 Kīlauea eruption, HVO, the oldest of the five observatories, closely monitored the volcano and issued routine safety warnings. However, many volcanoes lack the monitoring equipment or attention given to Kīlauea. Of the 18 volcanoes identified in the USGS report as “very high threat,” Kīlauea is one of only three classified as well monitored (the other two are Mount St. Helens in Washington and Long Valley Caldera in California).

    Public Law No. 116-9 aims to change that. In addition to creating the NVEWS, the law authorizes the creation of a national volcano watch office that will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The legislation also establishes an external grant system within NVEWS to support research in volcano monitoring science and technology.

    More than three of every four U.S. volcanoes that have erupted in the past 200 years are in Alaska (including Mount Redoubt, above). Credit: R. Clucas, USGS

    Volcanic Impacts

    Since 1980, there have been 120 eruptions and 52 episodes of notable volcanic unrest at 44 U.S. volcanoes, according to the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. The cataclysmic eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 was the most destructive, killing 57 people and causing $1.1 billion in damage.

    Although active volcanoes are concentrated in just a handful of U.S. states and territories, eruptions have the potential to pose significant security and economic threats across the nation. A 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that eruptions “can have devastating economic and social consequences, even at great distances from the volcano.”

    In 1989, for example, an eruption at Mount Redoubt in Alaska nearly caused a catastrophe. A plane en route from Amsterdam to Tokyo flew through a thick cloud of volcanic ash, causing all four engines to fail and forcing an emergency landing at Anchorage International Airport. More than 80,000 aircraft per year, carrying 30,000 passengers per day, fly over and downwind of Aleutian volcanoes on flights across the Pacific. The potential disruption to flight traffic as well as air quality issues from distant volcanoes poses serious health and economic risks for people across the United States.

    “People think they only have to deal with the hazards in their backyard, but volcanoes will come to you,” says Steve McNutt, a professor of volcano seismology at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

    National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act

    Passage of Public Law No. 116-9 authorizes funding for the implementation of the NVEWS. The bill recommends that Congress, during the annual appropriations process, appropriate $55 million over fiscal years 2019 through 2023 to the USGS to carry out the volcano monitoring duties prescribed in the bill.

    The bill was introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), first elected in 2002 and consistently the most steadfast champion of NVEWS legislation. Her home state of Alaska contains the most geologically active volcanoes in the country, and more than three of every four U.S. volcanoes that have erupted in the past 200 years are in Alaska. Often in concert with Alaska’s sole House representative, Don Young (R), Murkowski has introduced volcano monitoring legislation in nearly every congressional session since her election. Five bills over the past decade have stalled in committee without reaching the floor for a vote.

    “Our hazards legislation has become a higher priority because we realize that monitoring systems and networks are crucial to ensuring that Americans are informed of the hazards that we face,” Murkowski said in a speech at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018 in Washington, D.C., last December. “They help us prepare and are crucial to protecting lives and property.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

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